The HuffPost reports that a new Sarah Palin documentary that Palin herself “has authorized” will possibly “set the stage” for her 2012 Presidential run.
Palin supporters hope an upcoming documentary about her rise and time as Alaska’s governor will calm their worries. “The Undefeated,” set to premiere next month in Iowa, is stoking speculation she wants to reframe how that period is characterized.
“This film is a call to action for a campaign like 1976: Reagan vs. the establishment. Let’s have a good old-fashioned brouhaha,” Stephen Bannon, the filmmaker, said in a statement.
Palin asked an aide to reach out to Bannon about making videos on her time as Alaska’s governor; Bannon wound up making a movie instead, reported on the website Real Clear Politics, which broke the news of the film.
There is so much wrong with this. The idea that this is a documentary in any real way is preposterous, right? But at the same time, documentaries on Joan Rivers, Anna Wintour and Hugh Hefner have shown such documentaries can relaunch careers, burnish images and get a story told in a way they can control, but yet still in the veneer of objectivity. In The New York Times last year, Laura M. Holson wrote,
Celebrities used to eschew the documentary as little more than late-night cable fare. And such films rarely, if at all, make a profit. But with interest in last year’s “September Issue” (which really was about Anna Wintour, wasn’t it?) and image-boosting movies about the bad-boy producer Robert Evans or the disgraced boxer Mike Tyson, some are embracing documentaries as a visual editorial for the Internet era.
Twitter, Facebook and TMZ have made it difficult for celebrities to manipulate their public persona. A sympathetic documentary can be the first step in rehabbing a damaged reputation (think Mr. Tyson or Mr. Spitzer) or in the case of Vidal Sassoon or Rush, reminding viewers of an aging icon’s cultural relevance.
These celebrity documentaries have the Hollywood equation to them: People using each other for personal gain. But the idea of politicians authorizing documentaries of themselves seem to bend the very definition of the form. Isn’t it just a feature-length political ad? The fact that it will “premiere in Iowa” is another cue as to the cynicism of the effort.
Maybe she won’t run. Maybe documentaries that one authorizes (and we’d suggest anything the subject authorizes is not an actual documentary) is strictly an exercise in ego. But with Oprah’s new channel not just doing documentaries, but asking celebrities to make them (because celebrities doing films about celebrities is the perfect analog for our fame-obsessed culture). It seems, though, that the documentary as it had been, that of more staid, deep and probing inquiry, is potentially fading into history.
The field of photography and filmmaking have both been changed remarkably in the past decade, both as a result of the technology being put in the hands of practitioners as well as the technology changing the very business models that both supported and sometimes excluded people. Vince LaForet has made a similar journey in the last 10 years, evolving from being a New York Times still photographer who was the member of a photo staff (of more than a dozen members) that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of 9/11 (although he did not win an individual award as is sometimes erroneously reported), to being out front with the DSLR movement in cinematography. Unlike some other photographers-turned-filmmaker such Pulitzer-winning photographer David Leeson, who is always up to something, or recently killed “Restrepo” co-director Tim Hetherington, LaForet has not limited himself to documentary shooting.
Videography has an interesting interview with LaForet in which he extols the wonders of DSLRs (he began shooting his first film less than 24 hours after getting his hands on a pre-release Canon 5D MkII while still at The Times), and their limitations, particularly in artifacts:
I wouldn’t shoot an action film with one. You get the Jell-O [rolling shutter] effect that’s most pronounced with a lot of fast movement. You also have to be mindful of moiré. I’d never want to shoot a brick wall or checkered anything with these cameras. The moiré effect can be very pronounced. If you’re going to Versailles to shoot patterned tiles, this would be the last camera to pick, unless you’re using a shallow depth of field and letting the patterns go out of focus.
But he’s someone who’s sold on their value, but notes that their good nature can sometimes be abused:
There’s also a misconception about shooting in low light. Yes, the camera excels in low-light performance, but some people think they can just throw away lighting altogether. That’s absolutely not true.
