One of the coolest things I had the opportunity to do in 2021 was produce and sound engineer podcasts for actual money.
Podcasting was one of my elective subjects while reading for my masters in digital documentary. I chose it because I had never had the opportunity to work in radio at that point in my journalism career and figured if I was going to focus on working on more longform multimedia work, podcasts may be the best way to upskill on the audio side of things. From studying podcasts back in 2019, I now teach it to postgraduate students at Wits University and produce/edit for private clients.
I was lucky enough to work on two independent projects last year, which helped me put my newly minted skills to the test as I helped the podcast host’s launch the first season of their respective shows. It was a real treat to work with people who first and foremost where friends. The trust that already existed between us, helped in fostering working relations that were respectful, vulnerable and enriching. Having clients who truly trust your creative vision is unmatched.
The shows were very different in their subject matter, but the post-production processes were very similar. From coaching the hosts on how to record clear audio, set up interviews and create promos; it was an educational experience all around. The content of both shows also made for easy listening when I had to listen to hours and hours of ‘tape’ while editing and re-editing.
So if you had asked me a month ago what a desktop documentary is, I probably would have said “um, I don’t know – a PC based doc?”. I wouldn’t have been entirely wrong but it’s a lot more than that.
In the middle of January, I attended a virtual workshop hosted by Bertha DocHouse on desktop documentaries as a genre and mode to be explored in an upcoming competition they would be running. The session, hosted by Kevin B. Lee , was not only informative but he gave us great tips on how to get started with this particular documentary genre. My understanding after the tutorial had expanded some, essentially this emerging genre uses desktops, mobile phones and tablets as the sole source of all the material used to tell a story. Screen recordings and screengrabs of things found on the internet or in personal libraries are one’s visual anchors in these documentaries. Many desktop documentaries are research-heavy investigations that let viewers journey along with the filmmaker as they discover things in their searches.
Some of the useful tips shared by Kevin for those who want to make such films:
Study screen stories – watch as many desktop documentaries as you can, while watching think of possible themes and forms you want to explore.
Turn your own screen life into a story – record your daily online interactions and habits, analyse them and see what they say about you (or others). Try the Pecha Kucha method of telling the story of a day in your life with just 20 shots that are 6 seconds each.
Use online your own resources – just by looking at your own search history, usage patterns, emails, texts etc you can begin to critically analyse this data and make a story of it.
Technical tools – screen capturing software, editing software and interface simulation tools will not only help you source material but will aid your creative process when you begin assembling everything.
Use questions to stay on track – in telling your story or a story, show a process that answers the who, what, when, where and how questions that viewers may ask.
After some research, watching most of the films he had recommended and quite a bit of procrastination, I decided I could give it a go. The competition deadline helped in lighting a fire under my ass and I managed to make and submit, i miss everything. I was hesitant to share it publically when I was done, because it was my first try and I was sure it sucked and and and. Then I saw the tweet on the left by a photog I follow and admire, which gave me the confidence I needed to just share it for the heck of it.
I am going to keep making stuff, writing stuff, shooting stuff, producing stuff, for the heck of it. Sometimes I will need the fire of a deadline, which is why I have started entering paid writing competitions for instance, because if I don’t I just won’t grow. A lot of it will be bad but not all of it will and I guess that’s the point for me right now.
A short by your shorty *slaps thigh*, sorry just had to get that one out of my system. But it is, this is the very first short documentary I have conceptualised, filmed, edited and produced. Yes, it wasn’t my initial vision; yes, I didn’t get to use professional equipment; yes, it views like a long self-involved vlog – but all that aside, I still did it. The pandemic forced us to change our plans and adjust/pivot to the new normal and we did. So if you have 12 minutes to spare, I would appreciate the pleasure of your time to watch Alone, Together.
We did it! We produced an entire podcast series which is now live for all to hear. The theme we had to focus our individual episodes on was borders and trust me we all interpreted the theme in our own ways. Give us a listen, rate us and review the episodes.
It’s been exactly one month since I officially got out of self-isolation and got to physically touch my parents for the first time in 7 months. Yes, I decided to flee the coop and leave the UK to make my way back to South Africa, figured it would be easier to ride this wave out here now that university is closed for the year and all classes have been moved online.
Now on day whatever of a national lockdown, so I made a little trailerof what my days in quarantine looked like, this is a micro version of the longer more logical short documentary I am working on as part of my university coursework. Working and learning remotely has been…. different. It requires a level of discipline I’ve found difficult to harness. But the looming deadlines can no longer be ignored, so just getting on with it I guess.
If you had told me a week or two ago that I would be wracking my brain over whether or not to leave the UK six months into my degree, you would have got an unequivocal no from me. I still have so much to do right? A podcast to finish, two documentaries to shoot, concerts to attend, so much travelling to do here and in Europe.
