The Zero Project was an challenging task on several levels. As the choice of subject for the piece was open, the first step was to carefully select someone that would be interesting to observe, open to work with and also provide good visual content. I had an idea that an artist would be a good place to start, having connections with a few local artists that I now from having a studio in the same warehouse at the Coventry Canal Basin. It was also fortunate timing that the same day I was set the project I was invited to attend an opening of an art exhibition that several of the artists would be at to approach about the project. I managed to secure Alison Lambert as my subject for the project. From my research on Cinema Verite, I knew it would be advantageous to be familiar to the subject to make them at ease having a camera in their space. I have known Alison for several years now, although when it came to shooting we were both nervous.
Shooting took place on a Saturday morning in early November, I had arranged a three hour slot to allow enough time to get the shots I thought I needed. I have never visited Alison’s studio before so had no idea on how big it was, what the lighting was like or her work process. I arrived at the warehouse a little early to grab a cup of tea with Alison before we started to go over the ‘Verite’ rules. As soon as I had set up the camera we started filming. The studio was large with about five different pieces of work on the wall, all at different stages of development. It was very interesting to see an artist at work, there was a lot of stand back and checking marks/placement of paper shreds that I hadn’t anticipated. Around the space was all sorts of artist supplies in various stages of use and reference material for the different work in production.
It took me about half an hour to start to get into the swing of things with the camera and Alison’s working patterns. Initially I mounted the GH4 on a shoulder rig, but I found this to be a little restrictive with the framing and focusing of the shots I wanted to get so I ditched it and shot hand held only. This reduced the physical size of the rig allowed me to get closer to Alison working with out distracting her. It did however make my shots more shaky. I shot for about two hours, almost continuously, with Alison working on three of her drawings.
On a couple of occasions Alison addressed the camera directly, this was the only interaction she made with me during the who time filming until the end of our session. She was expressing specifics of the glue she was using and how long she had owned the knife she uses as featured in the intro on my final edit. I didn’t respond to the comments as I wanted to see where they lead.
This was my first every major attempt at editing and using Adobe Premiere, having only previously shoot footage for others to edit.
This was my initial cut of the material. I was focusing on slightly longer shots to see the completion of full stages of Alison’s work and her work flow. I was trying to be true to the timeline of Alison working on one piece only.
Feedback from my class was that the audio from the radio program was distracting to the visuals, which I agree with. The section of Alison by the window looking back at her work has been remarked upon by everyone I have shown it to as being a good shot.
This was a minor edit with an establishing shot of torn paper on the floor – as it was a minor amendment I haven’t uploaded it to Vimeo. This shot appears in my opening scene in the final Cut v4.
This cut came from a later section of the shoot as I started to focus on the process of Alison’s work as opposed to the artist. After compiling this I was a lot happier with the content and the speed of the jump cuts, but I felt that there were elements that seemed a little repetitive. The more abstract elements of the feet were remarked upon by Ken Fero as a strong section. Feedback on the audio was better as the radio was more in the background as I was physically further away from the speakers. I presented both versions to class to get feedback on what elements were stronger.
As soon as I had completed the third cut I knew I wanted to take elements from this from cuts 2 and 3 to make a stronger overall edit.
Above is the final cut version 4 that I settled on. It contains the stronger elements of my earlier edits, along with newly added footage in the opening scene of Alison working on a more complete drawing. This gave a better introduction to the documentary, including adding another stage of Alison’s working methods. This edit broke away from the linear approach to the previous versions that followed the actual timeline of the day. I am a lot happier with this cut – it seems to make sense to me more than the other edits. It retains the abstract elements whilst showcasing the working methods and beautiful drawings. I also wanted to include some of the tracking shots, particularly the one of following the cutting of the eraser and moving to the drawing.
The sound in this piece is very important, particularly the sounds on the materials being used. I especially like the crunch on the paper on the floor and the scraping of the knife. The sound of Alison sighing and breathing is also interesting as it is the only audible expression of her feelings towards the work as it develops. The short clip containing music worked well to break up the radio commentary and retain focus on the visuals.
I experimented with image stabilization in Premiere for the clip of the charcoal sticks and the final scene to see if I could take some of the camera shake out of them. I wasn’t happy with the cropping on the charcoal sticks so decided to retain the original shot as is. I applied a tiny 10 percent stabilization to the final clip, which I thought allowed a balance of realism without distraction from the framing.
As I used the Cine like D colour profile on the GH4 camera to get a wider dynamic range, I had to colour correct my final edit to add back in contrast. You may notice in the earlier edit that the drawings seem to be very flat and grey, along with the skin tones. I experimented with some of the preset profiles in Premiere, most of them gave me a unrealistic look to the piece, however I did settle on the Fuji Reala 500D Kodak 2393 profile at 30%. This added the blacks back into the drawings that were missing and picked up the skin tones nicely.
Alison requested that she could see my work as part of allowing me access, which I was happy to do. I presented her with all my different versions and below are her thoughts. I am currently in discussion with Alison to adapt my work for her website and promotional use.
Feedback from Alison:
I looked at your finished version last night and some of the rest. I think the finished one is very good and not what I was expecting. I am somewhat relieved you haven’t focused on my face! It has an overall feeling of textures, and is quite dynamic – very interesting. The lack of narrative adds to the ‘layered’ feel. It also has a strong sense of place and I was pleased to see that it doesn’t look staged and looks as if it is genuinely eavesdropping on somebody getting on with their work.
My Thanks go to Alison Lambert for allowing me to film her making such amazing drawings.