Friday, November 12, 2010

Attempting Videojournalism's Learning Process

Screen writer Sir Ronald Harwood's lecture on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - a must watch

I'm always eternally grateful for the gifts given by many; words, filmic ideas,  which capture how I might have wanted to make a point, but said much better.

I have been watching  Sir Ronald Harwood's captivating lecture on the British Academy of Film and Television Arts site as he reflects on his own craft. It produced many "aha" moments for me.

I ask you to take a look for I'm sure it will have currency for you as well.

I was struck by several things, but these few have left an indelible impression and catalysed me to start scribbling reflexive thoughts in videojournalism - the art of oneness (my pet subject)

Creative Videojournalism Thought (1)

Firstly,  made plaintively clear by Sir Ronald that the only way to become a writer is to write.

This is a seemingly torturous mantra to Masters students who I recite to endlessly. WRITE!

Sir Ronald says writing is the equivalent of muscle training for the athlete. The more your write, the more you train yourself.

This act is one that covers many disciplines, such as videojournalism.  Cue the only way to become a videojournalist is to shoot. is my exhibit B for this.

No matter what's done in the classroom, its only in the field where those creative impulses can manifest into a tangible or intangible product to be critiqued.

Creative Videojournalism Thought (2)
Secondly,  a statement which Sir Ronald qualifies in his lecture as it could be misunderstood - that is he's not sure screen writing can be taught, but it can be learnt.

There is an element of the philosopher Descartes in this: "I think therefore I am". A statement that hides a deeper truth.

You cannot be taught, but you can learn, but then from whom or what. If you learn from a teacher he or she teaches (you're being taught) - contradicting Sir Ronald's statement.

I am a lecturer and I understand the mechanics and limitations of my teaching. There are rules to guide, which can and should be broken.

Sir Ronald, for instance, takes issue with those creatives talking about the three act movie.

He tells us the 3-Act long perished becoming the 2-Act post 60s or otherwise the classical 5-Act driven by Shakespeare is an alternative option. The formula is but a guide.

In effect Sir Ronald I believe is saying the act of being taught is not a traditional classroom-based event. It involves a performance, an apprenticeship, a journey to make the learning process work, or even more memorable.

From his (screen writing) example of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s true story The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007) directed by Julian Schnabel,  Sir Ronald illustrates how he was influenced by a film made thirty years ago. 

The film Lady in the Lake directed by Robert Montgomery works off the central character's POV perspective.


Videojournalism Thought (3)
This segues nicely into the final truism I take from Sir Rowland's lecture, and I'll paraphrase it in my own way.

"I know nothing about videojournalism. I did not witness its inception".

But what I do know, (this phraseology lifted from Sir Ronald's lecture)  is how I see my videojournalism. How I define "my" videojournalism that has come through experience and learning, through pedagogy and the refinement over time through open discussions and trial and error.

Like the writer we all have a uniqueness for the way we permutate letters, syntax and grammar. T'is the same with video as a language. ( I have come by philosophers who discount the idea that film is a language).

Like any creative journey there's years of getting it wrong, and then occasionally right and then more rights than wrong hopefully. The creative learning process then is the permission to experiment.

And even when you get it wrong ( as some of my students might note ( see below), I will often shriek with delight, because that is a profound learning curve. You're inclined not to repeat it.

Though I admit I would rather after a few wrongs you begin to get it right.

And here in my videojournalism world I have in recent years come to believe another process: that videojournalism whilst a solo affair should not necessarily be enacted as a solo affair.

That incongruously whilst seeking an autership, video as a creative medium works as a collaboration - whether with your subject, or more so with another creative.

The Common Wealth of Video

Memories from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.
David's Radio 4 and Channel 4 feature from South Africa in the 90s

The common wealth of video is one of the our contemporary break throughs in language-evolution.

Previous ventures involved writing e.g.  pamphlets, then essays, books and literary scores, before at some point arriving at the stage of the screen writer.

The Screen writer is a curious being: a cinematographer without a camera. He or she prods at a page as if it would animate.

The director is, more often than not, an actor without a physical presence with the mis-en-scene thrown in for good measure. Then there's the talent, actors et al. Sir Ronald explains the collaborative nature of film making.

Videojournalism is just as curious (and that won't be the first time I'm saying this). We start from a different position of being self-expressive and then like the creative writer, at some point seek company. Doesn't always have to happen, as with artists, but it most certainly bolsters the creative process.

Which is why I'm so keen on an association to bring videojournalists together to match make at the Southbank Centre, to encourage a professional sharing and learning process that gives room for journalism and art to rework themselves.

And to think this reflection emerged from a tweet from Bafta :) A ripple in a pond. Now I'm off to watch the rest of the lectures.

David, a senior lecturer and artist in residence at the Southbank Centre is a juror at the RTS for the third year running on the panel for innovative journalism