Sunday, June 05, 2011

Media methodologies to win friends over

Crew filming at the Southbank Centre. Look carefully and there's a reporter, camera person, director, soundman and out of shot another cameraman. Why?

Here I am as a videojournalist working a canon Mk5II. Why?

Two diametric photos above. Each a methodology, but why, what makes us do what we do? First though, I received this email from some new friends in South Africa whom I had the privilege of working with.

Hi David

We've just spent a very insightful 2 weeks with Michael Rabiger, author of Directing the Documentary. He has been working with our students implementing his notion of dramatic character development in their stories. He has managed to speak to them in a very inspirational way, giving them a sense of their purpose in making voices heard.
I also told him of your specific approach starting with the students' instincts and based on this teaching visual composition, sound, etc. He sounded very interested and spoke about this matching his idea that theory follows practice.


How interesting I thought. Rabiger of course needs no introduction in the documentary world; a giant! But what got me going was the ideas of methodologies.

Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. Where's the rules when you need them
Put simply it's a plan for doing something, successfully. There's a moment in Apollo 13 in which faced with certain disaster, the flight crew turn to mission control for help. The rule book said something, but not about the eventuality they faced, so they improvised.

A methodology has as its worst enemy improvisation; conversely it's also its best friend. Improvisation here must be inspired, brewed and fermented from loose concepts, hunches, so to speak. It's not about serendipity. 

Yet methodologies emerge themselves from improvisations that work and empirically are then tested in some way; a theory becomes practice.

And, this is the bit that Rabiger is alluding to, and the bit I'm fascinated by and hopefully gets you going as well.

Methodologies: It's why so many television broadcasters can teach videojournalism, some extensively, others to varying degrees. There exists a fundamental grammar for television laid down in 1915, or in the 1800s. Yes, really!

What we know

One of the benefits of freelancing when I worked the media as a day job was how each media company e.g. BBC, CNN, ABC had a methodology for how they achieved their ends. And within each institution there would be different, sometimes minor methodologies. When a new manager joins, they invariably tip out a new one.

There was a time when I was freelancing across several networks at a time; confusing, yes! But on reflection these methodologies imbricated with new ideas and fuse to form new methodologies.

The perfect job for training is not so much to teach your methodology, but to work with a nascent or fixed one of your delegate to work through its strengths. If you're new and bereft of any, then initially it pays to grapple with a dominant methodology first, which is what I do with our Masters and new converts to videojournalism and online storytelling.

Here, all the worn shoes from freelancing seems to have paid off, as well as the years trying to work out what Husserl or Hegel meant. You're going to be taught something at college, a job or university. You're probably going to accept it blithely, but the question I ask and attempt to answer is: why do they do that?  

Sometimes the question may seem absurd but that in itself is relative. A child asks: why? and we chuckle. A grown up asks why and we smurk One of my first and most enjoyable lectures has students try and explain why an Apple is green, or even red.

In video, why do we do the Hollywood shot-reverse-shot, when french film makers discard this 'barbarism' - remember it's all relative.

The ultimate question for me then is to not be prescriptive. Yes, that's the way it's done first, or not, to become part of the club, your own or an established one.

But then at some point the artists gaze, the vision thing in you becomes your methodology. It comes from a never ending dialogue with others in an artistic permission way; it comes from being on the edge. It comes from knowing that you're never get there, but somehow you're always inching closer to that thing you seek.

If you can get to to this BBC programme: Something Understood before it disappears it's really inspiring along these lines.

So rationalising the shot above: a five man crew working a Z1 camera? Why?  Perhaps, that's the methodology whereby they've come to accept excellence and that paying $10, 000 for hiring just for the shoot demonstrates forcefully that equation that good things come at a cost.

And then me with my Mk5? I still prefer my cinecams, but I'll confess in a place like Cairo, where it was still a bit volatile, this camera masked the event I was shooting film and not pictures.

shooting Tahrir Memento -showing clip at doc fest or you can watch here
Also as you'll see from this shot, there's a nomenclature I played around with using a stills cameras to get this interview. Like I said it's all in the methodology.