LEO BERKELEY
FILMMAKER

Sad to hear about the death of Jacques Rivette, one of the really great filmmakers. Seeing L’Amour Fou and Celine & Julie Go Boating for the first time was, for me, the proverbial life-changing experience. When I was 20, I drove across the Nullabor to see a screening of Out One Spectre at the short-lived Perth Festival that ran in the seventies, worried that I’d never get a chance to see it again. A mere 4 hours running time, the short version of his legendary Out One. Good tribute in the New York Times.

By Leo Berkeley, RMIT University

In the film industry, research is commonly understood as audience research. Films, in contrast, are entertainment or a form of audiovisual communication. But can film-making also be a form of academic research?

Within the academic community, research is about new knowledge and is done through experiments or surveys, not through the creative process of film production. But it is also done using interviews and ethnographic observation.

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Four colleagues and I, who have all recently completed our doctorates involving the production of a film, have got together to compare our experiences. We decided to write about our PhDs/DCAs in relation to:

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Narrating Place is an international creative collaboration where about twenty people made a series of 45 second videos about their experience of a particular place. The resulting videos can be found here.

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I completed my PhD earlier this year and, since then, have been giving a lot of thought to what I should do now.  My doctorate involved the production of a feature-length drama and the writing of a 40,000 word exegesis.  A big project but, as various people have reminded me, finishing a PhD is the start of a process, not the end of one.  For better or worse, I’m now regarded by the academic community as a qualified researcher in my discipline.  There is a concern, I think, that the discipline of screen production risks being marginalised within the higher education sector if it is seen as being no more than a teaching field.  However, that means it needs to develop as a research discipline, and that means there needs to be a viable post-doctoral path for filmmakers who wish to develop their creative practice and have it considered as research.  It’s not clear to me whether such a path exists at the moment.

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The 5th Screenwriting Research Network International Conference is being held in Sydney from 13-16 September, at Macquarie University and UTS.  I’m giving a paper titled ‘Screenplays: what are they good for? Reflections on making a film as an anti-screenplay activist’.  I’m looking forward to what seems a great line-up of interesting papers. For more details visit the conference website.

In my experience, there is a fairly widespread degree of scepticism amongst the general public (and even amongst some university academics) about the value of research.  It is rarely directed at medical research, although the whole climate change issue highlights that many people either ignore or dismiss even broadly consistent scientific research.  Once you get into social science research the doubts grow and I won’t even touch creative arts research (at this stage anyway).

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I’m working on an essay film project and have been thinking about the role of voice-over.  For someone not used to ‘personal’ filmmaking, where you’re a presence in the film, getting the voice-over right is an important issue and not as simple as you might think.

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At this year’s ASPERA Conference in Brisbane in early July, Tim Thomas from the University of Canberra presented a paper called The Bass Girl Research Project.  The focus of the paper was on how Tim and his colleague Susan Thwaites used the production of a short film to conduct a research experiment into what is known in screen production as ‘crossing the line’ or the 180 degree rule.  This is an approach to filming screen action designed to convey a consistent sense of spatial continuity. 

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One of the interesting papers at the 2012 ASPERA Conference in Brisbane earlier this month was Gill Leahy from UTS talking about her experiences raising money for a film using crowdfunding.  Crowdfunding is one of those seductive web 2.0 developments that seems like a struggling independent filmmaker’s fantasy, so it was good to hear from someone who’s been through the process.  I think on the whole Gill felt it was a legitimate new source of funding for independent productions but with a few notes of caution:

Don’t underestimate the amount of work involved in communicating with would-be and actual pledgers;

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I’m a filmmaker and an academic.  I want to use this blog to look at interesting ways to combine these two activities.  In setting up the blog, I had to decide on the names of categories used to organise the blog posts.  I found this quite hard, because what I’m interested in is blurring a lot of boundaries, between creative and academic practice say, or producing and consuming media or teaching and research.  I’d even be prepared to confess I want to muddy the distinction between my personal life and my working life. 

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