Here are some reflections on the websites we used as tools during our Multimedia Journalism degree course. Getting familiar with all of this has been necessary for content creation and publishing. The platform dictates the kind of content published. The final item is a site called JournoPortfolio which allows the student to bring together their published work from various platforms, presenting a substantial body of work.
Early in the course we learnt to collaborate using Google Drive. Each of us could write and edit the same document simultaneously. We could have done this from anywhere online, not just one classroom. Later during the Pandemic, this kind of tool would become invaluable. We learnt to create our own websites from scratch, using Notepad Plus Plus.
At one time, branded pens were freely available for writers. Photo: Clare O’Beara.
During second year, we started individual WordPress blogs. This is a free to use, opensource platform, with many templates. Plugins can be purchased by those who want bells and whistles. WordPress was a way for the lecturer to view our assignment work (this site). We built on the web development skills we’d been taught in first year; inserting links, photos and formatting. At this point, nobody asked us to make websites phone-responsive. The lecturers were accessing them from desktops so that was all they needed.
During my final year I was also editing two official college WordPress blog sites, one for the Journalism Society (which won Blog / Vlog of the Year in the National Student Media Awards) and one for the Sustainability Society / Green Campus. People can follow blogs to be notified of new posts, which is useful. I could also view the stats and report to other students. I recommend locking down the comments so they have to be approved before appearing, as merchandisers are desperate to peddle their wares and dodgy links.
We used Squarespace in second year. This is a commercial platform which allowed us to work as a class editing one website, as a news site would need. We could upload podcast files. The educational version was free to use, but at the end of the year the site vanished. I did not find Squarespace intuitive. Some more complex aspects looked worth a try, but I just ended up reverting to the page I’d started with; I expect it’s best for people who use it a lot. However, the site gives a nice, shiny, clean look.
My photography website in third year was a Wix site, as Wix can handle a larger content upload. This comes with several pages ready for use. I picked a theme and had to go all over the site changing bits of that theme to the colours I wanted. I kept finding more, like a text box at the bottom of a page and a side bar on another page. The site worked out well and I could embed a video. We had originally been supposed to get a photography book instead, but did not, due to the pandemic. A limited number of people could see a single book, whereas my work on a website is visible to everyone. Wix doesn’t vanish.
Daffodils – I always enjoyed nature photography. Photo: Clare O’Beara.
During third year we wrote article content and published on Medium, to give us a body of work on a major, widely accessed writing platform. At the time the profile tailoring options were few, but they have since been expanded. Medium lets us upload illustrative images, and some people use free options from Unsplash, which the college allowed in assignments, but I always tried to take my own photos if possible. I wanted to own more of the content and practise my photojournalism.
Our podcast and film work were submitted as files, and I uploaded them to my author webspace. Later the films could be uploaded to our YouTube channels if we wished. YouTube gives a customisable home page and options to help film makers, now including approved free music, though at the time we just had to hunt for music we could use.
My thesis choice in fourth year was to create a website of environmental multimedia journalism, and I opted for Wix to use the larger upload allowance. I was able to embed YouTube video links and infographics on PDF downloadable files. I wrote HTML code to load podcast files onto each article page, as the site was defaulting to a separate podcast page for the purpose, which I didn’t want. By now I knew that sites had to be phone-first responsive.
I used Adobe Spark, which is yet another website, to create the actual thesis articles. Then I embedded a link to each Spark on the Wix site. Adobe had photos available but I did not use any, as I wanted to take all my own photos for my articles. Spark is strong for visuals and works impressively on phones. One of these articles won the National Student Media Awards, and the other three gained a nomination to the SMedias.
The work became more varied and complex. Fruit and veg photos: Clare O’Beara.
I taught myself to use Canva which is extremely helpful to create infographics. This site provides templates, and the more I did, the more complex my work became. I could upload my own photos or make use of their photo library.
To keep my supervisor informed I used Trello, a free educational tool for us two to drop notes and content and collect links. My files were uploaded to Google Drive, as I found Trello only takes a ten megabyte upload. Multimedia files are usually a great deal bigger. This dual facility was extremely useful during the Pandemic.
Among the tools introduced to us student journalists by lecturers, was the site JournoPortfolio. One of our third year assignments required us to acquire a page, tailor it and upload links to content produced during the year. This page thus displays work from several platforms in one place. As JP mainly provides links and brief previews it doesn’t occupy a lot of space or time – the work has already been done. I found JournoPortfolio much easier and more intuitive than Squarespace, though they have some features in common, like moving blocks, and a shiny appearance.
Home screen on JournoPortfolio. Screenshot.
One feature of particular use is that I can upload a photo and write the credit on the top of the image, for display as the headline image of each story. This gives me great incentive to take my own photos – getting a double credit.
The site offers a version free to students, which would normally be charged for annually. I signed up for that immediately, but my classmates all went for the basic one-page – a reflection perhaps of the time they had available to work on the content. I certainly didn’t regret having a board-like page which I could alter at will, moving blocks of stories up and down, with an extra page for my bio and CV, and another to display some of my Fresh Fiction book reviews. People who have more content already on the web will get the most out of this feature, but anyone who wants an incentive to get content published will enjoy filling in the spaces.
Any time I’ve had a query, which has only been a couple of times, the site owner has got back to me within a few hours to help resolve the issue. I can check the viewing stats, create categories, and set a featured article.
Page on JournoPortfolio displaying my work from various content platforms in one place. Screenshot.
From JP I can place links to other platforms. The social media I use is the professional site LinkedIn. Content here is mostly unavailable after three months, except to those paying extra to view lengthy histories. A simple JournoPortfolio link from my LinkedIn profile provides my written articles from the various sites collected on one page. I’ve also placed reciprocal links between JP and my author’s website, which helps for search engine optimisation (SEO). Thus, I consider JournoPortfolio to be a good professional platform, as recommended to us by our multimedia journalist lecturer, and I am now recommending the site to others.
