Making The Move

IAT 344 / Documentary / 2021

I had the chance to speak with Vasundhara Gautam (xe/xem), a computational linguist studying their Ph.D. in Saarbrücken, Germany. It's been a journey for them as they navigate grad school applications and the COVID pandemic. But it's a journey they were willing to take.

My role: This was a solo project for me, as I produced, shot, and edited this film. (With the help of Zoom Screensharing!)

PLAN

Draft Treatment

The first step to planning my documentary was deciding who and what I was going to film. I instantly had someone in mind: my best friend Vasundhara (xe/xem, they/them) whom I had spent the beginning of COVID and had recently moved to Germany to pursue their Ph.D. overseas. I planned a meeting with Vasundhara to give them the details of the project, what I would need from them and how much of a time commitment it would be. They accepted the offer and the planning process began!

With confirmation from Vasundhara, I moved on to the first written outline of my documentary: The Draft Treatment. With the draft, I outlined what the film was going to be about, the theme, shooting locations and outlining details about how it will be filmed. The was a good starting point to ensure my film was engaging and thought out. 

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A section of the first Draft Treatment. 

VISUALIZE

Storyboard

With a general plan of my film completed, it was time to start outlining my scenes and bringing them to life with visuals. Using Figma, I wrote out my scenes and added sketches to support and explain what those scenes would look like. I also used the storyboard to outline the types of transitions and shots I would be filming, such as Close-Up and Fade. I found the storyboard to be challenging because my film will mainly be shot over Zoom so I was worried the variety of my shots would not be exciting enough. I solved this by adding some photo montage clips in and landscape shots to add variety. 

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First draft of the Storyboard for "Making the Move"

Moodboard

I also did some research into what style or mise-en-scene I wanted my film to look like. This is where I created a moodboard to show the overall look and feel of the film. I took inspiration from other documentaries I had watched on YouTube, especially those that were filmed over the pandemic on Zoom. 

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Moodboard

ITERATE

Receiving Feedback

Once I had a solid plan for "Making the Move" I was able to receive feedback to revise my Draft Storyboard and Treatment. The main feedback I had received was regarding my storyboard, that some scenes were confusing and left without context. As well, my peers felt there still wasn't enough variety in types of compositions, which made the film seem dull. I took this feedback with open arms and worked on revising my draft and storyboard.

For example, in my storyboard, I had originally had a section of shots that were mainly all Medium Shot and all had a simple Cut transition. To make this more visually different and exciting, I changed the first shot of the cards to be Close-Up and more intimate and added more Fade transitions to add variation.

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Original storyboard

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Revised storyboard

CREATE

Filming Over Zoom

With my revised documents, I was ready for filming day! I prepared a long list of questions to ask Vasundhara. Some of the questions that were included were:

  • What was the hardest part of the COVID pandemic for you?

  • Did you feel hopeful at some point in the pandemic? When was that and can you describe that feeling?

  • How were you feeling when you moved across the world throughout COVID?

We then "filmed" the interview over Zoom using Screen Recording. I felt this was the most reliable method, to use the Zoom recording but I wish I had also used Quicktime Screen Recording as I feel the quality would have improved.

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Interviewing Vasundhara for the film

POST-PRODUCTION

Editing the Film

I had interviewed Vasundhara and was ready to begin editing the film from a 40-minute interview into a mere 2-3 minutes in length. I knew this was going to be challenging so I simply started by editing out all the portions where I was talking. I then took out any questions/answers that I felt weren't as relevant to the theme of the film. From there I continued to edit it down to about 3 minutes.

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I went in and added the Title scene and Ending credits and added photo montages over key points of the interview. This added some variation in shots so it wasn't the same frame of Vasundhara speaking the whole time. 

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As I was editing, I realized I didn't think the initial visual effect I had chosen was going to work for the film. Since this was just the rough cut, I decided to keep the visual effects out for this round and work on planning a more suitable visual effect for the final version of the documentary. I did work on the audio though - I added some ambience music that had a sad undertone when Vasundhara was talking about COVID and then more hopeful music when they talked about moving to Germany and their adventures. This background music really tied the film together.

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The point in which the music changes from dreary to hopeful.

For my visual effect, I choose to create kinetic typography for the introduction title screen. I did this by composing frames that introduced a new letter each time so that it gave the effect of typing. I then alternated frames where the caret was shown and then not shown to animate the blinking effect. I felt this was a good choice for a visual effect in my film because it is subtle enough that it doesn't overpower any part of the film. If I choose a flashy effect, it wouldn't have fit well with the mise-en-scene of the film.

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How the typing visual effect was created for the Intro Title. 

ITERATE

Rough-Cut to Final Film

The main feedback I had received for the rough-cut of my film was how some shots dragged on for too long without any visual difference and that when a photo montage was introduced, it didn't stay for long enough. To solve this, I simply made the photos stay up for longer to help with the pacing. I then analyzed where scenes seemed very long without a transition in visuals and added more footage to create a more interesting composition. Lastly, I added some animated text that would highlight portions of Vasundhara's interview. This would not only make these moments feel more impactful but it helped to add some more interesting visuals. By making these changes, I felt it helped to pace the film and ensure nothing felt too long or too short.

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Animated text that highlighted a portion of the interview.

REFLECTION

The Challenges of Remote Filming

This project will keep a special place in my heart because it was such a lovely experience working with my best friend on a subject matter that means a lot to them. It will be so fun to watch it back when we get older!

Although I've used Zoom a lot over the course of the pandemic, recording a film with it was much harder. Getting top-notch audio and video quality is hard and you will lose some quality over the convenience of using it. Overall though, it was a great resource for my film as Vasundhara and I live in completely different parts of the world and it also added to the effect of the COVID experience. I look forward to working on my film further and getting it ready for its final showcase.