By Mark Nickolas, on Wed Nov 30, 2011 at 8:16 AM ET
This week’s project in Media Practices: Film Form is an assignment that all film students do at one point: editing dailies from a scene in a 1958 episode of the television show Gunsmoke into something coherent. In addition to editing the 14 minutes of footage into something a little less than five minutes, I also added some sound effects and music.
Here’s the actual class assignment:
Mini-Tech Assignment: Editing Gunsmoke
For this assignment you will be provided with dailies from the old television series Gunsmoke. Using these dailies and FCP, I would like you to produce an edited scene from the 14 minutes of footage being provided to you. To a large degree, the footage will tell you how it should be edited. You can choose to follow the “classical” conventions as closely (or as loosely) as you like. Whichever option you choose though the scene that you submit should feel fully edited and complete. (Note: you won’t be penalized for not adding additional sound elements; however I certainly wouldn’t object to the addition of an effective audio track.)
As a mini-tech assignment, it will be evaluated on a scale from 1 to 5 points (as opposed to 1 to 10 points for the other exercises). It should be submitted on a disc to me at the beginning of the Tuesday, November 29 session. Late submissions will receive a reduced grade. A small selection of these works will be screened near the end of the semester. Ryan will review these works and submit comments to me. He will curate the screening.
These points will be added to your total for Tech Assignments (50% of grade)
And here’s my final cut as submitted:
Here’s the original footage that we had to work with:
By Mark Nickolas, on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 9:26 AM ET
Our second tech project in Film Form involved video, as follows:
Take-Home Tech Project #2 – MP: Film Form
This is the second of your three main Tech Projects. This one involves the use of the Panasonic HD camera (or, if you prefer, the Canon SLR). For this assignment, I would like you to use this equipment to develop a small project that explores the temporal nature of the cinematic medium. As Tarkovsky and others point out, the film image doesn’t consist merely of images in movement and time but images of movement and time. This leads filmmakers like Antonioni to claim that the task of the filmmaker is “to catch a reality which is never static, is always moving toward or away from a moment of crystallization, and to present this movement, this arriving and moving on, as a new perception” (Antonioni, “Event and the Image,” p.51).
Using the “Imprinted Time” essay from Sculpting in Time as a starting point or source of inspiration, I would like you to use the HD/SLR Camera to compose and record a scene that exemplifies the durative quality of the cinematic image; its ability to capture a process, a progression, the unveiling of an idea, the passage through which something emerges, comes into being, flickers, and disappears. By “scene” I have in mind one (possibly, two) long takes, which combined should be no more than 5 minutes in length, although I will consider other ways of interpreting this assignment. To be clear: you can simply plan one take that would be between 4 to 5 minutes in length; or you can combine two shots that should, in total, add up to no more than 5 minutes. (Any significant divergence from the description on this sheet would need the instructor’s approval to receive credit.)
The purpose of the assignment is both to allow students to familiarize themselves with the equipment available at The New School as well as to encourage the student to engage with a central cinematic problematic, i.e., a problem specific to film. For this reason, I’m less concerned at this point in technical mastery than in the quality of your ideas, and the effort you put into the task. Remember too that since this is largely an exercise in mise-en-scène (or, as Eisenstein would say, mise-en-shot), some attention to composition, to framing and perspective, would also be appreciated here.
Assignment is due at the beginning of the November 8 session. All late submissions will receive a reduced mark. The date of the class screening, you should submit two items:
(1) A disc with your exercise on it; properly formatted (as per TA’s instructions, to be posted to BB).
(2) A TWO to THREE page written report on the exercise in which you will discuss:
(a) The concept you tried to realize in your work.
(b) The idea/argument from the reading material that you used as a starting point to develop your film, and why (what was it about this particular idea/argument that you found intriguing or interesting)? This section should be a MINIMUM of one full paragraph and should demonstrate a real engagement with the arguments made in the essay you have selected.*
(c) A short review of the technical elements of your work, focusing on the specific equipment you utilized, and any attempts to use the equipment in a specialized way (e.g., experiments with color temperature, use of special lenses, tripods and dollies, etc.).
(d) A brief assessment of how the project turned out: did it succeed in the way you planned, or not, and for what reasons?
* I said this before but will repeat it here: the written report officially counts as part of your Short Writing Assignment grade, but your comments here may also influence, for better or worse, the score you receive for the Tech Project. It should not, therefore, be considered a throwaway assignment.
