Dirk Schouten, Amsterdam Polytechnic.
Paper for the University of Economics Bratislava
School of Business Administration (Kosice, Slovakia)
For the Facilitating ISO 9000 Conference & Workshop
17-19 May 1995
I would like to explain my work with video and present some considerations that play a role in the production of videotapes. I am a facilitator for students that make videotapes for all kind of purposes. Students make policy video's to create possibilities for change, or they make research reports about research they executed with the use of video as a research instrument, or they use video to make tapes that help entrepreneurs, to give you some examples. This practice I would like to use as a resource to present some considerations concerning the use of video in communicative actions. This means the use of video to reach an understanding or produce critisable validity claims.
This story can be told in different ways. One way is to tell how to get information on tape and how to get information off tape. In this realm several prblems play a role; problems with recording information (to get information on tape) and problems that have to do with getting information off tape; what plays a role in analysis, editing and presenting video material.
This paper also has theoretical notions about visual anthropology, about how telvision informs people and how you can approach problems about truth in video.
The story mainly has a practical point of view. How do you make a video without getting distracted by too much considerations. Because, and there a general problem concerning video appears: About video one can produce any valid statement. Every theoretical notion can be supported by visual material and can be disempowered by other visual material. When I make a practical statement, for example: "Always make listening shots in interviews". Listening shots are the shots used to cover transitions in interviews and make an interview look smooth and unedited. With this viewpoint I represent the television view of the medium. This viewpoint is contradictory to the the viewpoints as proclaimed by the cinema-verité movement. They say one should not make those shots and make rough cuts so that you can see that the material is edited, that it is manipulated by someone. The cinema verité guys also claim to be able to record reality as it is. Others claim that it is impossi- ble to get access to reality because the presence of a camera changes reality. And besides that, what a camera sees is always a selection from reality and as such subjective. From every viewpoint cited above visual material can be shown that support or contradict those viewpoints. And it can even be the case that two contradicting parties quote the same film as evidence for their viewpoints. This happened for example with the early films by Lumiere. So it is difficult to assert something about film or video. That's why, when I make an assertation, I should also make clear my basic assumptions under- pinning it. To be specific, for the use of media I heavily lean on the German filosofer Jürgen Habermas and his theory of communicative action. And for my job as facilitator the French educationalist Celestin Freinet is my inspira- tor.
RECORDING IMAGE AND SOUND
When recording with video you work with people before and behind the camera. The camera is inbetween you and the people. This immediately creates difficult relations as far as communication is concerned. Things would go so much better between people when the camera would not be there. Since it is not possible to record without camera, the camera will always be between you and the other. But it is possible to keep the camera in its suitcase as long as possible. This can also be called preparation. Most people start to record too soon. They are unprepared themselves, the people they film are ill prepared and the result is a waste of energy and bad relati- ons. Preparation means conversations in the group that is making a video and conversating with the people you are videoing. Trust has to be earned and luckily most people mistrust cameras and the people operating them. It prevents many dubious intentions becoming images.
Back to the recording process. The problem where to put the camera and
who puts the camera there is a real one with a lot of implications. The
camera is put somewhere by someone and she decides what is recorded and
In the above sentence I self evidently say the camera stands somwhere. Where? On a tripod. And you can ask yourself if that is self evident. With the camera on a tripod one records from one viewpoint. The only moves the camera can make are panning (horizontal movement) or tilting (vertical movement). The immobilized camera only views the world from one perspective and it makes it appear if only one viewpoint is possible. The camera is an objectifying instrument, and by immobilizing it, it amplifies the idea of objectivity.
Who believes in subjectivity literally shows many sides of a case. This means that the camera is on the shoulder and the cameraperson walks, moves, looks with the camera.
A zoomlens, a device to get things seemingly closer is no help in preventing a static camera. A zoomlens on a camera is the magnifiing glass of a xenop- hobe, it magnifies what he already knows, but is does not show someting new.
