Sunday, February 03, 2008
I’m proud enough of the Doyle Drive video that I actually stood up and screened it in public during Video Salon in December. The piece is just slightly different from my usual government documentary approach.
The challenge was that the subject doesn’t actually exist yet. “Doyle Drive Parkway” is only a set of drawings at this point. If you are producing a story about pumpkins, you would show pictures of pumpkins. For something that will exist in the future, I can only compare it to the things that are next to it. The neighboring land on either side of the object give an idea of what the future object will be like. The present and previous states of the object give an idea what the future object will be like.
Producing begins with calculating assets. Content is the first consideration. For a ten minute piece, I don’t want more than five talking heads. The project sponsor should be one, the neighbors would be two more, a longtime participant could give historical details and the designer could give forward-looking details.
Next is the video. I usually try to think of video as gold, silver and bronze. Gold is the best stuff, but its hard to come by and you don’t want to spend it all at once. It has to be distributed strategically. The gold for this project is the drawings and animations. Silver material is archive photos and the pretty video from Crissy Field and the Presidio. If I used the drawings as the very first thing, nobody would stick around for the other seven minutes of the video. The drawings would have to be the high action moment of the piece and occur at about the two-thirds mark.
The first third of “Doyle Drive” is the set-up and the background. It uses the three main storytellers to set up the situation. I love using archive photos in the first third as a “sparkly”- a shiny object to draw you into the story.
By the end of the first third of a story, there should be some dramatic conflict. For this piece, there isn’t much disagreement among the participants. I had to use the woman who sounds like she is being just a touch critical, without sounding like opposition. She raises her question, so that the next guy can answer it as the transition to the middle third. His answer also acts an action-braking moment between the scene location of Crissy Field and the change to a new location.
The core of the piece is the designer launching into a long explanation of what the set-up guy just introduced. This section was cobbled together from loose pieces of art that had been used in his various presentations. I organized the designer’s thoughts by having him talk me through the scene from the bridge to the Palace of Fine Arts. Then I arranged the various pictures and cut apart the animations to match his statements. The scene was pretty dry, so I added field sounds from the area to make it more realistic.
After the high moment, there is a bit of action-braking, then another location change to a neighbor. The neighbor reinforces the other neighbors argument, but they would have been redundant if they were next to each other. The two neighbors are on either side of the road in the physical world and I placed them on either side of the road in the video presentation.
The designer’s last moments on-cam has him using his hands to illustrate “tying things together.” The scene cuts to the park ranger using his hands in the exact same motion. I knew that the majority of the video would be people sitting and talking, so I made it a point to shoot the park ranger as a hand held walking scene. I had hoped that this technique would help keep some sense of action going.
The ranger’s last comment is a big picture comment. This is the transition to the last third of the story. Now everybody else piles-on with their own big picture comment. The viewer gets to recall everybody that appeared in the story so that you have closure, re-statement and forward-looking thoughts.
During the producing process I relied on my usual insurance policy. I try to do 90% of the interviews, shooting, writing and editing. Then I look and see where the weak transition spots are. I save one person for last and I do a short interview where we talk about those specific things. In this case, I used the project sponsor as the last piece. He appears to pop in at just the right time and say just the right thing.
I’m very happy with the video. I could be a buzz-kill and mention some technical things about it that I don’t like, but I have to go by a theatre adage for when things go wrong onstage: Its A Choice.