Throwback Thursday No.4 - Press Night
26 July 2018
Time for another look back through my work over the past decade, in chronological order, and we’re into 2010, my first full year of freelancing.
Press Night (June 2010)
The Context: I only survived my first couple of years as a freelancer due to a huge stroke of luck. Just as I moved to London, I was contacted by the head of the journalism department at Kingston University. They were looking for someone to design and teach a new module in video journalism, and needed a young - and let’s be honest, cheap - person who could teach the technicalities of video while also understanding how the future of journalism was unfolding.
My blog had brought me to the university’s attention and I was chosen over far more experienced journalists at major news broadcasters who only knew how to teach television.
I started teaching two undergraduate modules and would eventually teach a few more. I have only fond memories of my time at Kingston University. The students were great and the department was a joy to work in.
I even came away with a degree in teaching!
The Story: Advertising the course to prospective students was always top of the department’s mind and so I offered to make a short film following the most exciting part of the Kingston journalism experience: producing the award-winning student newspaper.
Press Night follows the third year undergraduates working together to make an edition of The River.
Looking back: I’d be amazed if anyone made it past the first two minutes. The start is very slow, it doesn’t grab the audience or give anyone a reason to keep watching. The low audio means you need to really listen hard to pick up what everyone is saying during the editorial meeting.
Once the press night itself starts though, the pace picks up. The story really starts at about 2 and a half minutes in, with a clear announcement of the deadline that’s fast approaching. In retrospect this should have appeared right at the top.
I’m in the thick of it as the deadline is missed and the students scramble to finish the paper so the final third is quite enjoyable to watch with lots of movement and shouting.
But those first two minutes are painfully dull.
A bonus video: Oddly, I felt confident enough to produce a behind-the-scenes video talking about the storytelling behind the video (!) I thought I knew what I was talking about but I was yet to start my serious study of how stories work so this is woefully ignorant.
I filmed this on the university’s equipment as I still hadn’t bought my own kit. So this still belongs in the box of “old” videos (see my previous posts). It’s stylistically very similar to television and I hadn’t yet begun to explore the potential of online video.
That would change in the next couple of months.
The fog rolls in (some more words on being creatively lost)
25 July 2018
Pulled directly from my morning pages today:
So I’m in a clearing surrounded by trees. It feels like there are multiple paths but they are all overgrown, obscured by weeds and hedges. I’ve been standing here for a few weeks now. Investigating the potential exits like a nervous bird. A new potential path opened up over the weekend with thoughts of getting a “proper” job. But now a thick fog has rolled in: it surrounds me. I can see barely past my own hands. I can’t see the sky or the mountain. I don’t even remember what the mountain looks like. And so I am paralysed.
It’s worth sharing these moments, when things make so little sense you can only surrender to your lack of understanding.
24 July 2018
Brenda's wisdom No.1
23 July 2018
I suspect this might be part of a series.
“Yes, you must feel when you write, free. You must disentangle all oughts. You must disconnect all shackles, weights, obligations, all duties. You can write as badly as you want to. You can write anything you want to – a six act blank verse, symbolic tragedy, or a vulgar short, short story. Just so that you write it with honesty and gusto, and do not try to make somebody believe you are smarter than you are.”
My early career as a passive aggressive writer
20 July 2018
I’m about to head away for a weekend with my family, which seems like an appropriate time to dig up this gem: a story I wrote when I must have been five or six years old.
My nana kept this for nearly 30 years (aren’t grandparents great!) until she gave it to me last year.
It must be the earliest example of my creative output that still survives, and clearly I used writing as a way to express my childhood angst, in rather passive aggressive fiction.
I present the story of a boy who’s annoyed at his parents about dinner.
Once upon a time, there was a boy called Adam. He lived with his family in a big house. No-one liked Adam, nor did his family. He always got the worst at dinner time. One day, while the others were eating the best food, while Adam only got a yoghurt, Adam said to himself “I’ve had enough”, so he went to the fridge and got some cream and sprayed it at the others faces! While they couldn’t see Adam ate all the good pudding and left them with a yoghurt each! THE END.
Throwback Thursday No. 3 - a brief foray into vlogging
19 July 2018
Vlogging is a genre of online video that I have steered well clear of for the most part.
Certainly the way vlogging has developed in recent years requires an energy and a desire to film absolutely everything you live and breathe that I do not possess.
That said, ten years ago I did experiment with the form, so let’s take a look.
Top Ten Predictions for the Future of Journalism (December 2009)
The context: So to understand this one you need to picture me at the end of 2009: newly freelance, living in a tiny room in London and - frankly - terrified.
The first six months of freelancing were pretty nausea inducing for me, and I constantly questioned whether I had made the right decision.
The paid gigs were few and far between.
The only thing I had going for me was a blog I was writing about the future of journalism. So with the new year, and it’s plethora of predictions lists, approaching I decided it would be a good piece of #content.
The story: to do a predictions list wasn’t new but I don’t remember anyone else doing it in video at the time.
I had a tiny HD camera - the now defunct Kodak Zi8, which even had an input for an external microphone - and a white wall in my tiny bedroom.
Looking back: yes, I know: that hair. Well, all I can say is it hasn’t improved that much since.
