Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Sarkeesian Effect: Issues and Suggestions (on Production)

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NOTE I: I have been informed that Owen and Aurini have apparently completed filming for The Sarkeesian Effect. Regardless, I am going to leave the re-filming suggestions in this just in case (they could still help with editing).
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The Sarkeesian Effect is a documentary film currently under development by Jordan Owen (producer) and Davis Aurini (director), and its tagline promises viewers a look “Inside the World of Social Justice Warriors.”


As the content for the documentary has not been released in its entirety yet, I will not be focusing on that facet of the film here. Instead, I will talk about what many who criticized the documentary’s trailer have:

Various aspects of its production values.

I won’t be saying much in this that I haven’t already stated on Twitter, and that hasn’t already been said by people in the responses on the video for the trailer, and in other places, but I will, hopefully, provide some commentary or links that might help Owen and Aurini with improving the project later.

After viewing the trailer, a few elements stuck out to me:

1) The transition effects.
2) The Owen/Aurini logo quality.
3) The fonts.
4) The music.
5) The interview format, angles, framing, lighting, and coloration.
6) The appearances of the subjects in the videos.
7) The overall audio and video quality.

I realize that some of these things will likely not be changed, either because it is too late or would be too costly, and may not be the same in the final product as they are in the trailer, but I will go over each of the items nonetheless.

The Transition Effects

The transition effects in the video, particularly the static during the news media clips and the pixels, seemed a bit too stock and noticeable to me. Transitions in a documentary should be subtle, and as the man in a video that I will link below stated, even though a video is edited, the editing should not be something that viewers notice. My suggestion for the transitions, then, would be to aim for subtly.

(So, not the abrupt, stock static jumps or pixels.)

Some links on transitions:


The Owen/Aurini Logo

This issue isn’t that important, but the Owen/Aurini logo at the start of the trailer, to be frank, was just not very good. Even finding a premade intro template would be an improvement.

Slim white text on a plain black background might look better, with a subtle fade in and out, or a subtle fade in and then a slightly harder transition out. Or, Owen and Aurini could simply pay someone to make them a quick introduction logo clip. With all of the people supporting them on Patreon and elsewhere, surely some have graphic and video editing skills; a few may even do it for free. Who knows.

The Fonts

Though Owen and Aurini might have used a font from the list below, the fonts in the trailer looked fairly bad and cheap, and so did the effects on them. Even, again, a premade font template would have looked better. I would recommend searching how other films or documentaries use fonts, or watching some video tutorials related to fonts in graphic design and video, for improving this.

You don’t have to do or envision everything on your own; that is why tutorial and tip videos exist.

Don’t be afraid to use them.

Some links on fonts:


The Music

I initially thought that the music in the trailer was royalty free stock music that Owen and Aurini had collected from somewhere, but then later discovered that Owen apparently made the music himself. In my opinion, the music is strange, sort of tacky, and does not create any kind of coherent tone or mood.

I would not go with music which sounds too “grim” for the documentary, as that wouldn’t fit the subject matter and might make the film seem almost cartoonish or over-the-top, but too light of music would not work well either. It probably needs to be something right in the middle, serious but subtle, which the current music is not. I don’t really know how to describe the issue with the present music other than to call it “unfitting.”

Though the music was just in the trailer, so you sort of expect it to be more prominent there, it is also a reflection of how the music will likely sound in the film, which is why I mention it.

As an aside, for the sake of future reference and thinking in editing, the music should also not overpower any of the talking throughout. Music in a documentary is intended to be in the background during narration or speaking, much like scenery in a photograph of a person or house.

Some links on music for documentaries:

Choosing the Right Music for a Documentary

Tips for Selecting Music for Your Documentary Film

The Interviews

This is probably one of the most significant issues with the trailer, and additionally, I would imagine, one of the more difficult problems to solve, due to time, budget, logistics, and so forth.

First, I found it peculiar and off-putting that Owen and Aurini were in nearly every interview of the trailer, either completely in the frame or halfway (the latter of which is even worse), and usually in a partial profile view. The interviews need improvements in format, angles, framing, lighting, and coloration.

The interview audio and video quality in general was also not the best, and I will provide links to some relatively affordable equipment of fair quality below in case any of that can be redone. But these two issues, with some better editing during the interviews and throughout the documentary, could be given passes due to budgetary constraints.

For the rest, however, the interviews, ideally, need to be re-shot with improvements, mostly in framing, angles, and lighting (color correction and other such editing would be done in post-production anyway, but all editing is made easier with better lighting and video quality).

