Tag Archives: Bournemouth university

Sheep and Sisyphus – The Toils of a Data Wrangler

As we loaded the van in Bournemouth ready to head off to Chalke Valley, the guy behind the kit desk gave a knowing chuckle when I told him I was to be data wrangler at the festival this year. ‘It’s a fancy name for the poor sod who sits in a dark room transferring files’. Blinded by my hubris, I laughed him off, oblivious to the truth of his words.

It wasn’t entirely true of course, there was no dark room. Just a very hot tent. In a field. There were sheep.

The major challenge I faced was storing the footage in a way that allowed me to later find specific files which needed to be passed on to our editors. This was crucial because over the course of the week I ingested over 10,000 files into the system. The recipient of these files was a hulking external hard drive sat next to me, which I affectionately christened Tobias.

Tobias and the backup hard drive, his son Toby Jr.

Anyway, the system I developed revolved around the file names – I put enough information in the names of the files I was transferring that I could easily find them again. The format I used was day_project_equipment_name and it worked really well. Using equipment as a variable rather than merely camera/sound allowed for the fact that people would often use different cameras filming the same project. Adding their name at the end further helped avoid confusion as to who filmed what.

I set out a portion of the table where people could fill out the relevant information on sticky notes, which they could then attach to their SD Cards and leave for me to ingest. Another feature which saved my life was the ability to mass-rename files (Press F2 with the files selected), saving valuable time in the transfers.

If this is sounding a little boring to you, it’s because it was. Once I had the system figured out it was just a matter of clicking and dragging files across from one folder to another.

What made it interesting is that in amongst this constant stream of transfers, I also had to review all the footage coming in and cut the best of it together into daily roundups. Each day around 5pm the pressure set in to meet the 8 o’clock deadline and I would enter an almost zen-like focus, shaped by the stresses and pressure of the task at hand. Anyone foolish enough to disturb me was met with primeval grunts and a look I didn’t know my face was capable of making. If anyone from the team is reading this I can only apologise.

BUT, I got them done, in the later half of the week helped by the brilliant Naomi. Each day, when the dust had finally settled as I hit that export button, I would look over and see the pile of SD Cards waiting for me to ingest. My very own version of Sysiphus’s toil.

*sad violin music*

 

My 29-Hour Day

Yesterday I got my first real taste of the manic working hours of the industry. As I type this I’m still getting the occasional brain twitch, so bear with me if my writing gets a bit haphazard.

Starting out at 5am in Brighton, where I had spent the weekend, I began my journey into London, stopping off at Gatwick airport to drop off my  girlfriend as she flew back to Switzerland. From there, strung with various pieces of filming equipment and feeling like I was about to set off to destroy the One Ring, I continued into London.

Crashing at my uncle’s flat for a few hours, I then went out to Highgate, where I needed to film a Futurenauts podcast recording as part of my job with Atlas of the Future. This was the second shoot I’d had with the Futurenauts- ‘But wait!’ I hear my probably non-existent readers say, ‘Where’s your blog post about your first shoot Matt? How can you deprive us of even the smallest details of your professional activities?!’. Well, dear (imaginary) reader, the reason I didn’t write about my first shoot was that it was my first ever solo shoot and was frankly rather embarrassing. There were a number of factors which led to this.

The first was that I didn’t actually plan much which, although generally not too big an issue at university, in the real world really starts you off at a major disadvantage. There’s really nothing like a bunch of professionals turning to you and asking ‘What needs doing?’ and you not having an answer to really sear the importance of planning into your brain.

The second was that the kit I had probably didn’t even count as the basics of a solo-shoot, consisting of only a camera and tripod. Now, being used to having access to thousands of pounds of top-end tech at university, going into a shoot without even an LED lamp was much harder than expected. Especially when the kit I did have, a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, was much less forgiving if you don’t know your stuff than the Canon DSLR’s I’ve been used to. Manual colour temperature settings, shutter angle instead of shutter speed and no on-screen indicator crucial aspects like exposure really highlight the gaps in your technical knowledge and mercilessly demand you fill them.

