MEDIA EVALUATION: INTRODUCTION By George Parkin
1) In what ways does your media product use, develop orchallenge forms and conventions of real media products? The brief given was to create three media products. The opening 5 minutes of a television documentary. Alongside, two ancillary tasks; a radio trail and a double page spread for a television listings magazine to back up the documentary. Acutely aware of the short timeframe in which the documentary could run for and the accompanying radio trail and double page spread in mind we began extensive research into various areas of the media in order to better our understanding of the task.
1) In what ways does your media product use, develop orchallenge forms and conventions of real media products? Bill Nichols‟ Documentary Modes (2001) was something we consulted early on during our research and planning period. In order to gain an incite into the different types of documentaries and the styles certain documentaries employed. The vast array of types and styles found in the documentary sub-genre including – Performative, Expository and Observational – gave us many useful ideas for our own documentary. The unique styles and distinctive elements some of them utilised helped us perfect our own product. Although many of the sub-genres were not suitable we were able to sift and sort through the different modes using only what we felt relevant in order to obtain the desired effect.
1) In what ways does your media product use, develop orchallenge forms and conventions of real media products? Although many of the documentary sub-genres werent appropriate for our topic the incites they provided were incredibly valuable. The main sub-genre we focused on when it came to our documentary was the Expository mode, we felt this suited our product best as some of the key conventions to this documentary mode are proposing a strong argument, speaking directly to the viewer and using rhetoric.
Expository Documentary Use of rhetoric – „The expository mode diverges sharply from the poetic mode in terms of visual practice and story-telling devices, by virtue of its emphasis on rhetorical content, and its goals of information dissemination or persuasion.‟ Our documentary uses a narrative structure that tends to be very rhetorical and persuades the audience of our argument that bullying is a major issue and there is not enough being done to address it, especially bullying in higher education and academia in general in which our documentary primarily focuses on.
Expository Documentary Our documentary becomes persuasive through its use of rhetoric by emphasising the problem of bullying, we tried to express the full extent of the problem by displaying students lack of knowledge on the subject, this was achieved by asking various students how many people reported being bullied, as we showed in the documentary many had an unclear view of how many reported being bullied each year, with the true figure often being much higher than what the students originally thought. Again, by using rhetoric we were able to create a documentary that presented a reasonable argument that appealed to the audiences emotions and involved them with the topic further; “The numbers speak for themselves bullying is a problem that isn‟t being addressed and it‟s on the increase.” Furthermore by addressing the audience directly via voiceover we were able to appeal to them further by using such devices as rhetorical questions such as; “So why is it a issue as widespread as bullying is so neglected?” by employing such tactics not only does it give the audience a reason to keep watching in order to perhaps discover an answer, but it also gives them something to mull over whilst watching, keeping them attentive and drawn in.
Expository Documentary A final further use of rhetoric in relation to persuasion was our use of expert opinions, in our documentary such opinions came from Jag Jagdev, an academic coach and leader of the student development team, his incite on the topic of bullying legitimized the documentaries arguments that not enough was being done to combat the issue of bullying as during our interview with Mr. Jagdev he remarked how bullying was an issue increasingly difficult to combat, likely because of the emergence of cyber-bullying, however he did not mention this rather picking up on how bullying that goes on outside college is something teachers and other staff can do little to stop. The use of an expert provided back up and gave validity to some of the claims made earlier in the documentary, overall it made our argument appear stronger and more persuasive as we had the voice of an expert on our side.
Expository Documentary Speaking directly to the audience – „Narration is a distinct innovation of the expositional mode of documentary. Initially manifesting as an omnipresent, omniscient, and objective voice intoned over footage, narration holds the weight of explaining and arguing a film‟s rhetorical content.‟ Whilst documentaries in the poetic mode thrived on a filmmakers subjective visual interpretation of a subject. In the differing expository mode it aims to collect footage that strengthens the spoken narrative.
