Look, Listen, Analyze- Casino

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All this talk of film editing made me think of Martin Scorcese and his long-time partnership with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker.  I would venture to say that Scorcese is a master director and storyteller, so chances are Schoonmaker isn’t a bad film editor either.   One of my favorite Scorcese films is Casino, so off I went to look for a Casino clip after not finding anything that really stood out to me in the suggested YouTube playlists.

Here’s the clip I chose: “In Vegas, Everybody Watches Everybody Else”

Video only: Knowing that what the clip was titled, but not having seen this clip for several years, I dug in.  The shot opens with three men entering the frame, man 1 (stays left), man 2 (goes to the far right), and DeNiro (who fills center, which is just right of center in the frame).

The camera then zooms in closer to DeNiro’s face and then moves back left across until he is just left of center, framed in the foreground.

The camera then gets moving- from one person in the casino to the other.  In general it follows a rhythm: camera moves, settles on object, object moves.  Camera moves, object moves, repeat.  Often, but not always, the person’s eyes or body language will point the viewer to where the camera goes next.

Audio only:  Scene opens with blues-y, jazz-y, soul-y uptempo music.   The sound mimics the camera/object/camera/object rhythm:  music/narration/music/narration.  The music also has background noise as well- casino noises.  The sentences of dialogue are short and staccato so every bit of dialogue fits into the time the camera is on the object.

One Last time: It corresponds with the three men arriving on screen, pauses for a moment of narration, and then proceeds into the body of the song, just as the scene proceeds as well.   The camera and music rhythms match up; the result is a dynamic piece of film that conveys movement and the many parties involved in “watching” the casino.
I didn’t notice any overt Ebert principles here.  Yes DeNiro is just right of center in the opening frames, but then the clip moves on and the actors are in varying spots in the shots- left right, moving left, moving right.  There isn’t too much up/down angles- the majority of shots are from shoulder height, so a neutral stance.  What is striking about this clip is not the placement of actors–no shot actually features one actor actively interacting (not just standing next to) with the other–but the movement between them across the wide casino space.

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Does a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever feel insecure? Reading movies

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On the surface, I agree with Roger Ebert’s idea of a film’s composition.  It is my sense that we as humans have a natural tendency for symmetry and balance.  We may not notice when something “works” but we probably do when it doesn’t.  It was difficult for me to think of this in the abstract so off to the internet I went and searched “famous movie stills”.  This was one of the top hits:

still 1

Shot from Jurassic Park

Eeek!  Let’s see how it matches up with what Ebert says:

Ebert

T-Rex

“…in general terms, in a two-shot, the person on the right will “seem” dominant over the person on the left” If we count T-Rex as a person, I would say Ebert’s principle may not apply here.   It all centers on what “dominant” means. Do we mean brute strength? In that case, clearly T-Rex wins. Do we mean dominates our attention, or with whom we most strongly identify? In that case, it would be (for me at least) the human.
“Right is more positive, left more negative” Yup. Bad dinosaur on left, scared human on right.
“Top is dominant over bottom” You could say that!
“Foreground stronger than background” Depends on what you mean by stronger.   Certainly the dinosaur is the “stronger” one but I as a viewer identify most with the human, so I feel more strongly drawn to the human in the shot and what he must be feeling.
“Brighter areas tend to be more dominant over darker areas, but far from always. Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast”, which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower and so on.” The dinosaur is certainly brighter in this shot and he dominates the frame. Yet I am drawn to the human so perhaps it is a matter of the contrast that makes me feel drawn to him.

Verdict-in this one instance, Ebert’s principles loosely worked.  It all hinges on what we decide “dominant” or “stronger” mean- visually, emotionally or some mashup of the two.  Movies are intended to arouse emotion (at least I think good ones do)–to divorce the experience of WATCHING from the film itself doesn’t really work.

I watched the video “Hitchcock loves bikinis” for the filmmakers exposition on why cuts are so important in films- in this case, they either make the man in the film a nice guy or a lech.  This to me was a little bit simplistic-after all, a person could start at a neutral state, see something, and have a reaction to it for an almost infinite number of situations.  You don’t need film for that to happen.  It’s not the cut that changes things (the pieces of bread in a sandwich), it’s what comes between (the “meat” as it were).

I also watched the video “Zooms” on the  use of zoom-in and zoom-out in the Shining.  [If you are ever near Estes Park, CO, head to the Stanley hotel, which inspired King’s story, btw.]  God that movie is creepy.  The examples of zoom techniques used and being able to see them in such short succession really emphasized how they provide a sense of tension in the story.  If a zoom could talk it would say “AND THEN….get ready for this….” It’s almost a way of honing our focus on the shot- in the case of a zoom in, a magnifying glass, and in the case of a zoom out, a widening of our consciousness to include the larger world.

