22 April 2014
“The Failed War on Drugs” Video Project
The War on Drugs is truly a problem in the United States’ society today. This impacts the lives of it’s citizens economically and socially, and has a hidden political agenda. America holds half a million drug offenders in it’s prisons, which is more than any other country in the world. This massive effort to stop large scale drug trafficking sounds good in theory, but it has had a huge negative impact on the economy and social setting of communities across the country. We have composed a short film that dives into the social and economic problems surrounding the War on Drugs and explains how and why it has changed and worsened over time. This video was made to send that message to viewers and spread the word to those who may not realize just how impacted they have been by this failed war. We used the components and ideas of sound, visuals, and filmmaking processes to effectively create a film that educates and motivates viewers to fight for change against the policies put forth in the War on Drugs. In this paper, we will explain how we used different visual aspects and components, as well as theories from our class readings, to get our intended message across to the audience. We will also explain how we effectively used audio to do the same, how it was used in relation to the visuals, and how we were able to tie all of these elements together throughout this filmmaking process.
The genre of this film can be largely classified as documentary style with interview heavy content complemented with non-specific visual. The film was meant to inform viewers of the faults that are occurring within the War on Drugs and why these faults continue to take place. Choosing a documentary format allowed for the material to be much more educationally focused and informative, and was able to highlight the failures of the War on Drugs much better than any other genre options would have allowed. We went outside of the tradition film format that is outlined in Timothy Corrigan’s piece, as there was no structured plot or storyline that moved the film between topics or scenes (Corrigan 37). We allowed James Kilgore’s interview audio to dictate most of the flow of the film because we found his audio to be strong in conviction and knowledge, which made it more valuable than opinions we could have gotten from other interviews. Corrigan outlined all the major elements of film and how to differentiate them in writing, however our film took a much different direction than normal big screen pictures. There were no characters, nor a progressive story line, as the film is very much grounded in realism (Corrigan 37-49). The topic is a real issue in America and almost all the footage was originally shot and was only edited for sequencing; no special effects or changes were made. The intended audience for this film is American citizens, active voters, and activists. These people have the power to demand change from a failing system that has hindered their economy for too long. The video is posted for the public to have access to with a simple title that can be easy stumbled upon when searching for material about the War on Drugs. The overall goal of this film is to make an impact on viewers to provoke thought for change. People need to be educated on the wrong America has done against them in order to feel the need to stand up and fight for change.
The visual components of the project were key in developing the mood and setting the idea for the documentary. While we used Kilgore’s audio for the majority of the film, we used many different visuals to accompany it. For instance, when he was speaking about Chicago and the problems they have faced with the depletion of resources, we chose to use clips that we had taken of Chicago so that the audience would be able to more readily connect with what he was saying. We did this in several instances. When he spoke of drugs being more prevalent now than ever before, we used footage that we had taken of someone with drugs to solidify his argument. This solidification of his argument is what drove us to use all of the video clips that we did, and at the times that we used them. We were careful to avoid any contradiction in narration, as Hampe warned, and used the video to enhance the audio rather than take away from it (Hampe 64). We also made sure to avoid misrepresentation and the use of unreal images for this exact reason. While we did use reenactment, which Hampe warned about, we were careful to use it minimally and ended up only using one scene out of the several that we shot. In the instances that we did show Kilgore speaking instead of using other clips, it was because we felt that seeing how he acted as he spoke so passionately about these issues added to the validity of his argument and allowed the audience to feel the same passion and connection that he had. We discovered that the addition of simple title slides, question slides, and ending slides made it easier for the audience to focus on Kilgore and his reactions and responses, as well as making it easier to get simple, straightforward facts across. While we did consider recording ourselves asking these questions and saying these facts, we felt that the plain slides did a better job of keeping the focus on the social issue.
Editing was very important for this film because all the audio material has a distinctive flow due to way the interview played out. Hampe mentions in his “Visual Evidence” chapter how important it is to consider what one edits out of the film in order to refrain from eliminating important evidence (Hampe 61). Audio and visual material was edited in the making of this film, but the material was never manipulated to be out of context, nor to make Kilgore’s interview imply thoughts that he did not intend, nor to string together clips that would change his words around. For the most part, editing was done around Kilgore’s audio in order to maintain all of his original thoughts and the sequence of them. Hampe says “shoot people doing what they do, even if you’re mainly interested in what they have to say.” However, this was difficult to accomplish in this particular instance due to the law prohibiting us from filming inside of a prison, which would have been an appropriate setting for Kilgore’s interview (Hampe 60). As an alternative, we decided to film him in his office, which ended up adding to the scene because he does in fact do research there on this very issue. We felt that this was the best possible setting to add to the authority and credibility of Kilgore, and give the audience a correct impression of him.
