I recently wrote a piece on the Financial Times (July 2, 2012 Soapbox column) about doing research on video format. This was a great opportunity to spur the discussion about the changing academia. In fact, as a result, I got over a dozen of encouraging emails and feedback from professionals around the world. Basically, we all agreed that the academia needs to reconsider the ways in which breakthrough research should to be delivered and be accessible to wider audiences.
To briefly summarize my points – and btw the full article can be found behind this link – I argued it is unfortunate that given the ubiquitous technologies including online streaming platforms (YouTube, Vimeo, TedTalk etc.) that are increasingly available to us, academia does not make much use of them. Rather, it seems, research is published in paper format and disseminated in selected international academic journals, making the impact of research relatively limited, at last in terms of potential readership. Echoing themes we’ve discussed in this blog, there lies several benefits in using video to explain and share research findings. However, audio-visual techniques used in conducting research, i.e. doing videographies, or in publishing findings require new skills (shooting film, editing, storytelling etc.) and equipment that academics are not used to. In addition, the present academic publication system with a heavy focus on journal rankings plays an important role in this (lack of) development too, as it keeps researchers occupied with writing research papers for the journals and leaving little time to consider the exchanges with the public.
Our humble attempts to experiment research on video have shown some interesting results already (see below stories about our projects in more detail). Stay tuned for more.
The cartoon (by Roger Beale, FT.com) was pretty cool too!
Our award-winning film ‘Pushing the Scene’ has spurred some good interest in the forums as well as amassed a delightful number of viewers. Just to give an update on this, the film, which was released on Vimeo last November 2011, has got over 4000 views only in a matter of months. From an academic point of view, this needs to be considered some sort of success: typically academic research projects and their findings are available only to a handful of people (i.e. academics). Let’s hope we can spread the word even more so here’s the film one more time!
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 ;)
This year we entered the preatigious Association for Consumer Research North American conference ‘Film Festival’ with two contending videographic research projects:
‘Pushing the Scene’ - Tensions and Emergence in an Accelerated Marketplace Culture. ‘Pushing the Scene’ tells a story about how consumer cultures have become accelerated through digitalization and the global reach of the internet. It shows how powerful cultural figures have taken over the role of traditional record companies and other intermediaries. At the same time, as consumer phenomena have become more accessible, they have also become more short-lived and fleeting.
‘Post-Materialist Work’ - Dreams as Fetishes. ‘Post-Materialist Work’ recounts the experiences of professionals in Finnish video/TV production companies in their quest for freedom of expression in the face of constant monetary constraints and deadlines. These professionals long to pursue dreams of freedom which never seems to actualize in their day-to-day work. Yet, there remains a glimmer of hope in the business.
We are happy to announce that the ‘Pushing the Scene’ film was selected as the ‘Judge’s Choice’, which is the festival’s premier award. My personal heartfelt thanks go to my team members Joonas Rokka from Rouen Business School, Risto Roman from Helsinki University, and the MediaMark initiative for considerable amounts of support. While this was not our first prize for our video work, it will not be the last!
After clearing some samples we will post the videos themselves on this site. I ask for your kind patience for a couple of weeks.
Which is the downtown Nolla bar. We collectively oppose office spaces as in their overt grayness they represent all what some sadist conceptualized work as – the draining of one’s life force in a miserable battle of exhaustion :)
Ok, I’ll get my coat, but I’ll be back with some ‘real’ news soon!
Ok, I lied. The concept of hiatus does not apply if one considers anything that we’ve been up to not pertaining specifically to this blog. What has now been going down behind the curtains has consisted of voluminous amounts of editing (my screen-glaring eyes look kinda funny now and the silver fox proportions of my integrated toupée have certainly been on the increase). The outcome consists of two ‘Film Festival’ submissions to ACR 2011 which I’ll be linking to when the review process has amounted to something tangible. Let’s see how those work out – fingers crossed!
The other submission (not the ‘Pushing the Scene’ -project that we’ve already documented below) we call ‘Post-Materialistic Work’ was a do-over of one of my Master’s thesis group students research. I’m glad to say he became the first Master’s student to graduate with a videography as the primary product – perhaps the first in the world from field of economics (his videography thesis was in the field of entrepreneurship, but the video data was reincarnated into a work of consumer culture theory in consumer research after quite a bit of revamping). So yes, one can now conduct a Master’s thesis as a work of videography in the Aalto University School of Economics in the marketing program! Within the nascent project MediaMark I have four such ongoing research initiatives. You’ll hear more about them soon enough!
To get things going again I just wanted to brazenly display some of our new gear. As we are still obvious amateurs our gear bag seems to forever be in a state of emergent flux. Here we are at the moment:
(From left to right, somewhat) Handytools Base-X, Rode SM3, Audio-Technica AT875R, Canon 60D, Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC Macro, Rode Stereo Mic, Sigma 15mm F2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye, Canon 550D/T2i, Zoom H4, Redrock/Ops Running Man
(From left to right, somewhat) Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO Macro HSM II, Joby Gorillapod SLR, Silk Monopod 350, JVC GY-HM100U, Glidecam 2000
Our Canon 550D running the magical Magic Lantern software (with AGC disabled, audio meters, focus peak and zebras)!