Expository Documentary Strengthening the spoken narrative was something we aimed to do through the footage we shot. Examples of this include our extensive use of establishing shots to emphasis the current location of the documentary, creating a clear sense of time and place this can be seen at various points in the documentary. Other examples include the use of expert interviews as I have already mentioned bringing in another party to back up what is being said through the voiceover strengthens the overall argument or viewpoint presented by the documentary. This was a convention we were sure to be able to achieve as the subject matter (bullying in academia) was already a forgotten and neglected issue it was important to strengthen and give thrust to the previously weak argument and really bring the issue to the forefront of peoples agendas.
Expository Documentary This shift in visual tactics gives rise to what Nichols refers to as „evidentiary editing‟, a practice in which expositional images „..illustrate, illuminate, evoke, or act in counterpoint to what is said…[we] take our cue from the commentary and understand the images as evidence or demonstration…‟ (Nichols 2001: 107) By actively engaging in rhetoric with the audience we were able to provide supporting visual information, a convention found in the expository mode. This mode continues today and indeed, makes up the bulk of documentary products. Film features, news stories, and various television programs lean heavily on its utility as a device for transferring information, explaining clearly why we felt the expository mode was the most suitable for our documentary and the message it was aiming to get across.
Further Research Since the beginning of the A2 coursework I have watched many documentaries in preparation for when it came time to create our own. Some of the documentaries watched in class included episodes of „Airline‟ and the Morgan Spurlock Documentary „Super Size Me‟, these documentaries helped me develop my ideas and our ideas as a team, by watching professionally made and critically acclaimed documentaries we were able to use and develop forms and conventions found in such media products as „Super Size Me‟. The skills we were able to pick up by watching such documentaries proved invaluable when it came to creating our own media product.
Super Size Me One of the first expository documentaries we watched was „Super Size Me‟, this documentary made quite an impression on us and due to it‟s positive reception, commercial appeal and ability to present a strong message whilst not being seemingly overwhelming despite the subject matter was something we hoped to recreate by using and developing the conventions that it employed throughout. „Super Size Me‟ uses expository modes that we wanted to recreate in order to produce an effective product. Such conventions as speaking to the audience directly, this was something writer, director, producer and star Morgan Spurlock was able to do with ease.
Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock‟s ability to speak the audience and address them in a pleasant manner but still be able to raise serious and significant points was an important convention and just one example of something that inspired us. An example of Morgan Spurlock addressing the audience with a serious point to raise is seen at various points in the documentary but one example is when he is speaking of the adverse effects on his health, he wakes in the middle of the night with heart palpitations and shortness of breath, he then speaks to the audience about his experiences; not only does this make the viewer connect on an emotional level with the person they are seeing on screen but they are more likely to take note of what is being said as the scene will grab their attention and what is being said will be seen as clearly a serious matter as it relates to a persons wellbeing. We attempted to recreate such an scenario in our documentary by connecting on an emotional level with our audience we did this by playing our opening montage/reconstruction and straight afterward expressing what a neglected issue bullying in academia is, this aimed to make the audience concerned and just as how we the viewer were paying more attention to Morgan Spurlock when his was experiencing health problems, our documentary had the same effect as the viewer had just witnessed a reconstruction of bullying taking place, this aimed to ignite their interest in the topic and then layering text on top of this drew the viewer in further almost preying on their vulnerabilities when they were most attentive in order to get the documentaries message across effectively.
Super Size Me In addition to being able to speak to the audience directly in „Super Size Me‟ Spurlock presented a prominent feature of expository documentaries, a objective balanced argument. This was displayed at various points, but specifically toward the end of the documentary when he asked McDonalds to issue a rebuttal to the points he presented in the documentary and his findings. They ultimately declined to do so but the documentary remains balanced as he did give the opposition a chance to put forward their arguments. Naturally, we wanted to create a documentary that was balanced without bias, in order to do this we spoke to experts, as I have already mentioned. Who were free to speak on the issue of bullying without their views being distorted, but we also interviewed members of the public who didn‟t necessarily hold liberal objective views and attitudes on issues such as bullying, by presenting the thoughts and opinions of those we interviewed in Solihull town centre we were able to create something objective, balanced and fair.
