The Making of Away

Sightlines Journal, issue 2, 2017

Names: Margaret McVeigh and Peter Hegedus
Film: The Making of Away
Length: 28 minutes

Editor’s Note

As a research project, the two films Away and Making of Away should be viewed and considered together. However, for a variety of reasons, they were peer reviewed separately. Readers should be aware that some of the concerns expressed by the reviewers for Away are addressed in the film Making of Away.

Research Statement

Research Background

The documentary, The Making of Away (2014) directed by Margaret McVeigh and Peter Hegedus, explores the ‘behind the scenes’ of the production processes of the short film Away (Van Eyken, 2014). The documentary showcases the evolving nature of filmmaking in the academy by exploring the concept of on-the-ground mentorship of students by industry professionals during an actual production, thus introducing the concept of film collaboration to new generations of filmmakers.

Research Contribution

The documentary film, The Making of Away breaks new ground by its direct approach exploring the filmmaking process in an intricate way from script development to sound design as well as by its effective demonstration of the critical mentoring process with its impact on the learning process for our students. The interviews conducted with key industry professionals, students and academics not only highlight the complex ways that a film as a product is ‘negotiated’, but they also reflect on the successful collaboration between industry professionals and Master students, as well as highlighting the positive impact such collaboration can have on the students themselves. This documentary probed into discussions about the ‘lessons learnt’ by filmmaking students, further underlying the importance of learning through mistakes and by “doing”.

Research Significance

The Making of Away screened at the highly regarded ReelDeal Conference. The film was received very positively by its audience. The concept of the project around the two individual creative works – the short film, Away, and the documentary, The Making of Away as it enters into and explores unchartered territory in the collaboration between students, staff and professionals in the making of a fiction film and the documentation of the filmmaking process has been taken to wider audiences. McVeigh and Van Eyken presented a keynote address at the ATOM Qld State Conference 26 July 2014 and the creative processes involving the inspiration for the telling of the cinematic story of Away have been published in McVeigh, M. (2015). “It’s All About the Story: ‘The Making of Away’ and the Telling of a Cinematic Story”. In Wirth, R., Serrati, D. and Madedulska, K. (eds) Storying Humanity: Narratives of Culture and Society. Interdisciplinary Press: Oxford UK (pp. 25–34). At the Sightlines Festival/Conference in November 2016, Van Eyken, McVeigh and Hegedus presented the panel “Making Away and the Making of Away: Filmmaking in the academy: on set and behind the scenes with students and industry from script to screen” and screened both films. In this panel they discussed the process of filmmaking in the academy from a number of perspectives including the collaboration between staff and industry personnel to mentor students in key creative roles throughout the making of Away.

Peer Review 1 (Marilyn Tofler)

The documentary film, The Making of Away attempts to break new ground by exploring the filmmaking process of Griffith Film School’s Masters film, Away. The film aims to demonstrate the mentoring process between professional filmmakers and students and its impact on the learning process for students.

The film successfully shows the collaboration between Masters film students, lecturers and industry professionals to create and produce a short film. The documentary’s fascinating ‘behind the scenes’ exploration would appeal to filmmakers, students and filmmaking educators. The documentary includes footage of the making of Away, excerpts of the film itself as well as interviews with both mentors and students.

The documentary shows the screenwriter, production designer, producer, gaffer, sound recordist and other crew being mentored by lecturers and industry professionals. With regards to the process of mentoring and ‘lessons learnt’ by filmmaking students, it was, however, disconcerting that the screenwriting lecturer edited the screenplay. It would have been preferable that the students edit the screenplay themselves. This would have allowed students to “learn through mistakes … by doing”. The lecturer could have worked with the student screenwriter to give him script development notes to “fill in the character” and “show the conflict in a way that the audience could understand”. Other students could also have given the student writer script feedback. The screenwriter lecturer is shown discussing the script with the screenwriter, however it is unclear what the student has learned from this process as he did not personally complete the rewrite. It also has not been made apparent what the students have learned about the script editing process by having the lecturer rewrite the screenplay.

The script reading workshop shown within the film is a more positive script development process as it allowed students to give script feedback. Here, students appear to be empowered to give script development notes. However, once again, it is a little disconcerting that the third script draft is shown to be written by the lecturer, based upon the student’s screenplay. It is unclear whether the original writer of the film was present during this reading and what, if any, was his contribution to the script reading process. Perhaps, however, the process of having someone else rewrite his script has given the student screenwriter a taste of what may happen to his screenplay ideas when out in the professional film world. The film mentions that it is industry practice to have another writer redraft a screenplay however it has not been discussed why this writer is the lecturer rather than another student. It would have been helpful to include an interview with the student writer to discuss what he has learned from this process.

