Interview Sequence - The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia

VICE – The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia

The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia is a 2009 documentary released by VICE, or rather, under the playfully named ‘The VICE Guide to Travel’. VICE is an international magazine focused on arts, culture, and news topics. Founded in 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in later years the company expanded into Vice Media, with divisions including the magazine, a website, a film production company, a record label, and a publishing imprint. They so far have a very interesting online collection of educational, interesting, and sometimes controversial films.

I am going to look briefly at the interview held with the ex-warlord who went under the pseudonym of ‘General Bin Laden’ (08:35 – 12:10), and how it is filmed, and presented to the audience in a way that conveys the documentaries theme.

Before the interview begins, the documentary establishes a number of things to the audience, in order to make them understand the hostile environment with which the crew is facing. Between the general introductions, and the interview beginning, there are a lot of obscure angled handheld shots. These along with the dialogue explaining their current predicament may well have been filmed to conceal cameras and allow the crew to stay alert, but it serves well in demonstrating how little control the interviewer (Shane Smith) has over his surroundings. This in turn not only conveys the dangers of Liberia, but once ‘General Bin Laden’ begins to take control of the situation, it shows the audience the level of power he has, or believes he still has.

During the interview there is a mixture of medium shots of the General, and two shots of the General and Shane. The focus is mainly kept on the General, and all of the wider shots show men around him. Between these varied shots are a number of fast camera movements, pans, zooms, and some Dutch angles; these things combined give an uncomfortable feel to the interview. This helps the audience understand, and feel the uncertainty of the situation being filmed. We feel as though the crew doesn’t feel comfortable, they are in unfamiliar, and intimidating surroundings, the style of filming is almost rushed, which makes us, the viewer feel as though they want to leave quickly, or are staying as concealed as possible, yet alert.

There is also a lot of emphasis on how the subjects treat the documentary crew. As the General warns them of unfamiliar faces, he is protective, and provides safe escort back to their vehicle. We can see Shane, in close company with a number of men being escorted back to safety. And this is important in setting the precedent for the subjects throughout the rest of the documentary. Although titled, The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia, the documentary taps into the warlords’ pasts, but only briefly. The documentary begins to focus greatly on what these people now do for their country, and what they see as being the countries main struggles.

There is also the use of non-diegetic music playing, that often provides a beat of nervousness as the crew often traverse the countries slums etc.


Roles and Hierarchy - Studio Productions

My second year at University has presented with very few chances to experience new roles in the studio, and a certain level of repetition in role delegation has left me zero opportunity to further my experience in the two roles that most interest me. All this, while others flourish in their desired areas. My second year is coming to a close, and going into third year I now find these two desired, and demanding roles, are almost as alien to me as they were in my first year. How can one progress, if one can’t even get a look in. needless to say, I’m disappointed with this years studio opportunities. And having been left out of three productions out of six, I begin to question whether education and opportunities are being fairly distributed, or a hierarchal type structure is forming. Why should I have three less opportunities to further my knowledge and experience than my fellow students? I am paying the same, just as hard working, and just as quick a study, in some cases a lot quicker.

With that off my chest, I am now going to reflect on some of the roles I did manage to experience this year. Some of which are voluntary roles, for productions not related to my own curriculum.


This is a role I have grown to appreciate. My first experience of Vision Control (MDX Now-2) was quite daunting, having the quality of the image from each camera under your supervision. Controlling the Iris, and black levels, to insure the image is clear, and not lacking certain depth. A certain amount of concentration was needed to maintain my attention on four cameras at once, let alone six, over two locations, as I had to with Hidden Agenda, a third year project I helped crew.

A part of being a good Vision Controller is keeping a good, close working relationship with the Lighting Director. Being able to communicate between the two perspectives can assist in making both roles easier to manage. Too much light on parts of a set can make it difficult for Vision Control to maintain a good overall image, leading to some shots being too ‘Hot’. Put simply, white garments, or sets can become too white (super white), and break the ‘White Levels’ that are deemed broadcast safe.

And beyond this, an area I have not yet had the chance to play with is the RGB levels, the ability to control each Cameras Reds, Greens, and Blues. Using these functions can allow me to manually white balance the cameras, as well as control the levels of the aforementioned colours. In a sense, this is the ability to colour correct images to suit a productions needs or purpose.

Below are the three productions on which I have performed the role of Vision Control;

Middlesex Now –Episode 2 (My Curriculum).


This is the first time I have been near a camera in the studio during my second year (Dare to Flair 1). And being put on the Jib, of which I am completely new too, for a music performance show, was scary. It has been almost a year since I have been given a studio camera opportunity, so I knew I would be rusty. So far I have only been the ‘Swinger’, and have yet to control the ‘Hot Head’, that comes next week. But being back on the studio floor at last, made me realise how much I enjoy it. I do harbor slight trepidation for the next show (Dare to Flair 2), as the controlling of the hot head is a little more complex than the job of the swinger. The controls can be quite sensitive, and a slight error in judgment can ruin the whole jibs shot. But I am determined to familiarise with the role prior to any run through of the show.