So, what you do with those modern camcorders, is to keep the lens as wide as possible to get as shot as wide as possible. When you want a close up, you walk towards the subject. This prevents you becoming a voyeur. With a moving camera you are one with the things happening before your camera, and you are less one with your viewpoint towards those things.
Now it is time to make a shot. Next advice is; make long takes. It prevents a few problems and it creates a few. You prevent the problem of not recording what later appears to be important. I have seen lots of videomaterial being degaussed because the camera was switched on too late and put off too early. What was recorded missed the answers to the questions 'how could this happen' and 'how did this end'. The disadvantage of recording a lot of material is of course that you record too much. So it is good to know in advance what you are going to record and why. Videotape is cheap and this argument is often used implicitly to camouflage a lack of preparation. Of course you can start recording immediately, but you cannot get something for nothing so the thinking still has to be done, finally in the preparation for the editing. And it costs a lot of thinking to make a resonable edit out of heaps of random shot material.
When you have made a shot, you can do two things. Make another one or playback the first one to the people you taped. The first option generally leads to more of the same. The second one, the playback, can lead to change.
A couple of weeks ago we were involved in a project where kindergarten teachers told policy makers about their work in order to change the policy on kindergartens. The students who undertook this project taped the children playing and showed the tape to the kindergarten teachers. They could better make clear where their job was about, much better than explaining it without the help of the pictures. Or, another example, on management styles. Students recorded two managers from large schools while talking about a subject. The subject was not important, the way they talked about it was researched. Extract from this tape the students showed to the middle manage- ment of another school and they asked those teachers for comment on the behaviour of the managers. The students recorded the reactions of the middle managers and showed extracts to the managers. The managers then could formulate their vision on their behaviour and could accept comments which they normally find difficult to accept. The managers thought the method very valid and useful. They were, in a way, happy with the confrontation. In the other example, the kindergarten, the policy maker could better accept the vision on changes in poilicy as expressed by the teachers.
SHOWING OF TWO SHORT EXAMLES ON TAPE.
To summarise: By showing your first shot to the people you taped you can easily get in depth information on a subject or get involved in close contact with the people in front of the camera. This is also the case with group interviews. John Collier, photographer and anthropologist, thinks this happens because the image shown and discussed is seen as a third party in the conversation. The person behind the camera is not directly adressing the one in front of the camera but they both are adressing an image. The image seems to sharpen memory and it can make an interview become an conversa- tion, which means that the inflexible role division of an interview is replaced by mutual flow of information and a collaborative effort to reconstruct the information of the image. In the kindergarten example, the teachers see themselves at work with the children, the managers see how they behave through the eyes of others. It seems, a situation is created in wich the former 'interviewer' is educated by the people in front of the camera. In stead of them being interrogated, the image is interrogated.
Practically seen, you must take a monitor with you when you are going in the field and use a camcorder with wich you can playback pictures. Or even better, take a separate player with you. In that case you can playback picures and simultaneously record reactions. This process is called a feedback loop. A feedback loop is feeding some of the systems output back into the system. This is done to make the system perform certain actions, for example reducing distortion.
SCHEMATIC DRAWING OF FEEDBACKLOOP
How to construct a feedbackloop is a strategic consideration. The first choice is which situation is taken for the creation of a feedbackloop. Let's say the children playing. The second choice is the selection of a part of this materi- al. For example the shot in which the children are talking in the circle about the swimming pool. The third choice is to whom this selection is presented. In this case the kindergarten teachers. The forth choice is answering the question which reaction is recorded. Let's say their comment on how complex it is to work with a mixed age group. The fifth choice is the selection of the material to present to other parties. The comment of the teachers is presented to the policy maker. The last choice is what material is included in the final version of the tape that is to be presented to all the involved stakeholders in the problem.