Super Size Me Employing this convention did not however take any momentum away from our argument as ultimately judging by statistics alone bullying is a major problem, therefore by producing a balanced objective documentary the viewers were free to draw their own conclusions not only from the views expressed over the voiceover but also the views expressed by those who didn‟t always hold the same outlook as we did regarding bullying and what a prevalent problem it was. Despite those who watch being entitled to draw their own conclusions overall their was a general consensus that no matter how many opposing views couldn‟t refute. The fact that just the same as Spurlock‟s weight increased and health declined during his McDonald‟s binge clearly people are being bullied in massive numbers, which in turn is leading to depression, suicide and other social issues, which can be proven through the use of statistics, so undoubtedly the message is still put across effectively and that cannot be infringed. Whether people chose to believe it is another matter, but it remains factual and truthful.
Super Size Me & Airline That was just two examples of what codes and conventions I learnt from „Super Size Me‟ and how it influenced my ideas when it came to creating our product that had used many expository modes. I picked up many other conventions from watching „Super Size Me‟ and „Airline‟, chief among which was the use of the camera. These documentaries employed varied shot types including – Close Ups, Establishing Shots, Medium Close Ups, Extreme Close Ups and Long Shots – these different shot types influenced our documentary in many ways.
Airline For example, in „Airline‟ due to the fact many of the people at the airport have missed flights or are unhappy with their service extreme emotions are often portrayed varying from anger and frustration to misery and disappointment, the film crews attempts to capture such varied and rapidly changing emotions meant in a single scene many different shots types are used including Medium Close Ups when the passengers and airport staff are discussing thoughts and feelings directly to the camera, but at other points when passengers are arguing with staff the camera becomes intrusive in the conversation trying to nestle in on the conversation often resorting to Over The Shoulder Shots, whilst at other times Extreme Close Ups were used to capture the turbulent emotions as well as Long Shots when unpredictable and often irate passengers left the airport or were escorted out after being informed they had missed their flights.
Airline Learning from the varied use of camera shots used in programmes such as „Airline‟ we tried to implement this, using a variety of camera shots and angles gave our documentary a dynamic and artistic edge that we felt was compelling for our viewership. One example of using multiple camera shot and varied angles like in „Airline‟ is during our opening reconstruction. The reconstruction is montage of different clips, fading in and out to form a speechless reconstruction of bullying in higher education, the shots used in the opening reconstruction include – Long Shots, Extreme Close Ups, Over The Shoulder Shots, Medium Shots – in addition high and low angles are used.
Reconstruction & Airline On the following slides is a series of examples of how I used the conventions seen in „Airline‟ i.e. the use of multiple camera shots in single scenes to our advantage when it came to constructing the documentary. Utilising the many different shots and angles sometimes in single frames and in a short space of time exhibits the diverse range of skills I have able to observe from other documentaries and television shows such as „Airline‟, being able to implement these techniques and conventions meant the documentary had a more gripping and unique opening which grabbed audiences attentions early on, not to mention the fact it clearly showed our ability to use the camera in a variety of distinctive ways and create something not only memorable but also tense with realism set against an urban landscape and packed with raw emotion.
Reconstruction & Airline Medium Over The Shoulder Shot, with Shot, Extreme Close Up moderate low & High Angel. angle.
Reconstruction & Airline Long Long Shot, moder Shot. ate low angle.
Reconstruction & Airline Medium Shot, Close Up &moderate high angle. Long Shot. Extreme Close Up.
Other Documentaries In addition to studying in detail „Super Size Me‟ and „Airline‟ in class, outside of class I personally conducted extensive research into a series of different documentaries both on bullying and documentaries in general, many of which focused on a much wider subject matter than just bullying. Many of these documentaries in fact when far above the criteria traditionally associated with documentaries, such as documentaries produced for use in schools (specifically anti-bullying campaigns) or other student films, in fact the area I looked into most were some of the most controversial, critically acclaimed and commercial successful documentaries in the genre.