But the situation has changed – drastically so and it still changing . So to put this all in context, I am studying towards my master’s degree in Digital Documentary at the University of Sussex. As the degree name suggests it is a practical heavy and intensive course which is exactly why I chose it. I wanted to sharpen and hone my skills behind a camera lens again and hopefully use what I had learnt to take my journalism career on a slightly different path, not a complete off-ramp, just an on-ramp to a different highway lets say.
Anyway, my studies got underway last September with a slight disturbance at the end of November when academic staff went on strike for a week and a half, but other than that, all hunky-dory. We had access to a state of the art foley studio, photography and filming studio, edit suites and a fully kitted equipment store which we could take advantage of 24/7. The new term held the promise of building on what we had learnt, adding to our technical proficiency and hopefully producing work worthy of watching and listening to. My subjects this term are podcasting and short documentary and I was super excited to dig in, learn and grow. But three weeks in that enthusiasm was tempered with the announcement and commencement of another round of strikes – this time for four weeks. Luckily for one of my subjects, neither of my two tutors were striking so we continued to attend those classes when we could, on and off-campus. While all of this is happening the coronavirus infections in the UK are growing, slowly but steadily. But nothing is amiss, we all bought hand sanitizer, washed our hands and kept travelling, drinking and eating together.
Eventually the strike ends and the first day (last Monday) we are meant to resume classes, contact classes get cancelled for the rest of the academic year. As in the last time we were in class (weeks ago) was the last time I was seeing my classmates and tutors in person – wild. We get reassured that teaching will continue online and our assessments adjusted accordingly. My immediate thoughts were this is great, the government is finally taking the pandemic seriously, this is a good call. It’s not until a few days later when we are told we will no longer have access to the equipment store and labs we need to produce our practical assignments that my brain starts breaking. How is one to film without equipment? My phone, my own little DSLR? Surely not, that goes against the dream we were sold, the thing we came here for. I start to think of the ways in which it might be possible to record via Skype or phone for my podcast; try to think of a way – if any – that I can adjust the documentary projects I had in development. A day after that, people I know start talking about the practicalities of going home. At this point, two of my five roommates have fled to their home countries overnight. It still seemed rash, I felt confident in my “obvious” decision to stay.
A day after that development my scholarship sponsors assured us that they would help facilitate our exits from the UK if we so chose. Some universities have actively encouraged their international students to go home. That’s when I first began to even think that this was an option I would consider. But how in a critical phase of the pandemic here and in my home country? New infections were/are on the rise in both. Deaths were on the rise here. People weren’t all capable of practising social distancing at home. People are unwilling to practice it in some cases. I would be covered if anything happened to me here. I left my medical aid when I left home. I could make others sick in transit or at home. Oh shit, I would have to be on a plane on a train. I haven’t done a lick of work in weeks, will I be able to motivate myself to press on? Social distancing, cool cool cool. Why’s there no toilet paper at the shops? Wow, September is far. June is far. May is far. Can I do it, here? Where would I rather be stuck for the next few months?
These frantic thoughts have raced through my mind on a loop since Friday. I change my mind every hour on the hour, I feel like the window is closing to make and commit to a decision that I can live with. But I just don’t know. This is not about being homesick and just wanting to see my mom, I have to go back home at some point and I can’t imagine it’s going to get easier to try and do that. It’s an impossible choice and I’m going to get judged for it but it’s a choice I’m going to have to make.
Literally. I went to Edinburgh, Scotland over the winter/Christmas break and the one and the only thing I wanted to do when I got there, was see where the magic happened. The locations, monuments and scenery that were the backdrop that provided J.K Rowling with the inspiration to finish writing the Harry Potter series.
So the first order of business when I arrived was finding a walking tour that would show us all these places. I booked a two hour guided tour with GetYourGuide and let me tell you it was the best 12 pounds I have ever spent.
As you can tell, I am a Potterhead – a big one. So much so that when the little walking group I joined was sorted into our wizarding classes I was classified as a Death Eater because I answered yes when asked if I believe only people who had read (and reread) the books and watched (and rewatched) the movies was a true fan – I mean duh. But shortly before that, we had been sorted into houses and the “sorting hat” placed me in Gryffindor– so a bit of a tricky one but we move.
The tour started off in a place that needed very little explaining to the group – Greyfrair’s Kirkyard – the actual graveyard that inspired the (traumatic) scenes from the Little Hangleton Graveyard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where we last saw Cedrick Diggory alive (sniffle). Apparently, a mixture of those grey turned black headstones, the names on those headstones and a deep depression inspired Rowling to write some of the most iconic characters and scenes for the series.