If they cannot be re-filmed, I would suggest looking through the links below for some ideas on how to improve the footage that has already been recorded. The interviews still won’t look the greatest, but they will, at the very least, appear better than they did in the trailer; and as they seem central to the documentary, that makes this important.

Going with show instead of tell here.

Interview tip links:




(Standard for seated interviews would probably be most similar to the “clean single” example.)





Lighting Tips #3

Audio and Video Equipment

-Cameras

Being ambitious here, but this one costs $2,000.

SSDS (~$100 each).

-Plus lenses

EF lenses from Cannon are $12k a set, but they can be rented (~$125 per day).

Could buy a cheaper lens (~$700).

*Total costs with a cheaper lens is around $3,000.

Alternatively, there are many DSLRs that likewise work:



Add a ~$700 lens and you're looking at $3K again for this kind of video quality.

-Audio

Zoom Recorder ($200).

Or, audio via laptop with one of these:



-Mic/Accessories

Rode NTG3 or equivalent ($700).

Stand ($20).

Clips ($5-$20).

(You want booms to be aimed toward the solar plexus—the middle chest area—or mics to be attached to the chest.)

Audio costs ~$920-$1,000, depending.

-Total Costs:

Video: $3,000
Audio: $1,000
VO: $1,000

*Grand total: $5,000 to make a film.

Then, throw in a top-of-the-line editing PC (~$5,000).

So, all in all, the cost would be around $10K to have essentially top-of-the-line gear, at most. I would likewise recommend, if the interviews can be re-shot, considering investing in a green screen to sit behind the subjects so that there is nothing to worry about related to how the spaces around them look.

-Green Screen (~$390).

Other editing links:



(Even if Owen and Aurini don’t use any of the above software/equipment, the suggestions can help.)

Notes on Each Interview Featured in the Trailer

-Viewers do not need to see the interviewer’s notebook of points/notes.
-Semi-profile views from a distance/odd angle are not good camera positioning.
-Try for some semblance of uniformity in angles and positioning.
-Frame interview videos as you would frame a picture.
-The following points are merely recommendations for improvement.
-Some of this can be corrected with editing if redoing sections is not an option.

Aaron Clarey Interview (0:51) – Bad framing (get Aurini out of the shot; halfway in the shot from the side is probably the worst framing; the nodding was mildly distracting).

Karen Straughan/Other Women Interview (1:04) – Awful lighting, poor coloration (get Jordan out of the damn frame and center or point the camera on each person when they are speaking; the white socks look ridiculous).

Christina Parreira Interview (1:13) – Get Jordan out of the frame (viewers do not need to see the interviewer sweating profusely and wiping his forehead).

Jason Miller Interview (1:24) – Get Aurini out of the frame.

Paul Elam Interview (1:32) – Elam’s interview was one of the better ones, if not the best one, throughout in terms of angling/framing; not quite there, but almost. The lighting was somewhat poor.

Brad Wardell Interview (1:41) – Get Jordan out of the frame, stop the nodding, and lose the notebook.

Nick Robalik Interview (1:55) – Probably one of the poorer angles in the video, though at least Robalik wasn’t completely gazing off to the side of the camera while speaking (but Aurini is more distracting in this one, and what looks to be a pizza box is clearly visible in the background; that could’ve easily been moved).

Jack Thompson Interview (2:02) – To its credit, there was no interviewer to be seen in this clip, but the fact that Thompson was looking entirely to the side was not ideal (and him petting his hair was a bit distracting/casual).

Alex Hinkley Interview (2:18) – Get Jordan out of the frame. This clip was probably the worst offender in terms of the notebook being visible; I could almost read the sloppily written notes on the paper.

Jim Goad Interview (2:26) – Kick Jordan out the frame, son.

-Another minor point on the interviews: a few subjects in the interviews, excluding Aurini and including Jordan, looked as though they were just hanging out, or had only, moments before, gotten out of bed, and then decided to record a friendly, informal visit. At the very least, attempt to strive for some appearance of professionalism in attire.

-Jordan, unfortunately, was probably the greatest offender in terms of garb in a few of the trailer’s clips.

At the end of the trailer, Jordan Owen states that he is approaching what he believes to be Anita Sarkeesian’s tax return address (which I think is a PO Box). What could be so diabolical about the fact that she has her mail forwarded to a PO Box like many self-employed people, I do not know.

