A level Media Studies support site

A level Media Studies support site
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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Textual analysis ; elusive A grades

David Allison wrote: "The exam question is always phrased something like: "Discuss the ways in which the extract constructs the representation of (say) gender using camera, editing, sound and mise en scene." It does NOT ask how CESM contribute to genre or narrative.

For me, sound is typically about narrative, genre and the audience's emotional response to a scene. It's pretty rare, in TV drama, for sound design to get a great deal of attention. Then there's editing, which for me is primarily about narrative. I've studied many textbooks, but never read an example of how ellipsis makes a character appear more masculine, or how an eyeline match speaks volumes about class differences. I think professional editors would find the idea amusing. Sure it comes into play occasionally, but 90% of the time, TV editing is hasty and perfunctory, as it was in the early days of cinema - the punctuation of moving image. (I was a TV producer for four years, so I'm not coming to this clueless.) In all but the most artfully constructed of novels, would we really ask the role that commas and colons play in character construction?

Certain that I'm missing something, I turned to Julian McDougall's textbook - but I remain none the wiser. Reading OCR exemplar scripts offers few insights either: the 'High' answer A on Monarch of the Glen refers only to 'smooth' editing, whatever that means. Even if it does 'imply continuous editing' as the examiner writes, what does that have to do with answering the question? Answer B comments nicely on s/rs representing two characters' opposition, but that's it - the reference to eyeline match is a technical device to explore camera and mise en scene: the use of close up, facial expression and props to explore the teenager's childlikeness.

Back to sound and in response to candidate A, the examiner notes: "Further, the candidate attempts to draw out the issue of the use of sound in the representation of age, considering the multifaceted use of sound in the extract: "Jovial folk music is played when there is an up-tempo scene where everybody is at work, but this quickly changes to a sombre low key piece when Amy is running away. The change of pitch and tempo sets the mood and our stance on the scene." I'm sorry - but how is this drawing out the issue of the use of sound in the representation of age? And how is it so much better than Candidate C's point, which the examiner says show 'minimal engagement': "Non-diegetic music in the extract gives a feel of vintage Scottish music, which is played whilst the older males are shown working in the extract. It is also very lively and active. So the music is relating to the older working males in the clip." Now, badly worded it may be, but the candidate is clearly attemp!
ting to relate the tempo of the music to the vitality of the older working men, which is more than candidate A tried to do.

The Doctor Who examples shared by the board at Get Ahead don't help me much either. Only one of the three points about both sound and editing in the June 09 exam overview pertains to gender representation. In the 'sound and editing' exemplars, Candidate A's points actually refer mainly to camera and mise en scene - references to to editing seem incidental to gender, and the term 'jump cut' is repeatedly mis-used. Candidate B talks about the ticking of the clock, but while that's great for narrative and mood, what does that have to do with gender?

From hours of reading exam board exemplars, I've so far got the following codes:
a.. Shot/reverse shot can be used to reinforce relationships - sometimes by exaggerating opposition
b.. Jump cuts can connote disorder
c.. Eyeline match can provide insight to a character's private thoughts, though mainly through camera and mise en scene, actually.
d.. Pace of editing can imply character qualities - fast pace suggests energy, for example.
e.. Choice of music can do the same
f.. Crescendo implies a build-up of power or emotion, be it in dialogue or non-diegetic music.
g.. err.. that's it so far. Anyone got any more?
Sorry if this seems like a bit of a rant, but as you might be able to tell, I'm beginning to despair - I really want to help my students improve their scores, but I'm not sure I understand how. Or is it not just me - are we ALL bluffing about this, in the hope that no one notices...?"

Vicky Allen responded: "Don't know if this helps but I think the whole point is teaching how the micro contribute to macro (the three macro being narrative, genre and representation). The task set by the exam board states that they are looking at how MCES create macro representations of XYZ. In the case of the MOTG clip, the use of sound (jovial music played when the middle aged workers were on scene v. threatening sound motif to introduce Amy) clearly represented the difference and contributed to a stereotypical representation of age (adults - good, youth - bad), so I agree that Candidate C response was more in line with what I think the exam board want (candidate A may have been a better response overall though so perhaps this was just a weak aspect of their answer).
I always try and get my students to write a sentence about the narrative at the start so they a) understand the clip and b) link it to the other macro of representation and how the difference in representation helps us understand the narrative. The shot reverse shots, action matches, eyeline matches, montage etc as part of editing in that clip all contributed to stereotypical representations of age and there were loads of examples in the clip."