She spent days looking into the graveyard from a window at a nearby cafe, the Elephant Cafe and walking in it to keep building on the story she had started writing on a train years earlier about the boy wizard we all came to love. Some of the engraved names I spotted on the day included one Thomas Riddell (Tom Marvolo Riddle/He Who Must Not Be Named/The Dark Lord to us), an unofficial Sirius Black one scrawled on the wall with spraypaint on an unmarked grave and even a little statue that looked exactly like Nearly Headless Nick. Just next to us was a very Hogwarts looking school, George Heriot’s School (circle on left), this building and the Edinburgh Castle (circle on right) a short walk away were reimagined to become the school of witchcraft and wizardry we all wanted to go to.
George Heriot’s School in Edinbrugh, Scotland.
What struck me most in that graveyard (and along the rest of the route really) is the sheer will to press on, in the face of loss and failure, she just kept writing, making space for the process in every free minute of every single day. Picking up the pieces of a broken and grieving heart, raising a baby, studying and trying to survive didn’t get in the way of writing a chapter or two when she could find a quiet enough spot to do so. And to do that and manage to write one of the best book series of all time feels surreal, but one thing it also left me with is the fact that it is possible if you show up for yourself and believe in the things you are actively pursuing. And I believe it is that quality that allowed her to see and harness everything around her so beautifully and craft it into the story of Harry Potter. There are pieces and places that seemed so familiar to me all around Edinburgh because of the way she managed to weave the places and names into her work. I know it will sound cliche, especially in this context, but it was a true and simple lesson of the magic of commitment and determination. I hope to one day harness and live out this lesson.
“… a new fantastic point of view,” and what a view it is. It may not look it really, but the journey that has led me to this big big window on the left, in a smallish seaside town in England has not been without great difficulty, doubt and sacrifice – enough to make me grateful enough to have a multipurpose window which serves as my nifty side table and a perfect place to people-watch while seated in my not so comfy single bed.
Last year around this time, I was desperately unhappy and trying to leave my job as a reporter which was, for the most part, a great instigator of that unhappiness. I couldn’t see beyond the black fog that I had to fight my way through just to get to work and perform on any given day. At the same time, I had also just received my letter from Chevening, inviting me to attend an interview at the British Consulate General in Cape Town. I had applied for the scholarship four months prior and had already been accepted at two of the three universities I had applied to. In retrospect, things were going as they should, but I just couldn’t see it that way at the time.
My parents, bless them, journeyed to Cape Town to try to talk me off the crazy resignation ledge I was obsessed with at that point, trying to talk me into sticking out for a few more months. They used a week in February, the week of my 28th birthday to convince me to wait for my final scholarship results before blowing my life up and deciding to be unemployed on their couch – again.
We spent that week crisscrossing this little part of the Western Cape to get to Cape Agulhas, the Winelands and the city bowl – I had just a week to show them all my favourite things from this place I had called home for three years at that point.
While I didn’t quite agree with them on the waiting it out bit at work, as luck would have it, I was forced to see out my lease at the apartment I was renting before calling it a day – it’s just four months I told myself, June is just here, it will go by like a breeze. Ha!
The months that followed felt like an agonizing crawl with no end in sight. Luckily for me at that point, I had been interviewed and shortlisted for my scholarship which gave me something to hold on to. When the time came I finally quit my job with no assurances about my schooling yet, but with the biggest hunger for space to breathe and think without a story being the point of it. So I moved back to Pretoria with my half baked hopes and the promise of peace. It ended up being three full months of realignment, restoration and complete rest. It was just what I needed before the long-awaited email came in July that said I was going to move to the UK in just a month to pursue my master’s degree. I chose MA in Digital Documentary programme at the University of Sussex in southern England.
Meeting some of the other Chevening scholars at a briefing event at the British High Commissioner’s residence just before we left South Africa, was the official start of this electrifying journey I have now been on for the last six months. I was clearly in very good company and have gone on to make some really good friends with some of the talented bunch.
Now, I have already conquered the first semester and passed all my subjects; refamiliarised myself with editing software and video equipment and last but not least been on a few little trips in the UK. At this point, I have even lost count of the number of trains I have taken from Brighton to London, as without fail there is some or other event there with my name on it at least once a month. Whether be it personal or professional each seminar, show or party have been some of the highlights of my time here so far. I have now spent a Rugby World Cup, a Christmas, a New Years Eve and as of this week a birthday here. I am grateful for the things that have aligned to make this journey possible and making sure I am making the most of my time here, soaking up all there is to learn and living as intentionally as possible. And that’s what this post is all about – I’m realising now how quickly this experience is going by and want to write about it on a more regular basis so I can remember it in more vivid detail than and not have to depend on scrolling back on my phone’s camera roll in future.
Cape Town, June 18, 2019 – Planning for the worst-case scenario. While Cape Town’s water supply has stabilised significantly over the last year, the City’s approved a new 10-year strategy. This includes a permanent desalination plant.
Cape Town, June 16, 2019 – The Western Cape Social Development Department has had to remove a group of children from a care facility in Cape Town. This follows a number of reports that the children, aged between 11 and 17, were being abused. Courtesy #DStv403