Let’s see if these new babies will bring about a much anticipated improvement in quality (if I’ll ever be able to master any of them with my butterfingers).
I’ll be back with other news shortly on this same bat channel!
Right then, the following is quite a bit overdue, so I guess its better to jump right in. After our little escapade to meet the New York dubstep scene, we all quickly washed the most important articles of clothing, rezipped our bags, and headed back out there, this time to London to do what we set out to do across the pond in a dandy British setting.
Don’t get me wrong, this videography hustle does come with a wealth of new experiences and amounts of a kind of hard-pressed fun (with all the hurry and the gear-related hassle), but having been out on our videographic odyssey for close to a month does lend itself to certain abuses. Yes, we were beginning to become somewhat fatigued by being crammed together in our (certainly too) modest hotel rooms. One must say I have to be traveling with the greatest team of all time, as we eventually seemed to endure our hasty run in London without any major hitches.
Again, our agenda was filled with interesting places to be and people to meet. We would be attending the legendary DMZ dubstep party night in Brixton, meet up with Oneman during his Rinse FM show, talk to Benny Ill at the place of the pioneers – the Horsepower Productions studio, catch up with Blackdown, Cyrus, Distance, Boomnoise, and finally cut some dubplates at the renowned Transiton Mastering Studios.
At the DMZ night we got to hear the influential sounds of dubstep pioneers the likes of Loefah and Coki, and in addition, we had the privilege of shattering our eardrums to the refreshingly minimalist sound of the up-and-coming James Blake. Whilst we were unable to get any in situ interviews during the night, we were (surprisingly enough) able to get ourselves into the party mood to an extensive degree. This was not a shortcoming however, as our planners were heavily booked through the coming week.
The following night we got to sneak into the legendary Rinse FM show, and Risto under his producer alias, Desto, ended up spinning his plates too. Quite the world premier for him in such a context. After the show (in the very late night) we got chat with Oneman and Asbo in the somewhat rough (somebody actually tried to do some business-a-bit-on-the-shady-side with us while we were shooting) streets of Brixton. Yet, it was especially interesting to get Oneman’s and Asbo’s knowledgeable take on the present state and future of the culture in an ever-digitalizing world. Thanks for the ride guys!
The next notable (and very much so) setting for us was the Horsepower Productions studio of Benny Ill in Southern London. This was another great highlight for us, as Benny and his Horsepower Productions studio is touted as a true place of origin for many dubstep sounds. During the course of the interview, Benny invited Lev Jnr to join us. We had a great time discussing primarily about the history of the scene in their old-school surroundings complete with heaps of gear topped off with the worthy addition of an old Atari ST. Big thanks to Benny and Lev for letting us into your home!
Also, we were able to quickly meet up with Blackdown and Boomnoise to get some truly analytic accounts of the fast-paced developments in the scene, along with a visit to the studio of Distance and Cyrus, for more historical accounts spiced up with an analysis of the economic rationale of being a contemporary dubstep producer, as the sound is undergoing increasing pressures of commercialization.
Finally, we took the tube to South East London Forest Hill to Transition Mastering Studios, where we were able to get both LD and Jason into the view of our lenses along with an interesting experience of truly professional mastering work as LD cut two dubplates for Risto including tunes from Late, Kfka, and Tes La Rok. At Transition the topics mostly hovered around the role of the dubplate culture in dubstep and the implications of ever-increasing digitalization and the effect of digital DJ technologies such as Serato.
Again, thank you all! Now back in Finland, I have to say I’ve had my fill of running around the world touting various recording equipment with my arm constantly reminding me of a developing camera-elbow. Fortunately, one can now feel some preliminary accomplishment, as the bulk of our material is done. With now just a couple of places to visit in Finland, it seems the editing table is the next embedded cultural context for us.
While we continue to have our sights set to the ACR submission in February 2011, we have, being the busy little bees that we are, started to think about a much wider array of uses for our material than the ACR alone. Stay tuned!
Remember my gripes about the automatic gain control (AGC) ‘feature’ on our Canon 550D, which effectively makes audio recording, even with a professional level external microphone, absolutely useless? Here I was testing the Beachtech solution, which was not only expensive but bulky and inadequate in term of effective monitoring. Well, I’m certainly glad that I (for once in my life) summoned my challenged abilities of patience, as it seems that Magic Lantern are coming out with a hack for the camera after all. I was all but ready to buy an elaborate rig for the camera and glue the up-and-coming Samson H1 onto it. Perhaps its time to re-evaluate the situation now.
And I for one was under the impression (after following a myriad of obscurant discussion threads) that this project was iced.
Thank you Magic Lantern! Can’t wait!
