Monday, February 11, 2008

109. GreenScreen Goleta Beach: A Great Day with Dr. Art Sylvester!

Dr. Arthur Sylvester, photoshopped image from

Goleta Beach map, image from

Santa Barbara County, from

Santa Barbara County within California, United States,

Interview Questions, Page 1

Interview Questions, Page 2

Interview Questions, Page 3

Interview Questions, Page 4

Interview Questions PDF File:
Right now I am mentally exhausted (probably more from anxiety due to the upcoming AAAS conference), but I am so relieved that today's shoot for Goleta Beach Greenscreen went very well (or so I think!). It was the first time I was put in charge as the "interviewer" and also advising people what to do--like being the question-asker or frame the camera in a certain way, or check the sound, etcetera--and I feel stress the entire time because all summer of 2007 I was a solo film-maker and suddenly I have a crew of three other people, and oh gosh, I feel so sorry for them they have to put up with me! I don't like bossing people around, so every time I tell someone to do something, I try to make it more open-ended, like "this seems to be the best set-up, but adjust accordingly. I trust your judgment." or "Well, ask these set of questions, but if you have any questions in the back of your mind, please ask Dr. Sylvester!" or my "Well, I'm saying this but take-it-or-leave-it" trademark disclaimer about my giving advice. I must gloat and rave that my crew--"Ace," Noah, Aaron--was *spectacular*! We were all so well coordinated! I felt that moment where it's like you are an individual, but you collaborate so well in a group that the summation of the individuals creates a larger coordinated whole, like some type of functional super-organism. Not that I'm into Gaia or anything. But it's the first time I felt that way. Aaron was in charge of good audio, a camera on a tripod, and the more "distancing 3/4 body shot" of Dr. Sylvester, which also included his hand motions, and the aesthetics of Goleta Beach behind him. I already had a pre-existing interview, so Noah (very intelligent and opinionated individual [in a good way], I overheard him talking about the United States of Amnesia) got to ask the questions. I handed him the interview sheet and realized my priority was superb audio and video and I can't get that while simultaneously interviewing (without a tripod). And gxd forbid, I was not using a tripod. I was being as cautiously playful with the shots as possible. I know I messed up the first 4-6 minutes of audio of a 60 minute tape--the audio needs to be raised higher when edited in the computer for those few minuts--and I know I messed up in tiny fragments of where the camera was pointed in terms of visuals and where Dr. Sylvester was talking, but overall I think it was good material. At least we have 56 minutes of solid audio. Amen for my new audiotechnica shotgun mic I strapped down to my camera with a rubber band and bungee cord (old school, eh?)! And Ace? I found out retroactively he got a parking ticket that morning. That sucks! Ace came a little late because he was trying to assemble the boom pole and the shotgun mic. It ended up that the assembled contraption didn't work. Well, that's why I got the shotgun mic. Can never rely entirely on the Film and Media Department for optimal equipment. We already had enough audio difficulties this entire filming experience! Ace did some very creative B roll during the first part of our interview, and he was a much needed back-up interview camera when Dr. Sylvester was being the "weather man" for Goleta Beach coastal erosion, making conceptual diagrams on the white board I bought at Costco! Ace also accompanied me to Goleta Beach (we drove there in my dirty dirty dirty car... poor Ace and Dr. Sylvester!) and Dr. Sylvester gave us a quick ten-minute point-around just like he did to a local politician in terms of where all the key factors were located on the beach: (1) the new permeable groin, (2) the rock revetment, (3) the gas-lines and pipes, and (4) other minor issues about the park and the beach. It was a very good and brief orientation. Ace questioned me on partly chopping off Dr. Sylvester's head with my framing. I said it's a visual aesthetic technique that I do in photography and people do all the time in the magazines. That was a good question. I tried to do rule of thirds as much as possible, but I do admit sometimes my hands were shaking when holding the camera. I had to use my chest and rib cage as support. I was in pain and stiff after a while of doing that! Dr. Sylvester teased me, wondering why I didn't use the tripod in the first place! Well, first off, the Film and Media Department tripods aren't in the best of shape (they're giving us the tiny ones) and I have more room for creative motion if I just hold the camera. I can be more adaptive to the situation! So I'll sacrifice the pain for a creative picture any day!

And of course, Dr. Sylvester (seismologist, emeritus, Earth Sciences Department at UC Santa Barbara) was slick, smooth, clear, to-the-point, visual, and as usual--very lively, energetic, friendly, and approachable. I do admit--I love working with professors who have just started or are on the verge of being or are emeritus. Why? Because they have TIME on their hands. Their plates are not as full as those other profs. It's like they're real human beings, not machines working like they're on overtime in a factory of imprinting students' brains and cranking papers to get their tenures or promotions or whatever bureaucratic carrots these energizer bunnies are chasing after. I told my mom about Dr. Sylvester and she said she was very glad to hear that caring, intelligent, general-minded professors still exist in the university!

