The style of video you make contains psychological messages for the audience, and it also changes the process, from camera techniques to post production.
Before you decide on a style and ‘genre’ for your project, search online for examples of similar work. Review as many recent art works, documentaries and films as possible, so you get an overview of what is currently being done.
Wikipedia lists dozens of film genres, which is fantastic for research.
We have found for community media art, most requests for co-creative projects fall under the following categories:
Media campaigns have evolved from unilateral TV commercials [we make it you watch it] to cross-platform ‘360’ strategies [interactive content, user-focused journey, different aspects of the same story-world made accessible across web, mobile, TV and social media platforms].
Your content can now be an advert/ infomercial/ carefully planted news item [a purposefully created ‘happening’ or controversy, public launch or stunt] or a crowd-funding campaign – or whatever you may come up with that is sticky and exciting enough for users to engage with your message.
It is difficult for low budget community arts to keep up with the ever increasing noise and the need to be seen, but it also offers an unprecedented access to networks of globally connected people. Once you reach them, it is then up to your persuasiveness and community power to convince the crowds to take action [buy something, watch your work, post a comment press a sign up button, sign a petition, join a rally or simply forward a link].
We have been involved in a few campaign projects:
Our community partners in Leeton Shire, regional New South Wales, bought screen time from the local broadcaster WINTV to get their message about binge drinking out into the community, reaching over 70,000 viewers every day
We also worked with social campaigning giants GetUp.org to produce a series of video tools for their CampCommunityRun initiative.
We also are also creating a series of web videos addressing myth around asylum seekers - more soon.
If you plan to make a media campaign we recommend that you create a catalogue of existing media examples to show and discuss with your participants and clients. Select the best and worst, ideally from a global web search, and analyse with your group what works for you and what doesn’t. We found it helpful to also show examples of ‘pro’ and ‘cons’, so you don’t just watch messages that you already approve of, but also study work that you disagree with [political campaign ads, commercials for fastfood etc].
Check out How to Write a Transmedia Production Bible, by Gary Hayes, for a step-by-step guide to create a multi-platform project.
A virtual tour video can be an effective way of visualizing what your community or your client does. It brings people into the space from the comfort of their home – but it really needs a clear message or call to action to make sure it is not just a real estate ad…
The video, Ngarrindjeri Ruwe presents key Working on Country activities, from heritage ranger work to the nursery and land re-vegetation. You get a clear picture of the work environment, the people and why they are involved.
As part of our support for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, we co-created a virtual tour, including interviews with their head of departments, so that we could combine a virtual ‘walk thru’ of what is happening at ASRC with key messages about WHY they are doing what they doing. And most importantly, how the viewer can get involved.
Showing social interactions and everyday activities such as cooking and having a cuppa also help to normalise and humanise the institutions, making it more accessible for clients, volunteers and outreach workers, who now use the video for school presentations.
The virtual tour for headspace was co-created with headspace clients, who were keen to present it from the point of view of a client to demystify the office and the services they provide.
Volunteers run regular tours at Christie Walk, but they are always booked out and many school groups want to know more. The virtual tour was the best of a regular tour, divided into sections for presentation. The educational benefits of creating this video have been profound.
How many people really read the 100-page report about the amazing pest-management work your organisation has completed? If a picture tells a thousand words, how about 1.5 million words per minute, at 25 frames per second? Organisations and funders are now using video to report on activities, for remote communication link-ups and as funding support material.
The key to this style of documentary is to keep it short, simple, yet emotionally charged. Your report includes your story, while detailing your activity from the key reporting requirements. It is essential to storyboard this so you don’t loose track on the issues you need to cover per scene. Always keep the end user in mind – your report may not need to be TV-quality, but should hold up in a boardroom presentation. You may also want to consider what other uses it may have: training induction, virtual tour [see above], advocacy etc.
We worked with the Ngarrindjeri communities in Raukkan and Meningie to create a video report for their re-vegetation projects. Their teams were asked to produce material for a public presentation at a national conference. They also found the videos versatile for funding reports and as support material for future applications.