The sound aspect of our project was just as important as the visual. Our intent was to tell the story of why the War on Drugs has been a failure, and we used a narrator to do so. James Kilgore, the interviewee, was the main focus of our project. We used his voice as the only sound for all of the project, excluding the title scene and the closing scenes. While interview-heavy films are not typical, we felt doing so added to the genuine nature of our film due to Kilgore’s extensive research, experience, and knowledge of the subject. As stated in an article by Siobhan McHugh, “the quality of an individual voice, carrying within it the influence of age, gender, cultural origin, education, lifestyle, psychology… in addition to an individual’s particular speech patterns, mannerisms, vocabulary, volume, pace, habits, creates a very distinct vocal-print… as unique as an individual’s fingerprint” (McHugh 188). We found this to be true with our project, and we began to feel and understand the passion that Kilgore had for this subject matter merely by listening to the audio, and we felt that our audience would, too. We also hoped that the audience would, as McHugh states, “try to listen to [him] on two levels: to what [he] say[s] and—more importantly—to how [he] say[s] it. It’s in the rhythms and falls of everyday speech that people reveal their truth, their quality and strength” (McHugh 190). By listening to how his voice changes with each of his responses, the audience can have a more emotional, genuine reaction to the subjects being discussed. His voice’s change in tension, roughness, breathiness, loudness, pitch, and vibrato between each of his responses indicated his mood and how he felt about what he was saying, which added to the authenticity and passion behind his vocal delivery and how the audience would interpret it (McKee 340). We also considered using more than one interviewee, but decided against this because we were more concerned with the quality of the material than the quantity of interviewees. Because our main goal of the project was to address the social issue of the War on Drugs and try to get our audience to want to demand and see change with this issue, we felt that this was the best way to make a real connection with them and encourage them to do so.
For the title slide, the end scene, and the credits, we used sound clips that we felt added to the mood we were trying to create. For the title slide, we used a clip of a police car passing with its sirens on. Because our film is based on the War on Drugs, and police are main enforcers of this, we thought it was an appropriate way to transition into the film. In the film, the title scene is divided into two slides, the first reading “The War on Drugs” and the last reading “An Ineffective War.” As the first slide plays, the police siren sounds as if it is approaching, and as the second slide plays, the police sirens sound as if they have just gone past the listener. We thought that this was an effective way to emphasize the words on the screen. Because the sirens sound as if they have passed, and not as if they have stopped at the reader, we wanted it to symbolize the word “ineffective,” as if the sirens will always seem to pass by us. For the end scene and credits, we used a slow, melodic, deep-sounding piano piece that begins to build up towards the end with the addition of a violin. This was used to create a dramatic, yet serious, and somewhat sad tone that would keep the audience’s attention while different statistics and phrases passed by on the screen. We felt that this piano piece would evoke feelings because the audience would be listening on the expressive plane, and that this slow piece would make them connect well with our message (McKee 344). As the facts shown on the screen turn into directions for the audience, the violin begins to play a faster, more suspenseful tone. This is effective in creating suspense for the audience: it instills the idea that the ending is unknown and up to them, depending how they receive and act on our message of demanding change.
Because we knew that the main sound emphasized during our project would be Kilgore’s voice, we wanted to pay special attention to that and less attention to the audio we recorded while filming our other visuals and scenes. However, during the interview filming process, the microphone was a little too far from Kilgore, so the sound was somewhat muffled. We did not realize this until playing the sound back after the interview, but noted that this could affect how the listeners responded to the film, so we amplified his vocals to 400% throughout the entire video. The other sound clips were kept at 100% so that they did not overwhelm the audience in comparison to the rest of the film. We detached and deleted all of the audio associated with the other visuals used in the film because we felt that they would distract the audience from the connection we were trying to make with Kilgore’s audio and the featured footage.
In conclusion, we were able to effectively utilize many different concepts, theories, and ideas relating to audio, visual, and the filmmaking process in the creation of our video project. Being able to apply these concepts instead of just reading and learning about them helped us to better understand how important and useful they are in media. Not only are these theories helpful in the creation process, but they also guided us in choosing the best ways in which we could connect with our audience. We feel very strongly about the problems associated with the War on Drugs, and hope that by sharing this short documentary with viewers, we can successfully evoke the feelings that we sought to evoke through the careful choices we made in regards to audio and video, their relation to each other, and the sequencing of the film.
Word Count: 2198
Corrigan, Timothy. “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing.” A Short Guide to Writing About Film. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.
Hampe, Barry. “Visual Evidence.” Making Documentary Films and Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries. New York City: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. Print.
McHugh, Sioban. “The Affective Power of Sound: Oral History on Radio.” Oral History Review 39.2 (2012): 187-206. Print.
McKee, Heidi. “Sound Matters: Notes Toward the Analysis and Design of Sound in Multimodal Webtexts.” Computers and Composition 23 (2006): 335-354. Print.