Home > Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, The New Media > Pyla-Koutsopetria Filmmaker Ian Ragsdale

Pyla-Koutsopetria Filmmaker Ian Ragsdale

Things are getting hectic here as PKAP heads into its final phases, so I’ll let our resident documentary filmmaker provide some content.  Below is a short email interview with Ian Ragsdale.  I’ve asked him the same questions that I asked to Joe Patrow, our last documentary filmmaker, two years ago.  For that interview click here

What were your goals in shooting a documentary with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project?

As an aspiring archaeologist as well as a professional videographer, I arrived in Cyprus with a variety of goals.  My most basic goals are to provide PKAP with videos to increase the exposure of the project, its mission, and its directors.  It is my hope that these videos will assist PKAP to educate students as well as retain and attract new sources of funding.  Before I arrived, I honestly did not have clear concepts about what form such videos would take, but my goal now is to create short video posts covering the personal and archaeological experiences of members of the field team (already available online) and additionally make a 30 to 60 minute documentary about the archaeology of the project.  On a professional and academic level, this video project is a great way for me to show a diversity of filmmaking skills in a new environment and gain real archaeology field work experience.    This experience should also prove critical in my applications to graduate school.  On a personal level, the trip to Cyprus has been a refreshing break from a strenuous and chaotic freelance videography career.  I haven’t been to Europe to shoot movies since 2003 and 2004, and it’s been a wonderful and challenging opportunity.  As expecting parents, my wife, who is also here in Cyprus, and I are also happy that we’ve already taken our child on an international trip.  It sets a good precedent for the future!

How is your work different from PKAP’s earlier documentary work, namely Joe Patrow’s award-winning Survey on Cyprus and Emerging Cypriot, his series of shorts?
My work is different from Joe’s in a few ways.  Most fundamentally, Joe worked with PKAP before the project undertook any excavations, so the work going on at the PKAP site has been incredibly different from what he captured on camera.  While artifact collection and processing has been similar, the simple fact that PKAP is now digging into the ground has given me a whole new category of field methods to cover. I’ve been able to build on Joe’s work by covering a variety of field methods and other scenes non-existent at the PKAP site when Joe was last here.  As an aspiring archaeologist, I also have a different perspective on the work that PKAP is doing.  Although I am working on videos for the general public, I’m also trying to specifically reach the aspiring-archaeologist undergrad set with interviews and videos that address the questions and interests of someone curious about archaeology as a profession.  Since I am in that same place in my life, it’s a great perspective for me to try and give others watching my videos.

Can you describe your relationship to the Project?

Although I have been brought to PKAP as a professional videographer, I feel like much more than a hired hand sent out to capture video of Mediterranean archaeology.  I’m living, eating, and riding bumper cars with field team members and sweating in the trenches excavating whenever I get the chance.  I’ve unearthed artifacts, measured ancient walls, and earned my blisters just like everyone else.  About the only thing that is different is every evening I go into my room and edit video, and occasionally I appear randomly with a camera and demand an interview.  Because I have four weeks here – three weeks of excavations and one week for interviews – I have been able to get all the footage I need while also getting some experience digging.  I must also say that the closeness that I feel to PKAP is not only because of my interest in the work going on here, but truly because of the warm reception I have received from the staff and the field team.  I can only hope that the PKAP directors don’t mind me being chummy…

Did anything surprise you about working closely and being a member of the PKAP team?

It’s a fairly stock response, but I didn’t have too many preconceptions.  I’ve been on many group trips with close quarters, shared meals, and long hours, so I experienced no hardship in that sense.  One thing that has been interesting is that, as a filmmaker, I have been afforded the opportunity to constantly step back and “people-watch” at the PKAP site.  There are a great many wonderful individuals on the trip here, and together they have formed many strange and unique alliances and small-group cultures without developing cliques.  Moving from trench to trench across the site, I have been able to interact with all the workgroups and see their quirks and listen to their conversations.  I have been surprised and pleased at how much fun folks can have in 105 degree heat, no wind, engulfed in dust, and with no relief in site but a handful of pizza-flavored bagel chips at 5:00.

Do you feel that your presence and work on the project contributed to the project’s overall goals?

It’s been great to see the openness, on the part of the project’s directors, to so-called “new media” interacting with archaeology. Only since the invention of YouTube is free bandwidth for video available to anyone to present their videos to the world, and PKAP is all about taking advantage of such tools.  I think that the final word about my impact on the project’s goals will come several years down the road, as funding and other attention is directed towards the project via the videos.

What did you have to teach the archaeologists in order to make your work there successful?
I’m an extremely flexible filmmaker and I like to shoot with minimal impact on my subjects, so I didn’t really have to fight anyone to conform to some Kubrick-esque demands in order to get a critical interview about a trowel.  I think the most important thing that a filmmaker can do is to instill confidence in his or her subjects so that they can feel comfortable letting the filmmaker, for instance, crawl over their newly-discovered antiquities trying to pull off a neat shot.  My work in the trenches really showed that I was serious about archaeology and would present both the work and the people faithfully.\

How much footage have you accumulated during your three weeks of shooting?
So far I’ve shot twelve hours, but I anticipate on shooting 18-20 hours total once I’ve completed the formal interviews next week.

How was the footage shot — can you give us some technical specifications without being too technical?
I’m shooting with a Panasonic DVX100 miniDV camera, editing with Final Cut Pro, producing special effects using Motion, and creating original background music for the YouTube clips using Garage Band.  I always shoot with a polarizing filter on my camera, which is a filter that reduces glare from the sky, sea and other reflecting surfaces so that I can get nice shots of the blue sky over Cyprus.  This filter also protects my lens from dust and grit, which is a reality on an archaeological dig.  Whenever practical, I shoot with the camera on a tripod.  Shooting handheld makes it must faster to switch from shot to shot, and it is sometimes easier to pull off pans with just the hands, but having the camera on a tripod is extra insuranc
e that my shot will be steady enough to use in the final product.

What will happen to the footage? Does it have archival value?
PKAP has already purchased an external hard drive that will hold this year’s footage in a totally digital, versatile form, and which PKAP will keep for future use.  I believe that the interviews may hold some archival value, as they capture, in a nutshell, the perspectives of PKAP staff in 2009.  If the PKAP site ever undergoes full-scale excavation or even conversion to a tourist attraction, then the interviews could be an interesting feature of a visitor’s center or excavation archives.

What are your future goals with the project?
As I begin graduate education in anthropology and archaeology, it would be wonderful to continue my association with the project as both a member of the field team and a filmmaker.  Right now though I’m really living in the moment, still trying to figure out what I’m going to shoot in the fifteen minutes following completion of this questionnaire.

What other projects are you working on now and how can we follow them?
In the past year I’ve shot documentaries on slow food, family farms, and Olympic gymnasts and have traveled to Tuscon, Philadelphia, and all over Texas for my work.  I’m based in Houston and my production company, Big Ape Productions has a website: www.bigapefilms.com.  The site is new, but we are updating it with content as fast as we can.

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