I made a thing (and will probably keep making things)

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:

  1. Study screen stories – watch as many desktop documentaries as you can, while watching think of possible themes and forms you want to explore.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 miss everything – a short desktop doc by yours truly

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.

Alone, Together

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.

School’s out, now what?

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.

Our podcasting class in a practical session in the foley studio.

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.