It is worth considering these choices carefully. The success of the tape about the managers behaviour was mainly archieved because the group decided to show the managers behaviour to a school in another part of Holland to get unbiased reactions. When they had persued their initial choise, they had presented the material to the middle managers of the schools where the managers were in charge. This would almost certainly have given dull and polite reaction. I would not dare to comment on my boss, and certainly not on video.
Again, back to the basics. There is also the story about sound which cannot
be omitted. At the risk of spoiling my previous story I must stress that sound
is much more important than image. If you make a close up of a pot of
boiling Slowakian broth and you put the sound of a conversation under the
image, everybody will say that it was easy to follwo but the image was a
little unsharp. When you reverse the situation and record a clear, sharp
picture of a conversstion and put sound under it with a microphone too far
away from the source, eventually combined with hum and hiss, people will
stop giving attention after one minute, complaining that they cannot follow
To contradict even this story, there is an important notion I learned from Jean Rouch, the Frech visual antropologist. Disrespect for sound. Although I think it of great importance to have good sound quality, without noise or hum, and strongly believe in directional microphones, there is something else and that is sound in editing. Jean Rouch is astonished about the respect for talking people. They are left talking endless and are neatly edited. No cutter cuts someone in the middle of a sentence. The same happens with music. No one cuts in the middle of a melodic line or does not cut rithmically. In 1970, Jean Rouch thought this nasty habit would soon disappear. Unfortu- nately he was not right and I think I know why. Finally in the most popular visions about the medium, an edited tape should look 'unedited'. It should look as if no one made it. It should look as if it was not shot by a camera- man, made without director and cutter. You should not notice that it is a subjective construction, depending on compromises, messy decisions and failing technique. You, as spectator should not notice that reality is inconsis- tent and unmanageable.
THE EDITING PROCESS
At a certain moment you decide that you have shot enough. Most times this is a practical decision. You ran out of time or ran out of money. The next step is the analysis of your raw material. It may seem now as if I am telling that analysis comes after shooting, but this is not the case. When making feedbackloop analysis also takes place and when you discuss results after a shooting, that is also analysis. But, when you have shot all your material there is also analysis, focussed on where all your material is about and what you want to do with it. The questions of what meaning you want to give to your material, for whom and with what prurpose.
Analysis can be done in several ways. I like best to write everything down on paper. It gives me exellent logging sheets and because the process of logging is so slow and time consuming I get a lot of time to reflect on all the bits and pieces.
Another way is to look with an open mind to all your material for five or six times. Most of the times you will get an idea where all the stuff is about and what you want with it.
Let's assume you have done your analysis. After that you make a rough structure of your tape on paper. This is the general idea of where to put the different parts in your tape and what functions you want the material to perform. The next thing is to make an editing scheme and after that you can enter the technical editing process. This procedure is advised because editing is a complicated technical process. It is also the most expensive process because of the costs of the equipment. So there are good reasons to make decisions about content before editing. It prevents discussion in the editing room, keeps a good atmosphere and it makes it easy to do all the technical operations.
In the process of making the rough structure and the editing scheme some
things can go wrong.
A few problems can be prevented by learning from the German program
maker Bernward Wember. He researched the way television informs people.
Wember asked a number of people if they thought documentaries and
reportages on television informative. About 80 % found them informative.
When Wember performed simple tests with those people only 20 % could
reproduce some parts from the content. Wember asked himself where this
difference of 60 % comes from. He found a prime cause: 'Augenkitzel' in
German, in English 'eye arousal'. Fast movements in the image, fast cutting
with short shots. Other causes: separation of sound and image. And when
looking to a film, you cannot go back to previous parts once you have missed
something, like with a book. Furthermore, stressfull production circum-
stances, and preference for the immediate visible reality. In general Wember
says because the package looks good you think the contents are allright. With
his film Wember was invited by almost every broadcasting corporation in the
world. They agreed on his viewpoint and did not change their practice.
Luckily we can do better because we have no commercial interests that
dictate the editing of our tapes.
