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← Deaf Lens | Wayne Betts Jr | TEDxIslay

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Showing Revision 2 created 12/14/2014 by Elisabeth Buffard.

  1. I have to admit something.
  2. My memory isn't very good.
  3. I don't have much recollection
    of my childhood.
  4. I relied on a trick to help me
  5. remember things while growing up.
  6. What happened in what order,
    and so on. What was it?
  7. My mother would say,
    "Remember when you were twelve
  8. and threw up from food poisoning
    at that restaurant.
  9. Remember?" And I was like, "Twelve?"
  10. And my mother would say,
  11. "That was the day we saw
  12. and you liked it so much."
  13. "And after that, what did we do?"
  14. And I'd be like
    "Oh yeah! That restaurant. Yeah."
  15. And so I relied on movies
    to remember things.
  16. So my timeline of memory relied on
    when I had seen movies.
  17. Why do I bring this up?
  18. My mother always took me to the movies.
  19. Always. Even without captions.
  20. We would sit in the theater and
    the images would appear before us.
  21. Were we bored?
  22. Even when I was a restless kid? Nope.
  23. Why was I fascinated?
  24. The camera. The lighting. The framing.
  25. The camera was always moving.
  26. It moved on the actors as they spoke,
    then moved away.
  27. I was transfixed.
  28. The separate pictures, without words,
  29. no dialogue at all. Just the pictures.
    They came together
  30. to tell a story.
  31. And it was truly powerful. Wow.
  32. Especially for one movie.
  33. It stuck in my mind.
    To this day, it still stands out.
  34. How many of you have seen it?
  35. All of you, yeah.
  36. This was probably the first movie
    I'd seen in a theater.
  37. That I remember seeing, at least.
  38. I remember being a little kid and
    sitting in the theater
  39. with my mother, all excited.
  40. We saw it all the way to the end.
  41. And I was in tears.
  42. I couldn't sleep that night, and
    my mother tried to comfort me.
  43. But E.T. was gone!
    I was devastated by that.
  44. But... I lingered on one part.
  45. Remember the opening?
  46. The movie opens at night, in the woods.
  47. A UFO flashes its lights above.
  48. The trees blow in its path as it lands.
  49. And a creature... something...
    scurries out of the craft.
  50. The trees bristle as it moves through
    the woods, and the camera moves
  51. on to cars and trucks
    arriving on the scene,
  52. the high beams illuminating the trees.
  53. One of the cars comes to a stop,
    the car door opens,
  54. and a pair of shoes
    come out on the ground.
  55. The camera stays on the feet.
  56. Then it pans up to a set of keys
    hanging off the man's belt.
  57. They don't show this man's face at all.
  58. The camera is focused on the keys.
    I see this.
  59. Who was this man? I didn't know.
    Why was he there? I didn't know.
  60. All I knew was that he was chasing
    the creature and failed to get it.
  61. And the alien escaped to the city.
  62. The man goes back, and we fade out.
  63. Later in the movie,
  64. after the famous bicycle scene,
    near the end,
  65. E.T. is dying of disease.
  66. They find him and bring him home.
  67. They bring it into the bathroom and
    hide it there as it dies.
  68. The boy weeps over E.T.'s body.
  69. And then the camera cuts to outside,
    where the police, NASA,
  70. and assorted officials are arriving.
  71. One of the trucks pulls up, the door opens,
  72. and out comes the same feet, again!
  73. The camera pans up
    to reveal the same keychain.
  74. Do we see his face?
  75. I don't know. What's his job? I don't know.
  76. But that one detail from before--
  77. the keychain-- matches up
    with the keychain here.
  78. That detail tells us right away that
    is the bad guy!
  79. He's ready to take E.T. and go.
  80. We know this, all from the keychain.
    That one detail.
  81. And after that, I knew
  82. I wanted to make movies
    from that point on.
  83. I wanted to make separate pictures
    that came together to give us a story
  84. without relying on a script,
    spoken or signed.
  85. It was those pictures!
  86. And from there, my journey began.
  87. Later, I entered Gallaudet University.
  88. I took courses towards a film major.
  89. In one of my classes,
    there was this professor, Facundo.
  90. He passed away recently.
    He was hearing and couldn't sign.
  91. He would brush away
    the sign language interpreter
  92. assigned to him and attempt to sign.