Owen discusses their 5-point story for Ngarrindjeri Ruwe – Working On Country.
As a result, their organizations have embraced digital media as a narrative tool across their projects, from field recording, reporting events, documenting cultural activities, archiving their elder’s stories to advocacy and evidence for land right cases.
Clients often want their big events documented, such as forums, festivals and conferences. We recommend that community media teams produce an event coverage video, as it introduces you to the essentials of documentary work [recording an event as it happens with a lot of factors that are out of your control] while offering you a simple, time-based storyline [build-up to event, presentation of key points during event, behind-the-scenes, human interactions, aftermath, often narrated by stakeholders interwoven with on-the-spot ‘vox-pop’ grabs from punters and participants].
For the Working on Country national rangers forum we were asked to collaborate with the Ngarrindjero media team to produce a 10min video, with the extra challenge to handover a few minutes of good footage during the event. To avoid over-shooting and running around madly covering everything [which won’t be of any use during the edit] we asked the organisers to indicate which sessions and activities they thought would be essential highlights and may look good on screen. We still had to split our teams up to be able to shoot simultaneous events, but it gave us a clear guide for our daily shot lists. It also gave us the opportunity to clarify the client’s expectations, so we could deliver what we agreed on.
Less is usually more in most of these situations, as a well-conceived 10min event video is easier to watch than a 30min meandering catch all. Again, this depends on your final use for the video, a theatre group may want an uncut wide-shot of their 3-hour show for learning purposes AND a funky 3min best-of trailer to sell their show. Make sure that you plan ahead for both options, as the wide-shot from the back row won’t sell the emotional value of the show [always use 2 or 3 cameras to cover events – more on that here
Go to Pre-production
During prep, think of your event coverage like a wedding video shoot: it is a once-in-a-lifetime project, you will need to make the partners look good and you can’t step in and ask them to do the ring and kiss one more time… The example is tricky as with weddings you often get to shoot the rehearsal, while you may not get that chance with other events. Ask your event coordinator for a running sheet of events and for permission to go back-stage or even better, shoot tech rehearsals or - if it is a theatre event – the dress rehearsal. Footage from such test shoots has saved us in the edit many times.
When you work on sensitive cultural projects, make sure you talk this through with the organisers and elders, so that they understand the requirements of media. Often this is a balancing act: You don’t want to get in the way or interrupt the activity, but your client/ the participants want to get a great video of their work.
Ask for permission to get involved in the activity, for example during the production of Moogy’s Yuki we asked Ngarrindjeri elder Major Sumner if we could join him on the cherry picker he used to cut the canoe from the River Red gum bark.
Moogy’s Yuki is a great example of how community documentary and cultural activity can work hand-in-hand: We arranged through our funders and community partners to be involved from the very beginning and so were able to set up a few scenes as well as doing observational documentary on the spot. The half-hour video has won some international awards. [link to Moogy’s Yuki
Another example is to ask permission to be involved during the performers preparations, so you can get them to show you a few moves before they do it for real. Similar to event coverage, you need to show what motivates the performers, how they engage with the audience, what makes them tick – and show them in their humanity and not just as amazing artists.
Photos from the preparation and dancing at the first Murrundi ceremonial fire at Meningie, camera work at fire in 2010.
Experimental videos are often eye catching, and provide the flexibility to explore deep emotions or themes, so the viewer may be drawn in, but may not stay for long, if they can’t follow the story or narrative arch.
For our work with Fed Square, its Light in Winter communities and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, we chose an experimental approach as we had several conflicting ideas and requirements. The final work needed to be effective on a large public screen for an audience with limited attention and a lot of ambient noise. But the work also needed to be accessible online as a series of online provocations on the issues of racism, power and democracy.
Our artistic director came up with idea of ‘the ever-changing-face’, a series of close ups of people, their gestures and movements, to capture punter’s attention and create a non-linear story that people could tune into without needing to listen to the entire half hour video. The individual stories could then be edited into extended versions for a web portal and social media campaign.
