Coming to university of westminster as an exchange student, I’m thrilled to be able to present myself. I grew up in mainland China, then went to pursue my bachelor degree in Hong Kong Baptist University, major in Film and Media Art. Some of my experience of storytelling with digital media is listed below.
I’ve been primarily using videos to tell stories as a film student, but film shall be considered as an organic entirety of both audio and video. For instance, in the film Vicine, I collaborate with my friend, who is a music student, to utilise music as a compelling yet subtle practise for atmosphere-building.
Image-retouching is a fascinating way of telling a story. By dramatising certain elements within the frame, one single picture can be good enough to tell an entire story. Such simplicity is exclusively belonged to still image.
Sensory organs are human’s fundamental approach for sensing the world. As a film or radio creator, in some extent, I think we have the privilege to play with two of the human’s elemental nature – visual and acoustic faculties. By nicely arranging a series of audio or video clips, we present a parallel world where audience can get emotionally attached. Isn’t it fascinating? As mentioned in Mr. Elmes’s lecture, audio and video often work together to maximise the effectiveness of storytelling, and I believe there are reasons behind such combination.
Firstly, it is important to stress the fact that under the media-exploding society we are living in, everyone can be easily distracted due to the massive amount of resources available online. Such situation makes finding an efficient and practical way of drawing people’s attention become extremely vital, therefore, I believe the first and most basic function about combining audio and visuals is creating interest. Just like when sound was introduced to the film industry, silent films no longer had any market, or like nowadays BBC radio program is using visual element for its online radio show, audience is not satisfied with singular visual or acoustic input anymore. They want to simultaneously get acoustically amused and visually stimulated.
And let’s talk about effectiveness. No matter in audio or video project, getting the message that you expect delivered is crucial. The last thing you want is you fail to put all your ideas into your work because of the limited time frame, or your audience completely misunderstand it. Fortunately, combining audio and visuals can help in both cases.
It can help pack more information in a fixed time. For instance, if I need a scene where a guy enters a room and closes the door, I can shoot him entering the door following with the sound of a door closed. Message got perfectly delivered, and mostly importantly, instead of wasting the time to show the door closed, I can use that few precious seconds to show things like the interior of the room, which puts more information into this scene.
It can also diminish misunderstanding. Say I am doing a radio piece and I got two contributors whose voices are extremely similar. By showing their faces on screen when they are speaking (well that’s kind of weird, but despite aesthetics we are just speaking about effectiveness), audience can easily distinguish who is speaking right now. Problem solved.
Irrelevantly speaking, I heard scientists are now developing TV that can release odour. When olfactory system is included, there will be a drastic change for the way of storytelling in media.
Dressy Girls by Lena Eckert-Erdheim
I still remember during my very first script-writing class, my teacher told me that all good stories are in some way relatable to the audience. I believe the same applies to non-fictional stories as well.
The anxiety about appearance, friendship, grade and self-esteem etc. during one’s adolescence is probably one of the most universal thing on earth. As mentioned by Lena in her article, such anxiety is noticed by the mass and there are experts who study specifically about it, however, the real adolescents, who are actually being through such anxiety, are often absent during the discussion. It is exactly this strange absence and her indignation about women being misrepresented in the media drove Lena to initiate her project. I truly appreciate her spirit of letting herself be inspired by her own surrounding and I do believe this is if not the best, then one of the best ways to discover a subject matter. Personally, I am also really into the subject of feminism, therefore I go to listen to the dressy girls audio clip right after I finish reading the article, and I got to say, even though the topic of this slut-shaming, dress-whatever-you-want, girls-power thing is a bit out-dated in the year of 2016, there is still something strikes me.
The idea in those girls’ mind is simple: the more skin I show, the more attention I get; the more attention I get, the better boyfriend and more girlfriends I have. In the end, it is just their inner insecurity make them believe they will be safe and joyful with friends around. Isn’t it the same for Lena? She said in the article she doesn’t have any much in common with those girls, but I would argue that they actually are very alike. Lena chose heavy clothes to cover her body to feel safe, and those other girls decided to display their body to feel safe. At the end of the day, they are all dealing with the sense of insecurity that every teenager has.
And now I suddenly realise what strikes me from this very traditionally female-empowering piece, which seems pretty irrelevant to me. I was insecure, or should I say I still am. This day-to-day insecurity haunted me, exhausted me for such a long time that I barely notice its existence anymore, but Lena’ work reminds me of it. In some extent, I am no different than a seventeen-year-old teenage girl, and I bet, there are tons of adults out there who look properly, dress fancily, talk decently but are deeply insecure about themselves just like I am, and when they go back home on a Friday evening, accidentally find an audio project called dressy girls and click on it, they will also be stroked.
Isn’t it the way how story connects us?