  93. "I can do it," he said.
    And so he signed slowly.
  94. Eventually, over time in the class,
  95. he assigned a project that stood out.
  96. Visual expression?
  97. Up until that point, we had learned
    how to frame shots,
  98. how to tell a story, and so on.
    But this was different.
  99. The teacher had
    a hard time explaining this.
  100. 'Class, I want you to
  101. express something about yourself.'
  102. I could say something about myself.
    But what?
  103. Then he showed a work of his.
    He was hearing, remember.
  104. The work was from his university days.
  105. It had an unusual opening.
  106. The camera lingered on his face
    as he faced the camera without a shirt.
  107. Then the camera cut
    to grass blowing in the wind.
  108. Then to a lawn mower, then to a fire.
  109. Then to a man running.
  110. Then to clouds in the sky. I didn't
    understand anything about it.
  111. But it was odd-- his expression.
  112. The teacher added that
    it had music and sound.
  113. "This is an abstraction on my life,"
    he said.
  114. 'I want you, this deaf class,
    to express yourself.
  115. I don't want you to copy my movie.
  116. This movie is mine. What's yours?
  117. As he struggled to explain,
  118. I could see that
    he couldn't find the words
  119. for what he wanted to see from us.
  120. He didn't know how to say it.
  121. And when the project was due,
    we turned in our assignments.
  122. The teacher told us we had done a good
    job and we moved on to the next project.
  123. But it stayed in my mind.
  124. I transferred from Gallaudet to RIT.
  125. There, I focused on technology and
  126. I took various courses
    that focused on cameras, lenses--
  127. the difference between
    50mm and 35mm lenses,
  128. how to light a scene with three lights and
  129. why we couldn't remove
    a third light, and so on.
  130. You won't believe that there's
    a particular course in film school.
  131. There's such a thing as a course as...
  132. Film language.
  133. Wait a minute, there's a course
    on language for film?
  134. This wasn't like a teacher passing out
    two stapled pieces of paper
  135. that composed the entirety
    of the course, Film Language.
  136. There was a thick book!
  137. There were countless terms.
    To give you an idea...
  138. Do you know these terms?
  139. A closeup. A medium shot. A wide shot.
  140. I'll sum it up for you.
  141. A wide shot introduces
    location into a story.
  142. In the first frame, we see a landscape
    with a tree and a house.
  143. Then a cowboy with a hat,
    chewing on hay.
  144. That's a wide shot.
    Then the frame tightens
  145. to a medium shot. The framing
    cuts the man off at the thighs.
  146. He's standing by the tree,
    chewing on the piece of hay.
  147. Then the close up tightens the framing
    even further, to the man's head.
  148. This shot is used to indicate emotion.
  149. The close up will emphasize what
    we need to know in that moment.
  150. So those are three kinds of framing.
  151. There are even more kinds of shots.
  152. In the dutch tilt, the framing
    is tilted off to the side.
  153. A dolly shot moves the camera
    back and forth as it rolls.
  154. A crane shot moves the camera up and down.
    There are countless kinds of shots.
  155. Another kind of technique that
    seemed like a wrong fit for me:
  156. In short, this is used by news shows,
  157. movies... for example,
    there's a poor little boy
  158. crouched over, hungry.
  159. But a voice narrator tells us
  160. tells us that this boy doesn't have
    any parents and that he's lost, and
  161. statistics tell us that, in that country,
    this is but one example and
  162. that your support is needed.
  163. Wait-- there are two different stories:
  164. There's the hungry, sick boy
    that arouses our sympathy
  165. And we hear a parallel narration that
    relates to the story being told on camera.
  166. The two strands come together
    to become one story.
  167. In deaf film...
  168. And there are countless elements...
  169. I'm telling you-
    this is just a small sampling
  170. of what's in film language.
  171. There are countless story-related
    techniques in the script:
  172. the opening of the story,
    the character introductions,
  173. the conflict, the upward
    progression of the story,
  174. conflict after conflict after conflict,
    then earth crashes down
  175. and the RV drives away in the nick
    of time as it dodges flying boulders.
  176. And then there are even more conflicts,
    until the resolution.
  177. Everyone is reunited,
    and the action falls down.
  178. Then there's the happy ending.
  179. I'm talking about American films here...
  180. they always end happily.