 

Week 5 Summary

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My main takeaway this week: working with sound is not as difficult as I thought, but still the most challenging I have found of the differing editing tasks we have done in this course.  I do feel completely at ease in recording, exporting, importing, and loading to SoundCloud, but the editing portion (splicing, fading, etc.) still cause me some angst.  Perhaps its because the visual medium isn’t there, i.e., I don’t know what part of the sound I’m looking at by just looking at the sound wave?

This week also marks the sad milestone of being the first week I did not complete all assignments.  My high school honor society self would be horrified.  Ultimately, I’ve decided to wrap this week up, incomplete, rather than push myself farther and farther behind into the Video editing portion of class.  Here’s what I was able to do:

  • Animal escape!  Getting acclimated with SoundCloud.  I made a SoundCloud account when we first started listening to audio in the first few weeks of class, but this week I was able to get comfortable with uploading, recording and embedding SoundCloud files into my blog posts.  I even ventured out into the main page and found some really cool music too.
  • Sound Effects Story: in this assignment I learned that I should have actually done some listening, viewing and reading on Audacity before just jumping in, because I did not and it almost pushed me to the edge.  Luckily, I have lived to tell the tale.  Finding and downloading the sounds on FreeSound was easy enough as was coming up with the idea.  It was doing this assignment that helped me see how valuable video can be, actually.  I rarely (that is, almost never) watch videos online.  That hilarious video that’s going around on the web?  Haven’t seen it.  I don’t know if it’s an attention span thing or a simple preference for reading, but I find watching video online to be boring and tedious.  HOWEVER- the written tutorials on Audacity just weren’t doing it for me, so in desperation I turned to the video and screencast.  Ah- much easier!  They were so helpful I bet I take to video over text the next time I am looking for help.
  • Audio Assignments: I chose Audio Assignment 942, in which we take a Craigslist “free stuff” ad and make it a spoken word piece complete with background music.  I learned that the “free” section of Craigslist is really just a way for people to try to get sometime very unpleasant things hauled away for free (Clean out my basement! For free!) – clever.  This post got me on better terms with Audacity.  After visiting the aforementioned screencast again I simply used the tools demonstrated to create my own file.  I went to Soundcloud for some music and was able to quickly find what I was looking for.  I even used my 1-month Noun Project membership to download an icon for the Soundcloud file.  Synergy!
  • To Be Storified Example I got some good feedback on my story idea, which was to tell the story of the importance of public health.  Public health is something that when it is working well, we don’t notice it.   So much work goes on behind the scenes by a mostly unassuming type of worker-a potentially fruitful story topic.
  • Comment Roundup: It finally (duh) occurred to me that I could comment on anyone’s blogs I want, not just my blog “team” (which has now shrunk to be just two of us).  The encouragement and pointers I get from commenters is immensely helpful.  I don’t know if I am as helpful especially in the tips department when it comes to commenting on others posts (as I frequently know only as much as, if not less, than the poster does) but I like to think I’m at least encouraging 🙂

What got left out this week was the Chaplin Foley assignment…sorry Charlie.

Week 5 comment round up (belated)

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I think I may have found my final project story this week, based upon comments alone.  The comments on my Public Health story idea seemed to coalesce around the idea of a public health super hero-type character- I really appreciated the different layers the commenters added to my original thoughts.

I also learned via comments two things this week:  1) it pays off to actually review the tutorial items posted for us and 2) layering is actually easier than copy + paste in Audacity.

I have been falling down a bit on the job lately when it comes to getting out there and commenting on others’ posts, but the blog I did visit and comment on (the remaining member of my blog “team”) helped me see how to potentially approach the Chaplin Foley assignment (even though I ended up not doing it) as well as potential challenges.  I almost enjoy reading about the challenges as much as I do the final product- it helps me see I’m not the only one with (usually momentary) struggles!

 

All you can take Cactus- Audio Assignment 942

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Trolling Craigslist is always fun, so the first audio assignment listed on Week 5’s page immediately jumped out at me.  Off I went to the local Craiglist “free” section and found this lovely post:

craigslist two

Sounds strange enough to me!!  Why anyone would want to take on such an awful job for “free cactus” is beyond me…but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

I started to think of audio and a western theme came quickly to mind.  Cactus=desert=western movie, right?  (Never mind that these cacti live in the Walnut Grove area of the south, where ever that is).  I went to Soundcloud and searched “western”.  I selected this track:

The track itself is quite a bit longer than I needed and has several different parts.  I saved the file, played it on my computer and recorded the portion I liked using Audacity.  (Which is a very low-fi way of doing things, but it seemed to serve my purposes.)

