Jingles of Christmas 4: Directing

And then we come to the final topic. The topic of directing. The toughest. Let’s dive right in!

Conceptual integrity

In the writing part, I told you something about the infinite resources of dreamland. However, did you know that there are a thousand dream-lands? Each unique. With it’s own different style and atmosphere? Well there are. So, in my opinion, the first task of a director is to let the actors in, into his dreamland. Or rather, the writer’s dreamland. Meaning the actors must understand the world in which they will be acting. Each actor must understand who they are. Their every action, mentality should match the one that the writer first imagined. Otherwise things will go different. And a different story will be told than the one originally planned.

So, one role of the director is to be the guardian of conceptual integrity. Everyone involved in the play should know exactly what is going on. How to achieve this goal? Well, a detailed document is an effective means to achieve this goal. However, it shouldn’t be so detailed that it becomes so long that nobody reads it… So, one needs to strike a balance between explaining important things and leaving out unimportant things. However, I’ll not go into the details of how to write this document because it’s a big topic altogether.

So, the main point is, maintain the conceptual integrity of the plot. And let everyone involved understand it’s ins and outs.

Being the character

Here, for the most part, I’m assuming that the writer and the director are the same people. However, if they are not, the writer should be at least a co-director. Otherwise the conceptual integrity will surely be compromised. Especially, in this part. The next part is, to make the actors understand their character. And to do that, the director and the actors need to have an conversation about the character.

I think that I did pretty well in these matters and I’m gonna describe what I did. The first question I asked to each actor was, how do you imagine your character. How does your character think, act and move around. But, because we were short on time, I didn’t have enough time to exhaustively have these discussions. However, by God’s grace, whatever happened, happened pretty well. So, I’m content with it.

The ease of understanding

This point goes along with the third point I made about writing. The checklist of assumptions. Basically, don’t make many complex scenes. Also, make everything easy to understand for the audience. Ditch the realism and logic in the favor of understandability where you need to. Meaning, let the audience see bizarre things that do mean something and they can easily understand instead of the showing them real things that are perfectly sensible and real, but hard to understand.

The narrator can do some magic in this part, however, too much use of narration will make the play weak.

I think, these are the main points that one needs to remember when one directs a skit. However, except for the second point, the other two can be applied in any other discipline as well. I know that it applies into programming. It’s from there these points are coming. Not the other way around.

Jingles of Christmas 3: Sound Editing

There isn’t much to talk about in topic of sound editing ( <– that last statement is meant to show you how ignorant I am… ) except a few things. Let’s go over them quickly…

Audacity

That’s what I used to do the editing. It’s a pretty good piece of software which supports unlimited number of tracks. Also, the interface is pretty easy to understand. It took be about 5 minutes to get up to speed and start editing the audio. It also has a pretty good list of effects to apply to the audio.. which is nice. However, because the quality of the recorded audio wasn’t very good, I avoided most of them. However, I did play around with it and it has some great potential.

Do not clip the recorded audio

That’s what I did. Since the recording was done by your favorite rookie(that’s me!) in sound editing, it had it’s highs and lows. Meaning, in some places the volume was very high, in others very low. So, I had to normalize it. The way I did it was to amplify the audio signal. In which on more than one occasion, I clipped the audio. Meaning… um.. I don’t know the jargon to describe it… so I’m not gonna…

So, by doing it, I further reduced the quality of the sound! The lesson is, DON’T DO IT AGAIN!

Keep the dialogues for each person separated

Well, I actually did this. However, it was so useful that I don’t want to forget it. So, I’m going to write it down here: Keep the dialogues for each person separated.

The bell rings again!

And it rings again afterwards! What does it mean? All this bell ringing? Ah well, the period has changed… Ah! Do you hear the long bell? It’s recess time! Who told you it’s recess? The bell. It speaks! It’s got its own language!

So does every sound editing project has it’s own language. For example, a doorbell rings. When it rings you know that someone has come. If the doorbell rings as background music, you wouldn’t think suddenly that the volcano has erupted. Nor would you think that the aliens of the bell planet has contacted us. You’ll think that someone has come in the skit. So, understand that sound is it’s own language and use it intelligently.

If you are doing something repeatedly in the skit, use the same sounds for these things every time, this way, the audience will learn the language of your skit as well and when they hear the same sound again, they will know what is going on.

The continual rhythm

The lesson is not about sound editing, rather of psychology. It is about the mind of the audience. If you use music in the skit and the music stops, the audience thinks that the skit is over before it is actually over. So, don’t let it stop. Let it play continuously.

