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Old December 20th, 2011, 03:20 PM   #1
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Persian Carpets

Every time we get a video challenge, it's a tussle between our imagination (the film we'd like to make if we had all the actors/props/cameras/crew we wanted) and pragmatism (making do with what we have and can reasonably execute). This one, Persian Carpets, demanded a lot more of the latter.


For the first time I find myself living in a place where running around with a camera is not just a challenge, it can be downright perilous (as more than a couple of tourists naively clicking away in public places have been forced to reflect on, from behind bars).

I knew that was the case before moving to Tehran, so most of my gear (a greenscreen, a Sachtler tripod, lights, some mikes, etc.) were put into storage elsewhere and I now have only the most basic set-up (a Sony HDR-SR12, a Canon 7D, a lightweight tripod, minimal mikes).

But the toughest hurdle is being able to pull out even that little kit. In any public place, arrest was a possibility. Even in a private area, it's too risky to put just anybody in front of the lens (as an Iranian actress who was nearly flogged for participating in an Australian film shot here could attest).

So, when this DVC/UWOL challenge rolled around, and I succumbed to the definite itch to produce something, the big problem for me was to work out what I could safely record. Luckily, a media trip came up to get a closer look at the Persian carpet industry here. It was a bonus all round: I could do the Challenge, get a story out of it -- and I ended up buying a beautiful carpet.

So, my choice of topic was really no choice at all. I had official permission, and the weekend after this Challenge was launched I was on a three-day bus trip with my basic kit. The carpet making process was interesting -- seeing how painstaking and long the whole effort is to make one carpet. I used to think them very expensive, but when you realise the amount of labour that goes into them, well, they really are works of art.

For a moment, I thought about doing a wider piece about Iran generally but quickly had to admit that there was no safe way of getting enough material to show the diversity. I did end up with a bit of footage shot on a pocket compact camera of this year's Ashura festival (days of spectacular parades and self-flagellation in honour of Shiite figures who died a millennium ago). That, I put at the front of my video, as if it were a segment from the previous week's episode of "Voyages".

My hosting duties in front of the camera was with the 7D on a locked off tripod, and I used the EOS Utility on my MBP to get the focus and exposure right. I recorded just after sunset, when the mountains behind me were still visible but not too bright. A lavalier mike under the t-shirt and I had to knock it over within two takes before the light disappeared.

The production on the carpet-making process and interviews were shot using both the Sony handycam and the 7D. Even though I had a few spare batteries for both, I ended up running through them pretty quickly without many opportunities to recharge. There may even be one or two shots there from a Lumix compact camera when one or the other ran out of juice. Audio from the interviews was either a handheld mike out of shot or a Zoom H4n on top of the 7D.

Anyway, that's the nuts and bolts of what I came up with. Fewer options than before, but I hope the piece comes across OK anyway.
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Old December 21st, 2011, 01:18 AM   #2
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Re: Persian Carpets

Marc,

This is a very beautiful piece, Makes me appreciate the Persian rug a friend gave me when he left graduate school to work in Silicon Valley. It was the only real thing he had of value, and the generosity of Muslim people have always amazed me. I think most American's have a very distorted view of that part of the world, and the work you do over there could have a profound impact on our society. I am curious as to how you got involved in travel to such dangerous places? Wasn't your last piece from Libya?

The scene with the mountains in the background was so beautiful I thought you might have green screened it in. Nice camera work. I really liked the footage of the festival. Love to see more impromptu feet on the street stuff, but stay out of jail!

How are people going to make a living in this new world we are forging? Seems to be a real problem. Got a strong glimpse of the future shock being experienced in this segment of the world. Very thought provoking to me.

Dick
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Old December 21st, 2011, 06:28 AM   #3
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Re: Persian Carpets

Hi Marc,

So glad to see you back in the competition and with a great entry too. I thoroughly enjoyed this, from the beautifully lit talking head infront of mountains that I, like Dick, assumed was too perfect to be anything other than greenscreen to the artful pacing and sparing but very effective use of graphics this really was the complete package. The subject matter was fascinating as well. Have you thought about taking video journalism further to compliment your other journalistic work?

