Evaluating Alan: The eBay OAP

Stills from Alan: The eBay OAP

The aim with my documentary, Alan: The eBay OAP, was to convey my Grandad’s passion for the auction website eBay, whilst also giving a broad introduction to the site and how to use it, in a light-hearted and relatable manner.

All in all, the film required 10 days of shooting, including reshoots, in the space of 7 weeks. I feel that I managed the filming efficiently, and made the most of the time available to me. The only stumbling block was when, towards the end of the production, Alan had an eye operation, which delayed the filming by a week, but we managed to get everything filmed in the final week after he made a full recovery! Following each day of filming, I would edit the rushes, usually in the evening and the following couple of days; this is something I usually do, but was particularly useful for this project as almost every dialogue scene required multiple takes. Whenever I caught both Alan and Cath off-guard, they could usually give me a great, relaxed answer to a question, but as soon as the camera was rolling, it was a different story altogether! Unfortunately, this led to the interview sequences having a very controlled atmosphere; we would decide what they were going to say and then break it down into smaller chunks so they could remember it. I’d often do many takes to get a more relaxed tone to the dialogue to make the interviews seem more spontaneous.

With so many different takes, it was much easier to edit with the filming fresh in my mind; half of the time, instead of re-recording a complete sentence, I would film two halves of the sentence and cut them together to form a whole, to make it easier for them to remember; this is why there are quite a lot of cutaways throughout the film! In hindsight, I could have made some sort of visual or audial cue after each successful line, to help me during the editing, but usually the round of applause and smiles were enough! As I was shooting new scenes, I was constantly thinking about what was required for the footage I’d already edited, such as additional dialogue, dialogue pick-ups or extra cutaways, and filmed these in the middle of recording interviews from elsewhere in the film.

The three "day 1" shoots - the third still is from the final film

The majority of the filming was at Alan’s home, which is only 5 minutes away from where I live, so it was easy to film any additional material when required. There were multiple reshoots of the interview sequences, mainly to improve the lighting or to change the wording of dialogue. The main reshoots involved shooting from a different angle, to avoid the overexposure and dependency on the weather that came with shooting against a window. Once I moved the camera around to face the wall, the lighting was much more natural. I had already recorded the second interview, discussing previous eBay experiences, against the window, but in the early evening, and so the lighting was much more accommodating. With this already in the can, I decided to alternate the interviews between facing the wall in the daytime (opening, packaging and closing) and facing the window during the early evening (experiences, end of auction) to make it appear more deliberate.

The five interview scenes

Following my The Onlooker, I again used the JVC GY-HM100 camera to record my documentary. It was edited with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5. Throughout the editing process, I was battling against the university-imposed maximum runtime of 8 minutes; I had a lot of footage that I felt was relevant, and cutting down the pauses between dialogue too much increased the pace so much so that it did not suit the way Alan speaks. In the end, I managed to edit it down from 10:41 to 9:23, by cutting out a couple of extraneous sentences and a short interview with Cath, describing her increasing enthusiasm for eBay. I think I have managed to maintain a good pace for the film despite these changes. I ended up with a lot of unused footage which I felt was both too long to include and not of comparable quality to the rest of the film, so following the completion of the film, I produced a companion video called Alan: The eBay OAP – The Cuttings, which features some of the additional scenes and outtakes.

The Premiere timeline, from towards the end of the editing

The shots of the eBay website were produced with Camtasia Studio and were captured directly from the computer; I had tried to film them using a camera, but the screen had a strobing effect. I used Magic Bullet Looks once again to grade the film, boosting the contrast and saturation slightly, and adding a very faint vignette to the edges of the image.

Once this was complete, there were two areas I felt needed to be improved on. I did not use any studio lights to light the film, relying on a single tungsten ceiling light, which, for the most part, was directly above Alan, which gave him a very warm skin tone. There was also some background noise, mainly due to the computer fans whirring in the background. I worked with two people I met through some online support forums to fix these problems, using colour correction in Premiere for the lighting and Adobe Audition 5.5 for the background noise.

The majority of the music was licensed from AudioJungle, a website offering royalty-free stock music, sound effects, and audio. It took hours to find the perfect tracks, but I feel each one suits the sequences very well. I was keen to edit the shots to the music, and while I feel this is mostly successful, when watching the pre-titles “clutter” sequence, my attention is focused more on the music and the video than the dialogue, although this may just be because I was the one who edited it! I also collaborated with an amateur composer to create two short pieces; a piano melody for the title sequence and a Psycho-esque electronic theme for the dolls shots.

Instead of featuring the voice of a narrator, I used Alan’s own words to tell the story of the documentary because I wanted to give it a more personal feel and to allow the audience to see eBay from his point of view. Although he explains the ins and outs of how to use eBay, which many people are aware of, he does so in his own, endearing manner.

All of the feedback I have received has been very positive, with most people finding Alan to be a very likeable character and praising the editing in particular! There was laughter throughout the Jill Craigie Cinema screening at uni, but at all the right moments!

I feel that the completed documentary successfully portrays Alan’s enthusiasm for eBay, whilst also acting as an introduction to the site for newcomers, as it gives a both humorous and informative insight into his methods and motivations, with a deliberate pace that reflects his age and the “OAP” of the title.

Watch the documentary and The Cuttings on their portfolio page.