Comedy Shoot, Academic Directions

It’s been a busy week. I’ve been working on several projects all at once, which will hopefully all pay off. Between a midterm essay about Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model, an annotated bibliography, testing out the DSLR to Primiere process, a meeting with a faculty member, reaching out to a media literacy project in New Haven, public relations work and preparation for an upcoming social media workshop, and the shoot mentioned in the title, a lot of things are in the works.

Tuesday night I worked with some classmates to film a comedy show at Angels & Kings in Alphabet City. We used Panasonic DVX100B cameras, which have a lot of nice functionality, but I would have much preferred the HMC150s which are also available through The New School’s equipment center, for the simple reason that they don’t take DV tapes. In my experience tapes are a hassle. Aside from the fact that it was very weird to be deciding on an apature without a light meter (I could almost feel my cinematography professor from Missouri State, Mark Biggs, giving me a disapproving grimace under his moustache), and an interruption in recording when our tapes ran out, it went pretty well. Now, other classmates (who didn’t operate a camera) are going to log the tapes – I do not envy that part of the job.

Another thing I worked out this morning is my academic direction. I’ve always been interested in mythological studies and the work of Joseph Campbell (as much of a populist as he is) but the use of myth as an ideological force and its connection to narrative and dissemination in media is what I really want to study. A more simplistic way to to put it is “propaganda.” There are some opportunities for that at The New School, but I may also look into taking some classes at NYU with Mark Crispen Miller. The other day I realized FAIR is located in NYC and not in DC as I’d thought (I must have gotten them confused with the Center for Media and Democracy). I’m wondering if a research internship would be possible to study how myths (in Roland Barthes’s conception) get communicated in the popular media for political agendas. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for my political science courses, but I feel a stronger affinity for media when there’s a clear relationship to motivated practice. As my theory teacher puts it (presumably drawing from Jacques Rancière), this is “the politics of aesthetics.” Who knew I could find a reason to read materials I had never heard of three months ago?

Working with DSLR and Adobe Premiere Pro

I’m doing prep work on a final project for my practices class, in which I’m planning to shoot a conceptual/experimental video about systemic collapse, using transportation as a metaphor. For me to use my school’s equipment, I’ll have to travel into the city, bring the equipment back, do my shoot, and bring it back – all within a four day window. Because I’d really like some more flexibility, I’ll be borrowing a family member’s Cannon T2i. I don’t have much experience shooting with DSLRs, but I was curious about how it would interface with Adobe Premiere Pro, especially since I’m largely unfamiliar with the program (I’m more used to Final Cut Pro).

I was fortunate enough to find the following video, which is very illuminating and proves the flexibility of Premiere.

One of the advantages of FCP is that its easy to work with multiple sources of video – but the Mercury Playback Engine enables the same importing, especially in the abilities designed for DSLRs as discussed in the video. I’m a little more optimistic about my project after learning this.

Photography Exercise: Fungi In The Woods

For my Media Practices class, we’re experimenting with light in production – as a very simple introduction to working with color in film or photography, we were assigned to go out and take at least 50 photographs to illustrate an aspect of light described in Herbert Zettle’s Sight Sound Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics.  I was able to borrow my sister’s Cannon Rebel XSi (inferior to the 7D’s available through The New School’s equipment center) and spent the afternoon avoiding intermittent showers in the woods. I’ve always enjoyed walking in the forest, and rainy fall afternoons are one of my favorite times.

In these photos, I had the advantage of the texture of what I was shooting, the natural light and overcast sky, and a nice variety of colors and detail to work with. Since our first exercise in class dealt with high contrast lighting (and since I didn’t have the same equipment for this assignment) I followed Zetttle’s suggestion that flat lighting exercises follow chiaroscuro, high contrast ones (p.44). I also underexposed most of these intentionally, because the colors “popped” better that way. These aren’t very good at all, especially compared to some of the work of my classmates who are professional photographers, but I did like the color energy and the harmony in some of these pictures. It’s surprising how colorful an otherwise grey and green day in the woods can be.