Other Documentaries Some examples of commercially and critically successful documentaries that served as inspiration for our documentary include – Michael Moore’s: (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko) etc. Morgan Spurlock’s: (Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) etc. David Guggenheim’s: (The First Year, An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman) etc. These are just some of the documentaries we encountered during our extensive research.
Other Documentaries All of these documentaries influenced me in various ways, the impact they had played key roles in the making of the documentary and often their style and substance were the deciding factor in what we shot and during editing what got cut and what stayed in. Their ability to sway our decision making highlighted the impact and significance these documentaries had when I first watched them during the initial research period. Perhaps the documentary that had the biggest impact of the larger known and more commercial successful documentaries (putting aside the smaller documentaries, news segments etc) was Michael Moore‟s „Bowling for Columbine‟ a documentary about gun violence in the United States.
Bowling for Columbine „Bowling for Columbine‟ is a 2002 documentary by Michael Moore, the film specifically looks at the effects of the 1993 Columbine High School Massacre but more widely focuses on the nature of gun violence in America. My initial reasoning behind watching this documentary was it‟s commercial appeal, the film broke box offices records internationally, namely in the U.K. going onto become the highest grossing documentary of all time before being eclipsed some years later by another Moore film, Fahrenheit 9/11. Later I came to realise it was one of the largest and most successful documentaries to focus on education, although it wasn‟t looking at bullying in education it was looking at violence (specifically gun violence, albeit similar to bullying in it‟s physical and often brutal nature) in education something I felt was very relevant and naturally I assumed there was much I could learn from such a film due to it being so critically well received.
Bowling for Columbine The film „Bowling for Columbine‟ specifically influenced the documentary in a number of ways that are clear to see, an example of this is the interview found in „Bowling for Columbine‟: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD2x6-CF2h4 Michael Moore‟s interview with actor and then president of the National Rifle Association Charlton Heston was an element of the documentary we aimed to recreate, as we felt the interview was informative, provocative and an essential piece of journalism for the film, despite wanting to recreate it with a similar style to what Moore had achieved we didn‟t want to include a liberal bias so when it came to recording our interview with Jag Jagdev we decided to stay out of the clip, allowing our expert to speak clearly and freely to the audience without the intrusion of our presence or the confrontational style found in „Bowling for Columbine.‟
Bowling for Columbine „Bowling for Columbine‟ visited schools and dealt with the issue of violence meaning it was relevant and had much in common with the subject of bullying and justifiable for inspiration. However, with many of the other documentaries which subsequently influenced me it certainly wasn‟t always as obvious why they were so relevant, with some focusing on the environment for example, „An Inconvenient Truth‟ it appeared as if they had little to offer in the way of inspiration for a bullying documentary.
Other Influences In fact, many of the styles of such documentaries as (Sicko, An Inconvenient Truth & The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) influenced me more than their subject matter or themes. Although some of the documentaries I watched didn‟t primarily obey the expository modes many did at times cross over, using conventions that I felt would benefit the documentary greatly if we were to use and develop them. In addition to that, some of the other documentaries such as those by David Guggenheim inspired me in style and subject matter as two of his films „The First Year‟ and „Waiting for Superman‟ revolved around schools and teaching and being as our subject was bullying set specifically in schools, higher education and academia in general it seemed to make sense to watch such documentaries if only to see how they were able to shoot around schools and colleges and what kind of establishing shots they were able to achieve.
Further Influences Other documentaries that were primary influences and helped us develop codes and conventions of real media products were: Ronan’s Escape – a short film on bullying: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XLcfdkkHQE The film‟s use of physical as well as emotional abuse against the protagonist of the documentary, Ronan was inspiration for our own reconstruction as much like ours it didn‟t feature any speech, with the use of Diegetic Sound being minimal (ours only used laughter and the use of a Non-Diegetic Voiceover ) Bully (2011 film) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1g9RV9OKhg This film had the largest impact of all the bullying documentaries I watched, it later influenced many of our decisions as a group, mainly during the editing period.