What’s intriguing are a couple of comments he makes on the evolving nature of the field. As for his departure from new photography, he says, “everything is changing very rapidly, so the idea of standing by your guns and not evolving in your career doesn’t seem like the wisest move unless you’re one of the top 10 or 15 people in the field and you have such a high level of specialty that you won’t be threatened by change.”
And then he notes he’s working on two projects, “One is a narrative and the other is more a new form altogether.” Interesting. Given LaForet’s passion for innovation, it will be interesting see what that turns out to be. But he also notes that he’s returned to still photography as well: “I was totally out, but now I’m back doing some photography, but now with fine art focus. I find it incredibly peaceful relative to working as a director. It’s almost like meditation.”
The question of what transmedia means and how it applies to documentaries is up for varied interpretations, but the notion of multi-platform storytellign is at the root of it. The question of why documentary filmmakers would broaden to transmedia is of extending storytelling in a way that enhances the film’s performance, or the economic viability of the film, or both.
Tribeca Film Institute has a piece on social documentaries using transmedia, but the first task is that of definition. Author Anjelica Das says, “Whether called transmedia, multi-platform, cross platform or just cross media, filmmakers from all genres no longer just make films.”
“Transmedia” is a term generally attributed to the MIT Media Lab’s Henry Jenkins (Now at USC), and generally used in connection with entertainment media. It involved creation of stories that might reach to film, books, video games and music, and also to such interactive places as fan fiction. Journalism has often defined itself as evolving into “multi-platform,” the notion of reporting reality using media forms such as print, video and audio.
Regardless of the term, the intention of spreading into multiple media forms is much easier now, due to digital media. To do a film/book project a decade ago would have likely created costs that would not have been matched by revenue; to do a film/web project creates scales of economy that might increase revenue.
Mixed media is not new, but it feels new. Fifty years ago, the most common transmedia experience might be seeing the movie made from the book; there were also books made from the movies, called “novelizations.” There were TV shows made from radio shows. All involved “extending” the story using multiple media forms, and perhaps enhancing the story through what each form delivered best.
In the Das post, she says,
The transmedia world as demonstrated by pioneer Lance Weiler can be daunting for the grassroots social documentarian. In the ultimate expression of an immersive storytelling experience, Weiler created an ongoing narrative beginning with film, and in its latest iteration, as a real time interactive gaming experience taking place in Park City. Through cell phones, audience members became active members of a Pandemic 1.0 population being tracked online.
Those sorts of approaches don’t seem to fit documentaries the way they do feature films, but crossing platforms can be beneficial in many ways for docs.
More recently, we’ve seen film/book releases that include such successes as “Restrepo” (co-released with co-director Sebastian Junger’s book ‘War”) and director Nancy Porter’s PBS documentary “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind ‘Little Women,’” co-released with co-producer Harriet Riesen’s Alcott biography (a project featured at this site in 2010).
But transmedia can extend much farther, and the obvious place is a website that is more than just a promotional device for the film but rather a place to extend and engage.
Here are some ideas worthy of exploration:
1) Use a website to provide an extended text narrative that might add again to the project. Think of the old liner notes that would fill the cover of a record album, or perhaps the text of a catalog for a museum exhibit. Facts in a documentary often outpace the space to embed them, but interested viewers will seek out more. An extended essay that informs and supports the project can be useful.
2) Extend through bonus footage. The edit of a good documentary pares down to essentials what is needed, but must also fit a fairly proscribed package of being “feature length” – 70 to 120 minutes, with the latter being a “long” doc. Extra footage can tell its own story.
3) Interactvity through audience engagement. These are real stories, and people might have real stories to tell in concert with it. Stop thinking of film as a one-way transmission. A forum or discussion page in which people can share their experiences on the topic can create a center of discourse (and don’t make it one in which people talk about the film, make it one that keeps telling the story your film tells).
4) Interactivity through crowdsourcing. People who can become part of the community a documentary film builds can often have much to share. If you make a documentary about a place or event, a place for audience photos of that place or event can become fun.