In our previous project ‘Brothers-In-Paint’ we found it paramount to visit many contexts where the social practices of paintball culture take place. This allowed us to not take the site as the location of the culture, but rather the practices as the culture itself, not defined, but co-existing with the spatiotemporal ‘places’ of activity and agency. Thus we visited 6 countries in attempts to gain more insight and a translocal appreciation of the social practices.
Risto had made smoothly scheduled arrangements for us to meet the central figures of the New York scene, and for him to simultaneously play a set or two in various locales. Firstly, we met up with DaveQ and headed out to Brooklyn to be a part of a SubFM radio show. Risto (Desto) ended up hitting the decks also alongside such pioneers as DaveQ – thanks Dave for taking such great care of us!
Later Risto was scheduled to play a set at a record store right under the Brooklyn Bridge. The place, Halcyon, was a vinyl enthusiasts playground and had a great soundsystem (especially considering it is a record store and not a club venue). Later Risto played at a venue called the White Rabbit. Too bad not so many people made it over. Fortunately, the interesting experience in Halcyon more than made up for this.
The main event for us, the Dub War 5 year anniversary, was truly a night to remember. We began by navigating through the masses of dubstep lovers making their pilgrimage. The place was packed like sardines in a crushed tin box already at ten when the party was only picking up. In terms of filming, we got amounts of intense contextual footage, and Risto did an admirable bit of legwork in order to grab such pioneers as Joe Nice and Alex Incyde, and the dubstep Internet forum creator Seckle for little back-and-forth with us in interesting back rooms and corridors while the party was booming. Even Skream popped into one of our interview sessions right behind the DJ booth – where we actually got quite a bit of action also. Thanks again to the New York scene for giving us such a warm welcome!
During our walkabouts through Broadway we had additional time to think about our up-and-coming editing process. As Risto has become an increasingly central figure in our work, we went further in our preliminary ideas about the arc of drama in what is to become the final product. Our first project, Brothers-in-Paint, was very much a conservative article-like showcase of how to, for the lack of better terms, create a videography that resembled an article in video format. How it exactly came out so, we do not know, but I do still remember our original ethos of really exemplifying how a theoretical perspective could be depicted on video. In retrospect, we might have overdid it a tad bit. Now, while we wish to still make a theoretical case, we will attempt to incorporate a much more entertaining approach, with Risto’s autoethnographic commentary hopefully bringing about a more interesting, theatrical, and continuous story line.
But to match Risto’s insighful autoethnographic story, we need contextually founded footage in situ. And certainly, as experimentality goes, we have found one of the most demanding contexts equipment-wise. Dubstep is certainly loud and noisy, taking an evident toll in terms of video and audio quality. Fortunately, again, we have Risto to work his producer magic on the audio, and we do expect decent outcomes. Moreover, the lack of video footage quality is more than compensated for by the graininess of the context presenting itself right in-your-face with all its loudness. As Rob Kozinets has pointed out before, social practices are bright, noisy and messy. Without completely slipping into the rabbit hole at this point, it can be noted that it is this loudness and messiness we are aiming to represent. An interesting comment by Lisa Marks seems to bubble up here too, as she was known to have said that what the film represents is often dull, but nevertheless the impurities and the scratches on the film material itself are perpetually fascinating. I would agree, and that is why we are not afraid of grainy material, when such outcomes go on to represent the murkiness of the many contexts we were introduced to in our underground travels. Because we dare to profess love for the loudness and embrace the grittyness of some of the video material as our equipment are maxed out, we gain more confidence in our perspective – the contextual representation of social practices in close proximity.
In order to accomplish this, I believe strongly that the video ethnographer must do as little of obstruction as possible, and therefore all we shoot is uncompromisingly in situ. This means, that even with the implications for video quality, we will not use additional lights and we will not be sticking lapel microphones around peoples’ necks. In our adventures in the dubstep scene this has not been purely an question of preference either, as the promoters of many club venues will not permit lighting for video works. An important concern arises from this preferred modus operendi, however. Equipment truly matters. Indeed, there must be something seriously wrong with our heads, as we are conducting video work in probably one of the most hostile environments. It is dark (often and often very much so) and it is loud (have you felt the subbass causing tremors in your spine and jiggling the clothes on you). To pull this silly feat off, we are no longer going in with equipment more at home in capturing the kids making sandcastles on a sunny Mediterranean beach, where the food was delicious and the wine was just right. While still nowhere near a professional outfit, we are now donning a decent videocam and a back-up video DSLR with lenses specifically chosen to lure in all possible trickles of light in the illlit places we happen to enter. See the post before this one for a more technical perspective (and gripe) into the contents our gear bag.
Yet again, what would we be, if we were hauling lighting and microphones into sweat drenched rooms packed to the rim with euphoric music followers being blazed by the club lights and battered with subbass that you can feel in your spine? That’s right, a distraction, an obstruction. Worse than that, we could become what I as an ethnographer fear the most, a odd academic peculiarities flailing about a context that will never again give us a pass. No, to get close to that sweat, that pounding, that energy, we must and will continue to go in light. What you see is what you get. And what you get is noisy and bright.
We’ll leave you with a couple more memories. Soon to come, our continued adventures in London.