Thursday, June 15, 2006

Back to it

I really should get my own blog and stop writing whatever is on my mind in the ones I keep for school but the stuff I'm thinking about is tied in.

The more I read Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture the more I see the importance of the current battles for copyright that have been simplified into a war on internet pirates. Lessig is able to provide the history of copyright in the legal precedents that shape its use and his argument is that "copyright law at its birth had only publishing as its concern; copyright law today regulates both" publishing and the creative process of "building upon or transforming that work". (p.19)

It's interesting to see current examples of this, like the House of Cosbys which built upon the creative work of Bill Cosby in using the character he created of himself in popular culture. It's a shame they didn't choose to make the show the House of Pryors as they may have been able to avoid upsetting a living figure.

The other argument in Free Culture is that industries built around profiting from creative work through distributing it, marketing it and marking up the price on it are succeeding in "remaking the internet before it remakes them". (p.9)
Lessig discusses the way RCA kept the technology of FM radio they developed out of practice for as long as possible to avoid jeopardising their interests in AM radio.

An interesting development in the last couple of days demonstrates both of Lessig's arguments and relates them to television:
The United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization has called a last-minute meeting on June 21 in Barcelona, out of the normal diplomatic venues to try to ram through the Broadcasting Treaty. This treaty gives broadcasters (not creators or copyright holders) the right to tie up the use of audiovisual material for 50 years after broadcasting it, even if the programs are in the public domain, Creative Commons licensed, or not copyrightable.
It'll be interesting to see how it plays out because I wonder, if it comes into effect, would it mean that all the stuff I've put on YouTube will belong to them?

Friday, June 02, 2006

It's a wrap

Write a production report on your crew roles this semester and comment on your experience of the subject.
I've been thinking about TVP202 and reckon what I'll take away from it is a better idea of lighting and a little humility. After coasting through last year I found a group of skills I lacked in my primary crew role of director for a drama scene. Other roles I had were lighting assistant on another fiction group, camera operator on Ben's doco and assistant on Geoff's doco.

Directing the scene from Gary's House was the most challenging thing I've done since starting this course. I also spent more time working on it than anything other than blogs. While trying to plan the shoot my head began to hurt in ways it hadn't for years. It was impossible for me to visualise how to shoot the action, in part because I hadn't fully planned it. The other part was learning how it would look in the studio. It was interesting to compare the two fiction shoots I worked on, while their appearances are almost opposites they were both a bit bare. I understand studios are an ideal location as you can minimise the variables in the shoot, controlling the elements including (in theory) the people on and off the camera. In practice - and this is one thing I learned during my stint as acting manager this year - you can not hope to control everything. So, while mistakes were made, I learned a lot.

The exercise showed what set design can do for your frame and a sense of the scope of lighting. It would be beneficial to expand the lighting tutorial in the studio or set it as a task like the current camera exercise. More elaboration was needed of non-naturalism. I got the impression the set designers were in the dark about it too and, well, we know the actors weren't even allowed to discuss the idea.

As camera operator on the profile of artist Dennis O'Connor I appreciated Ben had picked a subject that should have been easy to film. But, while trying to keep steady pans over artworks, I was reminded of Glenn Steer's comment that camera movement needs to be disguised by movement on camera. After that I tried to stick to static shots of the artworks.

There were some problems on the second part of the shoot, the camera refused to white balance and the shots have a bluish hue. In a way I was glad the camera had a black and white viewfinder on the day because it would've given me a lot more stress knowing I couldn't fix it. The other advantage of the B&W viewfinder was it forced me to focus on composition. I found myself using the rule of thirds and occasionally fifths to frame the shots.

As assistant on Geoff's doco about kangaroos I wasn't sure what I should do aside from carry stuff around and hold the boom. There were a few opportuities to light and question interview subjects but most of the time I thought the assignment was doomed for not being in the Australian Story style. Now I've seen it come together I think Geoff has done a remarkable job, even if it's more in the style of Stateline. Jo thought his interview style was excellent. I think she did a great job herself, there would've been serious gaps without her quotes.

