Music Is Video’s Most Important Non-Verbal Tool
Starting with communication basics (“You can only be aware of one thing at a time, but you can switch rapidly”), Dr. Tom Nash, club Vice President and Director of Learning Opportunities, discussed “The Importance of Music in Your Video” at the March 15 General Meeting, outlining many ways to use music effectively.
NOTE: JIM ROHRS VIDEO-RECORDED THIS PRESENTATION, AND VIDEO ONE’S BILL HEMBERGER HAS VOLUNTEERED TO EDIT RECORDINGS OF GENERAL MEETING PROGRAMS FOR UPLOADING TO THE CLUB YOUTUBE CHANNEL, MAKING THESE VALUABLE PRESENTATIONS PERMANENTLY AVAILABLE.
Tom cited research where subjects wearing headphones were fed a different story into each ear. “They were found to hear and remember only one story,” he said. “However, when something special, such the subject’s name, was included in the other sound track, it broke through to make the subject aware of both feeds.”
How to use this information about the human mind? Make sure music enhances and reinforces your video and does not pull viewer attention away from the main point. Tom listed several additional ways your video can lose viewer attention – by not meeting the viewer’s needs, moving too slowly, lacking emotion, and including distracting elements — such as placing titles on the screen with printed words different from words being heard on the sound track. (Remember the “one thing at a time” rule.)
To regain attention, Tom advised, “make a change, do something different.” That’s why most news shows feature two newscasters, switching from one to the other, he explained. Additional methods of regaining attention are showing how the topic is relevant and introducing strong emotion. “Logic and emotion are not enemies,” Tom stressed. “In video, they reinforce each other.” To stimulate emotion, he advised, tell a story, bring in characters the viewer will identify with, add pictures and music that will evoke strong feelings.
“Music is the most important non-verbal tool we have as videographers,”he said, adding, “You can’t not communicate non-verbally.” Distinguishing between “foreground” and “background” music, Tom explained that both evoke emotion, but foreground music calls attention to itself, often introducing a change, while background music is sound “you’re not aware of.”
“Background music is often used to help establish time and place or to create a mood,” he said. “It’s the art that conceals art.”
Tom also observed that in feature films much background music is unpleasant, suggesting elements like fear or danger. “Movies often make you feel bad for 80 minutes, then very good for 10 minutes, so you can leave the theater happy and relieved.” he said. “That’s why they need a lot of unhappy music.”
In selecting music – a time-consuming process – Tom advised: “You may be too close to your project. Ask others if they think the music you’re considering evokes the desired feelings.” Another factor to keep in mind is the age of the anticipated audience and what associations the music may have for them. Citing music resources, Tom listed the YouTube Audio Library, which provides free music and sound effects online with no copyright issues, and Audacity, a free, open source program for music editing on both PC and Mac computers.
Inspiring Docu-Drama Gives Insight into Manson Saga
Video Club members and guests learned how an inspiring video grew out of one of the most heinous crimes in American
history when Vice President Dr. Tom Nash spoke at the January 18 General Meeting on “The Making of a Docu-Drama” – a film about Manson Family member Charles “Tex” Watson. The 30-minute film was made by Biola University film students at the request of a local church some 20 years after the 1969 murders and is distributed by Calvary Chapel. Watson remains in prison today.
Tom described the project as “the most unusual and challenging film” he ever produced during his 26 years teaching film-making at Biola. The film was made on a tight time-frame during the inter-session between fall and spring semesters. It was shot on 16mm film using one camera with separately-recorded sound and was later transferred to video for distribution.
Closely following actual events, Tom and his students took a docu-drama (rather than a documentary) approach to the material, having Watson tell his story in flashbacks to a woman who came to see him in prison after his conversion to Christianity, which the filmmakers remain convinced is genuine. Tom explained that very little visual material was available about Manson family activities and the incidents leading up to Watson’s involvement. Furthermore, while they were allowed to interview Watson in prison, it was “almost impossible” to film him there.
Major roles were performed by Hollywood professionals (who readily work free on student films for the exposure, Tom explained) – but with one heart-stopping exception. The actor cast as Watson bowed out the night before filming was to begin. The team had to re-cast the role, using a sophomore student who had wanted to play the part. Adding to the drama, the student was in an automobile accident the night he was given the part, but he performed anyway, make-up covering his facial abrasions.
Finding locations – from mansion parties to ranch campfires to courtroom scenes – also posed a challenge to the Biola crew. Prison visiting room scenes were shot in the School of Theology student lounge. The story follows Watson’s change from a high school athlete raised in a church-going Texas family and voted by his classmates “most likely to succeed” to a college drop-out couch-surfing and smoking pot in Los Angeles. Adrift, Watson is drawn to the charismatic, guitar-playing Manson, who described “a better world outside the system” and drew his followers into circles “on the ragged edge of Hollywood,” sometimes including the Beach Boys and music producer Terry Melcher. On his first acid trip, Watson said he felt “unconditional love” from his new mentor. “We thought of it as a new religion with Charlies as our savior,” Watson recalls in the film.
Manson aspired to a singing career, and the actor who played him – conveying an impressive emotional range from tenderness to raging violence – did his own singing. “Fortunately,” Tom added, “he wasn’t a very good singer and neither was Manson,” although Manson described his original songs as “the hymns of the future.”
As Manson descended into less coherent messages, Watson left and then rejoined the family, where Manson was now talking about “Armageddon” and interpreting “song messages from the Beatles” which he said called for revolution to prevent the annihilation of the white race. The family began playing mock games about killing and broke into people’s houses – not stealing, just rearranging things – to “get over any fear” – while Manson warned them “Helter Skelter’s coming down.”