I have found the skills and tools I gained invaluable. The world is moving extremely fast nowadays, and if you don’t keep moving forward, you are not standing still; you are getting left behind. I was delighted to take a postgraduate Data Visualisation certificate, using Tableau, which was made much easier by being familiar with all the skillsets described. I’ve placed fresh content on Medium and linked it with JournoPortfolio. When I continue my studies, I will be placing college work on sites again and I’ll link that to JP again, so check in from time to time and see my progress.
Sky over Coolock. Sky over Dundrum. All photos: Clare O’Beara, 2023.
Editing the short films for college was great fun, and I learned a lot.
(Skip this paragraph, if you are not mechanically minded like me.)
Post production was an entirely positive experience, if you discount the times the Mac computer or Final Cut Pro 10 program crashed. I have written about these issues separately. But it’s worth mentioning that author Michael Jecks, who writes historical fiction, has had similar issues. He says:
“For the last couple of months – perhaps longer – I’ve been suffering from the famous Apple spinning wheel of death. I had my suspicions about the causes, and was pretty sure that it was the amount of data I have stored on the machine’s hard drive.
“It became an issue the more videos I recorded for YouTube. When I loaded iMovie at the same time that iTunes or Photos was open, the computer died. With monotonous regularity. There would be the spinning wheel, and then nothing would happen. The computer had to be turned off and on. Which would fix things – but when this happens four times in rapid succession, you know that there is an issue.
“So I have been trawling through the internet support pages for Apple to seek an answer, and today, at last, I gave up and called them. And lo and behold! a short while later there was an answer. And having done something with my machine (don’t ask me what), the thing is working again. So far.”
Published on April 12, 2019 and read by me the same day.
Before reading that post, I had already decided to figure out if there was anything I could do to make the computers work better with my films. I think the stunning compression rates on the CrossTour Action Cam files may be almost too much for the Mac, which would be a few years old. I thought if there wasn’t enough RAM available I might free up some by shutting down and restarting the computer before starting work, and by shutting it down between each film I cut instead of continuing to import files. So, while I don’t know anything about Macs, I asked the computer to tell me about itself. The ones in the college Media Room have:
OS X Yosemite (which explains the picture of the Half Dome on the monitor)
Mac 21.5 inch late 2012 processor 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5
Memory 8 GB. Two memory slots, each one accepts a 1600 MHz DDR3 memory module 4GB and 4GB.
Storage 891.22 GB free of 999.35 GB
™ 1983 – 2015 Apple Inc
The Intel processor is powerful, a Win 10 at home runs Intel Core i3, but the i7 is available now.
Some graphics cards have their own memory which is nearer the card than the machine RAM, so faster for gaming (but Macs are not usually gaming machines). NVidia is a good make.
The 8 gig of RAM is the memory involved in the film making and I compared with another Mac elsewhere in the college. 1600 megahertz is a good standard. The other one ran the same OS but had 4GB, 1333 MHz DDR3. The machine had four memory slots but only two were in use and they held two cards each of 2GB. It had a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 processor and instead of NVidia it had a graphics card from AMD Radeon HD 6750M 512 MB, also a good make. Storage was 352.76 GB free of 499.25 GB. The hard drive was 500 GB Sata Disk instead of a terabyte; it also had a superdrive.
So the Macs in the Media Room were significantly more powerful in processing, with twice the random access memory and hard disk of the machines for teaching Photoshop. They got wiped every night. And they were still freezing and crashing.
I decided to use a different machine than the one that lost my file, as advised by my lecturer, in case it had been in use more and something had got a bit loose; when you have opened Google Drive on one computer, you tend to keep using that one, as Google wants to phone you and do two factor authentication if you use another one.
I started turning the machine off and on every time I started work, to release the RAM. I did not open any other files or programs or Google anything using the working machine. I also made sure the FCP drew from library files on my portable terabyte drive and saved work there while in progress. If I saw the program was doing some background work, like importing or saving, I stopped editing and let it settle. This did slow matters down but I had no more crashes. However, the terabyte drive wasn’t the answer to everything, as I was yet to discover.
Film editing has been great fun from the start. At first we edited material supplied; then we edited footage from our phones. I had never had a film camera before and had only taken one or two film clips with my phone camera so I was really learning the process from scratch. I read (recommended by lecturer Kenny Leigh) Walter Murch’s bookIn The Blink Of An Eye which is not so much a guide to editing as a guide to how to think about editing. Like Mike Figgis’s bookDigital Film Making the account spans the years and equipment used from analogue to digital, so I got an understanding of what editing had been about for films and was going to be about in the future. Two memorable points are that film producers ask about a prospective editor, “how fast does he / she work?” as post-production days equal money; and that digitising allows wires to be erased, so stunt wires which used to be almost invisible are now brightly coloured for easier removal.
No stunts in my footage. We might get to that next year. We might also get to more post-production special effects like green screen and split screen, which I would have liked to try. I could have, except that I ran out of time at the end of semester.
I started out by cutting the longer film and went back and forward between the long and short ones, finishing with the longer, so I’ll separate out the work for this article. I mostly did one at a time but some days I did both as they were both using the same sets of footage. Obviously, if they were using completely different footage sets, I would have wasted time by rummaging around in piles of video files, so I would keep separate films separate and shut down the computer between each one. I did insert some clips I had taken during the preceding months for practice in Dublin, so having backed those up was very helpful. I didn’t need to go out and film them again.
Longer short film – Access For All: Dublin to London
This film is the story of our quest to have a nice trip to the tourist spots of London despite our requirement for accessible transport and locations, as my husband Allan now has a mobility issue.
My storyboard for this film would originally have looked like a running series of interviews each morning in the hotel followed by footage of what we did each day. I filmed a little clip in the Stansted Express and one in Liverpool Street Station too. But I was experimenting with the Crosstour and learning, and I later decided the light quality indoors was very variable, plus one only needs to see so many hotel curtains.