Blue Velvet: Cinematography Of The Subconscious

Blue Velvet is a strange, but beautiful film. David Lynch is a man who shows us what we would never admit is true of ourselves – the dark parts of society which rest under gossamer, silk and (appropriately) velvet, the naked animalistic things which destroy our sensibilities and reveal us as little more than bumping about a confusing landscape of psychopathology and unrestrained psyche.

Jeffery Beaumont

The plot of the movie begins with Jeffery’s father, inhumanely constricted via medical apparatuses in the hospital, and when Jeffery picks up an ear in a field, revealed to us through a closeup where we see the outer canal crawling with bugs, we plunge into a strange rabbit hole. Sandy tells us shortly after what she has heard, and we descend into the world of Frank Booth and his strange posse of criminals and victims. Once the weird trip through rural America’s underbelly is over, we exit out Jeffery’s ear, into another bright sunshiny day, where his father is all better, and he is with the girl next door… a robin of Sandy’s dream (where they signify love) have captured one of the beetles which lurk in the grasses of each suburban yard.  Blue Velvet is a trip through the American subconscious, somewhere in the back of our mind behind our ears, a land of drugs, sexual deviance, and contortions of the soul which we can only understand as intrigue.

David Lynch weaves together memorable and captivating scenes, which combine the strongest aspects of sound design, writing and lighting. Frank’s “suave” friend Ben lip-synchs into a lamp, while Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” plays. His shadow is projected on the wall behind him better than we would expect, and this erie visual is contrasted by the moody, dark anger which comes to Frank and interrupts Ben’s revelry in the song (the sonic texture of which echoes the same visual richness of the overall film).


Soft shadows dominate throughout film, which accentuate a richness to colors which sometimes appear saturated (as in the beginning) or dusky (during much of the film) but always have a deep warm tonality. It is this contrast between the beautiful depth in producing the visuals and the actual content of what they convey which disturbs the audience so much. Directors and cinematographers often rely on having the composition and lighting of a shot lend weight to its intended message, but here, Lynch and Fredrick Elmes (cinematographer) have our eyes at odds with our heads. We know things are not right, but we’re used to filmmakers telling us through the emotionality of the lighting. We’re unaccustomed with having to feel it out for ourselves.

Throughout the film, the gentle and smooth look to of each scene offsets the grotesque and disturbing imagery therein. The light is largely motivated by obvious practicals (lamps and fixtures), and much of it takes place during the night, adding to the surreal nature of things. As the naked Dorothy Vallens clings to Jeffrey Beaumont in Sandy Williams home, the soft “normal” lighting remains unchanged. We are shown images which are terrible, such as Frank sucking on a gas mask and humping Dorothy, yet we see them as we would expect to see them if we were in Jeffery’s shoes – semi-naked and staring through the slats of the closet, which play on his face in reverse shots.

Sandy, Dorothy, and Jeffery

The richness of the colors becomes sickly to our eyes when juxtaposed with these pictures – the mustard yellow of “the yellow man’s” jacket as he sways lobotomized, next to the body of Dorothy’s husband, dark blood dripping from each of them. The bright colors as Jeffery pulls up to Sandy’s high school in his convertible, instigating the emotional drama from her boyfriend Mike. Even short cuts of extreme violence have a deep colorful texture to them, even when it’s Frank’s brains emanating from the back of his skull. All the while, moments of intense sound at crucial points add the emotional dissonance – when Jeffery dreams, when he is knocked unconscious, Lynch has a greater latitude to invade our eyes with pictures like the distorted face of Jeffery’s father in the hospital, the ecstasy on the lips of Dorothy after she is struck, the anger and pain on the face of Frank.

Frank Booth

Lynch later carried this cinematographic technique into television. His tight control over Twin Peaks and the hiring of cinematographers from the American Film Institute to produce the show lead to the trend of professional cinematography in television drama programing. The content of that show also was at odds with the otherwise gorgeously soft lighting. But the philosophy of Lynch is that beneath the superficial veneer of normalcy lies unimaginable deviance and weird aberrations of humanity.