Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Challenge of New Media POLITICAL Video Production

As the key person that is in charge of the production of NSP National Day Message Video, I would like to thank The Online Citizen's critique. What are more enlightening are those comments that follow the main article.

I have pushed for Web Video to be produced for a long time in NSP. But due to constrains and strategic considerations, we have to push it back till now. But as someone commented in TOC, political parties in this era could no longer be "no sight no sound but only text" on the internet. The internet Video has opened up a new whole spectrum of possibilities for political engagement.

PAP knows the power of media, especially the motion visuals coupled with emotional voices. This is the main reason why it has put a very tight grip on ALL the mainstream media in Singapore. It monopolized the TV & Radio stations right from the beginning and subsequently, took total control of the print media in Singapore after completing laws that subsequently force the merger of the "defiant" Chinese papers, Nanyang Shang Bao. It has made the mainstream media its tool of propaganda and image building while deprive other political opponents from gaining any space nor exposures through it.

The new era of internet has opened up a New Media frontier. Many Singapore opposition politicians, after years of deprivation of utilizing the mainstream media, have become more reserved, conservative and even skeptical in utilizing the internet as the New Media to enhance their political work. The common view is that the New Media is a double edged sword. But some are more willing to make use of the New Media to breach the Media barriers that PAP set up in the past and present.

The Singapore Democratic Party is one fine example that has been more advanced in utilizing the New Media opportunities provided by internet. Well, some may argue about who is the First to put up a website, use Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and so on to have that super facial "feel good" ego painted on them but the truth is, utilizing New Media for "networking" is very different in exploiting the media to the fullest in terms of carrying political messages to its intended audience.

For example, a "politician" may start a blog or use Twitter, but if what he puts up in his blog or transmitted through Twitter are just some political irrelevant content (like gatherings and complains) and not political messages or ideas, then he is not effective in utilizing these mediums for his political work. Never mind if you are the first politician to write the blog or use Twitter but the truth is you are not effective in utilizing them as political tool.

Web video is the most powerful tool that Internet has provided us thus far. The born of Youtube and other free video portals have provided wide opportunities. But it also poses the great challenges to Singapore opposition who have been a stranger to TV political evangelism for the past 40 years. Video, with sight and sound, is a very different animal from just writing plain text message. It involves a lot more of technical production skills and personal skills than just writing words.

My comrades and I have first hand experience in the web video production processes. Although new technologies and software have somewhat made video production tools more easily available for us, but the key still lies in how individuals perform right in front of the camera. Apart from that, the post production work on how the speech is being edited.

PAP has the opportunities and help from professional producers in the TV stations to make them look good in front of the TV but we do not have such luxuries. SDP is fortunate enough to have the help from some freelance video producer and editor but most other opposition political parties, including NSP, do not have such support. We do not have a proper studio to start with!

Nevertheless, such lack of expertise, proper equipment and venue do not deter me to push for the final production. Whether we like it or not, we have to start somewhere somehow. Although we will be at the lower end of learning curve, but I believe that in time to come, we will be fully ready to fight the New Media Warfare in the next GE.

I am fortunate enough to get the help of friends like Uncle Yap and some people who were in TV production to give me pointers and advice. There are at least three versions of edited video before the final ones are made. I have put up all the versions for public critiques and made respective editing amendments after such critiques are being consolidated.

Some may ask me why do have National Anthem in ALL the three language video production. This comment is most probably made by people who have watched all the three videos. But the respective videos are meant for different people with different language background. In the very spirit of our National Pledge (yes yes, I will be touching on this one later), I do not think we should have different treatment to different videos produced using different languages. The National Anthem is meant for ALL Singaporeans, not just those who use English or Chinese or Malay alone. This is a political video production, it has to be politically correct right from the start.

Some have made comparison to SDP's National Day Message video and said that we could have done something like them, combining all languages into one video. I was pretty impressed with their video production as well but the professional advice I have received is that I should do the same. The reason being that not everyone understand Malay, Chinese or even English. For a political message, it is important to get your targeted audience in different language segment to get the full picture of the message, not just the little different parts and pieces.

Subtitles may help in solving the problem of producing multi-language video but that would mean that at any one time, we will have to put up two different subtitles of two languages. This approach will make things look complicated visually. We cannot assume that everybody can read English subtitles, even though most people do.

Just take for example, if someone who only know Chinese watch SDP video, he may be lost for the rest of message except for the Chinese part. Same for those who only knows Malay or Tamil.

Thus, I was advised that mixing the three language presentation into one is not feasible politically. Political video, it seems, has more considerations than a normal video production like advertisement or just plain home video. It has to be all encompassing and all possible considerations have to be made to cater to the different voters.

Of course, presenting a 5 to 8 minutes speech in a mono-language will have its challenges. As I have mentioned before, Singapore opposition politicians have little real life practice and opportunities to stand right in front of the camera and speak naturally, convincingly etc. It is a LOST ART, so to speak. But we intend to rediscover it.

It is easy for anyone to put up a 5 to 8 minutes speech without video. Any inappropriate gesturing could well be forgotten there and then. But the video will capture every bits of it and present it pure and naked as it is. Of course we could edit away such portion using cut-away (i.e. using other visuals to replace the person while he or she speaks) but for a political message delivered by a person, it is the person's presentation as in voice, body language and gesturing that is important in carrying fore the message.

I was tempted to use cut-away but was advised against it. The politicians will look more like newscasters if such cut-away is used intensively.Another trick was to cut-away to audience just like what they did for PM Lee's National Day Rally but we do not have that.

Many have commented that the film shot was too wide, should have a mid-body shot. However, my production adviser would prefer wider shot! As stated before, politician's gesturing is an important part of a video presentation. It would be frustrating to see the politician gesturing while part of his or her arms are cut off from the video! (Watch Ken Sun's and Wai Leng's presentation for example). When I take a second look at PM Lee's National Day Message Video, yes, the framing does not cut off the hands.

As for the National Day Message itself, I find it quite comprehensive and focused personally. It has raised at least three important issues of Singapore, Housing, CPF as Retirement Financing and FT Policy that affects jobs as the key problems that cause great anxiety to Singaporeans. And such anxiety may diminish our National Identity as a whole. Of course there are much rooms for improvement in terms of messaging but I do not find any big problem in its approach at all.

The most challenging part of a New Media Video is of course, the presenters themselves. But I think for a first time try, they have performed reasonably well, though there are pretty much room for improvement. This actually brings back an important issue, training is vital in political presentation.

All in all, I think we have a good run in the production process, accumulating valuable experiences. We have to address all the challenges we faced in our first run in order to move forward with better production next time round.

I would like to thank all those people who have took the trouble to comment, critique and more importantly, providing valuable feedback to us. I would like to thank TOC once again for their effort in providing us the critique on their well read website. We take all comments and criticisms with great spirit as the necessary nutrients for our growth and progress.

Goh Meng Seng


Donaldson Tan said...

Nice response. I sincerely wish for more Opposition to enter parliament at the next GE.

Anonymous said...

Why are you still using your WP uniform photo in your blog profile? Are you in NSP or WP now?

cy said...

i agree that packaging is important for those who focus on form more than substance.

To me, substance is more critical as an empty sack cannot stand upright.

A politician who only depend on packaging will be exposed one day but a politician who has substance can survive the tribulations of political upheavals.