5) Apps and devices put transmedia at one’s fingertips. Devices such as smartphones and tablets allow new forms of transmedia to emerge. A digital book released via iPad can be another level of your project, and not expensively.
6) Think soundtrack, not just music. Collaborating with musicians who can provide music for the film but also release that music as its own package can work to enhance the film and make the music more visible. Finding musicians who see the possibilities can lead to some great results.
In the end, it’s the definition of media that’s changing. Film, like other forms, no longer have the “hard borders” of old media. The filmmaker who can explore and exploit the possibilities can often make a unique success.
ADDENDUM: See Adam Humphreys’ comment below. Here are screenshots of what he’s mentioned:
The Canon rep stopped by for a chat yesterday, and we talked a bit about where its video product lines may go from here. The conversation was more in generalities, since the rep can’t give details about new products in the chute, but thought we’d share what we did talk about:
Clearly there will be a successor to the EOS 5D Mk2, but don’t expect too much. First and foremost, the 5D2 remains primarily a still camera, and that won’t change. Video will always be part of the package. But adding in features that would mostly serve filmmakers is not likely to be a win for Canon. Don’t expect full HDMI output, seems to be the message, not high quality audio capture.
Canon is unlikely to embed the 5DMk2 Full Frame sensor in a true camcorder. The sensor size would necessitate the development of a line of true video lenses to serve it, and that would be such a niche market it might not be worth it. Canon probably seems headed toward matching the Sony F3 and Panasonic AF101 with an APS-C sensor.
Many users are opting to the 7D instead of the 5D2. Although the 5D2 blew everyone away with its shallow depth of field, it’s more than some users want. Some network shows and filmmakers are feeling the 5D2 is too shallow and it’s harder to line focus – for example, keeping multiple subjects in the same focal plane requires much more choreography. The 7D and similar cameras more accurately replicate the depth of field of a 35mm film camera.
Premiere may be an NLE to look at if you’re using DSLRs. The question of what Final Cut Pro X and successive versions of that product may bring has people looking at other editing programs, and Premiere is one that many are liking. When Adobe came out last year with native DSLR editing in its Premiere Pro CS5 it made for a lot of converts.
There’s more, which we may return to in coming posts.
Leah Warshawski guest posts at Hope For Film, and beyond singing the praises of her dad, funding expert Morrie (whom we’ve featured here), she gets down to the simple task of grinding along for money to make your film happen.
In her case, it’s a documentary “Film Festival: Rwanda,” which of course creates funding needs just by virtue of travel to that African country. Leah notes that beyond the ongoing grant writing, which by its nature is going to produce low percentages, there are other ways to roll.
A few main highlights include the use of social networking.
Make a Facebook page for your project and spend 10 minutes a day recruiting new fans. Post to other people’s walls, ask everyone on your mailing list, and keep it simple and useful. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I made a friend for life when a woman noticed our project and offered to host a fundraiser without ever meeting us in person first!
“Switching it up” involves changing one’s attitude about rejection, the idea espoused by Murray – an “expect nothing, be surprised by anything” attitude. And have ongoing work that shows your ability to do the job you set out to do.
As filmmakers we have an abnormal sense of perseverance and somehow believe that if we work harder it means we are also smarter and better than everyone else who applies for the same grant. Switch up your thinking, and understand that nobody owes you anything – we are all in the same boat.
Probably the most important thought. With equipment so cheap and accessible, why should anyone hand money to you? The answers of course, are that 1) they believe the topic is important, 2) they have a vested interest in seeing the topic covered, 3) they believe (from your work and proposal) that you are a qualified person to do that, if not the best, 4) they believe that you will make a film that will be seen, which goes toward your plan to disseminate it, 5) they believe you will make the most of the money.
The fact is, most filmmakers don’t meet more than one or two of these. Inexperience, poor planning, unrealistic prospects, and reckless spending all contribute toward being a funding risk. I’ve sat on my share of grants committees (and will sit on another next month), and it’s not uncommon to find yourself looking at a grant app for huge money thing, “Really? Are you serious?”