Aside from lugging gear, I offered Geoff a few different clips to consider but he thought they didn't sit with the style of the piece. Some were borderline broadcast quality as a result of being shot on a digital stills camera but it was footage he wasn't going to get, like this boxing match:

Overall, the subject was fun and it was great to be presented with a seriously challenging project. At times the course seemed to meander a bit, the doco on US cinematography was interesting but the insights were few and far between. Dunno what I would've shown instead, maybe something like Frontline to give an idea of the lengths people go to for their craft. Or maybe a series of close viewings of classic cinematography, clicking through groundbreaking sequences frame by frame and admiring the composition and lighting. Or maybe just more practical work, the immediate feedback of screening the camera exercises was excellent. It would've been good to get the peer assessment discussions flowing but at least the process wasn't as harrowing as how it had been described by students of a former lecturer in the course.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Foreign Correspondent

Write a personal reflection on a single camera production shown on free to air television. Include a researched observation with references.
Foreign Correspondent is one of a trilogy of established current affairs shows produced and broadcast by the ABC, along with Four Corners and Australian Story. The show draws on an extensive network of overseas staff - more than any other Australian network - and a Sydney-based research and production team. In the last 14 years they've produced more than 1300 reports from over 160 countries.

This week the show ran only two stories in their usual 45 minute slot, missing the 'soft' news style Postcard segment but giving extended attention to the political career of former cricketer Imran Khan and the impact of gas and oil extraction on Russia's northern Pacific island of Sakhalin.

Journalist Peter Lloyd must have taken every available opportunity in his interview with Imran Khan, from northern Pakistan through the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital and then at Khan's home. I counted quotes from seven different settings and also an interview with Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan's Daily Times. In addition, archival footage of Khan with former wife Jemima Goldsmith and his cricket career was used. The centre piece was an interview with Khan in a non-descript room, possibly a hotel, using that ABC trademark of a lamp in the background to balance the frame. The camera operator was Wayne McAllister.

Foreign Correspondent's contributor Eric Campbell presented the story on the energy industry that has rapidly developed in Sakhalin, north of Japan. He spoke with locals and also foreign workers, such as Ian Craig, the head of the Shell/Mitsui project. It was interesting that only Craig got his name written on screen but this may be because of the need for subtitles. It appeared Campbell was able to interview in Russian. The camera operator was Geoffrey Lye.

There was a much more pronounced style of editing in this second story. Where the first was quite naturalistic in presenting images to match the narrative with an unrushed pace of edits; the second used techniques such as timelapse to show the speed of the development of infrastructure and used a soundtrack in the style of Phillip Glass - a reference to the work of Godfrey Reggio. I noticed one shot using slow motion, as a group of workers walked from a construction site, many others were in fast motion. In parts and near the end the edits were very quick, again contributing to the sense of speed in construction of the Sakhalin energy industry and the disruption of life on the island. Archival footage was also used, such as images from after a Korean passenger jet was shot down over the island by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.

I sent an email to Foreign Correspondent with a bunch of questions to see if I could learn more for this entry. Here is their response:

Dear Jason

Sorry we don't have time to answer all your questions. However generally our shoots take from a week to ten days. Sometimes two weeks if it is in a remote place or a story that means going to a number of different locations. A postcard (final cut around 5-7 mins) would be two or three days. Editing generally takes two weeks for a lead story, though sometimes for very topical issues we turn them around faster than that (but work over weekends and overnight).

The Sakhalin story was filmed on an Sx betacam and the sound gear was standard tv sound gear. There was around 10 hours of tape to edit from. The reporter is away on another shoot so I can't ask him how long it took to research. That's probably an impossible question to answer anyway because generally all of us research a number of stories at the same time and we are not just focusing on one story. Sometimes we spend months researching a story, but we are doing lots of other things simultaneously, such as logging tapes, supervising edits, writing scripts and organising graphics etc.

Marianne Leitch
Foreign Correspondent

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More arse licking

The new copyright proposal from Attorney General Phil Ruddock has been widely discussed as a step forward. It accepts videotaping from TV and even means that ripping your CDs to your iPod is no longer a criminal act. However, it also contains proposals that have been widely condemned and rejected in the US:
It's funny: the Hollywood cartel couldn't get the US to adopt the Broadcast Flag, so they went and sold this bill of dubious goods to Australians. You'd think Australia would be smarter than that: it's pretty sad to be the easy-lay nation that Hollywood turns to when it can't convince America to put out.
Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising. The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) set new ground for ensuring the influence of US goods in a foreign market, including the rights of cultural products like film and music and television. The Leader of the Opposition at that time, Mark Latham, called the Government "arse lickers".

