In what ways does your media product use, develop or challenge forms and conventions of real media products?
For our A2 Media Studies coursework we had to create a teaser trailer (of any genre we wished) and create 2 ancillary tasks to go a long with it (in this case, a film poster and a magazine cover). My group and I chose to create a thriller film, so we had regular meetings to develop our ideas into a feasible and interesting plot, which we could then create a teaser trailer for. As we had worked on Thriller opening sequences last year at AS, we were very clear of the codes and conventions that would be found within a thriller film, they include: - Create a sense of enigma/ suspense - Contain some fast paced action (depending on the sub-genre of the film) - Tension is built up throughout the film - There will be scenes that thrill the audience (perhaps making them jump) - Fast paced editing - The protagonist is male
If I were to break this down further, I would also look at the codes and conventions of a psychological thriller, as this was the sub-genre of our film. Codes and conventions of psychological thrillers include: - The main or one of the main character suffering from a mental illness (could be known or unknown, it is usually revealed at some point in the film) - Mind games (could be between the character, but may also involve the audience) - A sense of danger and enigma - Dark settings - Isolation I am now going to examine whether our group applied these codes and conventions to our trailer, or whether we challenged them.
This is the final draft of our teaser trailer; it took 2 drafts prior to this to get it the way we wanted. We also got a lot of audience feedback to help us make the trailer more appealing to the audience.
But before all this could happen, each of our group members had to do some research into teaser trailers, so we knew what our trailer should look like. We established that:
- We should not show the whole storyline, a trailer is only meant to whet the audience’s appetite and not make them feel like they know the whole story already. - Include many different quick shots in the shortest space of time as possible, whilst still making the viewer want to see the film.
- Establish some kind of comprehendible narrative.
- Include information about actors/ actresses, the distribution and production companies.
Leave the viewer wanting to see more.
We established these were typical of trailers as we each analysed 4 different trailers. I analysed: Audition, Donnie Darko, Amélie and I am Legend. By looking at and analysing these film trailers I felt a lot more comfortable knowing what the codes and conventions of a thriller would be and what is generally expected within a trailer.
We took this into consideration during our planning process and we thought of the many different ways in which we could present our narrative without giving too much of it away. Unfortunately, our first and second drafts of our trailer were too vague and did not establish any kind of narrative whatsoever. It took us a while to realise, and after some audience feedback, we took a step back from the production and watched it through the eyes of the audience. We agreed that it was far too vague and begun working on making the narrative visible to the viewer. To save our trailer, we turned back to our research and looked at what we had established as the typical codes and conventions of a thriller film. In the new draft of our trailer we included: A sense of Enigma: We left our trailer on a cliff hanger, creating the greatest sense of enigma possible. The only way that the audience would be able to find out the resolution to this enigma would now be to go and watch the film itself. Many film trailers (especially teaser trailers) present the audience with a sense of enigma, then leave the audience with a cliff hanger. Cliff hangers are one of the most effective ways of making an audience member wanting to go and see a film. This was the case with the I am Legend teaser trailer. The audience is presented with a sense of danger, where the main character is isolated in low key lighting. It is then eluded that he is attacked by something, but before the audience can figure out what is going on, the shot cuts to the title. This is the very same structure our trailer follows.
What is interesting about the fact that both of these trailers follow this structure is that they are of different sub-genres. Empty Vessels is a psychological thriller, whereas I am Legend is a sci-fi thriller. It could be argued then, that the majority of thriller teaser trailers (no matter what the sub-genre) use cliff hangers in order to attract their audience. Therefore, we conformed to the typical codes and conventions of real media products.
Include some kind of fast paced action: In most Thriller trailers, there is a presence of some kind of action, be this: a car chase, running or a fight. Upon looking at the first draft of our trailer, we found there to be no action whatsoever. It is not necessarily a requirement for there to be action, but it is a good indicator of genre. So when we met as a group to discuss our options we felt it would be a good idea to include some kind of action. We chose to make it subtle and include a dramatic scene that alluded to the idea of a fight. In this scene, the character of Alex hits a magazine out of her friends hand with quite some force. Not only did this add drama to the narrative, but alluded to the idea that there was going to be some kind of conflict between these two characters. We chose not to show whether or not his escalated to a fight as this scene alone would make the viewer question what is going to happen next. So it also creates a sense of enigma for the audience. This is a scene from the Donnie Darko trailer, there are many scenes in this trailer that hint to the idea of there being fast paced action. This shot is under a second long, but it still gives the audience a hint to the genre of this film. The inclusion of police cars suggests that there is some kind of anti-social behaviour or dangerous scenes within this film. But as the audience does not know what they will want to continue watching the film as this builds up the sense of enigma.