(I suppose that we will find out!)

But, the worst part about that segment had to be Jordan Owen’s attire. Viewers do not need to see a subject’s overflowing chest hair. For future shots, Owen should probably button up his shirt, or get a nice t-shirt (not a v-neck).

Final Thoughts

Overall, I hope that this post will help Owen and Aurini improve their documentary, either with re-filming some portions, filming future video, or with editing their current and future footage.

Content aside, as we do not really know the content yet, documentaries are always content plus presentation, and their success depends on the total package. A documentary film, including music, fonts, transitions, narration, and video clips, should be woven together skillfully, seamlessly, and subtly, with each component flowing in accordance with the whole as the film reveals its narrative and story and draws in its viewers.

At the moment, I do not think that The Sarkeesian Effect is done well, but there is still hope for it.

I fear, due to the production values—not all of which can be chalked up to budgetary limitations, as many of the issues are simply due to mistakes and ineptitude with filming, preparation, and editing—that the film will fail to truly persuade (or even reach) many outside of those who already agree with its likely message and/or who already have some sort of negative perceptions of Anita Sarkeesian and “SJWs.”

If that is to be the outcome, then the documentary will have been a failure. Jordan Owen himself, in a clip related to The Sarkeesian Effect, stated that the point of the film was to have the voices of the opposition to Sarkeesian and “SJWs” heard (and they even, at one point, wanted the documentary to go to some theaters). But, to genuinely achieve such ends, the quality of the film will have to improve from what it is now.

Dramatically.

Even as a low-budget documentary, far more could be, and could have been, done.

You want viewers who may not agree prior to watching your film to question their beliefs as they view it; not to simply rehash what people who already agree have already heard or read for the sake of reinforcing what they already think. That achieves little of meaningful value and would render the documentary nearly pointless.

And all of that, again, relies on the content of the film and its presentation.

DocumentaryTube.com gives some worthwhile commentary on what makes a good documentary:

Here are some components of a good documentary film.

⋗The people who wield the power, influence and information are identified and become a part of the film. The filmmaker must remain impartial and be open minded enough to present all sides of the story.

⋗A well edited film allows for a more unprejudiced approach. Each person or subject that is identified brings a unique focus to the film and requires a voice that is impartially heard.

⋗A good documentary raises more questions than answers. There is a myth that a good documentary film serves as proof or the ultimate explanation of something. Even if audience members are left pondering at the end of the film credits, that can be an excellent outcome.

⋗Film tells the truth even though the people in documentaries do not always do so. It is not necessary that they are publically called out during the film. Good documentaries can contrast content from many sources. The viewer serves as the juror. In well made documentaries the camera is the great truth teller. The viewer is able to easily figure out who is telling the truth. And in serving as a juror the viewer is often spellbound to the screen.

Once the story, structure and interviews are set the filmmaking process must be considered. The technical qualities of a film can move it from the great to the forgettable ranks.

There are a variety of elements which are required among the documentaries of greatness.

⋗The filmmaker will need to have high quality technical equipment which includes microphones, video camera, and editing equipment. Professional technicians are the best bet if a true film of quality is the desired outcome.

⋗Live action shots are imperative to a good documentary. It shows scenes as they are actually happening in real time. These shots will serve as evidence of truth or deceit for the film’s viewers.

⋗Still shots serve as filler between scenes. They are important to good documentaries because they do serve as credible transitions between live action and interviews. They are never to be considered ‘fluff’ filler but should be relevant people, information or places.

⋗The soundtrack or music is very important. It sets the tone for a good documentary. The right music must be chosen and then edited by musical editor. This moves the documentary film one step closer to greatness.

Finding the story, assembling the team, filming and editing are all part of the process that makes a documentary successful. The devil can be in the details, so along the way these questions should always be asked, ‘Are we still pulling on the viewer?’ ‘Are they still sitting in their seats spellbound?’ If the questions can be answered with a yes; the documentary film is well on its way to excellence.

(Not all of the above is entirely relevant to The Sarkeesian Effect, but it is a useful page for consideration.)

Thank you all for reading. I hope this helps.

Author: Krista [@Femitheist]
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NOTE II: If you liked this post, feel free to share it, and if you have any thoughts on it or the general subjects discussed within, or even merely semi-related topics, please leave them in the comments below. I always enjoy reading the feedback of others whether they liked and agreed with what I had to say or not.

NOTE III: All links in the text above were last accessed on June 8, 2015.