3 – Major Project

After completing the Sketch Film students move onto their major project. This is done in groups of 3 to 4 and involves the making of a reasonably substantial Korsakow film. It is worth 50% of their final mark, which is split equally between a contextualising essay and the film itself.

The groups are allowed to be self formed by the students. However, we do a class exercise where they visualise through a bar chart their abilities based on their experience of the first Korsakow film and so are very strongly encouraged to use the bar chart to help inform and share roles and responsibilities for the major film. (This is not directly related to interactive video or Korsakow and so falls under one of the collateral learning outcomes I try to enable. In this case it is a repeatable model of reflection that they can apply to any task that helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses which can then be used to help inform their decisions about what they will be able to successfully contribute to collaborative projects.)

The completed film is expected to have at least 60 video clips or sequences (length is not defined), and to have developed and experimented with several prototype interfaces on the way to completing the project. They are also expected to add a few clips, some keywords, export and test, including have it viewed by those not involved in the making, and for its structure to emerge from and through the making.

The contextualising essay has an explicit framework to respond to, which includes outlining the aims and ambitions of the film, and evaluation of its success (or otherwise), and then a specific theoretical question derived from the key readings for them to respond to. The aim here is to bring theory and practice closer together, as these essay questions and their theoretical enframing are used by the students to help develop their project, which they can then talk to, creating a loop between an idea generating a work generating an essay responding to the work via an idea.

The work is published online, publicly, and the URL emailed to me. In addition the project files need to be made available to me so that I can archive the work, ideally on a CDROM or similar.

In addition I offer the groups two bonuses, of 5% each, which are optional. The first is to provide written project documentation which is submitted with the project. This must include minutes of team meetings (there needs to be an agenda, a list of who participated, action items if required), a Gantt chart for the project, and an outline of how the reflective graph of their individual abilities was used to help determine who would contribute what to the project team. (For example a student may deeply dislike all the digital making but loves writing essays, in this model the project team can decide that this person will take responsibility for the essay. They are still expected to provide input to the other parts of the project, and the team are also expected to read and provide feedback on the essay, but it is not a case of all doing all the tasks.)

The second bonus is received if the team present a working prototype for critique in class towards the end of semester, usually in weeks 9 and 10. We discuss in class what a prototype is, and requires, which means having usually at least a dozen clips, a decent interface (so not a default out of the box video + 3) and some thinking through about the structure of the work. These prototypes are presented by the group to the whole class, and we use the ‘hats’ model to critique them.

A lot of class time is set aside in the last 2 to 3 weeks of semester to work on the Korsakow films in class time. At this point the traditional humanities classroom becomes more like a studio, and I wander around the room asking to see work in progress, critiquing it, provoking them with a variety of questions, and often trying to push them further in their making and thinking. With mixed results. Many students and groups begin to not attend at this point, adopting the view that since there is no new content being presented they don’t need to attend. It should be obvious that the work such groups produce is much weaker than those who attend, but to be honest I don’t know if those who stay and get this studio like experience recognise this, or not.

I employ a highly generative method for making the k-films. I do this because this accelerates the development of the films and shifts them rapidly from an original idea towards something stronger (and usually more interesting). It also models they way that you should work in Korsakow, where structure emerges in the acts of making inside the system, rather than planning or sketching outside and using Korsakow to ‘join the dots’. Finally it also teaches the students some things about creativity, making, and being able to do and make where you might not know what the end looks like (another of the collateral outcomes).

The method is simple to use and repeat and is something I have adapted from some of the strategies I’ve learnt, used, and experienced in developing agendas and roadmaps for research groups and academic units. In relation to my classes and Korsakow you need lots of good Post It notes (my university’s stationery provider only has these cheap copy’s of the originals that are rubbish, the glue doesn’t hold so if you try to put them on a wall it just becomes autumn with a litter of yellow notes on the floor) and if you like some decent Texta’s or Sharpies. You need some blank wall, or failing that clear table tops, and some beginning prompts (or one if you want everyone working on something similar).

In 2012 I wanted the work made to be observational and poetic (to the extent that I can constrain them) and so used the follow list as beginning points:

  • The city is….
  • We are….
  • Life is…
  • You are…
  • Home is…
  • They are…
  • Water.
  • Air.
  • Fire.

These did not work so well and in future I will make the prompts simpler and more direct and probably utilise The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon into the coursework. (This book is ideal for this sort of work and I present it as a ‘proto’ blog to my students.)

The group decides on which one they’d like to use, and it is framed as what their Korsakow film is going to be about (sort of, the important thing here is not to panic and prejudge but to trust the process). Once they’ve decided on one (and the system is easy to repeat so if the group don’t like where it goes they can repeat it with another prompt), everyone in the group is to silently and individually write all and everything they think of that is associate with and comes from this prompt. One thing per Post It note. As it is a brainstorming exercise at this point they are to write and not edit, silly, good, bad, outstanding, indifferent. Just get them out. This only takes a few minutes (historically my students are poor at this, they have been taught and trained to think then write). Sometimes I let an edit happen now and remove bad choices, but I think it is better to not do this just yet. Each group then puts up their individual Post It notes on the wall (or table top) and as a group curates them so that notes that have something in common are clustered together. At this point if new ideas arrive they should get a Post It note and added to the mix. If things go OK, and if there are three students in a group, you want to aim to have at least 30 notes there, in how ever many groups they form. It can then be a good idea to use notes to provide a descriptive label for each of the groupings.