So one weekend when I needed to get some photography for my course anyway, Allan and I went out in my van. I photographed some shore birds at Bull Island UNESCO World Biodiversity Reserve and drove to St Anne’s Park in Raheny where Allan sat comfortably on a stone bench near the duck pond and I set up the Crosstour on a tripod. I had written out the series of questions I wanted to ask Allan during an interview. I filmed this interview, also recording with my phone lying on the bench beside Allan, but it turned out the sound from that was no better and slightly fainter. Then I did a nice pan around the duck pond, told Allan to watch the ducks, and took the photos of Allan for a feature article. I had forgotten I had not switched off the Crosstour, and it actually captured me taking some photos with my Olympus camera, so I used this clip right at the end of my film.
After talking to lecturer Kenny Leigh about the photos I took that day, which he said were a little overexposed, I can now see that the footage of Allan is similarly slightly too bright on his face. There was no direct sunlight that day and I had made sure I wasn’t filming into the light, but it shows that you can’t see – especially on a two-inch screen – how your shot will look until you get it to a monitor.
Back in college I used this ten-minute interview as the basis for my film story. I discarded some material that wasn’t relevant, then intercut and superimposed the clips of our trip to London. The sound on this footage is the weakest part as the wind is blowing, crows are cawing and the odd passer-by is coughing. But it’s a natural, unrehearsed interview in natural surroundings. A better audio would be gained if we each had a proper mic. We did it all in one take as it was a chilly day and Allan didn’t want to be sitting out any longer than needed. He was very obliging. I spotted that his eyes would travel up to me when I spoke, then down to the camera when he spoke, as I didn’t have anywhere to sit, so I was taller. We might bring a folding stool to eliminate that issue next time. Because I know Allan I can tell he’s actually smiling more than it appears on the footage.
While filming this look at disability access, I had opportunity to film some other people with disabilities, for instance in a motorized wheelchair or walking with a white cane. I did not want to be intrusive and did not look like I was filming them. Even though this film is about humanism, I decided it would be unethical to make a film on disability access and include some people with disabilities, without getting their permission and signed release forms. They might not welcome being shown if I put the film on YouTube. At one point in my book trailer film, we see a man with a white cane, walking smartly with two friends. He is obviously well integrated into society and well regarded, and he has no problems at that moment. So, I chose to leave him in shot as he indicates that my books often feature people with various disabilities.
Instead, if Allan wasn’t in shot, I tried to show how some place either was or was not accessible. I showed lengthy escalators and stairs, I showed myself handling a row of flint axes which would be good for vision impaired folks, I showed museum displays at low level and with lots of room to manoeuvre, and walked up to an automatic door which opened towards me.
I also needed to address the ethics of buying a film camera and travelling to London, in order to make student films. Kenny had cameras to borrow, but I wouldn’t bring a borrowed camera to London. He had said that he didn’t encourage students to buy expensive equipment they would not use after college, but the Crosstour option was very affordable. This camera is also very light on materials, packaging and carbon involved in delivery. I will get lots of use out of it in future years, including for the remainder of my course. The SD cards are re-usable and do not involve processing chemicals. The batteries are rechargeable. When electronic devices reach end of life, I recycle them correctly. I was not replacing an outdated camera.
Travelling does involve carbon use, especially by air. My husband and I decided that this would be our annual short break abroad and for the rest of the year we would drive around Ireland if we wanted a break. I offset carbon every day of the year and plant a tree every week as well as other carbon saving efforts such as protecting rainforest, through Carbon.org and Care2.com. Our luggage was kept to a minimum, since the filming equipment was so small. While in UK / London we used public transport. In this fashion we minimised our carbon emissions.
If I were to ask a graphic artist to make book trailers for me, I would have no guarantee that any less carbon would be spent to get a satisfactory result. And by using the college computers for this process I did not have to buy a separate computer in addition to our Windows ones, so this was an environmentally economical way to make the trailers.
I can also hope that the books, which provide entertainment with an environmental, economic and sociological message, will have a positive effect if they reach a wider readership. The film on disability access we are making at the same time may help people who need accessible venues and transport. I also blog most weeks on disability access and the trip allowed me to check out venues.
On balance, and given we live a low-carbon, low-waste lifestyle and offset carbon, using our annual holiday in this fashion seems to contain at least as many benefits as disadvantages.
Editing meant that I was able to mix scenes around in order, so they didn’t necessarily happen exactly as shown. This is where it was very helpful to have lots of footage. I had listened carefully to media lecturer Dragana Jurisic and she had told us things like how to pan slowly, hold the camera close to the body to reduce shake, the advantage of taking lots of little cutaway clips, and how to make good use of natural light. Her advice on filming was invaluable as I might take a clip of a minute or so and end up using a few seconds. If you run a lot of five second clips together you can get a nice film, but you need an awful lot of clips. I was also learning this from interacting with the other students who were making their films. Either something should be happening or there should be a voiceover or both. Music is good but the screen has to keep changing to keep attention. And rather than sit waiting, in a documentary, we should be shown the purpose of the filming.
I considered the viewer will accept filming from an odd angle or viewpoint if they are told early in the film that it is coming up, and why. So, I mentioned early in my script that I filmed some lower level shots to give the point of view of a person in a wheelchair, and superimposed just such a shot of grey trouser legs on a Tube platform. During the story I used a couple of seconds of the same legs to remind viewers of why they were seeing low level before shifting to another low level shot.
I included contrast like indoor and outdoor, close up and big view, to add richness and keep the viewer interested.
From early in my work I knew I would finish on the scene of Allan having tea in the Skygarden. It’s a lovely cheerful, detailed scene with beautiful light, and shows that he did gain a nice trip from walking through all those stairs and escalators. Even though this is a documentary, a film needs to tell a story, and this is a winning moment in our quest to have a nice break in London, despite the transport system not being set up for people with disabilities. So, this shot is out of chronological order, but it made the best finish for a film looking at humanism. We get enough depressing news.
I picked a graceful title format called Ribbon. As I get more familiar with FCP I learn how to speed up the work, for instance when you know the name of the title format desired, you can type it in a little low-down search box and you will be shown any that match. There are quite a lot of formats and it’s important to pick one that’s appropriate for the style of film. To unify the work I used the same format at start and end. I didn’t put any music at the start because there would be too great a contrast with Allan sitting still.