**Note too that while you may choose to include some sort of basic audio component to accompany the visuals, it is not required. Send me an email at if you have any questions.
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 3:28 PM ET
After much thought, I decided to create my 16mm Bolex camera film project in Lincoln Center at night. As I wrote in the accompanying paper to the project below, the idea for a ‘night at Lincoln Center’ was to reveal elements from the iconic Manhattan location, at first allowing a peek at the micro – such as tight shots of flowing water and portions of its digital wall, without context or hint of location – and then slowly widening the frame to allow access to macro elements — the water fountain and the Metropolitan Opera House – before ending with the familiar wide-angle shot of the plaza from the vantage point of Columbus Avenue. The goal was to present the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle before revealing its full form. While native New Yorkers might discern the location after a few shots, a tourist might require several more before situating himself.
It was a challenging assignment, as I discussed in my paper, but a great learning experience in working with film and creating a project which required a great deal of thought with respect to composition, framing, structure, and planning.
Here’s the video of the project (since the product was film that required a projector to be shown, this is a digital video of the projected film, so the quality is degraded a fair amount):
Here’s the paper that was submitted along with the film:
Night at Lincoln Center (Bolex Project)
The executed idea for my Bolex project is a ‘night at Lincoln Center’ where the film reveals elements from the iconic Manhattan location, at first allowing a peek at the micro – such as tight shots of flowing water and portions of its digital wall, without context or hint of location – and then slowly widening the frame to allow access to macro elements — the water fountain and the Metropolitan Opera House – before ending with the familiar wide-angle shot of the plaza from the vantage point of Columbus Avenue. The goal was to present the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle before revealing its full form. While native New Yorkers might discern the location after a few shots, a tourist might require several more before situating himself.
From the outset, the goal was to capture the experience of Lincoln Center at night, where the lights from the water fountain and the various concert halls illuminate and isolate the location from the surrounding lights and din. However, the initial goal was to construct a character-based narrative, following a woman emerging from the subway who presumably comes to the Center for a show and then enjoys the sights from the edge of the fountain. After walking through the location one evening and taking test shots (digital and video) with a Canon Rebel t2i, it became apparent that such a narrative would be difficult to construct given the issues with lighting. Any attempt to draw out a person’s face sitting next to the self-illuminated fountain would run the risk of either overwhelming the frame with the fountain’s strong light or presenting a woman poorly lit or simply in silhouette. As such, the idea was modified to present Lincoln Center as its own character and incorporating the elements already present while filming.
II. Technical Elements
The film stock used was Kodak’s Vision 3 500T color negative film. Only one roll was shot. In executing the goal of slowly revealing elements of the location, the challenge – primarily in the early shots where the 75mm lens was used – was to overcome the lack of available light since all shooting was done after 10 p.m., the reason for choosing 500T film stock. Light meter readings taken the previous night often failed to move to the meter’s needle at all. As a result, most of the shots – except those near illuminated objects such as the water fountain or digital wall – were taken with the camera lens fully “open,” especially when using the 75 mm telephoto lens. Additionally, several very low light shots, where no motion would be detected in the frame (i.e., people walking or traffic), were shot at 12 frames per second in order to gain one full stop of additional light.
As a result of these challenges, and after spending two evenings taking test shots and light readings, I prepared a spreadsheet of the tentative shot sequence (a copy of which is attached) which specified the style of framing, lens, duration, and frames per second, along with notations to help guide me while shooting. However, since the spreadsheet was an estimation – as the Bolex itself was not used to gauge framing during the walkthroughs – it was largely followed as far as shot sequence, but lighting and framing during the actual filming required considerable adjustments, if used at all.
III. Assessment of Final Project
Several problems were encountered during shooting which I anticipate will adversely affect the final product (I write this before having screened the film).
First, while Lincoln Center security permitted me to film on location, they would not allow a tripod to be set and used. As a result, all of the shots – other than of the digital wall and the final wide-shot of the plaza which were taken from the sidewalk – were done with the camera hand-held which I suspect will be noticeable in telephoto shots where shaking will appear pronounced.
Second, in order to minimize shaking of the camera, the cable release attachment was used for some of the shots. In one of the later shots, the attachment remained stuck as the camera was running. Since the camera was being hand-held, it had to be turned on its side to disengage the cable and the final film will no doubt reflect this problem.