As you can probably imagine, I cringe watching this. But this series wouldn’t be much good if I only looked at the work I was proud of.
I will say the editing is peppy and at least it is fast-paced.
It’s interesting to see the use of jump cuts in the editing, plus the use of a whiteboard, which would become staples of the YouTube vlogging scene. It was not an original idea in 2009 either.
One thing I don’t like: I’m using copyrighted music, something I have made a point of never doing. All I’ll say is, it was before the affordable music libraries became available. (But still, no excuse).
I did it again a year later: I enjoyed making this video and it was popular on the blog, so a year later I did a rinse and repeat.
This turns out to be super handy. Put these two side-by-side and you can see how I have improved and developed in the space of 12 months.
I must have learned motion graphics this year as this new video is full of them. The haircut’s a bit better too…
Finished sketch - three point perspective
18 July 2018
Here’s the finished piece from yesterday, inked and coloured.
It’s another Scott McCloud exercise. The aim is to draw an empty room and put in enough telling details from the environment that a reader could picture the person living there.
I had a lot more details I wanted to include in my initial sketch but chose to keep it clean in the end.
I’m really happy with my rendering of the perspective - for a first attempt, but the colouring is off…I need to work on my shading!
Work in Progress - an attempt at three-point perspective
17 July 2018
Just a quick work in progress to show today: I’ve been practicing some perspective drawing.
While I’ve done three-point perspective drawing before on exteriors, I have never done it on interiors. It’s tricky. The vanishing points need to be far enough away to avoid everything looking very distorted.
The other challenge is working in Photoshop which - at least on a Mac - does not have an easy way to draw straight lines at an angle.
I think the Windows version has a plugin but it’s not available on a Mac. The best solution I’ve found is to rotate the canvas until the line you want to draw is at 90˚ and then draw.
I got as far as beginning to ink the outlines - I’ll share a finished version once it’s done!
Is your career something you can only see looking backwards?
16 July 2018
Here’s a new thought I’ve been mulling over the weekend.
As a culture we spend a lot of time thinking about our career in the future tense.
We think ahead to our career. The question is “where am I going next?” “What are my career goals? How do I execute on them?”
And at the most extreme end of the spectrum, we are encouraged to come up with ten-year plans.
The future tense
I have always struggled with this.
Imagining myself three, five or ten years in the future feels almost impossible to do accurately: there are just too many variables.
And if, after much head scratching and pen chewing, I do manage to actually articulate where I want my career to go in the future, the ink dries…
…and my heart wants something else.
The present tense
So, thinking I was just bad at it, I gave up that kind of visualisation, and for most of the last five or so years, I have stuck to just figuring out what to do next.
Practically, that means focusing on the current project. And once that project is done, searching around for a new one.
At any given time I am guided by my curiosity now, not a long term plan.
It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. (E L Doctorow)
The past tense
I have found this a helpful philosophy.
Once you move forward this way, your career suddenly becomes visible - whenever you look behind you.
I notice this as I begin to rewatch all my old films, starting in 2009, one-by-one, the good and the bad.
A long red line, my decade-long career, is right before my eyes, clear as day.
All of which is to say that we should stop thinking of our careers as something to make tangible in advance, and instead realise they are the outcome of something else: a life led by curiosity, adventure and wonder.
Just a thought. I’m aware this could also easily be filed under “things said by privileged white men.”
Meditation and its benefits for visual storytellers
13 July 2018
I recently passed my 1,440th minute of meditation since I downloaded the Headspace app at the end of last year.
That’s a solid 24-hours spent sitting in silence trying to focus on my breath, putting my mind in a state of rest.
My biggest revelation has been discovering how beneficial a practice it is for those of us telling visual stories.
Meditation asks you to focus on something - often the rise and fall of your breath - to access a different part of your mind.
At first I found focus by verbalising what I was doing: literally saying to myself (silently) “I am breathing in; I am breathing out…”
Only after several months of this did it occur to me to try focusing on the sensation of the breath…sort of just ‘experiencing’ the sensation, ‘feeling’ it happen, I guess.
Now, you’ll notice how difficult that last sentence was to put into words (the guy doing the Headspace meditations struggles to explain it also) - and that’s the key.
The simple sensation of breathing is what you might call pre-verbal.
It lives inside a part of your brain where words do not exist; it is something that cannot easily be described.
And so putting your focus here forces your brain out of its chatty verbal place and into a place for which there are no words.
It feels like opening a door to a secret room - a big room! - in my brain I have never been inside before.
The director Alexander MacKendrick said that to verbalise a thought was to rationalise it, and that film’s essential strength lay in the fact it could communicate ideas that could not be easily rationalised.
And that’s what great films, graphic novels, images and comics do at their best isn’t it: communicating, as MacKendrick says “at a level far more immediate and primitive than the spoken word.”
Despite the proliferation of television, smartphone cameras and online video, we still live in a word-centred world.
Reading and writing are taught in schools long after drawing and visual thinking has been sidelined as a hobby.
For me, in my practice as a visual storyteller, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in any project is escaping my word-centred mindset.
Spending just a few minutes each day trying to access this pre-verbal part of your mind won’t bear any immediate fruit but, over time will, I think, help you to communicate in images more strongly.
Not to mention the other lovely benefits of a daily meditation practice of course!