In 2009, New York Times published a multimedia series called One in 8 Million. This collection of work focuses on using sound and images to present stories of commons’ life in New York City, how each and every individual struggles with his or her own difficulty, or just simply how their life is. The unique concept of this work arouses many discussion and brings a fresh breeze to the media industry. It even won an Emmy Award, which it surely deserves. Simply by a few 3-5 minute pieces, this collection demonstrates how simple can a story be yet still be capable of delivering emotional resonance. It has been long forgotten how powerful can an uncomplicated story be, therefore, it becomes necessary and helpful for us to discover how One in 8 Million stands out from the rest works by its storytelling skill and documentary-alike approach, using two examples within this collection: The Type A Teenager and The Mambo Dancer.
First of all, by letting people narrate their own stories, a sense of intimacy gets delivered to the audience.
In The Type A Teenager, we first hear she confess she always has to keep herself busy, and then it’s she explaining her daily schedule with a crazy amount of matters. Her confidence is distinct even merely through voice, and you can tell her competitiveness simply by her accelerated talking speed. Such built-up makes audience wonder why she chooses this lifestyle and what is the motivation. After listing out all her achievement in different aspects of her life, she makes audience realise her hard work is paying off, and unlike the common assumption of type A students are forced by their parents, she is doing all her endeavour by her own will. However, her excellence in all these aspects also makes her have no time for socialising. By showing the pros and cons of being a type A student by the girl herself, a sense of objectiveness is injected in the story, and it further correlates with audience, with its dedramatisation and revivification of type A teenagers to increase the similarity between audience and the subject.
In The Mambo Dancer, with the vibrating dance music and her straightforward admiration for dancing, the mambo dancer’s passion is vividly depicted, however, this hyper-positive and flirtatious image is soon broken by she comparing dance as a safe sex and how she is in full control of it. Even though no direct sentence being said, audience can realise this mambo dancer may have some memorable relationship, and a feeling of vulnerability is attached with her. In another word, dancing becomes her physical release and emotional exit. Moreover, her following confession about previous addiction issue elevates the story to a human-to-human level. Dancing is her salvation from the dreary life and wounded soul. Starting from a superficial portrayal of a dancer, the story gradually shifts to an in-depth exploration about a middle-aged woman and her life struggle. Such subtle treatment lets audience deeply related with the story without even noticing it.
All in all, One in 8 Million achieves a deeply emotional resonance with a seemingly effortless endeavour. It shall always be a reminder as simple but authentic story is the most compelling one.
Starting from a simple question that sparked in my mind, the journey of exploring mass opinions of queen Elizabeth the second brings me to a platform where I can perceive monarchy with an international perspective, furthermore, it strengthens my own cultural awareness. I would like to share how I generate the idea from an individual comment to a broader perception which can resonate with other people, and how I deal with the problems I encountered.
The structure of this project was decided at a very early stage: me narrating a journey of finding out how people think about monarchy. The reason for such structure is that I want to create a sense of participation inviting audience to join this journey with me to find out the truth, hence the piece can be more engaging and cohesive. After the pitching session with Simon, one primary issue is the lack of a qualified point of view throughout the entire work as a guidance. Therefore, I was kindly offered with plentiful contact information to people who have personal contact with the queen herself or reputable scholars specifying in the study related to the queen. Fortunately I got the consent to have an interview with professor Philip Murphy. This interview not only contributes enormously to my project, but also freshens my idea and inspires me a lot. One unexpected thing happened during the time of making this project is Donald Trump’s presidency. This controversial figure arouses many people’s concern about democracy and its future. Since monarchy is often questioned about whether it is compatible with democracy or not, I decided to incorporate the discussion of American democracy into this work, as a more in-depth investigation and a touch of international awareness. I also have three lovely British people who are so kind to help me out, and their voices work as a fragment of commons (I do fully understand the limited number of interviewees may cause misrepresentation, therefore I do not expect to use them as representation of British in general).
The biggest difficulty for me throughout this project is probably making the first step to invite people for an interview. I was very worried about my English and did not want to embarrass myself, but the higher the pressure, the greater the motivation. I did very detailed preparation before any interviews, with a question list in hand. I feel very grateful about all my interviewees are very understanding, accepting and open-minded, moreover, hearing Simon’s encourage throughout the whole process is also very comforting. Expect some technical problems of recording, the result of interviews is rather satisfactory.
I do notice how my mind changes during the process. At the beginning, I was quite skeptical, almost antagonistic about monarchy, but then with knowledge coming into my mind through books, movies and conversation with various people, I surprisingly find out my choice of this subject matter is a subconscious reflection of my own cultural background. Therefore, in some extent, the making of this project, even though is solely related to British society, has a subtle correlation with my own culture if you really dig into it. I do enjoy such cultural awareness.
All in all, I hope this work can be somehow inspiring for British people regarding how they see their identity, as I firmly believe a sense of culture exchange is well executed in this piece.