Film Studies in Motion: From audiovisual essay to academic research video

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The pending issue now is to address the major idiosyncrasies of videographic practice with regard to considerations of the medial differences between text and video. When translating or transposing elements from one medium onto another, one has to consider the medium specificities of both source and target.
            ​Conventional articles, papers and essays consist at the very least of written text, a succession of words put on paper. With this medium, everything from speech quotes to titles, representations of events, locations, and even sound that plays out in a film will be rendered with written word. In some cases, visual illustration and supplementation can come in the form of film stills, and occasionally this takes the shape of diagrams, tables or other informative graphics. Stills can illustrate, for instance, a static model of mise-en-scène or framing, but will never capture the interconnectedness of the film’s multi-layered and dynamic texture. An attempt to indicate such audiovisual richness can, again, be achieved by means of writing. In other words, traditional quotation of the film ‘object’ is abstracted into one of the two modalities of textual or static visual expression, and therefore, the selection and representation of the source material takes the shape of an argument. When presenting the study of a film through audiovisual means, one immediately arrives at Raymond Bellour’s thought-experiment as discussed in Chapter I. As we hope to have shown by now, there have been several significant developments on academic, creative and technological levels. While on the one hand we are part of the movement discerning the videographic movement (or ‘audiovisual turn’) in Film Studies as a new (presentational) mode of scholarship, it is also simply a very logical product of its time. Similar to dictionaries or other works on languages, we are trying to strike a balance between describing what is happening, while also offering prescriptive ideas on how current practice could be optimized. That being said, as this practice is still so novel, our prescriptive ideas need testing of their own. A couple of years from now, others may very well refute everything in this book – but in any case, there needs to be some kind of documentation of praxis, which is what we hope to establish in this work. From thereon, we can look backward and forward, and add to an informed discussion. Returning to the original point of this paragraph: we have made serious efforts to untangle the nuances of different modes of conduct (mainly in our second chapter). The ideas as described while discussing our (un)reliable (un)reliability-video, developed here, are what can best be seen as our attempt at furthering the prescriptive elements of this book. It is a pilot study in what we consider a likely and logical, categorically new form of Film Studies. Like with all things new, however, this type of video is not comprised of thin air – it is built from components of all the videos we have described, combined in fresh ways, amalgamated with additional ideas.

When setting up a videographic work with hopes of attaining some level of informational depth, we advise to have at least two third of research and outline done before booting up the editing suite. This research and outline refer to the preparatory work that goes into what would normally become a paper, but will now be turned into video. This not only ensures a clear grasp on the subject matter, on the angle of approach, and on the outcome of the research, but also this means that one has to have a good idea about structure and presentational mode of findings in the video. Setting up a folder from which one can drag and drop things into the video will give the advantage of pre-visualizing what will go where, as well as speeding up the actual workflow of editing. It is useful to have quotes and references at the ready, as well as visual materials, which includes the film clips one wants to use. Depending on the choice of software and preferred workflow, there are several ways to set this up. For instance, one may want to structure the research in such a way that it immediately suffices as a script for voice-over. For the overall structuring of the piece, it is worth trying different things or relying on what one knows about him- or herself: do you need to map the different headings and ‘chapters’ of the video in a big visual lay-out, say, with post-its on the wall behind your desk? Or do you have an idea in your head you are confident will materialize once you start editing? In any case, it is about what brings out the best results for you. Nothing is set in stone. That being said, it is important to note that, especially with longer videos, chances are that some elements of rhetoric will evolve once the actual editing takes place. Keep eyes on the goal, but also feel free to ‘riff’ in the editing suite to support the planned outline. For such an outline, one should prepare at least a rough script and order of the segments one wants to include in the video (for instance: introduction, thesis, theoretical framework, etc.). This way, chances are a suitable workflow will present itself. For instance, start with recording a voice-over or preparing text slides, then place them in order, do the editing with an eye of timing, then, in case some adjustments need to be made, even re-recording and re-editing. Although a voice-over can lay an idea out singularly and clearly, one may find the need for several illustrative visuals to underscore them. Here, repetition and redundancy are rhetorically powerful.

