By Kyle Kim
My final Digital Storytelling project, titled “Closer,” was an experiment in the realm of cinematography and nonverbal storytelling. I could have done a journalism-based project but opted to pursue cinematography as both a challenge and a skill I can apply to reportage.
The entire process of the project (from the initial stages of brainstorming, sifting through the bad ideas and those with potential, to storyboarding, filming and post production) made me think critically about and be an active participant in the creative processes required to create a digital cinematographic piece. The two most time-consuming and effort-driven processes were the storyboarding and filming. When I was creating my storyboards I had to keep in mind various principles in theory and implementation taught during class. Mapping out the details like camera angle and point-of-view, focal length, composition, pacing and transition was important in order to convey what I wanted viewers to see and feel. For example, I used wider shots during scenes where I wanted to convey spatial emptiness with the main character to invoke a feeling of isolation and loneliness. The storyboarding process reinforced the theory behind cinematography. The actual filming process involved critical thought in more practical aspects of film production. I had every detail planned out on my storyboards, but how I would technically achieve them was the next challenge. One example of this was equipment constraints. Something like camera angle proved to be a bit of a challenge considering I only had a basic video tripod. I had no camera dolly, crane, or hydraulic camera mount. Instead of using a crane for something like a bird’s eye view, I had to improvise by using tables and stacked chairs since the maximum height of my tripod did not suffice.
Most journalism students are taught to craft stories within a more traditional medium of print (with words or through photojournalism). Experiencing a process that was more artistic than creating journalistic prose made me compare and contrast different methods and approaches with the kind of storytelling I am used to doing. In journalism, reporters are ethically limited as to how a story is carried out (research, interviewing and writing style, to name a few of those limitations). With my short fictional film, I found myself given more leeway in tone, style and implementation; bias, fairness and objectivity were irrelevant issues in this case. It is even arguable that in fiction bias is an intricate component of the story (e.g., point of view/narration, character portrayal, theme and representation). Most common biases in journalism come from taking quotes and facts out of context. In terms of video, post production is the area where bias can easily creep in. How scenes are edited and spliced together naturally creates a certain point-of-view. However, this project required intentionally emphasizing a point of view, and it was interesting to produce with journalistic training that has taught me to combat such biases.
A rule in journalism production is that every minute of video or audio requires an average of one hour to plan, shoot and edit. During the filming process, I had a hands-on experience of how involved even a four-minute short film would be—something like shooting one scene took several hours since it required multiple takes from multiple angles. The reality that I had to fill every role in the production process (writer, director, camera operator, editor, producer) forced me to be more engaged and involved than if the positions were assigned to others. I had to create the story, cast and direct the actors, create the set environment, shoot the scenes, and sort and edit files. Directing actors to convey meaning without dialogue was challenging for a first time movie maker, considering none of us involved were professionally trained to act for the camera. There were moments where I wasn’t sure how to communicate how I wanted the actors to show emotion through their face and bodies due to my lack of experience in directing. Some scenes required several takes to get close to what I envisioned.
Although the scripted, rehearsed and stylistic essence of the content is not journalistic in nature, there were several connections I made. The most obvious applications are the transferrable skills relating to documentary and video production in journalism. The practical skills of storyboarding, scripting (which has its usefulness in broadcasting), production and post-production can be widely used in today’s news industry—especially in multimedia reporting like online audio-visual slideshows and news videos. Also, the highly individual nature of my project lends itself to the realistic demands of typical workloads in our increasingly shrinking newsrooms and shift to a digital-oriented news experience.