One of the key issues in Ruddock's proposal is that the 'fair use' provisions now set personal use as a single viewing and attach penalties for not observing this. It means you can timeshift a program once, such as recording with a VCR, but you have to delete the videotape afterwards. It looks silly until you consider videotapes are on the way out and digital devices are taking their place - devices which may enforce this silly law.

As a parent I can imagine the result of letting a child watch a program and then having to tell them they can't watch it a second time.

Maybe we're seeing a paradigm shift in the way consumers view content. Consider how digital rights management (DRM) is incorporated into music and video files and players to limit their use. It's another step along the path from how DVDs won't let you skip the copyright warning and how knows where it'll end up.
..Law allows people to make copies of parts of copyrighted works for the purposes of critiquing or reviewing them.
"That's an exemption thwarted by DRM systems," she said. "The technologies are extending beyond the law they are supposed to uphold."

Increasingly, said Ms Charman, consumers were bumping up against DRM technologies as they use digital media such as downloaded songs.

She said that DRM was less about protecting copyright and more about creating a system in which people rent rather than own the media they spend money on.

"We think people rightly feel that once they buy something, it stays bought," she said.

Maybe before long we won't own anything more than the experience of it - after all, it's the thing that attracted the salesmen who established Hollywood. I forget the studio boss who said "Movies are the only thing you own after you've sold it" but the principle of owning a creative work has seen any number of artists shafted from deciding the fate of the fruits of their labours. Just ask John Fogerty. It's worth noting another piece of recent legislation before the federal Australian parliament proposed that artists collect a percentage of the resale of their works but this was knocked back.

I wonder how long before TV stations are undermined by producers seeking a greater share of profits by selling programs directly to consumers. Wouldn't it be interesting to subscribe to a show, receive it like a podcast and know you're directly contributing to it's continued existence? I've read fans of Star Trek franchises raised money to see them continue. A similar notion has been used to great effect by Crikey when they've been faced with a lawsuit. And, being appreciative of their efforts, I've handed over money every time.

Anyway, before I digress too far on my usual rant about online delivery, one of the key things missing from Australian copyright that's ingrained in the US bill of rights is free speech and especially the role of parody. Australia has provisions for comment as 'fair use' but, as I understand it, the use of copyright protected material for satire is still contentious enough that The Panel was taken to the High Court. The judgment came in their favour but it still means no one is likely to make something like The House of Cosbys in our fair land. (It's also a shame Bill Cosby has shown himself to have no sense of humour, Rolf Harris didn't take The Goodies to court when they used a similar plot device all those years ago.)

Another development that blurs copyright is mashing original material, sometimes from more than one source. It's an extreme extension of postmodernism and the freeplay of ideas in unlimited semiosis. Where art would think itself to be clever in alluding to a quotation or reference, a mashup like Brokeback to the Future gives almost full realisation to the idea there's a homoerotic subtext.

It's clever but would it qualify as fair use? This is where I think Australia's copyright is lacking. It's potentially threatening that we don't have a bill of rights but I think the lack of laws to allow subversion for comment are thin skinned. It's like how our defamation laws favour the claimant in that it's not in the interests of the powers that be to change the situation.

More importantly, it fails to recognise that consumers have changed the way the want to enjoy media. Passive viewing is so 20th century. Here's a great article on the issues surrounding this phenomenon. It is especially relevant as the UK copyright laws are similar to Australia's.

It's a shame the DRM options being pursued by vertically integrated pop culture/technology companies and now reflected in the proposed changes to copyright law all limit the ability to repeat or 'on broadcast' media such as television, video or music. Peer to peer marketing is all the rage at the moment for good reason. The commercial power of material with high production values relies on creating a mass market to attract mass market advertising. Without a large audience we may as well admit most of the stuff on television, the internet and in the stores will be American as the Australian market is being swamped by cheaper imports.