But there is a general question; how visible may the making of your video be? There are different opinions. On the one hand there is the viewpoint (which I do not adopt), that the hand of the maker should be invisible. It is not stated as such, but when you look at television, this viewpoint is immediately visible. To make a smooth transition, or to mask cutting in intervieuws, cutaway shots, listening shots and other masking materials are used. Music, as stated earlier also can perform this function. It lulls the spectator asleep or can make him unaware of cutting. Rouch calls music the opium of cinema and sometimes also the voice-over can perform the same function. Be aware that too much voice-over can give the impression that your images cannot tell what you want them to tell and that the voice-over has to take over the task of the images. When you use a voice-over, do not use a professional speaker. The pseudo-objectivity of a neutral voice is also very good in lulling the spectators asleep. I once saved one of my worst films by using the voice-over of the late Jan Roelands. His name is unknown, but everyone in Holland knows his sonore, dark brown, melodic, quiet voice, that could give every word in a sentence it's proper place. He saved my film because what he said sounded so well that the commissioners did not comment on the bad pictures. So, when you have something to say, tell it yourself.
Another thing about the constructedness of video montage. I rather do not
speak about programmes, because it is a word that has strong connotations
related to television and its practices. Programs have a beginning, an opening
in wich the world is beaconed, a middle part in wich the information is
neatly arranged so that it appears logic and consistent and an end where the
world is left behind in an orderly way for the next program. A program is a
usable form when you strive for logic and order. Sometimes I think that a
program is something to maintain the status quo, specially in television. But,
when you do not want your material to perform this function, because you
think your reality is not logic, but holistic for example and that there is
certainly an order in it but not a positivist one, then the form of a program
brings you into problems. It is better to use a kind of fragmented form.
Fragments that derive their meaning from the coherence
constructed by the makers and where the viewer is encouraged to make her own construction of meaning. It is maybe the 'messy audiovisual text' where maker, subject and audience create meaning together.
Also here a warning must be given. There is a danger that the makers deliver such a fragmented montage that the audience cannot follow the makers attempt to create meaning. Audiences are also conditioned by television and have a sometimes limited repertiore of meaning-giving devices.
VIEWING A TAPE
The last step in creating a video is the showing of the result; the edited tape. When showing a video you always pursue goals. I think those goals can be summarised in 'reaching an understanding on a certain case'. One step in this process is to invite all the participants involved in the making of the tape to the showing of it. It is the decisive test wether you passed the manipulation process successfully. Editing is manipulating, or in a positive sense, con- structing. When you violated someone or some situation, this is the time to stretch it out or to leave it as it is. The showing is the place where, accor- ding to Habermas' theory of communicative action, the truth, the normative legitimacy and authenticity/truthfullness in the communicative action (the tape) can be scrutinised. The tape, the attempt to reach an understanding, can be seen as a critisable validity claim to truth, normative legitimacy and authenticity. With the tape the makers claim they speak their truth, they claim that they use the proper norms for adressing a specified audience and they claim to be authentic in their intentions and emotions. And, by showing the tape to all the participants, they are open to critic by the participants.
Most times the people being videoed have no objections to the constructed communicative action, provided the makers of the tape, in the earlier stages of production, related in a communicative way to the people in front of the camera. Sometimes I see material and think "How can you survive in the world and be that way?" When asked, the people respond "Yes, that's me and I can be questioned about it".
Ofcourse a lot more can be said about the practice of video making in communicative actions, but, to make a long story short, a good tape demisty- fies itself. It not only shows where it is about, but it shows signs of its own subjectivity.
- Collier. J. and Collier, M. Visual Anthropology, University of New Mexico Press, 3rd ed. 1990.
- Habermas, J. Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, dritte durchgesehene Aulage, Suhrkam Verlag, 1985.
- Rouch, J. The camera and Men, in Hockings, P. Principles of Visual Anthropology, Mouton, The Hague, 1975.
- Wember, B. Wie informiert das Fernsehen?, dritte erweiterte Auflage, List Verlag, München, 1983.