  181. So, there are rules
    for the progression of action.
  182. We are supposed to follow them,
    and school encourages us
  183. to follow these rules.
    There are many of them.
  184. In my class, there were
    few deaf students-- this is at RIT.
  185. I eagerly rolled up my sleeves
    because I wanted--
  186. the various terms and rules--
  187. everything-- I wanted to rearrange
    them so I could make
  188. a deaf film. The result is my first
  189. film at RIT. The goal was to--
  190. you know-- deaf, signed dialogue
  191. on the movie screen-- if I signed
    out of frame... it's always "Cut!"
  192. 'Cut!' Your hand is out of frame.
  193. 'Do it again.'
  194. My friend and I wanted to challenge that.
  195. I said, 'No, I think that the fear
    of a hand out of frame
  196. should not constrain us
    to signing awkwardly within the frame.
  197. They will still be able to understand me.
    I believe that.'
  198. And so we made this movie.
  199. Two interesting things happened here.
  200. I showed this to an audience and
  201. I must have been a freshman.
  202. I was working with a small camera,
    and I was filled with ideas.
  203. So we executed those ideas,
    just to prove that we could do it.
  204. The audience saw it,
    and they said, 'Wow.'
  205. But as I sat in the audience,
  206. I felt something was missing.
  207. It didn't feel natural. It didn't.
  208. My deaf world-- the one that I saw--
  209. this wasn't it.
  210. This movie showed a different world.
  211. I realized this.
  212. The other thing: why was there a phone?
    The man was deaf.
  213. That was my mistake. I still don't know
    why we had a phone.
  214. And my struggle began
    with this project.
  215. In my following projects, I followed
    all of the rules of film language.
  216. I tried various ways
    to rearrange the rules.
  217. But I never got the feeling
    that it was natural.
  218. I wanted to watch something
    on the screen and say
  219. "That's my world!"
    Right there, on the screen.
  220. I had never experienced that.
  221. Film language had a box around it,
    and I felt trapped in this box.
  222. I struggled to get out of the box
    by rearranging the rules.
  223. Then I realized
    I should just put the box aside.
  224. This box had a set of rules
  225. developed over time. And everybody else
    worked with sound.
  226. It didn't matter which country
    you came from--
  227. everybody was working with sound
    as an essential part of their film.
  228. This influenced the editing of the movie
    -- sound was tied up in all of this.
  229. I'm a deaf person. I'm very visual.
  230. I didn't even think about sound at all.
  231. This realization led me to look within.
  232. My world, and how I perceived it.
  233. And how I should apply
    these principles to film.
  234. You all know what a script is.
    Writing on a paper.
  235. It starts with 'INT: A TREEHOUSE...
  236. So-and-so character... and so on.'
  237. Words on pages.
  238. My first thought: the language.
  239. We use sign language.
  240. Sure, I can write it down--
    my English is OK.
  241. But I struggled in writing on the page.
  242. Sign language...
  243. Bernard Bragg
  244. and Ben Bahan,
  245. the Gallaudet professor
  246. always told us that ASL
  247. has cinematic value.
  248. They said that sign language is
    just like the film screen.
  249. A roving eye, closeups, and so on.
  250. And that was true. But was it identical?
  251. Not really.
  252. I think sign language
  253. is far more rich than what we have
    to work with in cinema.
  254. ASL goes far and beyond that.
  255. So the written script should be discarded.
  256. In its place, we could have an ASL script.
  257. I sign the story in front of a camera.
  258. Recently, I did that for a project.
  259. Here's what it looked like.
  260. The frame zooms in and
    we go through a wall.
  261. This is actually 6th Street.
  262. Cars drive up and down,
    and buildings line the road.
  263. Clouds fly above our heads
  264. and a pair of hands appear,
    which make a brushing motion.
  265. And for real, a row of buildings
    disappear into the ground.
  266. The hands make another gesture,
    and a new building appears in its place.
  267. Here, we see drawings turn into buildings,
    and they now occupy the side of the road.
  268. This was my first ASL script.
  269. I wasn't the only one that used it.
    We had an entire team,
  270. a big team,
  271. of deaf crew members.
    There were prop artists,
  272. actors and their coaches,
  273. cameramen, editors,
    special effects people,
  274. a big team. And we all relied on this.