In addition, the casting director is a lecturer. It is not shown what, if any, input the students had in the casting process. Further, the director of the film is the head of the film school. Once again, it is unclear how students have learned about the directing process. The lecturer is shown rehearsing the actors without any students present to view, participate in and learn from the process. Perhaps, during other rehearsals there were students present but, if so, it would have been good to include this within the documentary so that it is clear how students have learned direction within the project.

In contrast, the production designer lecturer’s mentoring technique appears to be far more beneficial for the student as the lecturer discusses how she purposely has not been an “ideas person” but has made herself available to facilitate the student’s ideas and make suggestions to help the student create her own ideas. As a consequence, the student stresses how lucky she has been to have the support and guidance of a professional production designer.

Perhaps, however, the process of working alongside professional filmmakers in any capacity was enough for the students to gain somewhat of an understanding of the filmmaking process. Hopefully, subsequent Masters film groups at Griffith will be given the opportunity to be more ‘hands on’ in the script editing, casting and directing process or, at least be given more of an opportunity to shadow these key major roles than is shown within the documentary.

The submission could benefit from the inclusion of research questions such as “Does the mentoring process of Griffith Masters film students by lecturers and industry professionals during the making of a short film lead to effective learning of film craft by students?” The interviews with students could also go a little deeper in terms of what they have learned and what part/s of the process with their mentors were most effective. While there appears to be an example of research as practice here, this submission would be strengthened by the authors clearly defining where this research lies and how the film, The Making of Away exposes practice as research.

Peer Review 2 (Name withheld)

The ‘Making of Away’ documentary is beautifully made and the story well told. The information is carefully released as the process unfolds. The behind­the­scenes sound and vision are shot and recorded with such confidence that I’d like to see the ‘behind­the­scenes’ of the ‘behind­the­scenes’. It certainly makes for a fantastic teaching resource, which I gather is what you set out to do. Unfortunately, I don’t think it showcases any more research than that which goes into the making of any film.

I’m not sure that the film, or the process it describes, holds up as ‘ground­breaking.’ Most film schools have gone through this process, and a ‘making­of’ is hardly a new phenomenon. Having said that, it is a very instructive text that describes the production process intimately. This could be shown to students of all levels. Perhaps a better way to validate your research claims would be to shift the focus to teaching and learning. The documentary works well at explaining the production process but doesn’t delve deep enough into the pedagogy of the process. A different edit and/or supplementary material could move it into a piece of research.

It could include the professional mentors’ critiques of the student’s work. I’m sure it was a wonderful production process for all but it would’ve been good to learn about where things went wrong, where expectations were not met – so that next time the process could be improved upon. This iterative method may encourage interesting developments in filmmaking techniques that could depart from the orthodox film production process. This (potentially) new process may, in turn, be fed back to industry. Academics and students alike have changed the way industries work in other fields. I see no reason why this can’t happen in the film industry.

It was great to hear the DOP talking about how much he learns on student shoots because they don’t have the constraints of a professional shoot – this could be worth exploring in future iterations, investigating how these mentoring relationships are set up and cultivated. Other than this I couldn’t see how this mentoring process was innovative.

Most importantly it would be instructive to read and hear of the student’s reflection on the process. This would have to be done throughout the process, as I presume it was, rather than being a superlative­ laden report at the end.

There could be an interactive, episodic version that would be more instructive and innovative as you delve deeper into each area. I’ve often felt, when editing, that the stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor is a better teaching resource than what ends up in the film. Performance, sound, shot construction, etc. that is not included in the cut sheds more light on the process – the artifice is stripped away.

I understand that a linear ‘making­of’ sits well with the film it describes, but a multi­linear work could be used across a whole semester or year as opposed to screening it once at the beginning of the semester. If these works were housed on a website, then the reports and reflection from the mentors, students, and academics could be included alongside all of the paperwork for the film production. This would be of interest to film students and academics as well as film practitioners. This resource could be hidden behind a firewall if you felt proprietorial, or shared for all if you felt otherwise.

None of this critique takes away from a thorough process, beautifully described. Perhaps all of these things I’ve mentioned you are considering anyway. There is no reason why this kind of critique could not be included in the research statement. After all, the best research comes out of work that doesn’t succeed or goes in different directions than you expected – serendipity.

In whatever form it finishes up in, I would be keen to use it in our teaching.

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