Assignment 4

Assignment 4 – Constructing a narrative

For this assignment I have chosen to cover the wheat harvest in the Moselle Valley, Germany.

I was fortunate enough to get the agreement of one of the local farmers to film him and his family during the wheat harvest which takes place over a period of about five to seven days at the beginning of August.

The only condition that the farmer stipulated was that I did not disrupt the actual harvest as it is the busiest time of year for him and he could not afford to take time off to show me around or explain things – it all had to be done on the fly. Consequently, I had most of my conversations with him whilst in the combined harvester cutting the fields. He agreed to a short filmed interview during the last day of the harvest but it had to be done out in the field.

Evaluation

This observational documentary shows the wheat harvesting process to the extend that it was possible, given the filming constraints. It highlights the damage the wild boar do to crops, the compensation rules and how the farmer provides evidence of this damage; therefore from a structural and content perspective the documentary has an identifiable narrative.

Originally, I had planned on focusing more on how technology helps modern farming as the farmer I was filming is a leader in the region with new farming techniques. I originally developed a working hypothesis around this (see blog post ‘Planning Assignment 4’ – 10/08/2016) when first beginning to plan the assignment. However, I realized that I had to make some significant changes if I was going to fit the documentary into a 5-6 minute slot. The main challenge was to reconsider and reformulate the message, especially after I had captured the footage and realized that there were some aspects of the technology that were not going to translate well visually. In the end I decided to keep it simple without being boring.

The shots of the harvester in the fields were varied in respect to their height, angles and range and, where possible, creatively shot taking advantage of the late afternoon sun or filmed from under a trailer. This particular sequence of shots works the way I intended. It took a significant amount of time to find the right footage and edit it together – starting with long shots and then moving closer until the shot is inside the harvester, with all shot movement progressing from right to left of the frame.  Then from the inside of the harvester, working outward again with shot movement progressing from left to right. My main concern has been the rhythm of the shots which may be too quick – I tried to counterbalance this with non-diegetic music that has a slow tempo.

The shots at the silo where reasonable well executed but the editing is less smooth. During the sequence where the farmer talks about what his father is analyzing there is a significant amount of distracting wind noise that I was unable to remove completely during post. If I had the opportunity I would have re-recorded this with the farmer but the conditions for doing this documentary were clear and I had to do the interview in the fields and unfortunately the wind was strong.

The sequence that covers the wild boar damage, the drone and the compensation was by far the most difficult to achieve as I had very little visual material to back up the message – I would have preferred to get a shot of the hunter and/or someone at the commune processing the farmers drone photos. This was not possible as the issue of hunting/compensation is a bit sensitive and people are reluctant to talk. Nonetheless, I believe the sequence still works because of the narration and the farmer’s comments.

On the technical side, sound was the most challenging aspect to deal with as I was trying to combine multiple soundtracks and deal with wind noise. The result is acceptable but there is room for improvement.

The biggest lesson learnt was that it is possible to take too much footage and then spend hours processing it. It took four days to obtain the footage and I made sure that each evening I processed what I had shot otherwise it would have become unmanageable. An additional challenge was that I ended up with many good shots that I grew attached to and wanted to include but couldn’t, and this slowed down the editing process while I came to terms with not being able to use these shots.

Finally, I had access to the farmer’s drone for some of my footage – and now I definitely have drone envy having seen what it can do.

The Planning

There are three main locations:

  • Two different wheat fields (the farmer owners a number of different wheat fields but two is adequate for this documentary as the same thing happens in each)
  • The farm where the silos are located

What happens:

  • Cutting the wheat and separating the wheat kernels from the straw using the combined harvester
  • Loading the wheat onto the tractor/trailers for transport to the silos
  • Depositing the wheat in the silos
  • Analyzing the wheat for density, humidity and quality

What is the atmosphere/mood:

  • Surprisingly calm given that it is such a busy time. The calmness is driven to a large extend by the remote location; out in the fields with the beautiful scenery. Harvesting, it turns out, is a fairly solitary activity and the farmer spends many hours, often very late into the night, in the combined harvester by himself. Only occasionally does he get to speak with whoever is driving the tractor. The calm atmosphere is also driven by the process being routine – over and over again, the same thing and covering vast expanses of land.

What are the main points that came out of the recce of the location and discussions with the farmer:

There were many different issues that arose during our discussions, however I have chosen a limited number to present in the documentary.

  • This year has been a bad year for the wheat because of the rain and lack of sunlight
  • How global markets affect the price of wheat
  • Wild boar can destroy a significant part of the wheat crop and this is a big problem in the area as the farmers are not allowed to do anything about it
  • The rules allow a farmer to be compensated for crop damage by wild boar but they have to show evidence of the damage.

The Narrative:

  • Introduction – the documentary covers the wheat harvest in the Moselle Valley
  • Part 1 – harvesting in the fields/commentary on the bad weather and resulting crop
  • Part 2 – at the silo loading the grain/analyzing the wheat
  • Part 3 – discussion about the wheat market
  • Part 4 – discuss problem with wild boar/state the rules in Germany for hunting and compensation/show how using the drone has helped the farmer provide evidence/state that the farmer has been compensated this year on the basis of his drone evidence (Climax)
  • Ending – the farmer driving away in his tractor

Shot list:

  1. Series of shots in the fields of the combined harvester (make use of some drone footage)
  2. CU – back of harvester spraying straw
  3. CU – harvester blades
  4. CU – farmer in harvester
  5. WS – various of tractor pulling trailer
  6. WS – harvester dispensing wheat into trailer while both are moving
  7. LS – trailer arriving at silo/farm
  8. WS – tipping contents of trailer into hole in ground to be sucked into silo
  9. CU – wheat kernels pouring out
  10. CU/MCU – analysis of wheat
  11. VCU – wheat grains in field
  12. Various shots of farmer’s mother, father and worker
  13. Various shots of wild boar damage
  14. Various shots of wild boar
  15. Interview with farmer – MCU and CU

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