Tension is built up throughout the trailer: A typical device used within trailers to build up the tension is the use of different editing speeds. Typically, a trailer will begin with slow shots that establish the storyline, develop character and introduce the themes within the film. By the time you have reached the end of the trailer, there will be many quick cuts (that can range from half a second to 3 seconds) that build up the tension. These build up tension as the audience may not understand why certain shots have been included and this could lead to confusion, they may also feel overwhelmed by the amount of scenes and actions that are being thrown at them in such a short space of time. We used this technique of varying editing speeds within our trailer, at the end of the trailer, we have one long scene (of the main character’s friend talking to her through a closed door that lasts about 10 seconds. It would have been very boring to have just this shot in the trailer. So instead, whilst I was editing, I incorporated about 5 or 6 shots that were related to the storyline, each of these shots was about 1 or 2 seconds long. Coupled with the music that was reaching its crescendo, I was able to transform an originally boring scene into a scene that becomes the crucial point of tension within the trailer.
I found that this was a common technique in all of the trailers that I analysed, even in Amélie, which was a romantic comedy. So this is a technique used in all trailers in order to draw in their audience. Therefore, we conformed to the codes and conventions of a typical trailer.
There will be scenes that thrill the audience: As our film belonged to the psychological thriller genre, we decided as a group that we wanted to make the focus of the trailer the psychological state of the main character. Therefore we chose not to include any intensely thrilling scenes, especially not any scenes that would make the audience jump. We just felt it would be more effective to keep it subtle and make the audience question their own lives rather than thrilling them to the point where they are not paying attention to the narrative. Depending on the genre/ sub-genre of the film and the content some trailers are naturally jumpy (such as Horror trailers) as that is just the way the film is. Film trailers such as Audition are jumpy as the majority of the film is jumpy too, therefore the amount of thrilling scenes within a film is usually reflective of the film itself. As a group we decided that we did want our film to be too thrilling, hence why our trailer contains no thrilling scenes. Therefore, our trailer challenged the conventions of a typical thriller trailer as we did not include any intensely thrilling scenes. We chose to do this as we wanted our trailer to play subtle mind games with the viewer, and we felt that a thrilling subject (in this case a mental illness) would be more effectively portrayed through a calm trailer. This juxtaposition between subject matter and portrayal will hopefully make the audience more thrilled than if we just bombarded them with intense scenes.
The protagonist is a male: In the vast majority of thriller films, the protagonist is a male. Films with a male protagonist include: 23, Donnie Darko, I am Legend, Sixth sense, The Shining, Se7en, Reservoir Dogs… The list could go on forever. It is less common to have a female as the protagonist within a thriller film, but it is not unheard of.
Thriller films such as Gothika have a female protagonist instead of a male. It could be argued that female protagonists are less common within thriller films, as stereotypically they are represented as the weaker sex. If thriller films consist of action scenes, murders and contain the constant threat of danger women may seem unable to deal with issues like this as they are the weaker sex. So, for our film, we wished to undermine this idea. We decided that the only two characters we were actually going to show in our trailer were two female characters, neither of which were weak. This wasn’t merely because there were 3 girls in our group, but we felt it would be an interesting twist to have a female protagonist for once.
Characters: The character of Alex is developed throughout our trailer and is shown to be quite a strong independent character. She constantly denies that there is anything wrong, and is shown to get angry at several points in the trailer (even admitting to the doctor that she has been having ‘anger issues’). As her character develops we see her become more and more fixated with the number 9 and this leads to the deterioration in her mental state. Alex’s friend isn’t developed as much as the main character, but appears in several of the scenes that are crucial to driving the narrative forward. She seems to be quite strong and asserts her concerns for her friend and offers her help. But at the same time we see her become frustrated with her friend and believes that she has just made up the whole thing.
We decided to create a clear juxtaposition between the character to increase the tension between the characters. It is very clear that there is a huge difference in personalities, the friend seems to be more outgoing and dresses in a more glamorous manner. Whereas the character of Alex doesn’t care much for her appearance and spends a lot of the trailer alone. It is clear then that these characters are two complete opposites, and a perceptive audience would be able to guess that there is going to be some tension. Having two female lead actresses would reach out more to the potential female audience, often when a male is the protagonist it will attract more male audience members as they can relate to the characters (and in some cases imagine that they themselves are the lead actor). By using female actresses we have potentially done the same thing, female teenagers feel that they will be able to relate to the characters and may therefore watch the film. Opening up to a whole new demographic of target audience. In this case, we have challenged the typical conventions of a thriller film, as we have chosen to use a female as the protagonist, rather than a male. We did this intentionally to make the film open up to a new demographic, as well as standing out from all the other thriller releases.
In terms of character comparison there were a few characters that our protagonist, Alex, matched. The plot of our film was similar to the of The Number 23. Our main character becomes fixated on a number that has a link with their life. Both Walter Sparrow (The Number 23) and Alex (Empty Vessels) then become dangerously obsessed with a number that leads to them becoming paranoid, anti-social and estranged from their family and friends. The key difference between the characters is of course gender, Walter is male and Alex is female.
This appears to be a somewhat strange comparison to make. But, the character of Alex (Empty Vessels) is similar to the character of Precious (Precious) in one crucial way. Both of these characters were abused during childhood and witnessed horrific things are a young age. This led to both characters becoming isolated, both characters prefer to be alone than with other people. We developed our character from the basics of Precious, her abusive background and isolation. We wished to develop the character of Alex further and so gave the character a mental illness which requires medication. Both of these characters are from very different genres, Precious is a drama, whereas Empty Vessels is a thriller. So we had to take this into consideration when developing our character.