The shoot didn't go fully as what was planned in the question list and shot list I prepared, but it actually went even BETTER. At first I thought we were going to interview Dr. Sylvester in the office. It showed in my interview sketch, as I was just trying to create a controlled environment in my mind so we can clearly talk about the basics and not get distracted by outsider influences. But the day was so beautiful, so warm, and no wind... so we went outside to the Anacapa steps (the north end of the parking lot by the Marine Science Institute, also where Dr. Sylvester takes repeat photography) and did the main chunks of the interview all around there! Plus, it was Monday, so we didn't deal with a lot of student traffic; just a couple of surfers here and there. I think student beach-goers were discouraged simply because the tide was so high. The only major noise distractions we had were cars starting their engines. So... the order of the interview: (1) Noah asked very basic overview questions, (2) then more specific questions about Goleta Beach, related to visualization processes, (3) Dr. Sylvester did an in situ art gallery showing of his comparative photography of waxing and waning of UCSB beach, (4) then followed by Dr. Sylvester's coastal drawings of factors that make the beach and alter the beach structure when placing certain manmade features into the system, and (5) Ace and I accompanied Dr. Sylvester to Goleta Beach as he did a 10-minute pointing-here-and-there. Then we went back, picked up equipment, said thanks, went to Ace's car to drop off the technological baggage, heard from my friend Oscar, and were on our way to the weekly Greenscreen meeting (Monday's 1-2pm). I was there a short time, but it looks like I'll be pitching in ideas about how to edit value systems and sense of place portions of the film... and also it seems I am tentatively responsible for organizing the Dr. Ed Keller (a geologist at UCSB too!) interview as well. We'll for sure have similar methods and structures to the interview. It depends when Alexios will come back! When we were at the digital editing lab, I turned in the three tapes from the shoot today to Nicole Bulalacao (our new main editor!); it was a very, very rewarding feeling. I told her, "Oh boy! Nicole's our editor... we gotta give her some quality stuff! Transform drabby interviews into Saturday Night Live!" She laughed, and I sincerely hope she likes what she got!

To make a long story short, about a week ago I was going through post-turn-in-grad-school-applications-withdrawal, and I drove up to UCSB for the Greenscreen meeting. I was in there late. I plopped down, instantly found out that Alexios (main interviewer, director) had a family emergency in Greece, and then Nicole and Lauren (producers, organizers of the film) asked me if I wanted to do the interview with Dr. Sylvester next Monday. It was a very spontaneous response from my part, and I said, "okay!" I guess it was a case where a lot of heavy weight was dumped from my brain... freed up tremendously... and then instantly re-occupied with Goleta Beach matters, except this time, I'm deeper in the rabbithole with this film, much deeper than I thought! My mind started racing with all the pre-existing ideas I had and shared with the group but were never executed. I raced around, went to talk with Dr. Sylvester THAT DAY at his office in between 4-5:30, and he gave me the low-down with his website (check out his website above, underneath his photograph) and the situation of Goleta Beach from his perspective. And I coaxed him into the idea of drawing stuff. I told him I would make a question list that night (which I did), and I sent it to him. We then reconvened on Friday (I drove from Riverside to S-ba, accidentally missed Dave Panitz' course on website design due to traffic), and talked about what he thought of the questions.

Well to say in short, it's a very comforting feeling to talk to Dr. Sylvester. I feel like I'm right at home talking with my dad. They both practice comparative ground photography. They both listen to classical music. And both of their offices are packed with books and documents and maps and all sorts of funny bumper stickers and quotes. Not only that, Dr. Sylvester's main image on his website is of him surrounded in a field of poppies:. Ironically, my dad's current research us on historical wildflowers of California! I also felt at home because Dr. Sylvester had time to talk to me, like my dad gives me time... and LOTS of patience. Few professors have that kind of time to talk and think about big issues and ideas... and not rush you off so they can do the next thing. We even got into philosophical discussions about communicating science--like word choice, the notion of how much information to tell--enough to understand but not too much to bore, and even the idea of visualizing complex ideas, not dumbing down. By the end of our conversation on Friday, Dr. Sylvester informed me that his son-in-law Andy Bowers is in charge of an experimental media division of NPR called "SlateV" stationed in Santa Monica, and that the situation is so good and so hands-off and so breaking-habits-of-existing mass-media corporations, that it would probably be the best match for my situation in terms of a summer internship! I'm really excited and I'm most likely going to pursue such a rare opportunity!

By the time Monday rolled around (which is today), Dr. Sylvester and I were both very n-sync, like-minded, and very pre-meditated about the entire shoot. He actually provided a lot of feedback in terms of setup and backdrop (it turns out that Dr. Sylvester's had previous experience in getting interviews from news stations, like ABC Primetime!) And then the shoot happened, and voila, here I am, writing my little mind's heart out about how well it seemed to go! THE ONE LESSON I LEARNED ABOUT COLLABORATIVE PRE-MEDITATED INTERVIEWS IS THAT THE INTERVIEW YOU GET OUT OF IT TENDS TO BE A GEM. The interview may seem predictable and routine since it's pre-meditated, but it also challenges you to do even more spontaneous and weirder gutsy things on the shoot! I think with documentaries, it's probably good to do two interviews: one interview to document the intrinsic process of human spontaneity, and a secondary pre-meditated interview to generate concrete solidity in story-line and plot. Then merge both together, and presto! Maybe something that will work for Nicole to edit! :-)

I think I'm all written out, but I am glad I made it through this day. The first time of being in charge of a crew in a decentralized way. I'm so thankful for everyone! I just hope everyone else had just as much educational fun as I did! Now, I for sure shall take a nap!

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