So, those are the general lessons that I learned which can be used again. Other stuff was plainly incidental and related to the software that I used.

Jingles of Christmas 2: Recording

This post is part of the Jingles of Christmas series. In this post, I discuss the lessons I learned about recording the dialogues. Read on!

Shooting a moving target

As I discussed in the post before this one, I didn’t have a concrete script. So, there were a few modifications made into the skit plot. A few of them happened after the recording was over. So, I had to record the dialogues again for the changed parts. I also had to add/modify music for these parts and it took extra time. Half the time doing these things was wasted because I had to set the timings of all the other scenes following this one again. which was a repetitive task which could have been avoided if I had the dialogues 100% ready before I started the recording. So, that’s a lesson to learn.

I sound like the GODZILLA!

Well, nobody told me that they sounded like the Godzilla after listening to their own voice in the recordings however, there were a few occasion where the voice actors asked me to improve their voice using some editing magic. Problem was, I was a toddler playing at a wizard’s game. This was my first attempt at recording and editing things. However, there was a particular role in the skit that was the longest.

And as I heard the recording of that character, I could make out the difference between the things that were recorded the first and the things that were recorded the last. The latter was better than the former. So, If I could have given the actors a little time to practice on the mic, I think a lot of these complaints could have been avoided and also, the actors would have been much more comfortable, and the quality would have been much better.

Godzilla ate a cat!

Hmm, sit down. I’ll tell you the story. Godzilla ate a cat. However, the cat was very brave and stubborn. It wouldn’t go down easily. So, when the Godzilla was trying to devour the cat, the cat struck the vocal cords of Godzilla with a tremendous blow. However, that was not enough. And to the courageous cat’s dismay, the Godzilla devoured it. Godzilla was proud and when it tried to announce it’s monumental victory to the world with the help of a grand battle cry, it was a moment of a startling surprise. “Meow” It said. The blow to the vocal cords of Godzilla had changed it’s voice and the Godzilla now sounded exactly like the cat. On that day, the cat had slain the Godzilla!

Well, that’s what happened. In one particular scene when I was recording, the voice of the actor between to consequent dialogues changed as if it were spoken by two different people. But it wasn’t. So, how was this magical feat achieved? Simple. The mic was changed.

So, the lesson is, let one actor use only one mic and record their dialogues on the same mixer settings. If there is any change in between, the voice will change.

Go red if you see red

This is a basic. When recording anything, don’t let the signal turn red. It means it’s clipping the audio. Meaning it’s not capturing the whole thing but it’s loosing some audio information. It will be a real trouble when editing and applying effects. How do you solve it? Don’t keep the mic so close as if it were an ice cream and you were eating it…

If it still doesn’t help, then turn down the gain.

Noel’s law of dialogue recordings

Here’s the law: When you record the dialogues of a skit, the length of skit shrinks to half of it’s approximate duration of performance.

A little bit of data: About 12 pages of dialogues printed on an A4 paper with 10pts font size takes about 17 minutes when recorded.

Jingles of Christmas 1: Writing

NOTE: When I started writing this post, I didn’t think that it would get so long. So, I’m gonna do it in 4 parts. Each one focused on one particular topic. Writing, recording, sound editing and directing. This one will be focused on skit writing.

This Christmas, we had ICPF outreaches in schools. Of which I had the privilege to be a part of. The preparations for this programs started just a couple of weeks ago and I had the opportunity to write a skit to perform. And when it was (more or less) written, I had to direct it, record the dialogues, edit the recordings and add music. And, it was my first time doing each of these tasks so it was certain that I would make some mistakes. And as the saying goes, “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it”. So, here I’d like to record my experiences. And then, I’d reflect a bit upon my approaches and leave some notes for myself so when I’m in position of doing these things again, I would not make the same mistakes again.

A thousand ideas and the death of skit

As far as writing a script goes, believe me when I tell you, ideas can make you… crazy. In the past couple of weeks, there has been more than one occasion when I was on the verge of loosing my sanity. All because of amazing, awesome and fascinating ideas. Yes, I am exaggerating it, however some points need to be exaggerated in order to do justice to them. This is one such point. Because everything else depends on the script.

If I were to go back to my programming roots, I’d say that the script is the system architecture. The quality of the system depends on its architecture and if the architecture is in disarray, the system won’t last much. When we translate this into script writing, it means, “A thousand ideas and the death of skit”.