At this point you now have a cluster of Notes around the room, one for each group, and within these clusters the notes have been informally sorted based on things in common. It’s a good idea to get everyone to sit down, and ask the class what they’ve just made. It takes a while, you might need to tell them, but what they’ve actually made is a rough draft of a Korsakow film. The Notes are clips or sequences, the groups in common can be thought of as a group of similar clips so would have the same keywords, and you can also then think about which notes might provide ‘bridges’ between the clusters. These would be clips in Korsakow that had a keyword from both clusters and so would let a user be able to navigate between them.

Whether or not the notes work as a shot list doesn’t matter at this point as I like to dwell on how this structure arose. All they did was brainstorm (list), curate that list, and a very clear and sophisticated structure emerged. We needed a prompt to orientate our action, but that was all. For nearly every one of the sorts of students I get this is a big moment, as in their TV and radio production this is the antithesis of the working method they are being taught. Even for essay writing and the like (though most asre good enough to be able to write to the question with little or no prior planning) this can be understood to be odd. This is how you work in Korsakow, and so becomes a powerful exercise able to be done in half an hour or so to make very concrete the working method that they really should use.

These notes are then used to think about how to generate shot lists, though to be blunt this has never been very successful as the descriptors on the notes are usually quite abstract and so do not translate at all well or easily into something as concrete as a shot list. However, I still think the exercise is valuable, and I repeat a smaller scale version of it to then work out a shot list. Here you make lists of things that you associate with the words, with the emphasis on them being things (objects) or events that are visible, as these are capable of being filmed. This is then used to define what material should be gathered in the coming week.

This is imperative. Students routinely leave work to the last minute, but if that strategy is adopted here the work will be rubbish and there will be no learning happening. The learning here happens in the processes of making, and the particular processes of making involves iterative, reflective and gradual development. This includes not only the building of the actual Korsakow film but also describes the process we use to get the material for the film.

So, the students have a preliminary list of things to film, and I get them to film a minimum amount in the coming week. This means they can test if their shot list actually works, if it provides enough concrete context to be able to film things, and more importantly if it lets them film things that are actually worth filming in the context of their intended project. To address this in the next class the group brings all their videos together and we look at them together and critique the material. This step relies very heavily on my tacit knowledge of hypertext, video and Korsakow and so is very hard to teach and describe. It is, basically, a sort of curatorial come visual ethnographic method where we look at all the individual videos as a whole to see what they may have in common. This lets us identity the underlying patterns that are emerging in practice and we can then adopt these as the key patterns for the film – even where they may depart from the original shot list and project premise.

For example, one year a group of female students framed a project around ‘being a girl’ and developed a shot list. After a week of filming they had very diverse material that was a complete visual hodgepodge, and lacked any real perspective or point of view. However, when viewed all together what was obvious to me (not to them) was that a lot of the things filmed had been filmed in close up, as fragments. We argued (it was an argument) about what and why, with me suggesting this offered an intimate almost affective point of view (of shoes, makeup, clothes) that was in itself ‘female’ – that most males would use an establishing shot or wide shot to shoe the entire object. From this they were able to identify a common style and method to what they filmed, which became as or more important than just what objects to film, which then provided the thematic patterns that let them build their patterns and structures in Korsakow.

Another example is where students wanted to film ‘the city’ and gathered a range of material. Again they approached this as filming different things in the city, but when viewed as a whole the common theme was that could be identified was movement through the city, and that they had actually already described several basic forms (towards, away, across). This then became the theme that informed the rest of their filming. Similar examples have occurred around night, day, and dusk, inside and outside, and even common colours.

As one of the things I’m making strange for the students is their understanding of what is possible as content for a project, and to make a film that does not have a script but instead relies on what can be characterised as generative practices of informed observation, what I’m wanting to do here is to identify formal and material qualities in what they have made that provides the ‘deep’ structure to their work. It is this deep structure that then can be replicated within the keyword structure of their Korsakow films and is what helps create poetically complex works. This is another collateral learning outcome as it helps shift student’s naive understanding that what matters in a shot is only the content, rather than these other more abstract attributes (light, composition, framing). They are aware of these things, but they have been taught and acculturated to practices where all are in the service of a narrative, a performance, or an actor whereas I am wanting to flip this so that these material attributes are if not primary then certainly highly significant. This is because materiality matters, in itself and aesthetically, and in flipping our understanding and the assumed hierarchy of these material qualities in relation to the denotative content of the shot I am wanting to address a post humanist and less deeply anthropomorphic mode of making, which in the context of undergraduate students is simply to shift the work from being so thoroughly grounded in ‘I’. This becomes part of the ethics of this subject and Korsakow and our making as we also try to develop and validate works that are premised on everyday observation and so the patterns that emerge through their making are those that are available in the world when framed in appropriate ways. This is a film making that is then not only observational but also seeks a method to find patterns in the world – patterns that are worth noticing, filming, making with, and then revealing through their Korsakow films.

In some cases, particularly where students may have stronger ideas about what they intend to make, or often those students who’s understanding of the poetics of this sort of practice are stronger, the working method changes (what I try to do at this point is move towards a stronger studio model of learning and so I soften all the prescriptive steps to what the work needs to be, this is difficult for these students as their pedagogical experience is essay driven which always has the Immense Imperative to Answer The Question, moving sideways is both alien and fraught with anxieties of error and failure) so that we work together, in a sort of critique come reflective conversation (the sorts of things Schön documents well) to identify the key idea they want to explore and then develop from that a prompt or a recipe that can then be used for filming. As we saw with the Post It Note exercise, we don’t need a script or a storyboard but something simple, iterative, easily repetable, and this will generate the content (and patterns) that will enable them to make a good Korsakow film.