I wanted cheerful music and searched YouTube for cheerful summer music; I got a nice free modern tune and followed that with a tune of happy bagpipes which is perfect for Allan’s accent. Both musicians, Kevin MacLeod and Declan DP, said anyone was welcome to use the music in films.
(Hi lads! Thanks!) Using their formatting:
“Happy Scottish Bagpipes Background Instrumental | Royalty Free Music
One other thing I was looking for was relatively new or not much seen music, as I did not want to use music which everyone else had put in their videos. I was very pleased with these two. I did not want more than two as that would be potentially annoying. I used the same one first and last; in between, I used the alternative one without a change. This gave continuity. The Scots music was meant to focus mostly on Allan but the summer one was just as much focused on me. Dragana also helped me during editing by suggesting I should fade music in and out.
What I would do differently if I produced this again, is that to make the film more accessible to those with reduced hearing, and to help anyone who has trouble understanding Allan’s Scottish accent, I would look at how to insert subtitles. I don’t suppose it’s all that difficult but it would be time consuming and annoying for me. The text would have to coincide with the speech and I’d have to colour it according to who was speaking. I don’t think the FCP program would have as good a spill chucker* as Word, and the print in the typing window is tiny. Maybe there is a way to prepare a script in a word processor and insert it. I would invent something like that if I worked in the industry, for translations too. The text might also overlay on top of some lovely shots and spoil them or obscure the point of them. This might make editing more tricky. I didn’t have time this semester to look at subtitling but I could look at that next year if we make more films. I would also like to learn split screen and green screen work for documentaries as this would be invaluable for journalism around Dublin.
* Spill chucker is an author’s technical term for a spell checker.
Making the master file
When I had finally finished my 16 minute film I made a master file, having very carefully followed my notebook through the title screen, settings set to the compression format H264, which for some reason is not at the top of the list although it is the most useful, and sat back to wait for it to work. On Da Vinci Resolve this process is called rendering. The file was supposed to be being saved onto the portable hard disk but fell over at 50% and a message said Error 27. Final Cut Pro designers, this is no help. How am I supposed to know what error codes mean? Let alone 27 or more of them? I felt the disk and it was warm, so I moved it to a cooler part of the desk and asked for another master file. Slowly it worked and fell over at 50%. Error 27. I was last one in the room by then and this was our last class. Well, you know the definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome. So I asked for the master file to be saved to the desktop. This time it worked bravely and took 30 minutes to produce.
Next, I found that the master file would not go into the terabyte drive. There was room for it, but the message I got was that the format of the drive would not support such a large file. Clearly this was what Error 27 was about. I realised that DOS is a very old operating system and when it was invented, we didn’t have giant media software files. We didn’t have colour monitors. Either Apple OS or MS OS on the drive would handle it but the drive was all DOS.
My only option was to put the file up on the cloud. I had been reading the news on a different computer while I waited, so as not to stress out the working Mac, and now I summoned up the magic of Google Cloud, to which we’d had to raise our subscription again with all the media storage, and sat back again to wait. The film took 50 minutes to upload. I was so glad when it went up. Google Cloud obviously compresses the file as it gets it, because it looked like 2GB up there, but next day at home I downloaded it to my own computer for safe backup storage and it occupied 8GB. 8GB is the total RAM available to that Mac. A media file is going to use an awful lot more RAM at once than a flat text file.
Although Allan had said I was welcome to do as I wished with the footage, I showed it to him before submitting the assignment. He wasn’t used to seeing himself being interviewed. Having viewed it a couple of times, he says he likes the film a lot. He’s already saying that if we do something similar next year, he’ll try to smile more – maybe I could bring photos of the cats to the park – and he’ll try to act like he’s one of the semi-professional vloggers on YouTube because he realises now that the interviewee should not be making any tiny movements. So he is getting interested too and I can see us doing more filming with the Crosstour over summer. This is a positive outcome for our family.
I analysed the existing YouTube SF book trailers to get a feel for the length they should be and what they should contain. Some trailers are still images superimposed on fancy or moving backgrounds, some models of spaceships and art of future soldiers, and others are action. Most contain book covers but that isn’t required once the title is supplied and viewers understand they can find the book on Amazon.
Many people don’t watch four book trailers back to back. But SF readers might, if they enjoy the first one. So I would provide the individual trailers and series trailer. As these are original films, the content won’t be found elsewhere.
Having seen the trailer for the first book, my first solo short film, Dragana wanted some narration to convey more background to the story but I knew that this wasn’t going to work, so I explained that book trailers are for readers and just contain text. She thought that viewers might not understand what space mines are or what Pluto going underground means. In general, I tend to think SF readers have a store of background knowledge from SF media and would pick up on this quickly, but of course, Young Adults won’t have read as much, and other viewers might become interested only after viewing a good trailer. So I could see her point and I added a few screens of story setup at the start. Dragana wondered if a flashback would help but in a minute of film there would be no time, and I wanted to keep a forward momentum.
Dragana also wanted some kind of beginning and resolution; given I can’t provide the end of the stories, because book trailers encourage readers to buy the book to find out the end, I thought of another option. I posed a question – “Is it possible to create a believable vision of the future – with aliens? Let’s ask some experts.” Then, each book of the series (four in all) has a different review quote after it, and I added a final review quote which I was lucky and honoured to have gained very recently. Author Jemima Pett who writes The Princelings Of The East fantasy series and science fiction, and who is a Londoner, had written this on Goodreads. I am hoping that by giving an answer from five authors through the trailer, I will have answered the question posed at the outset.
Jemima Pett’s Reviews > Dining Out with the Gas Giants, Feb 17 2019, Goodreads. Read by me Feb 18.
I had taken advice from Dragana about my storyboard: I showed City buildings a few scenes in and she suggested I put them at the start because I had just mentioned giant corporations. She was right because the London landmarks like 30 St Mary Axe, known as the Gherkin, makes for a big, eyecatching opening shot. I wasn’t allowed to film this scene with a tripod in the Skygarden so it shakes a little, but with luck people will mainly notice that the wide-angle lens I used has curved the tall buildings slightly. This should add to the impression that the world depicted is not quite the world they know. The building on the left is still being built taller so we can see these firms are prospering. I am sure editing software could reduce the shake but I’ve more learning time ahead of me. A newsflash runs onto the screen telling us that British Space Mines is Hiring!