Next I wrote out the Craigslist ad on paper with breaks for where I wanted to pause of emphasize a word.  After reading out loud a few times to get the hang of it, I pressed “record” and recorded my voice using Audacity.

I then got to work layering the two audio files and trying my best to improve the sound.  I started with the background music as the “base” file.  Next, I imported my voice and time delayed it by a second or two to allow the music to set the stage, as it were.  The music was a bit louder than what I needed though, so I used the envelope tool to lower the volume on the background music.

Next, I cut off the extra background music I didn’t need, but left a few seconds on the end, which I faded out after the voice recording was finished.  And voila! A spoken word masterpiece is born:

I was much quicker in loading Soundcloud files on this post- I didn’t have to consult help to remember how to do it correctly.  I did have to go back to the Audacity screencast to re-learn how to do pretty much everything except record.  Hopefully Audacity gets easier; I’m still not finding it to be very intuitive.  I did have some blips with Audacity in that I couldn’t import the .aup files I had saved–I had to export them to MP3 and then import them from MP3 format.  Not a big deal, but a moment of panic when I thought I couldn’t use the files I had made.  Here’s a screen grab of the file in Audacity:

craigslist cactus screen grab

A story that is good for your health?

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I was thinking if there were any work-related things I could pull into for a story idea this week.  I work with a lot of people in the field of public health.  You may be asking yourself “What is public health?”  Sounds kind of crunchy and idealistic, huh?  Well it can be those things, but what struck me was how much I hear from public health practitioners how difficult it is to describe their work.  Public health is many things–clean drinking water, seatbelts in cars, restaurant ratings from the health department, warning labels on cigarettes, vaccinating babies–that all add up to keeping a population healthy (whereas a doctor keeps the individual healthy).  However, when public health succeeds, you don’t hear about it.  You only hear about public health when something goes wrong: an outbreak of food-borne illness, when there is a vaccine shortage, when obesity reaches epidemic levels, etc.  How could I help tell the story of public health?  There are so many miracle stories from the field–eradicating (wiping it off the face of the earth forever!!) smallpox, for instance–I know I would have a wealth of information to work with.  It would be a matter of finding the most engaging angle and going from there.  Perhaps ghosts of diseases past- from the perspective of a previous public health problem like polio, smallpox, untreated drinking water, etc.

The most exciting moment of my dog’s day- sound effect story

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Oy. Audio editing really scares me.  Which is probably (definitely) a large part of why all these assignments are late this week.  But I digress.

For the sound effects story, I started to think of what I needed:  a scenario that didn’t need dialogue and a scenario that was “noisy” or had noises that were easily recognizable.  As my pooch snored on the floor next to my feet, I thought about all the noises my dog makes that aren’t barks- snuffles, snores, skittering claws on the hardwood.  Hence, my sound effects story:

Scene- a peaceful, quiet weekday in the ‘burbs- mid-day.  The workers are at work; young children may play in their backyard, or are perhaps taking a nap.  Zoom to one house- the cew5x house.  It is quiet, with only the dog at home to guard the castle.  Doggie likes to nap and that is what he is doing at this moment. <snoring noises>

Until!  What’s that?  He hears the familiar drone and low hum of his old foe <delivery truck>.  The brown truck who rumbles down the street and sometimes makes that shrill, loud sound happen that really drives him crazy. <brakes sqeak; dog’s paws skitter across the floor as he runs to the door; doorbell rings; dog barks; truck pulls away>

Sound credits, all from Freesound:

Here’s what my Audacity track looked like:

sound story screen shotI almost threw in the towel on this one.  I had all my sounds ready to go and just could NOT figure out Audacity.  I had been using the manual and the tutorials and it just wasn’t happening.  After much too long, I then went to the YouTube tutorials page and quickly found a video that showed me how you have to make a new track to cut and paste onto…duh.  This just goes to show that maybe I should use some “new” media for the new media class, huh?

At this point if I were more patient, I would have put more effort into layering the sounds (e.g., the doorbell ringing and dog barking should happen at the same time, not one after the other).  I will leave that for another day, however- all my audio editing powers have been used up for today!

PS- my dog kept barking when I was playing the door bell sound, so I had to finish this assignment wearing headphones.  Silly dog!