  275. Sign language. No writing on paper.
  276. And here's the result.
  277. Thank you. And I felt
  278. THIS was the future.
  279. If I worked on the ASL, my world
  280. would expand.
  281. And I could easily translate
    this vision because
  282. we were all speaking the same language.
    They saw this and understood it right away.
  283. "The building pops up. I got it.
    I'll take care of it."
  284. So this is something we should pursue.
    ASL scripts.
  285. Here's another thing.
  286. Camera flow.
  287. You all know what editing is.
  288. In a shot, a person talks.
  289. Then we cut to the other side: "No, mom."
  290. Back to the original frame. And so on.
    That's editing.
  291. Back and forth between two frames.
  292. I looked at this uniform practice and
  293. when we talk in ASL to another person,
  294. do we carry on conversation
    facing one another?
  295. Is that how we talk in ASL?
  296. Or do we wave our hands abruptly
    in front of that person?
  297. "Oh, OK. What?
  298. Is there something on the floor?" Nah.
  299. We normally maintain eye contact
    throughout the conversation.
  300. Even when we're walking, we maintain
    eye contact in conversation.
  301. Telephone poles come between us,
    and we still maintain eye contact.
  302. It doesn't matter which direction we go
    or if there are obstacles.
  303. We stay connected to each other.
  304. We must be attuned to each other,
    so we can maintain that connection.
  305. Therefore, the camera should be fluid
  306. and constant.
  307. This will appeal to our inner values.
  308. "Yes, this is just like my world."
  309. I've started doing something more:
  310. attaching the camera to a body rig
    so that when I walk,
  311. the camera bounces gently.
  312. This is called a Steadicam.
  313. Using this makes me feel more attuned
    to the action.
  314. Here's an example of a steadicam shot:
  315. Another thing: did you see the captions?
  316. Notice the captions? They weren't fixed
    to the bottom of the screen.
  317. Those captions feel just like
    an abrupt break in the edit.
  318. My eyes are drawn
    to the bottom of the screen.
  319. Just as I'm making eye contact
    with the actor,
  320. I have to look away to read the captions.
    I want that eye contact!
  321. I wanted to maintain eye contact, so I had
    the captions appear around the actors.
  322. Now my eyes are able to follow
    the captions as they appear.
  323. My eyes can still feel the flow
    in the sequence.
  324. I feel connected to what's going on.
    And that's my world.
  325. That's it.
  326. Here's another element:
  327. Recall the voiceover.
  328. For us, the sound doesn't jibe
    with what's going on.
  329. We're a visual people.
    We don't hear anything.
  330. So, how do we work around this?
  331. Let's go back to the first element:
    the ASL script.
  332. When it's signed, we can see the story.
  333. And the second element is flow.
  334. Combining these two elements led me
    to make a film, VITAL SIGNS.
  335. A person tells a story as vignettes
    appear around him.
  336. And the vignettes
    match up with the story.
  337. The car backs out of the garage
    and speeds away.
  338. 'Gotta get in the car!'
  339. Keys in the ignition,
    the roar of the engine!
  340. The RPM needle rises and falls,
    the gears shift, the tires spin!
  341. The car drives in reverse,
    then spins around, the gears shift again,
  342. and the engine roars!
  343. The roar of the engine...
    and the car speeds away,
  344. ... and away. "Oh! A red light."
    The car passes under it.
  345. The other cars slam on their brakes
    as the car speeds away.
  346. The car veers around a curve,
    into traffic.
  347. Weaving into traffic behind another car,
    the car speeds up and
  348. overtakes it... but oh!
  349. He spots what he's looking for
    and fishtails,
  350. nearly hitting another car
    in front of him.
  351. He comes to a stop and gets out of the car.
    He walks: "Where's my wife?"
  352. Here's the narrator.
    So the three elements
  353. combined,
  354. make me go back to my teacher
    at Gallaudet, Facundo.
  355. He didn't find the words at the time,
  356. but I think I know
    what he was trying to say.
  357. It would be like we had holes
    in the back of our heads.
  358. And the camera would capture
    what my eyes saw.
  359. Through this perspective, you'd say,
    "Ah, so that's their world!
  360. That's how they see-- fluidly."
  361. So this is something new.
  362. And this leads us to...
  363. Deaf Lens
  364. There are no limits anymore. None.
  365. And I want to pursue this further.
  366. Thank you.