Henry
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Old December 21st, 2011, 06:50 AM   #4
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Re: Persian Carpets

Nice piece. Professionally put together and told in a concise but informative manner. I could totally see this story on a newsreel on EuroNews or Al Jazeera for instance.

Your graphics (both the news 'swooshes', transitions, lower thirds, titles and maps) all fit the style appropriately.

I like that fact that you managed to drive the story forward and provide all that information in such a short amount of time.

One slight thing I noticed was that the audio seemed to be panning left and right (this was more noticeable when wearing headphones), but other than that minor point it was a faultless story.

Look forward to seeing more from Iran. A story about drones perhaps?!
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Old December 21st, 2011, 08:16 AM   #5
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Re: Persian Carpets

Hi Dick, yeah, my appreciation of the rugs grew a bit on the trip too. The one I ended up bringing back from the trip is a "tree of life" variety with some silk thread (not all silk though -- those babies were priced at $7,000 and up, but damn they look good). And you're right: generosity is hardwired into the Muslim culture. I constantly have to be careful here to compliment people on their decorations/watch/sunglasses/computer but not do so too intently, otherwise they feel obliged to offer it to me. As for Libya, yeah I was there earlier this year. Certainly the challenges in that place were different to the ones here. But both places keep me on my toes. I wouldn't say Tehran is dangerous, it's just that some activities we take for granted elsewhere (especially video hobbyists) are more or less proscribed here. It's different. As for the mountain background: I'm very lucky to have that wonderful view. No greenscreen needed at sunset....

Thanks Henry... I know it was a pretty workmanlike piece, glad you thought it stood up. (I would have loved to have done the piece differently, maybe with humour, but thought for the reasons I outlined before that it was best to just do it straight. Pragmatism all the way through.) Video journalism would be great to pursue, but that's not going to be an option in my near future....

Hi Simon, thanks for the comments. You're probably right on the audio. It sounded OK when cutting, but then again it was my first edit without my Sennheiser headphones that are among the gear I put into storage. As for future topics from here, I can almost guarantee there's no chance you'll be seeing anything remotely of the "breaking news" variety coming from my camera. For the next DVChallenge I may just have to take a trip somewhere else to make it happen.....
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Old December 21st, 2011, 03:27 PM   #6
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Re: Persian Carpets

I remember your film “Under Another Sun” from last year. It was actually a favourite.
Again you show up with a good film with a professional look. I like your form and your behaviour in front of the camera. It is impressing to see what you have been able to produce in a highly restricted country.
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Old December 21st, 2011, 07:25 PM   #7
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Re: Persian Carpets

Marc:

Very nice look at that industry. Amazing the patience some of those workers have.....
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Old December 21st, 2011, 07:41 PM   #8
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Re: Persian Carpets

Marc:

Very nice look at that industry. Amazing the patience some of those workers have.....Any unions ?
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 12:41 AM   #9
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Re: Persian Carpets

Nice work, as usual, Marc. You sounded just like a television journalist/reporter--inflections in all the right places.

It's intriguing to me that costs have soared when the women still weaving the carpets make less than $1 per day. Because you mentioned that the dye process and the designing is going mechanized and computerized I guess those jobs must have paid pretty well.

Simon is right about the audio but I also agree that it isn't a big deal. When you have access to your gear again you can whip it into shape in no time if you want. This piece should be on television!
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Old December 22nd, 2011, 03:28 AM   #10
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Re: Persian Carpets

Hi Marc,

This was interesting to watch!
You definitely prove that we don't always need the best equipment to produce quality film. Well done!
Thank you for teaching me something new.

I look forward to see more of your films!
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Old December 23rd, 2011, 04:14 AM   #11
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Re: Persian Carpets

Hi Marc

Your entry is elegant and professional in look and feel – from the camera work, colour, and animations all the way to the script and narration. (The small audio problem there has already been noted.)

You are a natural as a presenter and come across very well.

The only thing I personally would have changed is the idea of looking back at a previous week’s program at the beginning. I would have preferred to look forward to the following week’s program at the end although I’m sure you had a good reason to do it in this order.

Your story is really interesting and enlightening - and I'm gald you could get this done despite such difficult circumstances. I was quite fascinated by the reactions of the people being filmed. Spoke volumes.
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