And then we cut to a street level scene, traffic halted, with a red bus and builder’s truck as shoppers walk. The famous Nelson’s Column is lined up in the centre, framed by a road sign that points to the City and with a yellow – attention grabbing – poster about road closure for St Patrick’s Day. This poster represents the Irish community and protagonist, we see the ordinary people now, and I chose not to show moving traffic because I want the viewer to focus on what matters, which is the newsflash about a Mine Shuttle Accident. This is the engine driving my character’s actions, providing his background and giving him motivation.
In general, I wanted every scene to be in motion. Five reasons.
Filming is a requirement of my module. If it’s a film, it can darn well move.
Motion distinguishes the trailer from those made with photos or models and art.
Each book is packed with purposeful motion; people walking, getting Tube trains, riding on RIBs across the Thames estuary, shuttles taking off and landing.
Science fiction is about action: the future is fast-moving.
Motion is emotion, as critic Mark Cousins says in Widescreen (2008, Wallflower Press).
The newsflashes provide added motion as well as richer content.
I analysed recent music videos on YouTube and noticed that jumps are getting closer together and you can make sense of a scene two seconds long. This gave me confidence to shorten scenes, keep motion in each scene and add newsflashes to most of them. Not all; sometimes there is enough going on and I don’t want a distraction, or the scene is too short.
Rapid contrast is another way I added richness. Indoor follows outdoor, framing through a window follows a landmark view, a big structure is succeeded by or replaces faces in a crowd.
Some scenes are particularly beautiful and interesting, and I leave them for two newsflashes. For instance, we are introduced to migrant workers by a scene of Chinatown near Leicester Square, with a variety of different-looking people walking through shot. Another instance is in a later book when we see a boat heading away from camera along the Thames. The viewer has time to settle in and notice the Shard on the right, a bridge in centre, Tower Bridge distantly ahead. The viewer gets two newsflashes and they may think they are waiting for the boat to pass under a bridge, which it does; actually they are waiting for the plane to fly over the Shard.
Every scene has to serve at least two purposes because they are condensing so much content. A book in one minute. So, the London Eye, which appears in each book trailer, represents London, time, and motion, but also London’s Eye the news zine. This is an ideally striking and recognisable image. The prettiest one is the view from the South Bank Centre; I was quite proud of myself to film almost into the sun and capture a camera flare or reflection too.
Individuals and diversity
People are also worth a look; I chose the few seconds of the Royal Opera House that we see because a distinguished gentleman of colour is just leaving. I got another great image of a street in the City where a larger gentleman is walking up to and past a smaller one, and this suggests a power struggle or imbalance. Each of these matched perfectly with a headline I had in mind. As in the books I tried to provide a good balance and diversity of people.
I chose a deliberately soft focus scene of a park with flowers because of the romantic headline; also this meeting takes place in a park and the character turns out not to be so pleasant, so I did not want any walker to be identified with her.
I include a tree trunk; this is very recognisably a London Plane tree for anyone who knows trees. The books all have an environmental theme, and this is picked up in the two clips of a climate change protest march. “A cast of thousands,” I commented to Dragana when she viewed it. This is one of my Dublin shots.
I don’t believe I use the same bit of footage twice, either in this film or between the two films, because: I made sure to film landmarks from different viewpoints; any time I use two parts of the same clip there is a different part on show each time (watch the details); and there is a degree of repetition in the start and end matter so I wanted to avoid other repetition. I needed to show three to eight minutes of original footage and I have easily complied.
The word punctum was coined by French philosopher and critic Roland Barthes. He uses the term to describe small details about people or scenes that may be noticed in a photograph and ‘puncture’ the scene or the viewer’s gaze. By filming ordinary people in London instead of actors, I captured details like a woman pushing up her sleeves as she walks, children with bright pink accessories, a person in red, or with blue hair, or drinking a bottle of water in a crowd, a man with a white cane walking smartly, the individuals mentioned earlier and the notice about St Patrick’s Day.
These items make the scene more eye-grabbing and rich, so the viewer may feel they have taken in a great deal of content in a short space of time. I really enjoyed looking through clips for the best details to feature in my scenes. Again, this was possible because I had taken a great deal of footage.
No dialogue in this film, but I have plenty of narration in the longer film. I needed music that suggested SF and was fast-paced. The intensity had to strengthen within a minute. I listened to quite a few.
Dragana had told us to pick music that had ‘no copyright’ or ‘free to use’ on it on YouTube and I found two themes fit the bill. Using their formatting:
“Ansia Orchestra – Hack The Planet [Epic/Cinematic/Orchestral][MFY – No Copyright Music]
You can to use and monetized this track by copying the following information into your description▼: ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ ▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼▼ Music: Ansia Orchestra – Hack The Planet Link: https://youtu.be/fthcBrJY5eg Music provided by: MFY – No Copyright ▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲▲ ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
The Runner – Instrumental sci-fi Synth music. Royalty free music.
Soundtrackuniverse.com – Royalty free instrumental music to use in your games and videos. ”
I also found another tune I would like to use and cut a demo for practice, but it was unclear if this was free to use, so I requested clarity but have not heard anything. I was hoping, but as two months have elapsed and it’s time to submit the assignment, I’m giving up on it. All part of the learning process.
I made a series trailer using the free songs, two of each song, alternating. I will be happy to credit everyone, provide their links and any copyright or creative commons notices whenever the trailer goes up on YouTube, and I would happily link to the originally posted tracks too.
My lecturer James Mackin was kind enough to check that I knew a music artist might not want me to use their song if I publish a film, and I explained the situation at that time. I’m also in the extremely fortunate position of having a webmaster who would make such checks as a matter of course, but it’s still my responsibility.