To produce the work, we still used a very conventional documentary approach: simple sit-down interviews, but shot in a black space with a strong contrasting 3-point light design by our director of photography, so that their faces and movements resembled planetary surfaces.
The final work, ‘When does the light turn on?’ is part dance, part documentary, part moving image poetry: Australian citizens of the world share their insights, movements and stories about enlightenment, racism and change, and offer ‘gifts of light’ that come to life on screen as animations of light.
Since documentary is such a wide genre, we will give you a few examples of our cross-cultural work and then let you explore more info through the links below.
One of our recent documentaries we made with the Ngarrindjeri media team, called ‘Reframing Culture’, combined some of the concept listed above. To create the work, we arranged with the Regional Arts Australia conference ‘Kumuwuki’ 2012, that we would make a work that fed back into their conference every day as part of the morning keynote session. We pushed for this to ensure that Ngarrindjeri presence would be acknowledged on the main stage everyday and not relegated to fringe events and ‘indigenous’ session – the conference took place on Ngarrindjeri lands in Goolwa, South Australia. And we wanted to introduce the Ngarrindjeri media team to creative ways to combine event coverage with a crafted artistic message.
We also agreed with Kumuwuki’s director, Steve Mayhew, that we wouldn’t record activities, to avoid recording large amounts of unusable footage to create a potentially boring doco that had no value beyond the conference. We all agreed it would be amazing to bring a political voice to the main plenary of 500 plus people every morning, to kick start the day and set an agenda.
The Kumuwuki conference was held over four days in Goolwa to showcase various presentations from artists across Australia. Change Media’s presentations focused on indigenous media literacy and the power of storytelling in a modern and increasingly digitized world. For the workshops, titled ‘Surfing on Country – Surfing on Culture’ [which was a nod to the Kumuwuki/ Big Wave theme of the conference], our Artistic Director, Jennifer, came up with the concept of using a colonial frame.
The team used this storytelling device to invite Ngarrindjeri Elders and conference participants to come up with ideas and creative visions to re-frame Australia’s colonial mindset. A great prop to get people thinking and talking, and to engage in an artistic and political discussion about how we can best re-frame the argument together, as part of a push for reconciliation…
For more information about documentary training go to Screen Australia
Similar to the experimental work, you can use video projection to create high impact and is a great way to get your art into the public domain. However, the process of creating work and how people engage with it are different to conventional screen work. The beauty about projection art is that you can do it virtually anywhere and project your work on any surface. Think beyond film – this is a giant moving image billboard – how can you engage viewers who may not anticipate your work in this environment? Can you animate your work or match architectural features to transform a structure? What is the purpose of the work? Our team worked with Ngarrindjeri participants during a master class by one of Australia’s leading projection artists, Craig Walsh, to document his process.
The most important issue: how can you make your work site-specific! Projection art works best in the context of its architectural environment, so think early on what site you may be using and how your work can interact with it. What problems does the site have? Is there ambient light spilling into your surface? Is it accessible and powered? Do you need permission or a generator? How can people see the work? Test it out before you commit to the venue.
Projection art opens your options to street art graffiti-style, without the risk of damage to property – you can even project on multiple surfaces during one action, as your screening can be highly mobile using a small generator and portable projector. We did created several projections as part of our work for PVI’s TTS Australia a few years back, projecting on the River Torrens, on a bus windows and on the Holy Cross next to the North Adelaide Cathedral.
Shopfront window projections are another great surface, and often an under utilised venue after hours. Find a high traffic spot [you may be able to arrange this with your local council, business sponsors or other partners], use tracing paper or a similar translucent screen and create a rear-screen projection. We used a double-fronted shop window for a 4-week A/V installation called Human Pastures. The life cycle of a shopping trolley, shot from a point of view perspective, edited to the ‘Blue Danube’ classic mixed with sounds from the Woomera refugee prison breakout.