James Baker added: "I'm not sure that building up a list of codes and their fixed 'meanings' is going to be particularly helpful for students. At best it tends to lead to the kind of deterministic analysis which often characterises weaker responses, as the context of the codes is lost in the belief that Code A always equals Meaning B (see the constant plea in the PE reports for G322 to avoid discussing colour palette in this superficial way - a white shirt does not always mean that characters are 'pure' and red trousers do not necessarily signify their 'passion/anger'!)

One approach to both sound and editing is to look at the way in which technical elements are used to create perspective or viewpoint within a sequence - a key element of the process of representation that goes beyond the identification of 'character traits'. By understanding, for example, how screen time, p.o.v. or reaction shots are distributed, even weaker students can see how hierarchies are established, leading to certain representations being privileged where others are marginalised. Stronger students are able to develop this further by discussing how the audience is positioned in relation to the representations on offer - the best answers in the June session of G322 offered some great discussion of the way in which editing frequently shifted the viewer's relationship to dominant views of gender in different scenes, for example. Another important factor is the way that the editing of the sequence grants or witholds narrative information from the audience in order to encourage identification or rejection of particular characters/representations. Fans of 1970s screen theory will recognise the essence of Colin McCabe's work on hierarchy of discourses in classic realist texts in this approach - obviously massively watered down! There are good chapters on this in John Fiske's Television Culture and Bernadette Casey's Television Studies if you want to mug up."

and "As far as the Primeval sequence was concerned, I was thinking along the lines of those students who were able to build a discussion of the way in which the content/mise en scene suggest that Cutter's masculinity is undermined by being the victim of the sabre tooth attack in which he requires rescuing by Abby, while the editing of the sequence positions him squarely as the protagonist through the frequent reaction shots, the way in which he motivates the editing through his actions and the final slow-mo shot of his relieved expression, rather than cutting back to Abby who's just saved him! Not many male stars would be happy if they missed out on a triumphant close up at the end of an action sequence.

There are some obvious contrasts to be made to the final sequence of the extract, where Jenny is ostensibly the protagonist but the cutting makes it obvious that she controls situations through dialogue rather than action (arguably feminine vs masculine skills) - she motivates the shot/reverse shots, emphasising her manipulation of West. In addition, her lower status in relation to Cutter is emphasised by the fact that her last minute rescue is not signalled by a cutaway to the team arriving with guns and the fact the sequence cuts to their determined expressions rather than to her."

and finally from James Shea: "David, in reply to your question about attaining the A grade might I offer a left field answer? I used to be Head of English and Media before moving on to my university role and the concept of A grades in any paper was a key central issue. What we actually found was that some students could have the knowledge but not get an A grade. Some students had 50% of the knowledge, but still got an A grade. Comparing papers, the difference between the two was remarkably clear: the latter group could write really well. I mean by that their composition was strong, their arguments and use of evidence effective, their ability to draw together thematic ideas and present high level arguments was smooth and in general they wrote with confidence even though they didn't actually have a great deal of knowledge.
By refocusing some of your efforts into the demands of effective prose writing rather than knowledge you might actually break down some of the issues you are meeting. We found that those that did English Literature and Media got better marks sometimes in the Media exams - simply because they were better at writing sharp focused scripts at speed.
It is something to think about, but I wish you luck in hunting down those elusive A grades - it plagues us all."

File Conversion

Several people have sent comments to the e-list about file conversions.

Here are some points:

David Burrows: "With videos for G321/G324 in mind, can anyone suggest (ideally freeware!) software for this? Haven't found any that convince so far!
Also, any recommendations for sound/video file converters?"

Gary seal: "File converting - FormatFactory does the job and is free."