The third was something I couldn’t have really appreciated until I experienced it – solo shoots are HARD. There’s not a small team of your mates all working at various levels of focus until you happen to get everything done. There’s just you – having to keep that pace and energy up at all times and with an intense level of focus to get the shots you need. If something goes wrong, if you forget a shot or don’t get it all done in time, it’s your fault and you’ve got to deal with it. I probably learnt more in those cringe-worthy couple of hours than the whole of First Year.

I now realise I’ve actually written about my first shoot. I hope you’re all happy with yourselves.

BUT, as I said before, I learnt a lot from it and this time round was a much better experience. Going in with a detailed plan and better technical knowledge, I got a lot of good footage and came away feeling much better about the future of my career. As they often tend to, the shoot went on longer than expected and I finished up around 6:30pm. From there I headed back to my uncles to try get a bit of sleep because I WAS NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH MY DAY.

That’s right ladies and gentleman, I was yet to embark on one of the most interesting yet harrowing experiences of my life – a night-shift at ITV Studios. I’d managed to arrange the shift during my work experience in September with Loose Women by sitting down with Nick Thomas, the Head of Editing for Daytime, who invited me along to one.

For those of you who don’t know, the editing suites in broadcast television work 24 hours a day, with editors working in 12 hour shifts. So from 9:30pm to 9:30am, I would be shadowing the daybreak editors who worked through the night editing all the clips (known as VT’s) for the following morning shows. I spent most of the night with a guy called Chris who seriously knew his stuff, having started out in MMA 13 years ago and worked his way up from there. It was a really great insight into ITV’s editing workflows and I continued to learn about the importance of Avid’s hardware in such large-scale operations.

I only had one nap the whole night, which I’d consider a success, even though the lines I woke up with on my face from sleeping on my jacket were so deep they made me look like I’d been mauled by a large cat. I can honestly say that was probably the most tired I’ve ever felt in my life – my body was trying to forcibly shut down regularly, like someone as holding down the power button on my brain.

In spite of this I have to admit it was loads of fun, I’ll definitely see if I can do it again!

Chalke Valley History Festival 2017

So I was hoping to do daily updates but, rather fittingly the history festival had virtually no wifi or phone signal. So instead must sum up my experiences in retrospect. But first a bit of background:

Chalke Valley History Festival has been running since 2011 and is the largest festival in the UK which is dedicated to history in all forms. It has over 100 talks from historians, authors and celebrities throughout the week, as well as an impressive array of Living History spanning from the Romans to WW2. On the Saturday and Sunday there are also air shows showcasing historical planes in all their glory.

It was a lot more hands on than more conventional work experience, we were planning, filming and editing all of the content created. As such, I was able to get involved with all 3 stages of production on a wide range of content including multi-camera talks, cinematic pieces, vox pops and plenty of interviews. Working in a real media environment tested and built confidence in my skills in a way University work could never achieve. It was a great feeling being able to see all the things I’d learnt come together so well.

My favourite project I worked on was the interview of one of the festival’s most beloved patrons, Bryan Beggs. This was admittedly in part due to the quality of the footage being so good, but the man was also a charismatic interviewee, which made staring at his face for several hours a bit more bearable. When I finished they had a private showing for him and his wife which was a bit of a tear-jerker. I was very proud to have played such a large part in the event.

My production manager Georgia, Bryan Beggs, his wife and me

The festival itself was also fantastic. Having a passion for history, the talks I was able to film were very interesting and by the Saturday the whole site’s atmosphere was electric. The Living History was particularly impressive. I was able to talk at length with some of them whilst filming a short cinematic project and the amount of knowledge they possessed about their era was staggering.

Overall it was a great experience, one which I hope to repeat in 2018!

Clients and Audience

So today we started a new unit called Clients and Audience which, apart from the initial 6 hours of lectures I had to endure, looks to be one of the most interesting yet. As production groups, we are twinned with a real organisation who give us a brief from which we have to create content – and my group was paired with the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). Growing up in South Africa, I have always loved nature, having seen some of the most vibrant creatures firsthand (I had more than a dozen pets at once over there). As such, I’m relieved that we have an organisation I can relate to and get excited about, it will make working for them hopefully all the more fun.