I always believe you should start out with two films in one: A) The film you’ll make with your own money, and B) the film you’ll make if you get money. And while it may seem that the proportion of quality is driven by money – i.e., the film you make with more funding will be lots better, I think that if you’re thinking hard, it’s the opposite: The extra money you get adds value, but with a law of diminishing returns. People might tend to think that with twice the money they’d make twice the film, but with twice the money they might actually make a film that’s 10 percent better. Of course that’s not to say the extra 10 percent isn’t crucial.
Leah is in the midst of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and has raised $20,000 of her sought-after $29,000 with 20 days to go. She says,
It has not been easy, but the challenge and process have been worth the struggle. People always assume I have a clear path to funders and grants because of my Dad’s connections, but I can tell you (after 2 years of rejection letters from almost every major documentary grant organization) that is far from the truth. The reality is that I’m still applying for grants and still being rejected, but our film has brought my father and I closer through our mutual understanding of how difficult and rewarding the process is – and that is priceless.
The New York Times has in the past decade become a serious source of good documentary-style journalism, often opting toward a “film,” rather than a “broadcast news” look. This mini-genre of filmmaking-in-print-media is going to be in the theaters soon.
The Times announced Monday it will partner with Emerging Pictures to bring NYT video work to theaters. Emerging Pictures, headed by Barry Rebo and Columbia University film professor Ira Deutchman, has worked in the last number of years to bring live opera performances, via HD projectors, to independent theaters.
The Times’ announcement said this:
Times in Cinema will feature original HD videos produced by The New York Times, drawn primarily from entertainment, travel and lifestyles stories. These videos will comprise a ten- to twelve-minute preshow, which will be used as a platform for selling cinema-quality advertising. The preshow will run before the trailers at each show.
“The New York Times attracts an educated, discerning audience that overlaps strongly with the art house audience,” said Yasmin Namini, senior vice president, marketing and circulation, and general manager, reader applications, The New York Times Media Group. “Times in Cinema allows us to leverage The Times’s incredible wealth of high-quality videos and create a unique, engaging brand experience to reach theatergoers in a relevant environment.”
“As Emerging Cinemas Network has expanded its nationwide footprint, we knew a high quality preshow offering would be a valuable asset for our venues, their audiences and the advertisers who want to reach affluent, sophisticated audiences such as ours,” said Barry Rebo, a managing partner of the company.
The Times produces more than 100 original videos per month, featuring breaking news and analysis, as well as enterprise and investigative reporting by Times journalists around the world.
Technicolor is making a downloadable picture profile, called Technicolor Cinestyle, for EOS cameras that seems similar to the Superflat version that has been out for some time. Unfortunately, it does not seem downloadable to the T2i we have put Magic Lantern on; we have it on the 7D, which does not have a Magic Lantern hack.
Vince LaForet has blogged about it, saying the profile gives EOS cameras more latitude,
You’ll see that this gives you a flat, de-saturated image – that’s GOOD. It’s ideal to start from there and add contracts and saturation from there. You’ll immediately notice significantly greater detail in the shadows. The examples below are impressive. Keep in mind that the DARK areas in any video file get compressed and effectively CRUSHED (often into large rectangular or square blocks that are impossible to fix in post) - so this new profile will result in a much better final image once graded.
Zech’s Camera says there’s little difference between shots taken with Cinestyle vs. Superflat, but noted that when each profile was pushed to the limits of over- and underexposure,
Technicolor Cinestyle has more detail in the shadows on the unprocessed image. Also looking at the corrected images, the Cinestyle held its color better and has less noise (look at the black bar on the very left of the frame.)
When overexposed, the Superflat lost all sharpness, but the Technicolor Cinestyle not only kept all sharpness, it kept all its color as well and actually produced a usable image.
Note, however, LaForet’s words for the wise:
Remember to never overexpose (or “clip”) those highlights. You’ll never recover them. ”When in doubt, underexpose” is what I suggest. I rountinely underexpose by 2/3 to 1&1/3 stops (in extreme situations) to make sure I don’t blow out highlights – I know I can easily open mid-tones and shadows within that range. No one can recover the highlights however – ever.