Interviewing Marta Kochanek

The Idea

For my Add+Vantage module in the first term, I was assigned to task of investigating the Coventry Peace Festival. The aim was to cover a community-based event for CovTelly, showing an aspect of Coventry that was perhaps not seen by many people. Two ideas were explored – one was the Coventry ‘Peace Through Poetry’ event, and the other was an interview with Marta Kochanek, a photography artist who had a photo exhibition at the end of the festival.

It became apparent fairly quickly that the Poetry event was the one we were going for, as we could complete the edit before the Add+Vantage deadline. I decided to interview Marta Kochanek nonetheless as a solo project however, and thus the first media artefact for this module went into development.

Peace For Poetry – One of two Add+Vantage video options. Peace For Poetry became the artefact for Add+Vantage – the interview with Marta Kochanek became the first artefact for 364MC.

The Research

When the Peace For Poetry video got handed in, it suffered heavily in the academic score department for not having any pre-production material accompanying the hand-in. Generally though, that was because there was no pre-production to speak of. We asked if we could film the event, the event organiser said yes, so we turned up with equipment and filmed it. More or less the same thing happened here.

The exhibition was to take place in a location called The Lock Gallery in the Coventry Canal Basin area. I had never been, though some lecturers seemed to know where it was. It took a thorough location recce to eventually find the place – it was concealed behind a giant wooden door built into a large Victorian-era building. I got in touch with a woman named Emma who owned the place, and got her permission to film.

There were two reasons for filming in the gallery – first, Marta Kochanek knew where it was, so it saved the hassle of scouring Coventry trying to find each other. Second, it would have photographs of her work all around her, which could be used as relevant cut-away shots to the interview. I was also hoping a familiar environment with her work would also benefit the interview by helping to put her at ease – something that would prove invaluable come the day of the shoot.

The only other pre-production that occurred was conducting research into the artist herself – I was shocked when I found out she was actually an ex-Coventry University student herself, graduating only the year above me! Since then she had started the Queer-ists Project (based around LGBT artist platforms), and had worked with the likes of Annie Leibovitz. I used this information to direct my questions more. It allowed me to avoid putting my foot in it with obvious questions, and also avoid asking questions that were offensive, or tones hat she clearly wouldn’t have known how to answer.

I ran the questions by her first before the interview – I was worried that prepared answers might hinder the interview, and it had mixed results, as Marta revised her answers thoroughly before the interview, and come the day of the shoot, was determined to read her answers word-perfect (which is the equivalent of an actor learning lines for a short stage play).

I had further worries that I never once accessed the interior of the location before the day of the shoot (due primarily to time constraints, despite the nearby location!). To compensate, I booked out various lighting accessories to meet any scenario the gallery presented itself with – turns out the gallery was very well-lit, and none of this equipment was needed in the end, but was better to be safe than sorry. I used a Z1 camera for the video and a reporter’s mic for the audio.

Finally, I realised I would need a crew member to assist. I decided to ask for help from housemate Laura (also a media student) as she was someone I knew I could trust. Then, we waited for the shoot.

The Shoot

Laura and myself turned up on the day and set-up inside the gallery. I was shocked the find the ‘gallery’ approximately ten meters by two meters big. There were only six photographs on display from the Queer-ists Project. It wasn’t too bad, as Marta fronted the whole project, but all the same, six photographs got me immediately worried that we in no way had enough cut-aways for this interview. The lighting however was gentle and soft, and came from outside which filled the entire room. I checked the settings on the camera were okay, and then allowed Laura to get busy taking as many cut-away shots as she could.

Laura was acting camera operator whilst I took to conducting the interview. Marta arrived a few minutes late smoking a cigarette, dressed in white (much to my dismay as the walls of the gallery were also white). We were both passionate and excited by the upcoming interview, although nerves were already starting to show in Marta before it had begun.

We realised early on that Marta was not used to being interviewed. To help with this, I sat to one side and encouraged her to look straight ahead (into the window where the light was coming from). She tried to get her answers word-perfect to what she had rehearsed, sometimes stopping a shot when her answer was going quite well. I knew that this was just a way for her to express herself though, and I felt glad we had conducted the interview in a slightly more familiar environment to her. Some points of the interview were more difficult for her to get through than others, but overall after just over thirty minutes, it was done. She had been very professional, and hopefully we had returned the same courtesy.

