A lack of experience or formal media training didn’t stop Katriina O’Kane, an environmental scientist, from producing a sophisticated multimedia web doc. Profiles from the Arctic casts a spotlight on scientific research in the Canadian North. It follows a group of scientists working at the Polar Continental Shelf Program in the town of Resolute Bay. In the summer of 2013, O’Kane spent two weeks with them, shadowing their work and recording detailed interviews. Using audio clips, photos and some short videos, the doc takes you through their research, their personal stories and what inspires them about working in the Arctic.
O’Kane answered a few questions about what it was like to do a big project with little financial support, why she thinks science reporting is important and what lessons she learned while producing the series.
Columbia Visuals: How did you get the idea for this project?
Katriina O’Kane: I worked two summers as a research assistant for a professor of mine in the West Yukon. So I was helping to measure trees, I was helping to count plants, I was helping to sample ponds and i got to be in this absolutely beautiful location. I knew I wanted to continue working in the North for the rest of my career. I love research, I love being there.
I’d been casually interested in photography for most of my teenage through university life. I don’t think I ever travelled anywhere without a camera. I wanted to do something that was more visual, that was more documentary, that was more connected to people. I know about this base, I know how important it is for the functioning of all the research that happens in the High Arctic and I don’t think a lot of people really know what field research is about and what kind of amazing opportunities you can have as a field researcher.
A big part of the reason I think [scientists] don’t communicate is because no one is telling them to communicate. The granting organizations, and getting hired is much more focused on the articles written in scientific journals – and scientific journals are only read by scientists. That’s kind of why I wanted to do a doc about scientists working in the Arctic – I haven’t seen so much of that kind of work before.
CV: How did you get around your lack of formal training?
Just do it:
KO: If you talk to anyone who’s really passionate about media they’ll probably say that the most important thing is to just go out there and do the story that you’re passionate about. You learn by doing. I think it was just working with the material for a really long time and having discussions with other people about the material that influenced what to do with it. But when you don’t know how to do something it just takes much longer. When you don’t have money and you don’t have experience, you need to have time.
The Internet is your friend:
I looked at some of the open university classes that were online as well. For interviewing, I watched little YouYube clips from Ira Glass. Most of the time when I had a [technical] problem I just typed into Google how do I do “blah blah” and I looked at different blogs and different online resources that popped up.
Find connections in the field:
My boyfriend works in video editing so he’s helped a bit with editing my sound bits and tightening them up, and making sure I don’t have too much repetition. Another friend of mine here in Montreal is also a filmmaker and I’ve learned some film editing from him just by asking him, “Do you mind if I come and watch and learn as you edit?”
How did you find funding?
KO: The fact that I didn’t have [much] funding meant I had to do everything myself. I had to do the shooting, the recording, the editing. The Indiegogo campaign that we had, that was just to pay for the plane ticket. It was $6,000 for my plane ticket to where I was trying to get to, to Resolute Bay. Each night [a total of two weeks] you spent at the base was another $250. So the logistics of going there was astronomical.
I mean it was my first project, I shouldn’t be expecting everyone around to get paid. And I didn’t have the experience to expect the kind of funding [that would allow for that.]
[The Canadian Polar Commission] also helped with the post-production editing of the work, they provided funding for that so that was very much appreciated. Without the Canadian Polar Commission the project wouldn’t have happened.
CV: If you were to do this over again, what would you do differently?
KO: My concept of how long it takes to edit material was completely off. I thought I’d be able to finish editing this project in a few months, and I’ve been working on the editing for a year now.
I think making contacts in this media world is very important if you want to do well. Eventually I want to be at the point where I’m not the one doing all the work – I want to be able to hire people who are really good at doing things. Good at sound design, good at color correction, good at filming, good at editing video. Just by hiring people who are experts, I think you can get a much better product at the end just because you’re surrounding yourself with good people.