One of the characters we paid close attention to whilst developing our character was that of Donnie Darko (Donnie Darko), as I had seen this film and analysed the trailer in depth I knew of his characteristics and how his character developed throughout the film. The main characteristic we took from this character was the fact that he had to take pills to control his hallucinations (caused by his schizophrenia). We knew we wanted our character to have some kind of mental illness and that she would have to take pills to control it. Both characters then stop taking their medication and they begin to have hallucinations again. In the Donnie Darko trailer, there is a shot clearly showing him taking his medication, whereas the Empty Vessels trailer does not. Instead we chose you use a voiceover of a doctor asking Alex what side affects she is having, implying that she either has an illness, or she is on some kind of medication.
Locations: We used several different locations in our trailer to create meaning and indicate the genre of the film to the audience. The park: We chose to use the park to highlight the character’s isolation rather than hint to genre (though, isolation is very often recognisable as a convention of thriller films). We decided to use a large open space to show her insignificance to the environment around her and emphasise the fact that she is completely alone. School corridor: Indicates that this thriller is going to be based on characters who are in high-school or college, so again this means the audience can decide whether they can relate to the film or not. Again, we chose to use an isolated corridor to create a sense of tension and to show that the main character is only comfortable with talking to her friend.
The main character’s bedroom: to indicate that this is a very personal issue the film is dealing with. We also chose to use low key lighting in all of the scenes that took place in the bedroom to give the impression that her room is mysterious and dangerous. This may make the audience feel unsafe as usually a person’s bedroom is where they will feel most safe. This was our decision to play mind games with the audience, as we made them subliminally question the safety of their own bedrooms. Darkroom: Our main character is meant to be a photography student, so this scene hinted that to the audience, but we included this scene more as a indicator of danger. It isn’t very clear, but Alex is developing an image of a cat (which has 9 lives, therefore linked back to the narrative), and the red, low key lighting within the shot indicates danger. The connotations of the colour red and darkness include danger and death. The inclusion of this shot then hints to the audience that this obsession with the number 9 could be potentially fatal to the main character.
Props: A birthday cake: the opening shot of our trailer is of a birthday cake with 9 candles on. This indicates straight away that the number 9 will be of grate significance and that something important to the storyline happened on someone’s ninth birthday. However, as a prop by itself, this does not pose any threat, through the lighting in the shot suggests otherwise. A knife, fake blood and a stuffed toy: as we wished to allude to the idea of a child witnessing a murder we decided to incorporate 3 props within the same shot. The knife and the fake blood are typically expected of thriller films as many are based around murders. But one would not expect to see a stuffed toy within the shot as well. This hints to the audience then that either a child has been murdered or witnessed a murder within their own home. Murder is typical of the thriller genre.
A school book full of writing: We chose to use this to show several things, firstly that the character is still in school, secondly (and most importantly) to show the mental deterioration and obsession of the main character. The book shows several pages full of number 9’s, showing that she cannot overcome the obsession. We also chose to write them in the colour red, again indicating that the number 9 may turn out to be extremely dangerous to Alex. The use of certain colours within thriller films is a common device used, often in thriller films there is the use of reds and blacks to indicate danger and mystery. So in this case we have developed the codes and conventions of a typical thriller to shape meaning for the audience.
Newspaper clippings stuck on the wall: When characters become fixated with something they often allow it to consume them. To show that Alex had become consumed by her obsession we stuck up loads of newspaper clippings to do with the number 9, we also wrote the number 9 all over them to show the extent of her obsession. This was also done in The Number 23, but instead of newspaper clippings, the character wrote all over the wall. We wanted to use newspaper clippings as our film was based on a lot of real life events (such as 9/11) and putting up newspaper articles shows a clear link with real life.
The use of text: All the trailers I analysed during research and planning included some kind of text that alluded to the narrative within the film. Donnie Darko is just one example. We also used text to give the audience hints about the content of our film:
It was not particularly clear in the footage and audio that the main character was trying to repress a memory from her past, so the inclusion of this text meant that we were able to open up a new part of the narrative to the audience. Text is a device used by many trailers in order to keep the audience engaged, it usually breaks up action, bringing a sense of balance to the amount of action within a trailer. So we conformed to the codes and conventions of real media products as we used a commonly used device in order to present parts of our narrative that were not particularly clear.
Overall, I feel our teaser trailer was successful in selling our storyline, especially when compared to the first and second drafts we produced. We mainly developed codes and conventions of real media products in order to make ours look like a real media product, but we also developed our characters from characters that have been in other real media products. We did challenge a few of the codes and conventions, but we did this with purpose. Instead of using a male protagonist, we chose to use a female as this would make our film stand out from other thriller films. We also stuck within the time constraints of a teaser trailer, typically, a teaser trailer is anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Usually though, they hit around the 1:40 mark. Our trailer reached a total time of 1:36. Meaning we conformed to the typical time constraints of real media products. All in all, I feel we worked very well in order to produce something that was true to other media products. We focused very carefully on character, locations and props and used other real media products to help us with this.