I double-checked the final cut-away shots, as I knew I would not come back again. I took a couple of slightly more experimental shots (such as the one with the slow shutter speed at ____ ) as these shots would need to be interesting if the photos alone within them were not interesting enough. I did not fill in release forms (despite having them with me) as it was quite clear they were not needed for this artefact. Marta was keen to see the end result, and I had an e-mail confirming permission to film at the location. I uploaded the footage when I got back, thanked Laura, and moved the artefact into post-production.

The Edit

I wasn’t planning to edit this until the 360MC presentation had been done, but I could tell Marta was curious to see the end result. To put her mind at rest, I upped my schedule, and began doing this straight after Christmas. The edit took two half-days.

Luckily, the white dress / white wall problems sorted itself out with a bit of grading. I collected all the best shots of the interview, and all the best cut-aways. I graded it all, and then began to piece together the interview from start to finish.

With the initial cuts – despite Marta’s prepared answers – actually worked better in a different sequence, so I cut up her words and re-ordered them accordingly. Marta had also used a lot of filler, pauses, and had stumbled once or twice on the best cuts. These were easily cut out of the final edit, making her sound smooth and consistent throughout. However, this made the visuals cut up as well.

The problem with the cut-away shots came back to haunt me more or less straight away. I knew I would have to use what precious cuts I had wisely – luckily, most of Marta’s cuts in the speeches happened in close proximity, meaning I could use one cut away shot to cover up two or three cuts in the audio.

Crucially, at this stage I realised I hadn’t recorded a backing track (rookie error!), but I think I got away with it for the most part at least (only one little part at the end is noticeable to me). I was glad I took the slow-shutter shot of the picture, although I didn’t hold it for long enough at the end, so I repeated the final frame several times, which is noticeable if you look very closely.

Marta kindly allowed me to use photographs of hers for the part of the interview where she talks about her favourite project so far – ‘Deliverance Of Body And Soul’. These provided cut away shots for this part of the interview – believe it or not, this is actually the first media artefact where I’ve had to apply the ‘Ken Burns’ effect to photographs. It was good that I did this project before my 360MC hand-in, as I used the Ken Burns effect in my presentation hand-in as well!

It all went swimmingly and eventually everything had been set up into a smooth four-minute run. There was only one thing that I was unhappy about – the part where Marta mentioned Annie Leibovitz. I knew of this photographer, and I was hoping Marta could provide one or two photos of the two of them together. When she couldn’t, I felt it was better for me to use two photos from the internet rather than leave the camera on Marta for too long, as the long shot that resulted was not interesting enough to keep the audience’s attention visually. This meant that this artefact would never go beyond academic circles, but it did however make it an artefact that I was pleased with.

The Feedback

I was unsure whether to include music, so I sent out the rough cut to Marta and Laura. Marta particularly wanted to see it first, but was really happy with the way it turned out. Laura was pleased with it as well – no music was needed. Laura suggested applying the Ken Burns effect to the static video images of the pictures in the gallery, but when I tried it, the film actually looked better with a mixture of static and moving cut away shots, rather than all moving cut away shots.

Generally, there wasn’t a lot left to feed back on. As both participants were generally happy with what I’d edited, I just made a few alterations. First, changed one of the Ken Burns photos during the ‘Deliverance Of Soul’ part as I thought it worked better. Then, after uploading the entire video, I re-imported the ‘.mov’ file into Final Cut Pro, and applied one single letterbox to the whole video, so that the tops and bottom didn’t keep changing (and it was also much easier this way). After applying the letterbox, I had a lot of difficulty compressing the file using the export settings of FCP, so I eventually uploaded the finished piece to Youtube first, then downloaded that, and re-uploaded the file to Vimeo. Using this method, the final cut went from almost 900MB to just 10MB, and lost almost no quality at all (but it took an overnight upload to get it done).

One criticism I would have to agree with is that the microphone is in the picture a little too much. To say there is little on screen, it does take away from where the viewer’s eyes are meant to be looking – unfortunately this could not be helped, as Marta was holding the microphone during this interview, but it’s something I should be aware of for next time.

Marta and I are still in touch, and she will hopefully be around at the degree show at the end of the year to see my own art in practice!

http://vimeo.com/34912403

The Rough Cut – There wasn’t a lot to change!

The Final Cut – This rather simple project has demonstrated how far I have come since conducting the interviews I did back in my first year.

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