Making the master file
This was a matter of getting each section right, or as close as I could, then putting them together and adding anything else needed. I am a detail freak and kept trying to improve the file before finishing. Still haven’t got it perfect, since there’s one thing FCP just refused to do for me, and probably more besides, but to err is human. Each short section had mastered easily and was stored, so I was not going to lose much if I did have a crash. The chapter method seems very practical and this meant the final file was not nerve-wracking. This one went onto the terabyte drive no problem. I had this film finished before completing the longer film, which repeatedly gave more trouble.
This has been entirely a college project to date and only my lecturers and husband have seen it, but they seem to like the film. I did put in a lot of extra hours, but the semester was short and I had no prior experience.
Never having had a film camera before, I am delighted with the Crosstour. I can see while editing and in the finished product which scenes were shot with that and which with the phone camera. I love the clarity and depth of field of the Crosstour. I was also able to film in places where you might not get footage with a big film camera, and as it’s so small people behaved normally around it. Allan did tell me that he spotted some people staring at me filming with a tiny camera and pink mini tripod. I guess even in London they haven’t seen many of these yet.
The streets I filmed and edited were in both films reflecting how I felt about that street. The steps were obstacles, not a way to make progress, for a person with mobility issues. The City or Chinatown streets featured scenes in my head from my books. This reflects the theory of another French thinker, Alexandre Anstruc. He called his concept le camera-stylo saying that the camera was like a pen to express the thoughts of the photographer or film maker. I have to agree that these two short films are very personal expressions of how I felt about those streets, and surprisingly, they are quite different in tone. I was concerned on Allan’s behalf when the effort of getting around was outweighing the advantages. I was thrilled to be giving a new medium to my book stories. Both in the same trip.
Maybe because I’m new to film production, I gained great value from having another set of eyes or ears on my work in progress. Another person would spot a tiny detail to correct or make a constructive suggestion, and I was determined I would be open to all advice. In turn I tried to help fellow students if they needed a fresh set of eyes. Authors often have an editor or proofreader for this exact reason. In Save The Cat (2005, Michael Wiese Productions) screenwriter Blake Snyder advocates getting fresh thoughts from people not involved in a project. This is reiterated in The Guerilla Film-Maker’s Pocketbook by Chris Jones, Genevieve Joliffe and Andres Zinnes (2010, Bloomsbury Academic), which I once more heartily recommend.
At this point I wish to thank everyone who participated in preparation, filming and post-production with me. Whether they were in shot or gave advice or helped with technical stuff or just laid eyes on my films, I gained immeasurably from listening to their words or observing their reactions. Thanks again to the artists who make music available to students for free, and thanks to vloggers who demonstrate how to use cameras. Mostly I need to thank my lecturers and my husband, so take a bow, folks, and let me throw some flowers at you. I’ll be back for more next year.
I checked out YouTube for suitable copyright free or creative commons licence music.
YouTube to mp3 converter site – safe so far but block all popups and X extra pages. MalwareBytes does not like this site. Any malware can’t get past the college servers but at home I am dependent on our own resources.
At this point, sorry, I am writing down the bad stuff so as to keep it separate from the happy moments which are in the next post. Feel free to skip.
The first problem is that the Macs keep crashing or freezing. They either crash or freeze every class, whether using Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. If the Mac crashes I have perhaps lost all my work. I lost half a days’s film making. I am not suggesting that all Macs do this. I am not familiar with Apple products and don’t use any other Macs. The problem is not confined to me. My lecturer suggested the OS might need updating.
The next issue is that we are using Final Cut Pro 10. Also known as Final Cut Pro X. The programme is fine and fun to use but the Help section on it bears no relation to reality. The book I got from the College Library is for Final Cut Pro 7 and has little resemblance to the programme I am using. All it wants to do is teach keyboard shortcuts (which I have not used much since a Windows 80386) when I would rather use dropdown menus and a mouse, and it presumes you are storing all your film clips permanently on the computer hard drive. Googling the answers does not always provide any useful answers, and most of them are aimed at version 7.
I spent an hour sitting there on my own one day just trying every menu and tool, to see what they did and to find a way to save my file without finishing it. I finally got to the bendy arrow on the mid-right of the screen which gave me the option Save As. This was not described in the help section or the book. But this doesn’t always work. Some days it gives the options you need and some days it doesn’t.
Saving can take anything from a minute to forty minutes.
I found that a two minute film took twenty minutes to upload to Google Drive. And it used two gigabytes. The Google Drive is only 15 gig on the free version, and I have stored lots of clips on it. We paid for more storage space as a family, because I am clearly going to need it, and my husband and I spent a weekend clearing any bad or duplicate photos etc. out of our existing space.
Because of this downloading /uploading time I was advised to bring in a terabyte hard drive, USB 3, which could be formatted to work with the Macs. Our drives are all formatted for Windows OS and don’t talk to Mac OS.
I brought in a spare terabyte hard drive, and lecturer Kenny Leigh checked that there was nothing of value on it – it was for backups of backups – and reformatted it for DOS. I remember using DOS on the 80386 Microsoft computer. Kenny explained that DOS is earlier than Windows OS or Mac OS (like a parent of them) so both of them will talk to it and I can transfer files from the Macs to my Win 10 that way. We named the drive with my name (which I also wrote on a label) and it works much more quickly than a flashdrive. Another student brought in a drive with work on it and that had to be partitioned by one of the IT staff before the partitioned part could be formatted to DOS. We just don’t use Macs, by and large.
However, I still had the problem of the computer crashing and the long delays before I could save my work to the drive. The FCP makers didn’t seem to care about students who did not own the computer and had to take their work off it each time. Also we never knew when to start saving and might have to go on to another class. While the lecturers were great, and let students sit in for extra time, they had other classes to go to and couldn’t always be around.
Another student told me about DaVinci Resolve, a free film making program which she was able to run on her Mac laptop. I downloaded the Windows version to my Win 10 at home, but when I imported a small clip and tried to run it, the program crashed. Macs are just made for processing power it seems.