Hannah Cayton: "For screen recording on a Mac, I use Snapz Pro. It was around £60 when I bought it a couple of yeas ago. Not free, I know, but it works really well for recording moving image and demonstrations.

keepvid.com is great was grabbing videos from YouTube, offers you several formats and file sizes, and is free."

Friday, 15 October 2010

Q&A from second INSET day 15/10/10

Should evaluation questions all be answered at the end of the process or as they go through the process over time?

The centre should guide candidates on this, but clearly preparing candidates for the evaluation questions/tasks can start from the outset and I know of at least one centre which is getting candidates to make part of their evaluation task videos as they go along. The final seven responses should be put together for moderation at the end of the process, e.g. at the top of the group's blog.

Are they penalised if all their posts are over a short period of time?

Not necessarily, but to be honest, it doesn't look good and doesn't look like planning, especially if they are all done at the end!

If titles are an art form, shouldn't this be a discrete brief?

In a way, it is! Candidates need to be looking closely at how film openings work as part of their research and a significant element of this is the titles. Look at the work of Saul Bass, for instance, which offer artistic titles but which also opens films very effectively, suggesting narratives, themes and characters.

Is it a level playing field between topics on G325?
Yes. There are expectations of depth and breadth for all topics.

Do ALL G322B topics need to include indie v major contrast?

no but they should be contrasting in one way or another, otherwise there is a danger that candidates will be caught out by the question and find they have little to say or worse still answer as if their single case study represents the only way their industry works.

Should the A2 exam be longer?

It has to be 2 hours. But we do understand that for Section A 30 mins can be a bit tight and that markers' expectations should be for what is possible in the time allocated.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

INSET feedback

The first get ahead event of the year took place yesterday in London, with 37 delegates in attendance.

All responses to questions about the course fell into 'agree' or 'agree strongly' and 73% of delegates who responded rated the course as excellent, with the other 27% giving it good. This was very heartening!

Things they liked most were: activities done during the day, opportunities to share ideas and work in groups, ideas for teaching from the presentations, an A2 assessment task that we did together, feedback on coursework and examples shown, the resources to take away and the chance to have an open forum at the end of the day.

We look forward to seeing more teachers at the rest of the events!

What does a digipack look like?

Examples of student digipack and magazine advert from the summer. level 4 work. A digipack should be four or six frames and a magazine advert should follow conventions in terms of promotion of the product. these are very good examples.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Useful links

Useful resource for the AS main video task .

Elsewhere on the site are some brilliant tutorials (Photoshop, InDesign etc) including one on CD covers for the A2 music video task.

from Ted Faulkner

Clarification 13: cameras

From David Allison: "Finding the right camcorder is getting ridiculously difficult. A year ago, Pete Fraser advised sticking with DV, but that's not possible anymore. The four major camcorder manufacturers (Canon, Sony, Panasonic and JVC) have stopped making DV cameras for the consumer market - it's all SD cards and HDD drives now. Canon still lists 5 standard-def DV models on its website, but they're no longer available to purchase.

"Secondly, there's no longer any way to get quality sound from a cheap camcorder - even an HD one - as NONE of the manufacturers include mic jacks in 2010 models below about £700"

"In other words, it can no longer be said that cheap cameras give perfectly good results - it used to be true, but the market has sadly changed for the worse. Given the current economic climate especially, the board should expect to see a decline in sound quality in student videos from all but the private schools and media colleges - there's no way to afford pricey cameras like that at the moment. I trust our students won't be penalised for this?"

David is right- the manufacturers have once again changed the technology and phased out an older format. However, I don't think this is necessarily making things any more difficult as far as sound is concerned. We used bottom of the range camcorders with built in mics for ten years for all our student projects; if shooting dialogue, students needed to plan for it in advance. Most sound was added afterwards, so there's no reason to think this will lead to a decline in their videos. With all technology, it's about students making the best possible use of what is at their disposal.

From Tom Barrance: "I always suggest that students make films without recording live sound and put the soundtrack together on the computer. This means you can get high-quality sound without the pitfalls of live recording.