The Importance of New Media Throughout the making of our documentary we were acutely aware of the need for our documentary to obey the conventions of „New Media‟. „New Media‟ refers to on-demand access to content any time, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation and community formation around the media content. An important promise of „New Media‟ is the „democratisation‟ of the creation, publishing, distribution and consumption of media content. Another aspect of „New Media‟ is the real-time element, with the product being current, new and unregulated in content.
The Importance of New Media Although „New Media‟ does not traditionally include feature films – unless they are technologies/products that enable digital interactivity. Our product differs significantly from the big-budget feature films produced by major studios, it even differs noticeably from feature length documentaries which was one of the main reasons we felt „New Media‟ was an important area to consider when constructing our documentary. Due to the fact our documentary is short (only five minutes long) it can easily be watched in an instant, the product is uploaded on YouTube meaning it is contributing to the global conversation on bullying, it is a product that is a departure in style and substance from traditional documentaries and because of the unregulated content, something unflinching and provocative has been created.
The Importance of New Media In addition to that, the interactive comments section on a variety of video- sharing websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion only contribute to the documentary being grouped under „New Media‟ as such comment sections and discussions on forums of social issues allows this film to become interactive, the content can be praised or criticised and the integrity of our findings scrutinized. Finally, one important factor that contributes to our documentary being appropriate for „New Media‟ is how it was produced. The documentary is produced by the same people who would consume such medias digitally the result of this is a fair objective look at social issues in this case Bullying as there is no hidden agenda, also important to note just the same as how Facebook is a social media model, in which the users are also participants (they have a say in what appears on the site) so do those who appear in our documentary, just as they got a say when we interviewed them (participants in production) they will also become consumers (users) online of the product they have helped create, being able to put the film under a microscope and examine the final product.
Challenging Codes and Conventions As I discussed earlier our documentaries main focus is on the conventions laid out by the Expository mode, however we do at times challenge the expository conventions and use other documentary modes which I will mention briefly. Our documentary does often cross over into for example the observational sub-genre, as we use one of it‟s conventions „using minimal interaction‟ we chose not to appear on screen in the role of investigative journalists pressing the issue of bullying to experts and interviewees as we felt it compromised the nature of documentary as it was meant to let those even the most radical of people speak freely to the audience as after all they were there to interviewees talk not us, all we did via the voiceover was commentate and keep the documentary on a clear track. We also used an observational style when observing people around the college, recording them for our establishing shots going about their business without interacting with them or manipulating what was appearing on screen.
Challenging Codes and Conventions Examples of Observational style shots used in our documentary.
Conclusion Overall, I felt we used the conventions of expository documentaries to our advantage very well, throughout the documentary I feel we on the whole obeyed conventions previously laid by critics such as Bill Nichols‟ in Documentary Modes (2001) the result of this was a balanced, „democratised‟ highly pervasive bullying documentary which on the whole I was very pleased with, I felt the final product exhibited the nature of the problem as well as people‟s general ignorance on the subject. The film‟s reconstruction I felt gave viewers an unflinching glimpse of what it is like to be bullied and was able to connect with them early on, on a emotion level. The effect this had was an audience who was tuned into the issue of bullying and ready to listen and learn.
Conclusion Although highly consistent in the conventions it employed through the documentary in parts it did develop or challenge certain conventions in certain areas although it was minimal in comparison with how much it obeyed professionally made „real‟ media products. In conclusion I feel we were successful in creating something that was appealing to the audience whilst not compromising the integrity when dealing with a difficult and challenging subject that is bullying. The overall structure of our documentary used the enigmatic code which is a problem that is only discussed and not solved. This leaves the viewer with questions that cannot yet be solved. Uses of forms and conventions such as these create a spark of interest for the viewer, it makes them realise how serious an issue is and is likely to contribute to them discussing it further e.g. joining the global conversation which „New Media‟ products often make people do.
Conclusion In conclusion, I feel the documentary is not only effective in delivering it‟s message but also stands as an example of the high level of research, planning and production that went into it, as you have been able to see from this PowerPoint. The study into forms, codes and conventions and how we used them is just a microcosm of the planning and effort that went into creating the documentary as a complete entity, on the whole I am very pleased with the finished documentary.