I'm currently working on a paper about digital storytelling and selected projects on zefrank.com (including a telephone interview with the creator, about which I am absurdly nervous). Then end product of that project will hopefully be a website incorporating pictures, links, and video into my academic text and (whether that works out or I end up doing a simple Issuu style format) will be linked to through this blog. For now, however, I have a video to share with you from zefrank.com. It is for all of you, but is dedicated especially to my classmates working on their own digital storytelling papers or projects:
She's 13 years old and I have taken it upon myself to supplement her media diet of Fred videos, Nicholas Sparks movies and Twilight with classic films and a critical approach to her media consumption. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth - honestly, how many 13 year olds (aside from a younger me) would go for a black and white, non-musical version of "My Fair Lady" (no matter how fabulous it may be) when they could watch the technicolor extravaganza?
But sometimes it's surprising how much she ends up liking them - and how they stick with her! Today, she essentially sent me a "Name that movie!" text - a clip from "Pygmalion" (1938) (not the one above, but similar in quality) with the text "What movie is this from?" It's been months and months since we watched the film and I'm honestly surprised she even remembers!
My sister is awesome.
In the same course for which I made the Twilight video essay, we were tasked with either writing a paper about a documentary or ethnography or making one ourselves. I was going to do the former until a classmate of mine - Tim Posada (who has blogged a bit about the project, including two drafts of our screenplay) - proposed something far more interesting: a mockumentary about his roommates living in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. After three rounds of screenplay editing, wrestling with setting a date for filming, one broken ankle (and several additional injuries), and hours of video editing, I (along with Tim, Cristen Blanding, and Eric Paison) am proud to present "702":
Before moving on, I just want to take a moment to say how pleased I am with our film. Wrangling all the (non-)actors and zombies/extras and keeping them on track was a chore and group projects are not always easy for me, but things came together so well! I feel that we achieved most of what we were aiming for (a contrast between the "day in the life" orientation of the beginning and the more "zombie film" feel of the end, the implication of documentarians in the "stories" they film, "normal life" in extraordinary situations, etc), which is a very satisfying feeling. Tim talks a bit in his blog about the editing process and some of the issues we tried to tackle, so I'll focus a bit more on the process of creation/filming. This was my first experience producing an original film/video project and, as such, much of what I value about the project was in the process.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the film (and making it) is the blurred lines of reality and fiction. Tim and all the roommates in the film are actually roommates who live together in that house. All dialogue about their "past lives" is drawn from their actual ones, and we added no props - everything from the Chuck Norris calendar and Evil Dead's Ash statuettes to the machetes and weapons* were just lying about the house. When we filmed Elliott running on the treadmill in the garage, he hadn't realized we were doing so. He thought Bryan was actually asking him if he wanted lunch, so he responded in kind. This brought up an interesting array of issues, beginning with the interviews (which we filmed at the beginning of the day).
Each roommate had a scripted blurb about themselves we planned to use in the introduction, which we had them begin the interview with. I then prompted each of them with a question about their life before, what's changed, etc, just trying to get them in the mood for the rest of the shoot. I think it's fair to say that, at most, we thought they might come up with a couple of amusing things we could use later. However, once they began talking about being separated from families, missing loved ones, and so on, we were amazed by the amount of good (and surprisingly moving) stuff that came up! It got to the point where we almost felt uncomfortable - it felt as though we were intruding, despite knowing that we were dealing entirely in fiction. Cristen and I discussed how difficult and uncomfortable it would be to jump into situations with people who have survived (or are living in) horrific conditions and ask them to tell us all about it. I can't even imagine doing so.
While we're on the subject of the difficult/awkward/uncomfortable, I'll touch a bit on my role as "cinematographer". When we made the decision in the screenwriting stage to include the "documentarian" in the story (rather than just a silent camera taking it all in), Cristen immediately suggested I play the role.** I was extremely reticent to do so, partly because I've always hated listening to my own recorded voice and partly because I've never been particularly good at filming/photographing. My shaky hands make me self-conscious about taking film or video, but I agreed to do it anyway. We had planned out sequences and shots beforehand (to an extant), which reduced my anxiety a bit. I didn't anticipate how much I would enjoy having the camera in my hands, though! I always try to be attuned to little details about spaces, so it was fantastic to be able to direct the camera in such a visually rich environment (the house). Shooting the last sequence was extremely hectic and nerve-wracking, as we only had one chance to get it. The result was a bit mixed, in my opinion - I feel as though we captured the panic well, but sacrificed some of the visual information we wanted to convey (such as the dead zombie in the driveway and the fact that two of the zombies are female, neither of which you can tell). As with so much of the project, even this is somewhat revealing about the process of documentary-making - you are often at the mercy of what happens to pass in front of your camera. I hadn't intended this aspect of documentary-making to creep into our fictional film, but it made the process all the richer for me.
