I’ve Got A Style… Apparently.

Had another bout of COVID again, seemingly acquired from open day. Anyway, just before that happened, I managed to get a load of footage to create two films. After he received the assembly cut of the first one, Chris told me that ‘I have a style’. I’m sure he has spotted something that is recurrent, but I’m hardly in the company of Wes Anderson. Maybe it’s the speed at which I cut, (or my refusal to cut fast even in a short form video). Maybe it’s the ‘walking out of shot’ element. It got me thinking about whether I should change that up a bit. So what were these videos about, and what did I learn from making them?

What happens to magnets when the component they are part of reaches the end of its life? It’s likely that the magnet still performs well, so what barriers prevent us from reusing them? Is it possible to recycle magnets for new uses, and how can this contribute to sustainability? This film introduces the process of breaking down old magnets using hydrogen, so they can be reformed into new shapes, and sizes for modern uses.

I made this video with a group of researchers and ambassadors from ‪@DiscoverMaterials‬. The topic was chosen in consultation with local school groups, and magnets were chosen from the materials they highlighted fascinations for. This was fitting as many of the students had family history in the automobile manufacturing that was done at the nearby Longbridge plant in Birmingham. That was the easy bit.

As there was a group of researchers involved, all who were expected to develop filmmaking skills from the process, it had quite a difficult birth. All the scriptwriting work began with committee, each with high aspirations. Initially, it was conceived with a Pixar-style story spine, and a cartoon-style characterised magnet who has a life. Yet it seemed that beyond the initial enthusiasm, there was a reluctance to develop it further, knowing that animation skills were lacking in the room, especially in the two months we had to complete it. After a couple of rewrites, we chose to adopt a simple documentary style, but retaining the historical element that was integral to the brief of the project. Click here to see how the story spine started, and ended. The project stagnated until we offered an ultimatum deadline. Wonderfully, Inês volunteered to be the talent, and delivered her film debut.

There were some great opportune moments. Chris and I had previously scouted out the introduction site, outside the old Longbridge plant, grabbing footage on the ride out. And the day we arrived with Inês, there was a vintage MG meet. A conversation later and we’re filming over a beautiful example of car manufacturing at its finest vintage. Working with Inês was a lovely experience. She was happy to do as many takes as either of us wanted. She made the words her own, and took direction well. She had no expectations as to how long it was going to take, which is often an issue when working with academics, who think they can do one take, which of course, is ‘perfection’. Even so, there is always time for one more take, and the eagle eyed will spot those shots we maybe should have refilmed.

There were a few gaps in the footage required for the narrative, so they were repurposed from a variety of sources, including the University of Birmingham’s film about the Tyseley Energy Park, from a promo that HyproMag were presently producing, and from the Austin Morris archives. We even used footage from the archives of the British Film Institute. These were easy enough to obtain and insert, but I do like to learn something new with each film. This time, it was the ‘knock in’ animation of titles; stolen straight from the Grand Tour film in Columbia. The title zooms toward the screen, revealing the scene behind it. Unbelievably, this is not included as an inbuilt title in Final Cut Pro (FCP), my chosen non-linear editing suite. I had to make it in Motion, the Apple app for animation. I had to make each one separately, finding that I needed to zoom through a specific letter to reveal the whole scene. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. I used it to provide a clear intro into the three locations we were travelling to; almost separating the three acts.

The second video was easier to edit, because I didn’t cut anything from the underlying raw footage.

I joined Discover Materials researchers from all over the country at the Big Bang Fair at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. I wasn’t presenting anything, just being there to film. I captured some nice stories, but it was the Gecko tape that captured my attention. When Chris told me there was an actual Gecko in the exhibition, I knew what I wanted. Come the lunchtime change over, when it was a little quieter, I grabbed materials engineer, Freya and introduced her to Phillip, a zoologist from ZooLabs UK. In a single shot, I captured their conversation about biomimicry, or how scientists learn new things from nature in their attempts to create new things.

Now there is only 30 seconds difference between the two films, and this second one was an entirely different beast. It needed a top and tail, cleaned up the audio a touch, and added a couple of cutaways while Freya talked about the aspects we had on our stand. Could it be tighter? Of course. Would it benefit from an odd line being cut? Surely. But there was something magical that would be lost its it looked like it had been cut unnecessarily. It was a genuinely lovely few minutes of wonder.

I recently delivered an online training session of how the first video was edited; why certain shots were used, why some lines were cut, why others were emphasised, and highlighting the steps I took in FCP. At the end, I was asked, “Do we need all the whistles and bells?”, which is a fair question. I tend to take the view that, like great poetry, a piece of work can never be truly perfect. There is always room to improve it. Sometimes, it’s the removal of a half-line, sometimes adding a beat. Maybe there is a space for work that is ‘one shot’, complete with all the extemporaneous speech ticks. Maybe there is a fashion for poorly managed jump cuts (Yes, jump cuts have their place). Maybe it’s a generational thing, with younger adults having grown up consuming super-fast turnout, high volume, low quality fodder. Maybe I’m a product of the media I have consumed, and that feeds into my work. Ultimately, I add in the polish for purpose. I don’t want my output to look like it was thrown together without planning and care. Yeah, maybe it dates my films, using graphics from five years ago, adding musics cues in at specific points; maybe I do have a style? Maybe I like it.

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