Are you about to engage in the business of doing academic films? Or do you already have a nearly finished film project on desktop? Before you move on, here are some key considerations that you should take into account that may help you in overcoming some of the most common challenges in film production. The insights are based on reflections and discussion from ACR 2011 special session on “making better video ethnographies”, chaired by Paul Henry and Marylouise Caldwell (University of Sydney).
As increasing number of academics are planning and doing academic videographies – i.e. academic research on video format – it is worthwhile to consider some common themes that often have a significant impact on the success of such projects, especially in the case where the researcher’s aim is to produce ethnographies on video. Among these, we feel that following points should be acknowledged.
Composition of the research team
Although we believe that it is possible to do academic films also as solo projects, we think that having a team may offer several benefits. Most importantly, simply the act of filming and interviewing at the same time is rather hard – especially if you want to use several cameras and points of view. So having multiple members in a team will help. The second most important consideration could be whether you want to make one of your key informants (i.e. insiders in your research scene) a team member too. Our own experience with the films ‘Pushing the Scene’ and ‘Brothers in Paint’ has been that “insider member” is like having a guarantee for your film success. Building your film on a dialogue between your key informants is way more interesting than more direct Q&A style of interviewing between the researcher and the researched. This leads us into the second key point:
Access to informants / phenomenon
Doing ethnography means having access into a (cultural) phenomenon and people in it. Although as in any ethnographic project, we believe that when shooting video, this aspect becomes even more challenging. Pulling a camera out in an interview situation may scare people off and make them nervous. Here also having an insider member may help significantly.
Storytelling in video
Making academic films is always a business of building a compelling story and showing evidence on your topic/argument. However, telling a compelling story on film vs. academic paper is something that we should investigate and practice further on. It seems that filmmakers tend to rely on storytelling tactics common to academic papers – something which may not necessarily work out as well on film. Here, watching what documentary filmmakers (and why not other similar artists) are doing may prove helpful. For example, think about different ways of showing emotion, affect, and contrast on film! In addition, embedding your story into an authentic material and spatiotemporal context is a crucial yet difficult task.
Theory building and linking
Should your film include theory or references to prior research? Yes. The business of academic film production is always a business of building theory and/or linking your study within wider interpretive frames that stand on existing research/literature. Of course, again, there are different ways of doing this and we believe that references to others’ work can be done in a discrete manner (and just a personal tip – it’s not a very good idea to show the article or book cover in the film!), employing either voiceover or text on film. In addition, it is also inevitable to communicate your conclusions / contributions to theory – something that STILL seems to be missing from some of the films. Using visualization and graphical (and why not symbolic as well) expression here is a good idea.
Voice of god or talking heads? How to narrate and communicate your story? Common trend in documentary filmmaking is the use of “voice of god” type of voiceover which explains what the film is about and what happens in it etc. We think that here filmmakers could be more creative and reflective in their approach. We wrote about this point in an recent article (it can be found in my thesis, page 128-151).
Yes, it seems that you cant plan enough for successful film production! This is a very good point brought up by Marylouise and Paul. Not to mention having enough battery and memory in your cam, there are different ways you can also script and blueprint your film beforehand. This saves you energy and time. Think about which sections, arguments, locations, sites and key informants you actually need in the final film. And finally, don’t forget to shoot b-reel film. It can save you in a number of ways once you get into the editing phase.
And the list continues… hope you find these helpful! Thanks for the participants in the session ;)
I finally found the time to blog about my doctoral dissertation after a busy round of conferences and filmmaking this summer. I successfully defended my thesis, titled “Exploring the Cultural Logic of Translocal Marketplace Cultures: Essays on New Methods and Empirical Insights”, at the Aalto University School of Economics in May 2010. I had the honour to have professor Robert Kozinets (York Univerisy, Schulich School of Business) as my co-examiner and opponent.
To explain briefly, my dissertation research involves taking a cultural, practice-oriented perspective to consumption and markets. It pays attention to the new forms of marketplace cultures that have recently emerged due to cultural and technological transformations such as the increasing hypermobility of people and new means of digital communication and connectivity around the globe. New computer-mediated social networks – iconized by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other consumption-oriented online communities and groups – have given rise to new kinds of cultural production. My dissertation examines the translocal nature of such phenomena: culture, identity, space, and sites that are not bound or limited by particular national, geographic, or territorial constraints and through which consumers’ lives, experiences, and practices are increasingly mediated today.
New digitalized consumption communities accelerate translocal marketplace cultures
The key notion of the dissertation is translocality, which refers to a transnational network of interconnected local sites and social spaces, both physical and virtual, through which culture is increasingly being negotiated, shaped, and produced. To conceptualize and provide concrete examples of translocal cultural production, the dissertation investigates consumption-oriented communities, the so-called ‘consumer neo-tribes’, as particularly good examples of translocal communities.
By investigating consumer communities that gather around a common interest or lifestyle – I studied budget travelling and extreme sport activities (paintball) – the dissertation offers insights suggesting that translocal communities and practices play an important role in transnational cultural production. The empirical studies illustrate how translocal communities increasingly collaborate, share information, exchange knowledge, and negotiate consumption practices via new digital media. In addition, the findings show that the new communication media, combined with less constrained transnational mobility, has made it possible for consumers to take part in various consumer communities in radically new ways and with less effort. These key developments, the dissertation claims, have spurred the creation of more profound, organized, empowered, and transnationally spread consumer networks.
New methods for studying translocal marketplace cultures: netnography and videography
My dissertation also lays out new approaches and methods for studying translocal communities and practices. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in both online and offline settings, I develop netnographic and videographic methods that may benefit companies, researchers, and policy-makers in analyzing how new forms of translocal marketplace practices emerge, spread, and transform.
Altogether, my dissertation package includes a summary essay plus four individual essays – three of which have been published in international academic journals. The fourth essay, a videographic study accompanied with a paper, has been described also in this blog. Here’s the list of essays, just to give you a better idea of the contents:
1. Rokka, J.: Netnographic Inquiry and New Translocal Sites of the Social. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 34, (2010) 381-387.
2. Rokka, J. & Moisander, J.: Environmental Dialogue in Online Communities: Negotiating Ecological Citizenship among Global Travellers. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 33, (2009) 199-205.
3. De Valck, K., Rokka, J. & Hietanen, J.: Videography in Consumer Research: Visions for a Method on the Rise. Finanza Marketing e Produzione, 27, (2009) 81-100.
4. Rokka, J., Hietanen, J. & De Valck, K.: Brothers in Paint: Practice-Oriented Inquiry into a Tribal Marketplace Culture. In Advances in Consumer Research, 37, (2010) Campbell, M.C., Inman, J., Pieters, R. (eds.), (forthcoming). (Videography and paper).
I was happy to get some attention from the local news media. I was interviewed by a number of newspapers who also made some of the material available online. To my slight surprise, the work and ideas presented in my thesis were well received by the reporters. I guess this can be considered some sort of success, at least when considering the fact that many academic works simply wont translate to wider audiences. I think one possible reason for this is that I had quite a few timely themes to discuss, including the consequences of social media, consumer tribes, video research, online research etc. In addition, what gained a lot of interest in my thesis was exactly what we’ve been discussing in this blog: research on video and its accessibility online. This is a good signal for our future work!
Here’s a couple of links I found (in Finnish unfortunately):
Kauppalehti 17.5.2010 “Web-Based Communities Produce New Forms of Consumer Culture”
Turun Sanomat 24.5.2010 “Consumer Power in Peer-to-Peer Communities”
Kaleva 22.5.2010 “Understanding Consumers Everyday Lives”