So, what am I saying? Are ideas bad? No. Every idea has its place and when it is misplaced it creates havoc. Good ideas can be made great ideas if you know the right place to put them to. There is only one way to know if it’s right to put an idea in any endeavor. It is the mission. The goal. Or the objective. The purpose.

The one question that needs to be answered before any scripting starts is, “What do I want to communicate through this skit?” I made the terrible mistake of not asking this question beforehand and now when do ask it of the skit that I have written, I get no reply. It just sits there, silently, mocking me. Oh well, maybe a bit of mockery will help me remember the lesson… so I sit there staring at it…

So, once the you have a clear goal, you can check and see if a certain idea fits. The lesson is, define a goal and stick to it. Then bring out your idea canon and shoot at your goal. If the idea sticks, great. If it doesn’t, let it rest.

Infinite resources of dreamland

Just like the previous lesson, this is also not a particularly related to writing a script. It can be applied in pretty much every other discipline. The lesson is of infinite resources.

Let me tell you why computers are so successful. The reason is not because they are fast and efficient. They are very good at calculations. That’s why the banks use them. But have you ever wondered, why do graphic designers, animators, architects, engineers and scientists use them? Their jobs do not require them to be fast and efficient, their job is to create new designs, to solve problems, to shape new concepts. And do you know how they do it? They use their BRAINZ. 😉

So, where does computers come in? They come into use in the second phase of their jobs. The first phase is, they conceive of the design, solution or concept in their minds. Designers and animators, use the near infinite resources of the world behind the magic glass and semi-materialize their design/imagination in the real world. No other medium other than computers can give the designers the luxury of “Undo” as easily as a computer does. The work flow of the engineers and scientists also go from a similar phase. So the reason why computers are so successful is because you can project your ideas onto a computer screen without much restraint. In the case of game designers, the world they create is only limited by their imagination. There isn’t much data loss between the imagination and the projection on the screen. There isn’t much information loss in the translation between the imagination and the computer screen.

How are the success of computers and the work flow of the designers relate to the topic of writing a skit? Well, it connects very well. Maybe, it’s not a problem for the older generation which didn’t have computers and thus had a much stronger sense of reality. Not so with me and my generation. I have seen bizarre worlds and strange beasts. I have seen people disappear in thin air. I have seen men fly by throwing and then holding onto the thrown hammer (What the heck, Thor?). And before I get any more poetic, let me wrap up this lesson.

The lesson is, the stage is not dreamland. There is a very BIG information loss between your imagination and the stage. You won’t have infinite resources and you won’t be able to give magical effects around your actors. Maybe you imagined a scene in a cave and another in a desert. Well, on the stage you won’t have either. The place called the stage exists in the real world. Plan for it. Minimize the use of props and costumes (It’s extra baggage to carry around and it takes time to put up the costumes). And then, imagine the play being done in different settings at different times of the day.

The checklist of assumptions

In the first lesson, I told you to ask a particular question before you start writing the script. Well this activity must be done when the script draft is written. The activity is to identify the assumptions that are made about and about the knowledge of the audience. In the beginning the question was, “What do you want to communicate?” However, the process of communication will be different when you are explaining a programming concept to a child and when you are explaining the same concept to a fellow programmer.

So, what is the exact element that makes the difference? Assumptions. I tell you. You instinctively assume that your fellow programmer knows certain programming concepts which will result in you using a lot of jargon. However, when talking to a child about the same concept, you won’t use that jargon(If you do, take a class in communication skills).

In the same way, if we are asking the question, “What do you want to communicate?”, we should also ask the question “To whom we want to communicate?” Once the audience has been decided, go over the script and identify the assumptions that you have made in the skit. The things that you used have as common knowledge. And if you find any assumptions that you know that the target audience doesn’t know about, eliminate those.

Metaphors: Eternal creatures of human understanding

This might not apply to every script, however when you are creating a skit to communicate something, sometimes it might be better to use metaphors. Let me quote Fernando J. Corbato on the importance of metaphors:

The value of metaphors should not be underestimated. Metaphors have the virtue of an expected behavior that is understood by all. Unnecessary communication and misunderstandings are reduced. Learning and education are quicker. In effect, metaphors are a way of internalizing and abstracting concepts, allowing one’s thinking to be on a higher plane and low-level mistakes to be avoided.

Sometimes, the things that you want to communicate can’t be communicated using normal means, you might need to make too much assumptions which might result in poor communication. However, these are the cases where metaphors really shine.