Stillness and Motion

© Matthew Word Bain

I have finally begun shooting my first feature film. I am allowing myself a decade to complete it, as the process and the film are as much about and for the sake of process as anything else. I think I’m stealing the premise for the film from Andrei Tarkovsky; I will beg forgiveness when I see him. It’s interesting to think of how process as premise informs the actual process of creation.

I am beginning where I am. This means I am taking action in full disregard of my lack of appropriate or even sufficient gear. This constraint is already shaping my process and showing me what I need to learn to proceed.

I recorded a static scene (no camera movement), as I have a couple of tripods but no dolly, crane, gimbal, or even particularly steady hands… I’m also using a manual focus lens, so a static scene means I can set the focus and leave it.

I imported the video as well as an external audio track into REAPER, the digital audio workstation (DAW) I am accustomed to working in, and began learning how to apply basic video parameters: brightness, contrast, saturation; and how to automate others: zoom, x and y offsets. Previously I learned how to automate fades, but I had to learn that again!

REAPER is not designed for editing video (the name is an acronym for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording), but it has pretty extensive video editing capacity for a beginner, and I am already familiar with the software, so it’s a good place to start. (Besides, I am learning to use Ableton finally, which is entirely new to me, so one new software program at a time!)

I am also working with the audio component, filtering the sound in various ways (compression, saturation, EQ, delay, and reverb), and automating a shift between two versions of the same original audio track in time with the video automation. Below is a screenshot of the session. The colored lines and curves are the automation parameters.

Working with the gear I have (a 12 year old Olympus PEN E-P1 mirrorless camera with a “toy” CCTV lens adapted for this mount, and an eleven year old Macbook Pro) it turns out I am unable to render zoom automation smoothly, and there is significant pixelation visible at fullscreen on my 13″ laptop.

Had I known I would be zooming in to an off center portion of the image, I would have thought more carefully about how to line up the focus on the CCTV lens, which tends to distort different portions of the image in different ways depending on how the aperture is set.

The beauty of this is that by beginning where I am and allowing myself a decade, I am employing a quality of focus that actually opens the door to rapid development – first in my own skill set and then in my access to sufficient gear for the task at hand. Rather than getting caught up in what I don’t have access to, I am “getting my money’s worth” out of what I do have access to.

Have you ever noticed that incremental growth curves and exponential growth curves map very closely at the outset? When they diverge, they do so wildly. But in the beginning they look very similar. If my skills improve 1% with each completed video, that’s all the progress I need to make. By establishing an incremental growth curve and reinvesting my gains (on all fronts), that incremental curve will eventually become exponential as I compound my growth.

I have no idea how well I will do at maintaining my focus on this project, but that is not the point. What I am ultimately doing is learning how to learn, learning how to create, learning how to develop my ability to satisfy the requirements of my own aesthetic tastes.

It’s all meta; the creative output is a byproduct. Over time the creative output will receive more care, but at this stage of my development as an artist, the quality of my process and practice are more important than the quality of the output. That may always be the case. But as I continue, the work improves, as does my feel for what the work is and what other, more distant horizons are wanting to come into view.