Mark Latham was right when he called the government "a conga line of suckholes". That might seem nasty but I reckon it's justified with this quote from my hero Lawrence Lessig:
From the beginning, government and government agencies have been subject to capture. They are most likely captured when a powerful interest is threatened by either a legal or technical change. That powerful interest too often exerts its influence within the government to get the government to protect it. The rhetoric of protection is of course always public spirited; the reality is something different. Ideas that were as solid as rock in one age, but that, left to themselves would crumble in another, are sustained through this subtle corruption of our political process. (pp.6-7)
In this context it's interesting to look at who has made submissions to the Attorney General regarding copyright reform (and also the changes to the copyright technological provision measures required by 2007 under the FTA, which mean you can't hack a gaming machine you own - not just for playing pirated games but uses like cheap personal computing).
I was pleased to see CSU amongst submissions to the recent discussion paper, stating the following:
Charles Sturt University’s view is that the Act should be amended to allow format shifting for non-commercial, including educational, use of material that has been legally acquired.
Charles Sturt University’s view is: that the transformative use of works should be part of either a specific exception, or of a more general fair use exception; that specific attention ought to be given to the issue of orphaned works; and that no new statutory licences are necessary.
The first statement pushes the answer for timeshifting technologies, like VCRs and the new generation of digital recorders; while the second tackles the potential for us to comment on a commercial work through mashing or manipulating it.

The key issue throughout all of this is that copyright is not being defended by artists, it's being tightened by the companies that distribute their works. There's an industry built around hyping, manufacturing and delivering art to consumers and it's threatened by the consumers becoming artists in their own right now the technology exists to bypass other avenues. You no longer have to build a reputation as an artist to display your clever appropriation of a cultural product and you no longer have to get a record contract to have your songs heard by the masses and get screwed like John Fogerty. And, as Hugh said in the last week of term, you no longer need television stations to broadcast your work. We have the tools and, if you've got the skills, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Journalism aims to objectively present news and current affairs to viewers. In addition (and I understand that I’m treading on some very controversial ground here), news can only really present stories and issues that the public want to see. Journalists, news editors and the likes can select what does and doesn’t make it to air, but that can not (arguably) manufacture people’s interest in them. Thus, journalists must stick to the golden rule of marketing “give the people what they want”.
Controversial ground indeed and I'd like create an opportunity to make these blogs more conversation than reflection by responding. The notion that journalism is objective is an ideal that must be near impossible to practice given the deadlines and subjective experiences that feed into the process. Then there are a number of other issues to consider.

Since we're typing about TV, entertainment values are at play and their impact on ratings. It's different to giving the people what they want because people only get to express this with their remote controls and thus their views are brought to the attention of those making decisions after the broadcast. As a result, stories are being selected based on what the people may want and that raises some interesting arguments in the positions of cultural populism and pessimism. There's also the way the players being reported set the agenda and shape the terms of broader debate as well as the resources available for journalism, whether it's Bob Carr giving soundbites and not answering questions or John Howard dictating which station will screen his debate with the opposition leader prior to an election.

If TV news aims to give people what they want it may explain the degrees of difference between the style of bulletins at Channel Nine and SBS (and it may also explain These entertainment values in turn impact on the stories that run, the time and placement they're given and then, ultimately, who pays for the journalists to sort through all the press releases and select a story. Entertainment values may mean running a story that has footage instead of reading another and this also sets the agenda of the news, look how Beaconsfield was covered in comparison to the refugees who washed up after three weeks at sea for example.

There's another at work issue in that it's cheaper to import news than create it. This means media is repeating press releases rather than investigating for themselves and building upon each successive break. Look at how Fairfax have been offering redundancies to senior journalists to lower costs since they can fill the newspaper with material from overseas, it raises questions about the investment that's being made in domestic news reporting when they're the largest paper not owned by News Ltd. Then there's the question of who pays the advertising dollars that employ the journalists. This raises the old conspiracy theory that news outlets won't run negative stories about companies that pay them for advertising. I'm yet to see this proven, a difficult thing maybe, it always fun to see the public broadcasters can be the most critical commentators on the government though. Telstra is the biggest investor in Australian advertising and it makes me wonder if their PR is succeeding in influencing the press.

Ultimately I think journalists have limited opportunity to shape the news but the role of celebrity means many broadcasters thrive because the public want them as much as the stories they tell. And IMO it's the faceless people behind the scenes who have the greatest influence - just look at the Labor Party ; )
Seriously though, I think that as much as TV stations try to give the public what they want - and this includes challenging and unentertaining news reports - there are more factors influencing what they can provide beyond second guessing what their public will watch.