The category of ‘autonomous academic video’ needs to be a presentation of completed research almost per default. Although we think we have already made this distinction, we would like to stress this yet again.
Video lectures and formal analyses look as though they fall into this category already, but we also must not forget that with the current technological possibilities one can actually explore the film in video as well, and research it by ‘re-presenting’ it in an audiovisual form. Mashups and more ‘poetic’ works, however, arguably fall into a genre that only does ‘re-presenting’ without strong theoretical or analytical discrimination. Even though we will focus on the first category of audiovisually rendered, completed research (as this is the one we wish to add to), both these categories are part of a larger movement, one that represents a distinct departure from traditional, written Film Studies: within this audiovisual turn, so to speak, the argument can take the shape of the source material. Ideally, one would render the argument in a way that source material and study absolve into one richly textured multi-modal representation, but we would claim that the category wherein videos are mere ‘re-presentations’ completely assimilates argument in the shape of the film object. The point we are trying to make here is that currently, the ability to re-shuffle ‘complete’ quotations is regarded as essayistic work. However, these quotations are, in fact, rarely complete quotations; they are chunks of the entire gamut of textual layers. Take for instance Kogonada and Carvajal’s videos: they borrow only the images from the quoted film, not the sound, adjacent events, edits or speech. Therefore, we consider these quotations incomplete in a way that borders on the incompleteness of traditional ‘text plus still’ forms. If we are to work in the Bellourian sense of the word, we will have to find a way to alternate between representations of studies that employ all textual layers (for instance speech, titles, visuals, and music) and quotations of film that employ all textual layers (images, original diegetic sound, original non-diegetic sound, etc.). In other words, both passages of theoretical consideration, as well as film quotations used in the actual analysis, can be seen as opportunities to employ the entire range of video: multiple layers of sound and image then can be edited and revealed at designated points in running time. We would consider this a sharp contrast to what is currently the closest mode of discernment, namely voice-over placed on top of muted images. Such compromise, again, borders on the same amount of multimodality as ‘text plus stills’ can provide; only by the fact that it is presented in a container where the images can move we are fooled into thinking that the possibilities of video are exploited, despite this hardly ever being the case. Only if we can render our research fully multi-modally, that is ‘fully Bellourian’, then we can truly speak of Videographic Film Studies. In part, this relative stagnation since 2007 is due to the fact that audiovisual Film Studies is still very much in its infancy, and those involved do not want to kill it in its crib – hence the leniency. That being said, the lack of criteria for production and assessment of videographic work is something that could have been more developed. At some point, someone will have to put an expiration date on the days of experimentation, if only to carve out some kind of theoretical clarity. What happens in practice afterwards need not necessarily follow these considerations truthfully, but it seems unlikely that it could not benefit from a more conventional, or, established, starting point.

Having regarded the ‘outer shell’ of the proposed medial transposition, we will now turn to rendition of inner-rhetoric. With academic writing, lucidity and traceability of information and intellectual property are rooted in proper references. One of the key differences between textual and audiovisual form is the latter’s automatized passing nature of its information distribution. The steadfast forward moving playhead does not allow the viewer to look up footnotes in his own time, and also makes it harder to revisit these notes, at least compared to flipping the pages of a book. As explored earlier in this chapter, we can transpose a tradition from writing onto the screen, although we propose some form of redundancy to compensate the ephemeral qualities of running video. Footnotes or in-text references can easily be rendered in video by featuring the same text-elements (like [author], [year], [page]), which can similarly be presented at the bottom of the screen. Not only is this the least obtrusive place in visual terms, it also a logical spot: it is where film viewers expect explication anyhow after years of watching subtitled content or informational videos where data cards are presented at the lower part of the screen.
            While it can be argued that the possibility to pause and rewind video is similar to flipping the pages of a book, momentarily the choppiness of streaming video (or even the precise time-coordinates of a video player) do not offer the same ease and precision. Additionally, starting a video prompts some kind of viewership, where intervening seems much more like a hassle as opposed to reading a book where turning a page is part of progressing through the text: video is set up in a way that it progresses through the text in an, ideally, optimized fashion, so it is logical for an audience to expect a rhythm where he or she need not intervene. This is a nuance that cannot be quantified, but something that will surely mature as we grow accustomed to both producing and watching videographic works.
            At the end of an autonomous video, it would be logical to include at least a general works cited list, as one would with any write-up that contains references to external sources. Additionally, as we have learned from experience, viewers might appreciate a final chart-like overview of all the references the video features (because, like we said before, one cannot just as easily flip back). Figure 35 shows a mock-example of what such a table could look like, loosely based on our experience with the (un)realiable (un)reliability video. Note that such a chart would be supplied after the general bibliography/videography section, enabling compact references. As long as video is closed-off, one cannot leaf through it as one would with a book, therefore this is an alternative, again, to compromise for the audiovisual form’s innate evanescence.

We would also like to offer some preliminary thoughts on audiovisual literacy and the interplay between modalities in terms of redundancy and succession (an issue we consider closely affiliated to the above). Text in audiovisual work is now employed either solely through voice-over, exclusively on title-cards, or fully exempted. Opinions are polarized on this matter; some feel that the voice-over lecture illustrated with film clips is a natural form, others think that added audio undercuts the ‘power of the image’. According to our proposition, it becomes feasible to oscillate between the different possibilities on every textual level – as one would with writing or filmmaking. In writing, this practice is well-established, and called lexical variation. By means of employing synonyms, allusions and variations, one keeps the attention fresh and more connection can be made to information one tries to convey. For instance, setting up a segment in an audiovisual essay could be done with a cut-up of a film’s scene that is arbitrary in its meaning without the proper (narrative) context. Or, clearly phrased text could be delivered solely through voice-over, while more dense information is best conveyed redundantly (c.q. terminology underscored via drop quotes or full quotes on screen), and, simply for the sake of variation (letting the ear ‘breathe’ or favoring the sound-track momentarily) one could use on-screen text or title cards. Do note that this principle could be applied in any mode of Videographic Film Studies: whether in a ‘lecture’ segment, or other analytical, essayistic and explanatory forms. Additionally, the same can be said for the use of music: a video like Kogonada’s What is Neorealism? shows that soft background music can help activate attention as well as maintain an aura of atmosphere. Most videos choose to either put a single piece of music throughout the entire video (practically all supercuts and mashups discussed in Chapter II) or fully exempt it (for example Bordwell’s video lecture on Bresson’s analytical editing). Perhaps the best option is to (literally) mix these practices, and choose to use different pieces of music for specific segments, and fade these in and out when the matter asks for it. For instance, in our essay video we subtly demarcated the separate chapters with distinct music. This way, the switching of topics and modes of discussion was further indicated for the viewer.[86]

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