The film handles the murders with restraint. “We don’t show much,” Tom pointed out, “but the music, composed by a student, is really key.”
For a scene conveying Watson’s growing awareness and remorse over what he had done, the team needed “hardened criminals” attending a prison worship service. A group of former inmates called “Set Free” obliged, and a former prison chaplain was recruited and delivered a sermon that perfectly served the filmmakers’ intent – as the film moves to it’s powerful surprise ending.
“No one was killed in the making of this film,” Tom quipped.
The Video Club’s next General Meeting will be Thursday, March 15, at 6:30 pm in the Video Lab. Program TBA.
PHOTO CAPTIONS — At top (photo by Stephanie Brasher), Dr. Tom Nash shows scene of Charles “Doc” Watson in prison. Above right (photo by Barbel Dagostinono), External Video Coordinator John Kelly, with wife Alexandra Scott-Kelly, recorded Tom’s presentation. A library of past General Meetings on video is in preparation, to be placed on the club YouTube channel. DVDs may also be made available to borrow. Above (photo provided by Barbel Dagostino), “Academy” Awards Banquet chair Barbel Dagostino invites members and guests to attend the February 24 event, while Betsy Martin holds up a display of past banquet photos. Lucy Parker (left), presided at the meeting.
Sally Rubin Shared Steps in Film Production
An enthusiastic crowd welcomed back documentary filmmaker Sally Rubin at our November 16 General Meeting. An Assistant Professor in Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Rubin has addressed the club twice before — in March, 2016, with an overview of documentary filmmaking and in March, 2017, on earning peoples’ trust when filming. This time, she took us through the process of funding and producing her current feature-length documentary.
Rubin, co-director Ashley York, and their team began work on their documentary, Hillbilly: Appalachia in Film and Television, in 2013 and they’ve been editing for the past nine months. Info on the project is available at hillbillymovie.com. The film provides a thoughtful look at the often-maligned and stereotyped residents of Appalachia. “They’re the only people it’s still politically correct to make fun of,” Rubin observed. The film’s trailer, which Rubin showed, states, “Everybody has a hillbilly. Everybody has somebody they can feel superior to.”
Their interest in the project came out of their backgrounds: York grew up in the Kentucky mountains, and Rubin’s mother is from eastern Tennessee. Starting with their own seed money, the filmmakers went looking for financial support and eventually received a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with other grants. “It was hard at first to raise money for a film about obscure, working-class white folks,” Rubin recalled. The co-directors have spent close to $90,000 on editing and have budgeted $75,000 to obtain clearance rights, along with other costs, but have paid themselves “practically nothing.” Said Rubin: “One reason why I teach is so I can make the films I want to make.”
The project has changed its focus during production – a common phenomenon in documentaries, Rubin observed. “Your film never ends up in the place where it began.” While much of the documentary deals with “hillbilly” caricatures in film and television (the team has gathered over 500 hours of archival footage), a new thread recently emerged, focusing on York and her Southern roots. “Well into the film, on the advice of a successful science fiction writer, we put the co-director into the film,” said Rubin. “It took a long time to find it, but she became the through-line for the movie.”
While the filmmakers stress that their approach is non-political, an unexpected twist came with President Trump’s election, drawing new attention to his rural, white supporters. The opioid epidemic has also turned a spotlight on the region. “Appalachia is a microcosm of America,” said Rubin, adding, “Opioid addiction is actually worst in rural Oregon.” Rubin and York are also working a Native American presence into the film and have many hours of interviews with academics and other experts. “Out of a two-hour interview, we may use 30 seconds or a minute,” she said.
As their film nears completion, the co-directors have extensive plans for distribution. “We hope to get it into a substantial festival,” Rubin stated, adding, “The goal of all documentary filmmakers these day is to sell their film to Netflix or PBS – to get it out there streaming.” Educational use is another goal. Rubin is a co-owner of New Day Films, a cooperative which sells films to schools and colleges. Home video sales are an option, as is re-purposing the material into shortened segments for classroom use or into web-based photo-collages on related topics, such as women in Appalachia.
Asked about technical aspect of production, Rubin praised the team’s “amazing cinematographer,” who shot with a Canon C300 and “never once lit anything.” “The movie isn’t inherently that visual,” she said, “but our cinematographer brought it to life.” They began editing in Final Cut Pro, but have switched to Premier Pro. “I don’t know anyone who’s on Final Cut anymore,” Rubin quipped. Distance has not impeded the project. Their editor lives in Brooklyn,. while Rubin and York live in LA. On getting clearances for proprietary material, Rubin pointed to “fair use” practices which permit clips of limited length to be reproduced for purposes of critique.
As for interviewing, the filmmakers try to make their interviews “organic – nothing formal.” “We try to make people feel listened to and heard,” Rubin said. “We often loosen things up by talking about ourselves.”
The co-directors expect their film to end up at about 85 minutes, out of 150 hours of footage, plus the archival film – not a high ratio, according to Rubin, who started making documentaries at age 14 and worked as a film editor prior to her teaching career. She holds an M.A. in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University and has completed many documentary films shown on PBS, at major film festivals, and other venues.
A Bit of Advice
Some general wisdom for would-be documentary filmmakers? “If it makes a better article than a movie, don’t make it,” Rubin advised, quoting one of her film professors. And why make documentary films? “You can use your documentary to learn more about a topic you are passionate about,” she said. Asked how to pronounce “Appalachia,” she instructed, “It’s like ‘throw an apple at cha.’” Rubin can be reached at email@example.com.