Reflections: ‘New Academic Street’ Vox Pops

The New Academic Street: Vox Pops were shot at RMIT in collaboration with the NAS and Swanston Library. This post is a reflection on the process.

The Shoot

When we began shooting, I felt fairly confident in my ability to find keen participants and execute successful interviews. The first few approaches returned nothing, which it is safe to say bruised our egos and trod upon our spirits. I had assumed that being a student space (and a new and exciting one of that), people would be generally enthusiastic and keen to have a chat about it. I thought people would see our camera set up and be intrigued. This was certainly a misconception. We found that, particular people who were on their own, were either too self-conscious or genuinely too busy to leave their workstation or stray from their route to have a conversation with us. This made me wonder whether, actually, bringing the camera to them may have returned more success. This is something to experiment with in the future, however, I’d imagine that it may feel somewhat intrusive and dismantles the opportunity of setting up a shot in consistent, visually-appealing locations.

Wrangling

As mentioned, the biggest challenge was finding participants. We first tried simply approaching and explaining our project, then asking “is that something you’d be interested in helping out with?”

We learned, quickly, that this was too wordy, seemed a little too formal and as though it was a big favour that we, honestly, didn’t expect them to help us with. We began cutting it down and making it very simple. Our new approach was, “Hey! Do you have a spare minute? Could you give us a hand with something?” People were generally very responsive to these, almost always answering yes. Once in, we could explain a little about what we’re doing. The major obstacle was people not wanting to give up their spot, or being on their way to a class/appointment. To deal with that, it’s probably just a numbers game. A large aspect of this is the way you hold yourself and the authority you give yourself. I discuss confidence in this post.

The Interviews

The interviews were a little dry, with some confusion from participants and some very short answers. This probably arises from our own lack of understanding of the questions. Better communication as a crew, prior to the shoot, and proper planning of the questions would be of great benefit. We did do this, but we were perhaps too lenient on ourselves.We had concluded that we’d be open and relaxed with the questions, which is great, but to achieve this properly I think you first need to know the set questions inside out. That way, you can keep consistency, avoid ‘stage-fright’ and not lose your place.

Next time we should definitely better familiarise ourselves with the questions prior to the shoot and also pay close attention to the answers provided. We need to listen more. This way we can ask follow-up questions, or ask a participant to elaborate/clarify their statement if need be.

The Footage

Reviewing the footage of the ‘New Academic Street’ Vox Pops, I found a number of things that surprised me. I went into the edit thinking that I had an organised project ready to work on. What I found was that I had half-completed the initial job of organisation, so the footage from some of the participants was very neatly divided and filed away beautifully. Others were not. This was a shame, it practically put the work that I had done to waste, as I was left with a decision, to either work with the project as is (thus, working with unorganised clips) or spend more editing time organising everything. Deadlines and time restraints lead me to something in between. This was a shame and, as I mentioned, made some of my initial hard work obsolete.

I was also surprised in a very positive way by the quality of our footage. Practically all of the shots of our participants were very nicely framed. The colours, for the most part, are warm and interesting as well. The colours of the shot in the hallway (near the large windows) are noticeably more appealing than under the fluorescent lights of the ‘lounge’ area. The temperature of the two rooms is starkly different, perhaps something to keep in mind for future shoots. I have attempted to match the colour of these two locations in post-production. You can see my attempts at colour grading, here.

Both locations had a lot of movement in the background. This worked to our advantage, in many ways, as the background of our participants is lively and exciting. However, it does pose problems. For example, we had people come into frame and messily throw down their bag to begin relaxing in awkward positions within the shot.

NAS Swanston Library Interview

This is fine, but can simply make a scene look messy.

Another surprise was the quality of the audio. It’s both very clear and very noisy. That is to say, the audio of our participants is beautiful and distinct, yet so too is the background chatter/noise. The two locations had a very different vibe/sound/ambiance about them and, therefore, this posed a discrepancy. The best way to combat this is to use an ambiance recording… we did not take one. I extracted audio from some of the cutaway footage to use as ambiance, however, there was not a lot to choose from. Only a few, very short clips. This brings me to my next surprise:

Lack of footage! We only ended up with a very small amount of cutaway and, unfortunately, they were all practically the same shot (a walkthrough of a desk area) only in slightly different (yet very similar) locations. This meant that we had participants refer to a number of specific spaces within the library, yet we had no visual reference to include. That was very difficult to work with in the edit. In my final edit, I opted to use the cutaway entirely for the intro/outro and attempted to choose interviews which I judged as engaging enough, to do without cutaway. I used some jump-cutting to try and keep them interesting. Had we shot more cutaway, I’m sure the edits would have been much more engaging.

Another surprise: we did not correctly document the names of the participants. In the rush of the shoot and the stress of wrangling participants, I suppose once we found a willing interviewee, we were eager to have them interviewed and to not take up too much of their time. However, using the incorrect name is unacceptable. Not crediting them all is far from ideal, as well. To follow-up, we should have contacted them with the details provided. We also should have had them state their name for the camera. This brings me to the next surprise:

Our questioning was inconsistent. We had decided to go with a natural, flowing interview style. However, the downside to this is that Question 1 for one participant was often different to Question 1 for the next. This made organisation difficult, which can be a burden to the edit, as well as to the client. Had we have asked every participant their name during the interview, for example, it could have provided a workaround to the previous issue.

Focus, white balance and exposure all seem generally very good, no issues became apparent during the edit. The only major visible discrepancy is the difference in temperature between locations, as mentioned previously. This can be improved in post-production with colour correction and grading.

The Edit

 

I tried to have some fun with the edit. The client wanted ‘youthful’ so, this is one angle to take. In a revised version I’d tone down the hip-hop a little. The quick cuts that I tried to time with the music, in the opening sequence, are messy and a little out of time. They were fun for an experiment. If they were cleaner, they’d work in a different setting but I’m sure would not work for this client. 

This was a great experience and a lot was gained, particularly in wrangling participants and interview skills. Below is a quick list of some pointers learned in this exercise, some have been mentioned, others haven’t:

  • Approach potential participants naturally and KEEP IT SIMPLE
  • Have some order to interview questions, at least familiarise yourself with an outline
  • Be quiet when interviewing. Don’t say “uh-huh” “mmhmm” etc.
  • Try and pay attention to all aspects of location: lighting, colours, surroundings, sound etc. Keep these in mind for consistency.
  • More is more! If you think maybe, just shoot it. Don’t skimp on the cutaway!
  • Confirm and re-confirm details. Have people state their name.

 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

*Featured Image Credit:
RMIT Group #1

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