I had the experience of finishing up when the rest of the class had gone and waiting forty minutes for my rough cut of a twenty minute film to save. It would not go in to the hard drive so I was saving it to the desktop. Then when it was on the desktop I tried to put it into the drive and was told the Quicktime file was a format the drive did not like. So I asked Quicktime to put it into an MP4 format. Quicktime was doing that for 16 minutes and had nearly finished when the computer crashed. It came back up with no sign of my file. I was already late for an appointment and had been texting to explain my absence, so I had no option but to go. I came back the next day but the Mac had been wiped.
I introduced myself to a lecturer who is not my lecturer, Matthew Nolan, while going for extra time to redo the rough cut I had lost, and as he seemed to know what he was doing I asked him how to save my file safely while in progress or uncompleted. He thought there should be an option on the FCP but there wasn’t, or not a clear one. The program does make incremental saves while working but that is no use if I can’t take them off. Matthew went and Googled it and told me to watch a YouTube video which would show me how to set up my hard drive as the library the programme used. In other words the file would be opened using material drawn from the drive; and every file save made while working would be saved onto the drive. I would be just using the Mac as a processing tool.
This was a very helpful video and easy to follow.
Then I asked how to get the file work I was doing, on to the drive library. Matthew said he’d seen that in the YouTube list as well and I should ask YT for exactly what I wanted to do. Up came a video. This was also very helpful and demonstrated exactly what I had to do. I had to mouse-drag the file (at the top of media clips with the clapperboard icon) into the library on the left and store the library on the disc.
Another issue is saving the finished file. The FCP files in production are not viewable by any other program. To resolve this we have to save them in another format. The computer will put them into a format that can be shown by Quicktime, something else I have never used. But I discovered that just because it’s in Quicktime that doesn’t necessarily mean my computer at home can view it. They can all be called .mov so this is not helpful.
When ‘sharing’ – why can’t they call it saving? I am not sharing it – our film lecturer Dragana Jurisic says I have to ask for a master file, name it, go to Settings and ask for H264. It seems pointless that there are many other options it will default to, when none of them seem to be useful. Surely the most useful one should be the default. I’m a logical thinker. But this has tripped me and others up when we think we have saved our work only to find the file is a dud. With a two minute file that doesn’t matter much.
A clue is that the non-H264 files take longer to be made and are more likely to freeze the program or crash the computer. A quick check on Google tells me “An H264 file is a video file encoded with H.264 compression, which is a popular format for high definition video.”
Today the FCP froze while 75% of the way to saving my 11 minute master file. Dragana gave up on it after a while and used Find and Command to do a ‘force quit’ – I have tried before and there is no Control-Alt-Delete. When FCP went away, Dragana brought it back up again and it still had my file because she had not shut down the computer. We were able to remake a master file which saved more quickly, right onto my hard drive. However I was unable to view it all in class time as I had to go to another class, and at home I found an issue which still needs resolving in my film. When you are not able to be sure what will be saved or in how long, it can be very hard to import the right material, cut it, and have it ready to go in limited time. The partially made film saves are on my hard drive with early incarnations so it is not that easy to find what I need.
I found I just have to keep on taking notes, including the odd drawing. When I get one film class a week I have generally forgotten exactly where I left off or how to do things. I sit down at the program and it takes me a few minutes to get in the swing of it. However, during class time there is a lecturer available to ask for help, and I am also able to give occasional help to other students, because I have determinedly written everything down as I went. This is supposed to be a ‘paperless class’ but I have to say, even a sheet I could print off with the step by step basic guide to FCP 10 and what screens and tools should look like, would be most useful. Calling it a paperless class means the younger students don’t think they need to note anything, or don’t have note taking materials to hand, and there isn’t any alternative provided. Whereas I’ve got multiple notebooks.
Features lecturer James Mackin (another Apple user) shared a link with me to a series of videos showing how to use various features of FCP 10, and I am going through them as I get the chance. I am finding that the visual tutorial is far more helpful than a book. From talking to Matthew and James I understand that some FCP users prefer the 7 version or the 10 version, but Apple has stopped supporting the 7 version.
Sorry about the complaints. I took steps to discover the source of problems and reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, as you’ll see in the next post. I don’t even want to add links or photos because just reading this back today is depressing me.
Before heading to London, I had made exactly one short film, a few minutes long, which I filmed; and co-produced with two students in my class, who acted. This was great fun and worked well. We used a student’s phone.
One of our lessons was to make a storyboard which is a drawn version of the story, in boxes shaped like the screen. I had to draw out what I thought my London filming might look like and any captions or dialogue should be shown.
I had made a series of clips of spring in St. Stephen’s Green and ran them together (our earliest film exercise with no story or actors) so I experimented with Final Cut Pro. I managed to overlay titles and newsflashes on this gentle scene to resemble what I could do with my London filming for book trailers. When I combined this exercise with the storyboard I was able to get a good idea of what I would need to do. This also allowed my lecturer to make suggestions.
I was making two films – my science fiction book trailers and a documentary on disability access.
We booked a basic hotel in Ealing and Ryanair flights to Stansted during Reading Week in February. I had not had much time to get used to the Crosstour action camera, just one morning filming ducks in the park. To keep me going while on the move, I bought a battery pack called a powerbank. This has USB ports and each morning I set out with the two camera batteries, Samsung phone and the powerbank fully charged. When a battery ran low I would swap it for the one in my backpack which charged happily from the powerbank as I walked. I could also charge the phone that way. I had my mini tripod which could be used with my phone or the camera.
I had read The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbook, which I thoroughly recommend. This advised me to make a call sheet. This is a list of what scenes you need to film, where, timing, and routes to take between locations. We made this at home over a couple of evenings, using Google maps and the Tube map. Following our call sheet saved time and debate each day. The only time we didn’t follow it exactly, we just had extra walking. I had scheduled one lengthy series of activities for ‘First Fine Day’; as it happened we reached London on the warmest winter day ever recorded in the UK.
We didn’t like to film in the airport but got some footage on the Stansted Express and in Liverpool Street Station. Allan my husband gets tired after travelling, so we did not do much after getting some footage in Ealing and checking in to the hotel that afternoon. The next day was a glorious warm day – turned out to beat the previous day’s record – so we set off for the fine day call sheet.
