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Super Sound Advice

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When we hear the phrase “lights, camera, action!!” we recognize this as the phrase called out on a film set before recording begins. But strangely enough, this iconic saying only captures half the story… what about sound? Indeed sound, truly the other 50% of the film, is often neglected or marginalized on film and video productions (even extremely “professional” ones). It is also the case that many film schools don’t put enough emphasis on audio in their curricula and equipment purchases. And unsurprisingly, in a field where most people want to be directors, camera operators, writers, and actors, one area that most student and independent films are most consistently weak in, is sound.

With this in mind, it follows that improving ones understanding of and skills in sound recording and mixing is usually the most effective and efficient way for the independent filmmaker to improve the quality of her or his work. So sounds like the world is in need of some super soundmen… with some super sound advice!

Recently I came to Kampala, Uganda to teach Bent Marble’s creative documentary workshops. One of the institutions that I worked with was Kampala Film School, an affiliate of Kampala University. When the director of the school found out that I also have a decade of experience working as a sound mixer and location sound recordist on film and video productions in New York City, he immediately asked if I would be willing to teach an audio masters class series to his students. I, of course, agreed.

IMG_4593_rt_webIt was already apparent on the first day of class that the students were hungry to learn about audio. Many stayed through the break periods and even after class to learn more! In the first module of the class we covered location sound recording techniques, including how to use a boom pole, audio mixer, recorder, and wireless microphone kit. Appropriate audio concepts were also covered, including properties of audio waves, audio signal flow, setting proper recording levels, using wind protection, and wireless microphone frequency selection and range-boosting tips.

In the second class module, which met the following week, we covered audio post production techniques (those that are done after recording, on a computer). For this class we had the good fortune to be joined by Vince Musisi, a Ugandan music and audio producer, who co-facilitated the class. Concepts covered included mixing, compression, distortion, EQ, noise reduction, and syncing audio to video on multi-camera shoots.

Here are some photos from our Facebook page that show the students listening, learning, and applying what they’ve learned in the masters classes:

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The students certainly learned a lot about audio in the masters classes, and left with a heightened interest, understanding, and appreciation of the role of sound in film. Vince and I hope that the tips we passed on to them will help them make better and more compelling films, as well as empower them to eventually land jobs in the growing Ugandan film industry (in which there is a dire lack of sound mixers and recordists).

And, as a final thought, it felt good to help restore a bit more balance in this world of lights, cameras… and microphones. Indeed, we humble soundmen may not have actual super powers, but we do have an ample amount of super sound advice!

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Primakara Premiere

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STMIK Primakara is a new information technology college in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. Among IT institutions, it is quite unique for its focuses on global education, creativity, and student entrepreneurship. A couple weeks ago, we met with college president, I Putu Agus Swastika, who was very interested in Bent Marble and our workshops. Due to his students’ already busy schedule and workload, we decided to offer a custom weekend workshop in video editing, using Adobe Premiere Pro software.

The students were highly talented, and extremely motivated to learn the basics of this industry-standard program. In our Saturday session we covered various topics including cutting and arranging video clips into the film’s timeline, adding photos, music, and text, as well as basic effects, transitions, and sound mixing. As with all Bent Marble workshops, it was truly impressive how much our students were able to absorb in such a short period of time. Indeed one of our core beliefs is that digital filmmaking is much easier than most people think. And, best of all, our Primakara participants left the workshop feeling confident that they can continue to work in Adobe Premiere Pro, as they take on documentary and video projects for school assignments and of their own design.

Here are some photos from our Facebook page that show the participants focused on learning:

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Well tomorrow night we leave Bali to “premiere” our workshops in another faraway place… Bangalore, India! And while we’ll surely miss all the good people we’ve met and friends we’ve made in Indonesia and around Southeast Asia over the last several months, we are also eager and excited to experience the next chapter in Bent Marble’s story. With this in mind, in only seems appropriate to genuinely thank you for letting us share our story, thus far, with you. As storytelling teachers and professionals it truly means the world to us;)

Stay tuned!

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Smooth Operators

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Not long ago we had the chance to work with some talented kids at the Jodie O’Shea Orphanage in Denpasar, Bali (an organization founded in loving memory of Australian, Jodie O’Shea, who died tragically in the Bali terrorist bombing of 2002). There we gave a one-day documentary camerawork workshop to a group of students, aged 12 to 17. The goal of the class was for each participant to learn to become a “human tripod”, in essence to use their body, itself, as a stabilization device for their camera, as they performed a variety of still and moving shots.

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Being able to shoot handheld like this allows for a degree of flexibility that is very important for documentary work, where you never know where the action will lead next. And while the concept is simple, to shoot smooth, professional-looking shots is actually quite challenging, as the smallest quiver or shake of the camera in your hands can lead to footage that looks like it was shot during an earthquake!

IMG_2900_retouched_webWhile most of the participants had little to no experience with cameras before, it was truly amazing how much they learned-by-doing in just a few hours time. The earnestness with which they took on this challenge can be seen in their faces as they focused, framed, and followed their shots. And in the end much of the resulting footage was truly astonishing… rock solid and stable! As a result, the students finished the class with a real feeling of confidence in what they had achieved, and hopefully also inspired to further pursue their interests in camerawork and filmmaking.

One of the goals of Bent Marble workshops is to bring filmmaking to the common man/woman/child, and demystify what may seem like an intimidatingly difficult form of art. We strive to have our participants experience the joy of success, before they have time to doubt themselves. And with such success comes snowballing confidence, creativity, and learning. Camerawork, for instance, may seem complex, and many may initially feel that they “don’t have an eye for it”. But in our class we briefly provide a few pointers and then encourage our students to try. And they soon realize that it isn’t rocket science after all… just a whole lot of fun!

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Like cinematographer or videographer, an “operator” is one of the names given to a professional cameraperson. And while none of the youngsters we had the pleasure to work with at Jodie O’Shea Orphanage are professionals, just yet… boy were they super smooth!