Finally, in a few early shots taken in very low light, it was especially difficult to properly set focus since the view through the diopter appeared darker than the human eye and there were no clear objects to establish focus (for example, one shot was of slowly rippling water in the unlit reflecting pool).
Despite these hurdles and challenges, the intended narrative of Lincoln Center slowly revealing itself appeared to have come together, and I was particularly pleased with the final wide-shot of the plaza as I was able to capture several visitors posing for someone else in silhouette in front of the fountain.
Finally, here’s the report from my professor on the project:
By Mark Nickolas, on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 10:28 AM ET
After several weeks of instruction, and passing a written and practical test by the film office in the operation and care of the Bolex 16mm film camera, I get a chance to jump into my first-ever attempt at working with 16mm film…real celluloid.
Since we’re working with a single 100ft roll of film — that must be developed — you are unable to see what you are filming, must shoot sequentially, and are constantly challenged by the operation of this pretty neat machine.
Here’s is our first tech assignment for class:
Take-Home Tech Exercise #1
This is your first take-home tech project. It involves the use of the Bolex film camera and a single roll of film. There will be no editing after the fact. All editing as such will take place “in camera” while shooting the 100-foot roll. (Since the maximum “shot” length is 20-30 seconds – the maximum time that the camera will run without having to be re-cranked – your film will have a minimum of 6 shots. Based on the average shot length it could have significantly more than this.)
Since the purpose of the assignment is to encourage you to think about the specifics of the equipment that you are using – and to conceive a project with this specificity in mind – you will be asked to also include another additional challenge: you must choose no more than two or three formal techniques to execute your film. Among the techniques to consider: rack focus, slow motion, fast motion, stop motion, matte shots (or split screen), double (or multiple) exposure, pans/tilts, tracking shot/dolly shot, handheld camera. Other elements not mentioned here – such as shot duration, film stocks as well as choice of lenses and filters – do not fall under the same constraints (although I encourage you to think carefully about your choices here as well). The goal is to make purposeful choices about the techniques you are employing, and to let these choices help determine the direction or shape of the project so that you can create a work that feels formally and thematically unified.
I’m less concerned here with technical mastery than in the overall quality of your ideas, as well as the effort you put into the task. Assignment is due on Tuesday, October 11. They will be viewed in class on that day. Late submissions will incur a deduction.
On October 11 you should submit TWO items:
1. A 16mm print of your film. (It will eventually be returned to you.)
2. A TWO to THREE page written report on the exercise in which you will discuss:
a) The concept/idea you tried to realize in your work. (If you developed more than one project, or the project evolved while you shot the roll, or tried a second or third roll, you can discuss this as well.)
b) A short review of the technical elements of your work, including the choice of techniques, film stock, etc., and a few words about why you chose them.
c) A brief assessment of how the project turned out: did it succeed in the way you planned, or not, and for what reasons? (If you like you can submit this portion of the written report after the screening. However, portions (a) and (b) should be complete and submitted in hard copy form the day of the class.)
Note: while your written reports officially count as part of your Short Writing Assignment grade (consult syllabus), they can also play a positive role in how I access your tech projects. You should thus put some time into these reports, taking the opportunity to demonstrate the work you put into the overall project. Don’t forget that, along with creativity and inspiration, you are also being graded on commitment and engagement. Your written report is one place to communicate this to me.
By Mark Nickolas, on Fri Sep 9, 2011 at 9:28 AM ET
As we are learning about the history of film, one must start with the invention of the movie camera by Auguste and Louis Lumiere in 1895 in France, called the Cinematographe. At about the same time in United States, Thomas Edison created his own version called the Kinetoscope.
The main difference between the two cameras was that the Lumiere camera was meant to be projected on a screen. In fact, its cameras literally served three simultaneous functions: it filmed an event, it developed the film within the camera’s housing, and the cameras would serve as its own projector. Moreover, it weighed about 10 pounds so that it was portable and could be carried to remote locations. Edison’s camera was enormous and not portable and, unlike the Lumiere, was designed for films to be viewed individually, not projected on the screen. As a result, the Cinematographe became the established camera during the birth of cinema.
Our first assignment in Media Practices: Film Form was to watch one of the short films made in 1995 by several dozen of the top directors in the world in commemoration with the 100th anniversary of the Lumiere invention, as follows:
Short Writing Assignment #1 – Film Form
1. View a selection of the short pieces made for the anthology film Lumière & Co. (1995), each of which is roughly 40 seconds in length. You can watch these either on DVD or posted to YouTube.
