Discovering the style of a video with diary sequences by Glenn Dixon

While in pre-production for a video project, I create a specific sequence or timeline to explore story ideas. It’s a great place to begin playing with editing techniques and developing a style that will eventually inform the video. I use this space to test image and sound juxtapositions, colour treatments and editing rhythms. This diary usually begins before any principal photography so I use video footage from other projects as placeholders. 

"I have to go through this diary process, so that I've answered all the questions that I've had for myself."

— Hans Zimmer | Composer

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Screenshot above: Example of a diary sequence in Premiere Pro.

To refine an idea I copy and paste a new section further along in the sequence. I don’t delete anything. This way I can see the progression of ideas and can revisit earlier fragments of thought. It’s the result of continually posing and answering questions. How can this interview transition into that exterior shot? What visuals can compliment that interview dialogue? Does this music tell the story of this place?

The idea of keeping a video diary was inspired by an online Masterclass with Hans Zimmer. It's a superb video series providing insight into Hans’s process for composing film scores. The chapter “Music Diary: Sherlock Holmes” is of particular relevance to this post.

"I try to figure out stylistically, harmonically and sonically where this is going.” 

— Hans Zimmer

Kenya Aid video campaign by Glenn Dixon

It's an incredible privilege to share the first video in a series of three I made for Kenya Aid, an Australian charity supporting health and education initiatives within a specific community of western Kenya. I was introduced to Verity and Ryan Snaith through Magda Newman, a mutual friend and Kenya Aid board member. In our early conversations, Magda described Kenya Aid with an infectious enthusiasm. I was captivated by the unique and unexpected stories and wanted to help share them.

Filmmaking process:

I conducted the interviews in Sydney last year at Kenya Aid’s ten year anniversary dinner. As Onesmus was in Australia for the event, it was a perfect opportunity to interview the stakeholders in one location. I came away with a rich story told through interviews but lacking vital contextual visuals from Kenya. In January of this year, Ryan visited Shikunga and captured video footage. I integrated Ryan’s video footage and existing photographs from the archive with the interviews I filmed in Australia to create the films.

My initial plan was to make one video that communicated the ‘why’ and ‘what’ behind the Kenya Aid initiative. A video that could be screened to sponsors and volunteers to build and strengthen the community. I soon realised that forcing these complex stories into a single video did not do them justice. I decided to make one video that introduced Kenya Aid then explore the health and education initiatives in depth via two subsequent videos. 

Visual considerations:

Kenya Aid's photographic archive contains images from trips spanning over ten years. Each visit was photographed by different people using different cameras. As a result, the images are varied in style and technical specification. An early temptation for me was to colour correct the photographs and footage so they felt like a harmonious portfolio. I soon realised the power of this story lay in the fact that a small group of people were meticulously addressing problems within the community over a long period of time and the ad-hoc nature of the photographs spoke to that. The fact that photographs and video were captured by volunteers with the technology at hand strengthened the story. 

Sound design:

To convey a sense of place, I used as much audio from location as possible. Mixed in behind the interviews is location audio that Ryan filmed using the onboard microphone. I found two pieces of music by composer Abbas Premjee that added an energy to the story while still grounding the characters in a place. I combined a non-diegetic sound with a ‘dip to black’ transition at the point where two photographs meet. This was to invite the audience into the cameras viewfinder the moment the picture was taken, as if they were the one taking the picture. 

Video editing reimagined with Wipster by Glenn Dixon

The folk at Wipster have completely disrupted my video editing workflow - all for the better! I love that clients and collaborators can now request edits to videos by clicking directly on a frame and typing a comment. These comments sync with Premiere Pro sequences and show up as markers in the timeline. No more cryptic time coded notes to decipher! I love the speedier workflow and clients appreciate not having to take manual notes. The web interface is elegant in its simplicity.

I discovered the Wipster service through a colleague based in Wellington who once shared a co-working space with the team. Wipster folk - you rock! 

With every edit I send to collaborators, I try to be clear and specific regarding the nature of the feedback I wish to receive. If I am sending interview rushes, I may request only comments highlighting specific dialogue that strikes them as interesting. If I am sending a fine cut of a video, I may ask for feedback on choice of music, title design, narrative structure etc. From a client perspective, it can be overwhelming to receive a link with no instructions or actionable requests. 

A typical video editing workflow for me involves:

  1. Setup Premiere Pro project and manage assets.
  2. Edit sequences for review.
  3. Export sequences to hard disk.
  4. Login to Wipster via web browser and upload sequences. 
  5. Send invitations to collaborators.
  6. Walk the dog and snack while awaiting feedback.
  7. Sync comments with Premiere Pro sequence (via Wipster Review Panel).
  8. Make changes and repeat if necessary.

One issue I hope to resolve soon is an inability to upload sequences to Wipster via the Wipster Review Panel (2.0.6) within Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017. The Review Panel ‘hangs’ on the upload process and never completes. I would be grateful to anyone who can shed some light on this? When this bug is fixed for me the experience will be even smoother.  

Screenshot above: Video with client comments as red dots.
Screenshot below: Same video in Premiere Pro sequence with comments as yellow markers.

Promotional video for ELLA by Glenn Dixon

I created this promotional video for ELLA, a play-based language learning program for children in preschool. The footage was captured in a documentary style within a functioning preschool. We provided the students with iPads loaded with the ELLA software and I filmed as they explored “The Polyglots" apps.

Children move incredibly quickly and filming them requires agility and patience. I wanted to capture them reproducing language naturally so many of my shots lasted multiple minutes as I moved with them through the space. I handheld my Sony FS5 with a 16-35mm Zeiss lens. The wide perspective of the lens allowed me to get really close and pickup the children voices with a shotgun microphone mounted onboard. 

Designing soundscapes for video by Glenn Dixon

"In the same way that painting, or looking at paintings, makes you see the world in a different way, listening to interestingly arranged sounds makes you hear differently." 

- Walter Murch | Film editor and sound designer.

Video above: I created this video exploring Paul's perspective on customer experience. Conduct are a digital focused customer and user experience design agency, based in Melbourne, Australia. They operate in the same building as me, in a loft across the hallway. Video best experienced with headphones.

While designing the soundscape for this film, I discovered you can make static objects feel dynamic if juxtaposed with interesting sounds. The inanimate physical objects in the film seemed lively when accompanied by sounds of those very objects being manipulated offscreen. While you cannot see the affinity diagram being created or the props being touched, I hope the soundscape invites the audience to imagine how it could feel to interact with these objects. 

Through experience, we associate certain objects with producing specific sounds. When wandering through the temples of Kyoto, I witnessed a buddhist monk striking a Bonsho bell with a mallet. I can still feel the powerful and profound metallic resonance. To me, the energy of the sound seemed to originate from the wooden floor beneath my feet. Video editing allows us to detach visual and aural associations and present sound and image in new ways. We can detach sound from a video clip and replace the original with anything we wish. What if that striking of the gong was accompanied by the warbled cry of a magpie? I'm excited by challenging our expectations of how things should sound and moving toward exploring how things could sound.

I’d like to sign off by acknowledging a fascinating film by New York based filmmaker Bas Berkhout. I love the energy Bas creates through the pacing of the edit and unexpected juxtaposition of image and sound. View the film on Vimeo via this link. In this podcast episode, the talented folk at 99% Invisible chat with sound designer Jim McKee about designing organic sounds for inorganic things.