Friday, May 26, 2006

Real-time movie making

Compendium as real-time movie making is an idea that has floated around for me since close to the very beginning, when I first started messing around with QuestMap following the revelatory demo and workshop from Jeff Conklin & co. at NYNEX S&T in 1992.

It's also one of many that I've kind of suppressed in our public writing/presentation about Compendium, since it is not newbie-friendly and might scare people off. But the purpose of this blog is to talk about more 'advanced' topics and what it's like to live in the practitioner world from my perspective. So it's as good a place as any to talk about this.

I studied film and video in college and some in grad school, and worked some in the field in the early 80s, and still think of myself, at least a little, as a filmmaker although I have really done nothing except take photos and family videos since then. However the collection of disciplines that make up filmmaking, and the multi-dimensional way I was trained to look at film, still feel to me at the core of how I approach much of my professional practice.

When you're making a film, whether on your own or with a whole cast and crew, you're constantly assimilating, synthesizing, calculating, and improvising across a whole range of technical and aesthetic considerations. Some of them you plan out in advance, some of them occur or must be faced in the moment. For example, you realize in the course of filming a scene, even one that you've planned and scripted out beforehand, that moving the camera a certain way, or including a few more inches of the set in a shot, will make a difference in how effective the scene is. And "effective" is an incredibly nuanced thing -- a scene can be effective in a thousand ways (and can lose its effectiveness in a thousand more).

This is equally true in pre- and post-production (e.g. sound design, editing, ...) as it is during the shooting itself. The more depth and breadth you have in the host of disciplines that make up filmmaking, the more you become aware of what can be done and what shouldn't be done, and the more the little ideas and possibilities occur to you in the process of making the film.

The little things all fit into the big thing you are trying to do -- the story you are trying to tell, the effect you are trying to create, the way you want to reach the audience or how you hope they will interact with the film, how good it is.

The same is true with the practice of building Compendium representations on the fly with groups. There are dozens of skills that make up the practice, at all sorts of levels of granularity, from micro-manipulations of nodes and links on a map during a meeting, to how you plan out what sort of templates, tags, and images you might use, to how you interact with participants during a session, and on and on. You are working on the representation, but it is in service of the 'story' of the particular engagement -- what you and the participants are trying to do, what constraints you're working within, what ideas and inspirations occur during the course of the making and doing.

Some of the similarities are overt -- in both filmmaking and Compendium practice you are trying to make a coherent narrative, you are marshalling a host of techniques in that service, you need to understand what can and can't be done with what cost and what effect. On another level, in both you are concerned with aesthetics, for example how the maps look, and flow, for example what kind of navigational structures, how you get from one place to another, how those 'feel'; or the various kinds of writing that must occur (text in labels and details, sometimes looks and feels like "scriptwriting"). Some are less direct -- the techniques themselves are largely different, using different media and tools.

Much more could be said about this. On my mental list of projects to do someday, I have often thought of constructing some sort of table that compares different sorts of filmic techniques to Compendium techniques.

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