2. After viewing a number of them (there are 39 total, but you don’t necessarily have to view all of them), choose ONE to write about. In a 1-2 page essay discuss the reasons behind your choice. In what way did this particular film stand out for you? How did the filmmaker manage to creatively work within the boundaries/limitations imposed by the film’s producers? (If you like, you can compare your preference to one or two other works made for the collection, but this should not be the emphasis in the paper.)
3. Submit this paper in hard copy form in next week’s class, September 6.
I chose to focus my paper on the film created by Chinese director Zhang Yimou (see below). Here’s what I submitted, as well as final remarks from my professor:
By Mark Nickolas, on Tue Aug 30, 2011 at 9:09 AM ET
Today, the Fall 2011 semester begins and I am enrolled in three courses — all of which I’m quite excited about. Though both Film Form and Cinematography are geared towards more traditional (i.e., fiction) filmmaking, I’ve long believed that documentarians need to be familiar with and embrace the history, theory, and techniques of the cinema. Not only does a strong understanding of theory and history inform your practice, but the aesthetic component of the art of making films — fiction or non-fiction — are also paramount. You want people to embrace both the content and style of your work. So, I’m excited about diving into those areas and becoming a better filmmaker.
In this hybrid theory/practice course, students will immerse themselves in a number of aesthetic questions that will challenge them to think precisely and creatively about the properties of the medium. What are the fundamental structures at the basis of film? What role do these structures play in the spectator¹s cognitive and affective engagement with film? Rather than presume an answer derived from the other arts, students will be encouraged to engage with cinema on its own terms, to engage with film as its own unique system of sign production. Through the close study of a select group of films in a variety of styles and genres (shorts and features, fiction and documentary, narrative and experimental) students will be introduced to a number of key topics, including framing and perspective; open and closed forms of montage; movement- and time-image; on- and off-screen space (actual and virtual space); audio-visual relations. In-class discussion and analysis will be supplemented with five Saturday afternoon tech labs. Tech labs consist of instruction in film (Bolex), sound (Flash), video (mini DV) and editing (FCP).
*Prerequisite: Media Practices: Concepts or instructor permission.
*Students registering for ‘Media Practices: Film Form’ must also register for the Saturday technical lab. The lab does not carry course credit and no tuition is charged. The purpose of the lab is to provide additional technical assistance and outside of class hands-on practice for all students enrolled in the sections of Media Practices: Film Form. The labs will be conducted by the course Teaching Associates. Students are required to attend at least 7 sessions and are encouraged to attend all.
This workshop combines theoretical and practical elements of cinematography with special emphasis on cultivating a film sensibility. While learning techniques of studio and location lighting, students also study composition and coverage, and how movement, angles, and placement create a cinematographic style. In this class students will learn the tools, hardware, and technology used in the industry, as well as work through the aesthetic decisions that contribute to how a story is told. Looking at the special advantages, particular limitations and collaborative possibilities of both digital and film cinematography, the class will address issues of integrated media. Exercises will include: essential lighting and grip equipment, color film stocks, hard light vs. soft light, location shooting, color temperature and fluorescent lights, exterior lighting and control of natural light, covering a scene and continuity from a cinematographer, point of view, and camera and actor choreography. Practical tests and scenes are shot using color and black & white 16mm film stocks, as well as digital video.
*Permission required. Contact the Film Form Academic Coordinator.
The documentary is arguably the most challenging and influential form of film and video. It touches, informs, and sometimes outrages millions of viewers seeking facts and insights in a complex world. This historical introduction to the genre begins with the earliest “actuality” films of the Lumiere brothers and ends with the latest postmodern explorations of film truth. The course examines how changing technology, shifting social and political realities, and the personalities and talents of influential individuals have continually re-defined what documentary means. Ethical as well as aesthetic issues are considered. Weekly screenings are of classics by Vertov, Flaherty, Grierson, Riefenstahl, Rouch, and Wiseman, as well as contemporary works.
After 15 years in Democratic politics and media, I returned to school this year with the goal of becoming a political documentary filmmaker. In January 2011, I began work on a Master's of Arts degree in Media Studies and Film at The New School in New York City. This website will serve to document my journey.