I have chosen to undertake the role of Production Manager for this unit, which is another challenge I’m excited to undertake. Whilst having some experience in leadership roles, this will be the first time I organise a media team, so I’m keen to see what I can learn about it. A part of me wishes I had taken a more practical role like Creative Director but, as I’m beginning to realise, university is all about pushing yourself out of the comfort zone to learn new things. We meet the client on Monday, so I’ll have to draft some research up before then.

Cecilia 101

My biggest challenge has been figuring out how to transform these raw sounds I’ve been collecting into the rich soundscapes of music concrete, because let’s be honest, no-one wants a 7-minute track of me swallowing and rubbing my bits of polystyrene together. My first port-of-call was Adobe Audition, but I quickly found it was very limited in its ability to transform the sounds. Sure it could stretch the length and pitch, even apply a collection of bizarre filters which sounded better suited to a Dr Suess book (such as the ominous Flanger), but playing around with these I struggled to create the vast echoing soundscapes of Wishart or Derbyshire. What I needed was something which really broke down the sounds into their base forms, so that I could create something new.

It turns it out there was a piece of software which did exactly that – Cecilia. Whilst not your stereotypical ‘digital audio workstation’ (DAW), Cecilia is unique in that it focuses on transforming sounds rather than assembling them. So, whilst you couldn’t piece together an interview like DAWs such as Audition can, it certainly makes my polystyrene sound a bit more interesting. The way it works is that you load in a sound, open that sound in one of Cecilia’s many ‘Modules’ and then play around with it. This is the main aspect I have found in which audio differs from video. Generally with video you have a set idea of what you want to put together, whilst with audio you tend to fiddle around with it and see what works, taking a more ‘poke it with a stick and see what happens’ approach. Although potentially more time-consuming than video, there are a lot more surprises in terms of content creation. Something as simple as a door creak can suddenly become a cavernous roar more suited to a certain giant, flame-whip wielding monster in Lord Of The Rings.

But I’ve sidetracked. Cecilia has a wide range of modules, all of which do very different things. As someone somewhat inexperieced with audio, I don’t actually know what 80% of the words in the program mean, but you tend to pick it up as you go along so don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand the terminology. At the moment a couple of my favourites are the Pelletizer, which stretches the pitch and length of  a sound (amongst other things), and StochGrains, which uses algorithms to randomly generate synth notes – really good for creating a base layer of your soundscapes. Another cool feature of Cecilia is that it allows you to draw the waveforms of the different filters, further adding to your ability to control the sound.

To be honest, going back to my stick-poking analogy, the best way to find what works is load in a sound and Shift+Ctrl+O which opens up a random module and just play around with them until something clicks. Just have fun with it!

Stories and Spaces

My latest university module, ‘Stories and Spaces’, requires us to create a live projection-mapped exhibition using the new Fusion Building on Bournemouth campus. The required content is definitely the most abstract we’ve encountered so far on the course, with the brief asking us to create a visual and aural experience based on the words fluidity, macroworld, and microworld. Normally I would be heavily involved in the visuals of a project, but this time I decided to challenge myself, and take on the role of Audio Producer. Sound is something I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a while, but I’ve been waiting for the right project. ‘Stories and Spaces’ requires the most interesting audio role I’ve encountered.

Musique concrète, which was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer in the mid-twentieth century, is a highly experimental technique revolving around the idea of acousmatic listening. Acousmatic means a sound can be heard but not seen, so the visuals are not directly linked (like playing babies crying over Rick Astley, but less horrifying). In doing so this removes the original meaning of the sound and creates a new one. This idea of transforming sound in order to give it a new identity is something that will heavily influence how I tackle creating content for this project. At the moment all I’m doing is recording ‘interesting’ sounds on my phone, which means I have now become excited by arbitrary things like rubbing polystyrene together and recording the result. So, apart from a possible deterioration in the fibres of my sanity, I think I’m on the right track. I’ll explore how I come to transform these sounds in a follow-up post.