First Day’s Filming
We went straight on the Tube to the City where we went to Fenchurch Street and a building known as the Walkie Talkie. On top is the Sky Garden. We queued with other tourists for a security scan before the fast lift. The top had a café and seating and glassed balconies for the 360 degree views. I did lots of filming but was not allowed to use the tripod on the balcony, in case I used it as a selfie stick I was told, selfie sticks being banned. We could see the grey-yellow smog of traffic fumes sitting down over the streets. Allan enjoyed the view and lunch. We did comment that the potato and leek soup was a bit watery; of course, we were captive purchasers unless we wanted to go down early.
I was carrying my backpack with a folder of call sheets and notepad, the camera and battery bag and the tripod, plus my Kindle. My phone was in my front waistcoat pocket, and I was being careful not to be pickpocketed or to leave anything out of my hand for a moment. Each day I was also taking photos with an eye to making book covers.
After lunch, Allan decided that his legs had had enough (and the smog was causing asthma) and he just wanted a sit down, so I left him in a City café and went off to the nearby Museum of London. I only had time to see a portion of it, but the entry is free and it is very accessible. I filmed some of the displays, and myself handling stone axeheads and flint nodules. Then I went on past St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames, following a route we’d worked out for the sheet. We knew there was no point in going to Westminster as the Houses of Parliament are under scaffolding and plastic. I got all my shots – the London Eye was the big one, to represent London’s Eye the news zine in my books – and met up with Allan again.
At this point I need to record that I filled up my camera’s Sandisk SD card. We hadn’t known how much it would take but I had brought the packet so we could buy another one exactly the same. Allan spotted an Argos store in the City and said that would be a good place to get one. We went in and immediately saw a big poster advertising Sandisk SD cards. Clearly every tourist was doing what we were doing. I produced the original packet and we got the second card.
We ate our evening meals in Ealing as this left us a short bus-ride from our hotel. Prices here are also more reasonable than the city centre. We further economised by having packs of fruit juice and breakfast biscuits with the in-room coffee each morning, and not paying for wi-fi access. Most pubs and museums give free wi-fi.
We started each day by recording a sit-down intro in the hotel but I was not sure if I would use these or not. I just knew I needed different kinds of footage, and the more I had the more I could work with when we returned home. I was also using the time to get familiar with my camera. This kept us both attuned to the fact that we were here to film as well as having a short break.
Second Day’s Filming
The next day Allan said he was tired and would prefer to take it easy. I agreed that this was also something to report in the documentary – people with health conditions and on medications can’t do as much as fully healthy people. Allan was thus given the task of checking us in to Ryanair and printing out boarding passes. He said he would get his lunch in Ealing and enjoy the day.
That day started out with a grey overcast and as I travelled the weather turned to chilly rain. I followed my second day’s call sheet and went on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich via Canary Wharf. I got a nice shot of Cutty Sark and some of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, including just filming the people, but what was most on my mind was lunch in the Maritime Museum.
At the Maritime Museum, which we’ve visited previously, I asked the lady at reception about disability access, explaining that I was a film student. I thought that saying journalism student might give the impression that I was looking for problems. I asked if she would mind my setting up a little camera and recording an interview but she asked me not to record. I was told that two of the lifts were out of order that day but otherwise access was good and a wheelchair user could get around easily. Large print information sheets and magnifying glasses were available to borrow. I asked if there was anything blind visitors can handle and was told there is a tour for blind people, who get extra handling rights.
I had lunch which was hot soup and bread and coffee, then did some filming around the museum. Then it was time to brave the weather which had turned very cold and wet; lulled into a false sense of security I’d left my heavier jacket at the hotel. I had to choose between pressing on to see the Dome, a twenty minute walk or a bus ride each way, and leaving it. As the light was dropping fast I decided I would have to leave it.
That evening I was starting to feel the effects of a couple of days of sightseeing and concentration. For three days I couldn’t go up a flight of steps or escalator in the Tube without whipping out a phone to film some footage. I had become adept at finding something to place my mini tripod on to film the street with the Crosstour. No litter bin or bench escaped my notice. I was happy to include medium low level shots, as this mimics what a wheelchair user sees. We relaxed over dinner and got an early night.
Each night in the hotel I sat reading my Kindle while all our phones and batteries and power bank charged. We had brought two plugs with USB ports and cables to charge the gadgets, and I swopped them over until everything was full but the Kindles, which I then charged overnight.
Third Day’s Filming
On the final day we packed, ate breakfast and checked out. Then we followed the call sheet by heading to Covent Garden for more filming and as the weather had improved I got some lovely street shots. I was looking out for specific items like the Royal Opera House and had noted these on the call sheets. We had lunch in Itsu which is healthy fast food; I had miso soup and a satay chicken salad wrap. Again I left Allan seated and went off to gather more footage; this time I got Leicester Square and nearby Chinatown’s restaurants, and Trafalgar Square where I was just lucky to spot a poster announcing street closure for the St Patrick’s Day parade. “Yes!” I said and filmed it. I knew it would stand in for my Irish character and one book does actually cover St Patrick’s Day in Trafalgar Square, which I made sure to get in the background. We headed to Liverpool Street again, having planned this day to be close to the station.
That evening we ate dinner at the airport, then had a delayed flight as a plane went on fire on the runway, and Stansted only has one runway. We got home at two in the morning. The cats were pleased to see us.
The next day I started to look at my footage, a journey of discovery. If I were to go again, I would be more au fait with the camera and I would know that the tiny squeak of the plastic feet on the tripod being moved, gets picked up by the onboard mic. I would probably bring a tiny tool to stop my nails getting broken by opening the tiny doors on the camera to get batteries and the disk in and out. However, I think that having nothing else to do but concentrate on filming for a few days was a fantastic way to learn. I am also highly impressed by this camera technology. This was so lightweight that I could travel easily around London and make the films I wanted to make. I recommend the Crosstour Action Camera and The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbookto any film maker.