One of the joys of being a camera operator in the studio, at Uni at least, is that nothing runs on time, and you have ample time to practice ‘Repos’ and shots, and familiarise yourself with the space available around you. And being answerable to both the camera supervisor, and Director, you have time to suggest shot options or improvements for the production. Quite often a camera supervisor can be too busy to think about what all the cameras can achieve, and a Director may not have as much technical, or compositional knowledge as an operator. This allows for a little expression or freedom on an operators behalf.

Once ‘Dare to Flair’ has wrapped, I will post both the episodes below.


GRAVITY, and the power of sound in cinema

There are many elements that make a film stand out, from acting, cinematography, to sound, and editing. But this film, Gravity, has to be one of the finest examples of the power of sound in cinema, and how it can directly affect the audiences viewing experience, and the suspension of disbelief.

George Lucas once said that "the sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie". And Gravity is definitely a film to back that statement up.

Beginning simply with the thirteen plus minute opening take. The sound is instantly grounded in a realistic manner; we as the viewer hear no ‘atmos’ sound. Our senses are drawn to the voice communications of the crew, but at the same time, the silence of outer space. And the juxtaposition in shots throughout constantly adds to the realism, and fear the film aims to instill. The familiarity of Earth against the vast unknown of space, long wide takes against that of claustrophobic character shots, the silence of space against the catastrophic effect of the debris field. All of which are being reinforced by the lack of sound. The way in which every technical aspect of this scene unfolds, throws us, the viewer right into protagonists situation. The absence of cuts doesn’t allow us to break away. Right up until the first cut in the film, we are thrown into mayhem and disorientation, coupled along with the already frightening environment that is space.

'Suspension of disbelief'; the act of a viewer suspending judgment concerning the implausibility of a texts narrative.

For this particular film, sound, and pace play a huge part. The sound design expanded on the basis of sound through touch, not something heard of greatly in film, but in real life however. Space has no air to transmit vibrations of sound, this supports the silence within the movie, but at times we do hear sounds, in the case of when (as in space) our protagonist is physically touching something that causes her body to act as the conduit for the vibrations. Something the majority of viewers may not even pick up on. This idea of sound through touch resonates from the very beginning also; our protagonists’ breath and heartbeat are incorporated into soundscape. Once again, unknown to most viewers, the sound of the film is essentially through the protagonists sense of touch, and essentially through her herself, connecting the audience unknowingly with the protagonist throughout the entire journey of the film.

Science fiction, or space fairing films stray too far from what is believable, be it for action purposes or entertainment. Films like Star Wars break these rules to add to the entertainment of action scenarios. Admittedly they are science fiction fantasy, but had they adopted the same approach as Gravity to sound, the film would feel like it is missing something.

Every element of sound was considered down to the very minute detail for this film. Even the EQ between our two main characters, using an EQ called ‘futz’ they were able to truly mimic the sound of audio being received over a radio. And because the EQ could be manipulated to suit each scenes purpose, they were able to use less processed audio for intimate moments within the film, but also really crank up the ‘futz’ to accentuate the distance between them in moments of suspense. They even had real NASA guys react to the scenarios unfolding in the script, fully recorded, and used for the back chatter of Houston, just to add another ounce of realism in the sound department.
I can’t say enough about how much this film actually impacted me upon first viewing. And with each additional viewing I find a greater appreciation for the momentous effort made in the sound department. I don’t think I will ever underestimate the power of sound again. Question is will I ever see another film that uses sound so well, that it makes me enriches my appreciation for it.

Memento Lighting Re-creation

One of the more recent exercises set out for our practice portfolio, was to re-create the black and white hotel scenes from Memento. As mentioned earlier in the year, I underwent quite an educational tutorial in field lighting exercises with Pete, in preparation for this task. And the point of this brief, was to show a clear understanding of lighting tools, and camera choices.

We initially chose to shoot using the Canon 7D. The wider angle lenses available, would allow for capturing more light, as well as better suit the limited location space, which would consist of my own student digs. However, upon shoot day we realized that even the 28mm lens didn’t have as great an angle of view as Hassan’s own Lumix GH3. I don’t know much about the aforementioned cameras abilities, but it did seem to have some adverse effect on the end result. While it captured the contrast in light quite well, the image seemed to lack a certain quality, and in a number of shots the motion within the image seems to distort in a slow motion blur effect. As I was controlling most of the lighting, as well as acting, I was unaware of any of the settings under which we shot. My instincts tell me it could have been something to do with the shutter speed settings, assuming I have learnt correctly the manner in which DSLR’s capture film.

While the light wasn’t perfectly re-created in some scenes, I feel the end result was satisfactory. Unfortunately we were shooting during daylight hours, with no means of blocking the natural light. However, with the strong directional use of a number of Dedo Lights, I was able to create some strong shafts of light that contrasted well in the overall scene. The limited space of the location also had a direct effect on the control of light, having to work with a minimal number of lights to avoid getting them in shot. I certainly think we would have had a better result if we had shot during the evening, so we could control the light fully indoors.

A valuable lesson taken from this exercise, is that, Noir, is all about complete control of light. Every aspect needed to be controlled in order to achieve the desired lighting. Of course, there is also the valuable lesson in camera usage, recceing the location with equipment could have saved time, and making sure the camera operator understands the camera he is using would have saved unnoticed mistakes that cannot be fixed after the shoot.