Finally, I want to thank all the fabulous people involved in the film. In addition to my peers mentioned earlier, we couldn't have done the film without Elliott, Roy, Bryan, Luke, and Justin being so cooperative and wonderful. And, while they didn't get a lot of "air time", our zombies (Nick, C.J. and Jessica) worked really hard to look and act the part. We also have to thank Dr. Alex Juhasz for allowing us to produce a mockumentary for our documentary/ethnography project. I highly recommend the volume on fake documentaries ("F is for Phony") for anyone interested in the topic.
Feel free to sound off about our film in the comments below (or comment/rate/share through YouTube). We came up with much more background information about the film and why the fictional organization(s) decided to create it and would love talking about it with anyone who's interested.
*The guns were Airsoft and other fake firearms the guys had and painted black for the production. Otherwise, all items were there, in place, when we came to film - including the Captain America and Ash figures sitting side-by-side.
**I name names so my mother has someone to blame for my fictional death....
I’ve recently run across the writings of Edward Soja, one of the foremost theorists in spacial studies. In the introduction to his book Postmodern Geographies, Soja argues for the necessity of engaging with and understanding the important confluence of time, space and social being in building what he terms “human geographies”. For Soja, it simply will not do to consider time without space or space without time - they are inextricably linked and social relations are formed in the confluences. The majority of the introduction traces the way an “unbudgeably hegemonic” historicism and preoccupation with time as the primary way to understand human existence that has negated the importance of space.* Soja identifies the way Western Marxism found space a troubling concept, as a grounding in specific localities could threaten a united global proletariat movement and revolution. He also points to the ways Foucault often denied the fact that he was working in/with space (and was in many ways a geographer), as there was no respect for spatiality and no real way to talk about it within the academy. It’s a fascinating read, especially for those who (like myself) were trained in fields that engage with space on a regular basis. I never realized the historical neglect of space as an aspect of social power and understand social relations, but can now see it in the discussions I’ve had with history students with whom I am doing coursework.
Soja was brought up with regard to understanding Scorcese’s Gangs of New York (2002), where time becomes messy and space takes precedence. For those familiar with the film, I pose an intriguing question: what if the two eruptions of violence at the end of the film (the draft riot and the gang battle) are representative of battles concerned only with time/history (the draft riot, which is a reaction against a historical moment) and space (the gang battle, as Amsterdam Vallon actually states that the gangs at that moment had no mind for what was going on outside Five Points)? The two cannot remain separate for long, and the temporal and spatial crash into each other as cannon fire and the militia invade Five Points.
My readings of Soja and the discussions of Gangs of New York continually brought to my mind another film, as well - Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001). Space, location and the way these are inextricably tied with social conditions are at the very heart of the film. Many reviewers have discussed the way Mexico itself becomes a character in Cuarón’s film, with the unidentified narrator providing information on other stories and larger social conditions or concerns. Even more interesting is the way Cuarón’s camera often drifts away from the main characters and the temporal narrative being told in the film to linger on a place or social interaction that has little or nothing to do with the story. For example, at a social event early in the film, the camera follows a caterer out to where the staff and chauffeurs stand waiting for their employers to finish their reveling. Both the narrator and the wandering camera (which often coincide) serve to disrupt the (necessary?) privileging of time in the film. It is an interesting way to linger on and explore the importance of space in a medium that seems so tied to the temporal.
I had intended to explore specific sequences, accompanied by video clips, but I wasn’t able to find the ones I wanted. Hopefully I will be able to track them down and come back to it later. Until then, I leave you with the trailer for Y Tu Mamá También:
*Soja was writing in 1989 and does not engage with the postcolonial theory that had already been present and engaging with space for many years. Apparently, he and other postmodernists would often be criticized for this omission.