Screenfaction : supporting creative remote communication in film scoring

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The research in this PhD thesis is concerned with the development of design principles and of computer tools to facilitate remote communication between stakeholders in the film scoring process. Film scoring is a creative, multidisciplinary practice that involves two key parties: filmmakers (film or television directors and producers) and composers. In the position of clients, filmmakers start by hiring a composer and provide an oral or written brief describing how the music should support their vision. Then, musical ideas are discussed and developed through creative collaboration between the two parties until the score is completed and released with the picture to television or theatre. In this context of collaboration between music specialists (composers) and non specialists (filmmakers), certain problems repeatedly emerge primarily due to practitioners not sharing the same musical language. In fact, previous ethnographic records and trade literature have shown that this creative collaboration can face large levels of misunderstanding and frustration, and that little has been done to help practitioners communicate accurately and efficiently. With the advent of the Internet and fast bandwidths facilitating the exchange of heavy media such as video and music, it has also become commonplace for composers to work with filmmakers located in different cities or even countries. Although this situation greatly opens the market and brings new opportunities for collaboration, communication now faces new obstacles. In the absence of face-to-face, challenges can be aggravated as interactions between people are drastically limited. Considering advances in recent technology and related academic endeavours, the research in this PhD concentrates on alleviating communication issues in remote settings through the use of computers. The research methodology was inspired from several domains and approaches, namely Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), ethnography in design, evolutionary prototyping, interaction design and goal-directed design. An exploration phase included a longitudinal study with 31 practitioners and a 5-month long case study with 2 practitioners. The exploration identified communication challenges recurrently faced by practitioners while collaborating on film score productions. Based on the observation of habits articulated by practitioners to address the challenges, a set of guidelines for best practice were also developed. For clarity and ease of comprehension, challenges and guidelines were classified into four main levels of concern: organisational, interpretive, emotional and indexical. A design phase comprised of two studies was then conducted to progress towards appropriate solutions for these communication issues. The first study led to the assembly of personas to facilitate the understanding of the main roles involved in the film scoring process. The second study showcased the design of a low-fidelity, paper-based, prototype to assist the remote discussion of music and video artefacts. A high-fidelity version of the prototype, named Screenfaction, was later implemented as an interactive Web-based platform. This version was then evaluated over a four-week period with two practitioners in real-world conditions. Outcomes from the evaluation have stressed a need for establishing a clear scope in creative discussions and for resolving the ambiguity that occurs in remote collaboration. Feedback from participants also revealed the complex nature of the composer-filmmaker relationship and highlighted some interpersonal, technical and coordination issues that should be addressed when designing systems for distant communication.
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