An option for live sound is to record it separately using a digital audio recorder and sync sound and picture up at the editing stage (you need a clapperboard and timeline-based editing software). This gives you a lot more flexibility with your sound design as mic position isn't limited by having to be connected to the camera. The new Zoom H1 digital audio recorder is around £100 - plug a £30 tieclip mic into this and you can give actors or presenters as much freedom of movement as if you were using radio mics. (You might think this too fiddly for your students.)"

great advice!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Clarification 12: Local paper poster

"Can anyone give me guidance on what a poster for a new local newspaper
might be like? Does anyone have some previous work I could look at?
Neither the student (nor me, based on past experience) wants to do the
website brief so he has to do the poster. Many thanks."

In practice, this might be better considered as an imaginary billboard advertising the new paper. We had so few entries for this option that it is difficult to provide examples which really worked well. Consider how any print artefact might be advertised on a poster and think about how this might be adapted for a new local paper.

From Donna (Principal Moderator for A2)"What we are not expecting is the sort of A-board put up outside newsagents. Here are some real examples: one local and some nationals



and a good idea from Vicky Allen:

"We think that the poster for the local newspaper should be based on the competition/event that is also being advertised on the radio trail and on the paper itself to create synergy'.

Clarification 11: Blog sites to use

Someone asked what are good sites avoiding linking up with Google?


Have all been recommended so far. I will add any other recommendations here

from David Allison: "I use Wordpress, which works very well, and this year I've refined the setup a little. I've set up an Administrator account from which to run all the A Level blogs, and then two Editor accounts - one for AS, one for A2, using gmail accounts for email addresses, as every account-holder has to have some kind of email address. Students in each cohort (AS and A2) are on their honour not to interfere with each other's work, but there were no problems with that last year. Giving them Editor status means they can't change the main password or profile, and they can't change the template for their Blog, but everything else is up for grabs.

Last year I had individual and group blogs, so that I could differentiate assessment for certain tasks. That was a bit of an assessment nightmare, so this year it's one blog per group, but with a subsidiary page for each member for any individual reflections, and for their evaluations. I've also set up categories for each group, so that students can 'sign' their entries. I've put a category cloud in the sidebar, and as their work progresses, the relative size of each of their names should show who's contributed to the most posts! Clicking on one of their names will then filter the blog to show only those posts authored or co-authored by that student.

Over all of this I have one main blog page for each cohort from which I link to each group blog. Later, when the sample is called, I will create a page especially for the moderator linking to their group and individual work. You can see an example of this from last year here "

Monday, 4 October 2010

Clarification 10: Short film Brief A2

There have been several comments and questions, plus some useful links posted on the site in the last few days.

"The definition of short film is so broad that surely there are going to be many different results. If moderators are wanted basic fictional narratives than that should be addressed in the brief. My students are creating short films based on a theme. We have several different types of short films, two of which I've included there. Two of the groups really like these films and may borrow the ideas/structure. Both I would argue have a clear narrative structure, but they are not fictional and not traditional short stories".

here and here

these look like good examples and if an A2 short film was as good as these, we'd all be well pleased!!

"I'd have thought a sort of Three Minute Wonder documentary format would work well: Is 3 minutes too short even if its done well?"


Up to five minutes is the stipulation, so 3 mins done well would be fine!

"There are many documentary style short films. Have a look at BBC Film Network which has a whole category dedicated to them. See also Fourdocs and 4docs - the films on the latter often will not play. The factual short film form is wholly legitimate for students to attempt, in my view. The problem as I see it is that some simply copy the format of a conventional TV documentary in shortened form with endless interviews and a narration. I think that they should be more adventurous and try to impose a distinctive style of some sort. A characteristic of short films seems to be that they are often quirky in some way. This requires a lot of imagination, and there's the rub!"

Very good point- it's all in the execution.

Advice from Rob carlton: "Centres can do documentaries as an option if they want to under the A2 short film task.
However centres should be aware that those who have attempted it so far have found it problematical to get their students to produce a whole documentary film lasting only five minutes, with moderators reporting that these have either tend ed to end up looking like news pieces or unfocussed social realest films or unfocussed cross overs between music video and documentary .
Students may find the A2 short film task more accessibile and engaging if they stick to fictional/narrative based short films."

So, overall fiction and non-fiction are both possible, but bear in mind the advice here. The most important thing is that it is a complete short film!