Succeeding in VCE Media requires making a consistent effort throughout the year to develop your understanding of key knowledge and key skills while completing your practical work. Here are a bunch of tasks you can complete in Unit 3 to extend yourself. Keep in mind that these activities are an extension or addition to the work that you would normally do in class. Completing these tasks in your own time will help you become more independent learners. Although these tasks vary in length and complexity, think about spending at least an hour every week on one of these activities. With a little bit of work every week, you will notice the improvement by the end of the year!
- Watch your narrative texts. Being able to write expressively about narrative involves developing a familiarity with the texts you have studied. When it comes to the exam, being able to play the film back in your head will help you answer almost any question on the text. After you’ve finished watching the film, Identify key scenes – including the opening and resolution of the narrative – that help you write about production and story elements.
- Key terms. Writing expressively and passionately about narrative means having a clear understanding of production and story elements. These are the basic building blocks of narratives, the things that make a story. Write your own cue cards with definitions of the following terms: narrative, genre, audience engagement, camera techniques, acting, mise en scene, editing, lighting, sound, opening, development, resolution, establishment and development of character, point of view from which the narrative is presented, setting, multiple storylines, structuring of time, cause and effect. You can use a range of resources to complete this activity, including your textbook and notes from your teacher.
- Camera techniques. How a director chooses to move the camera can, arguably, make one of the most significant contributions to storytelling. Before thinking about the contribution that camera movement makes to the films that you are studying, it is important to define the following camera techniques. Camera angle: overshot, high angle, eye level, low angle, undershot. Shot size: extreme long shot, long shot, full shot, medium shot, medium close up, close up, extreme close up. Camera movement: crane, dolly. dolly in, dolly out, handheld, pan, pedestal, point-of-view shot, snorricam, static, steadicam. tilt, tracking, vertigo effect, whip pan, zoom. Focus: deep focus, depth of field, pull focus, shallow depth of field. Filmmakers think carefully about how their use of camera movement, shot size, camera angle and focus will contribute to the story and help to engage audiences. Select one scene from each film that you’ve studied and, for each shot in that scene, describe how the camera is used. How does this contribute to the story? How does it help to engage the audience?
- Acting. Because its contribution to the narrative and audience engagement is often so subtle, acting can be one of the most difficult production elements to write about. Select one scene from each film in which acting plays an important role. Watch the scene several times, noting how the movement, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice contribute to the narrative. Sometimes a performance can be quite subtle. In your notes, be specific about what an actor does and how this contributes to the narrative or engages the audience.
- Mise en scene. Mise en scene is a cinema studies term that refers to what’s put in the scene. It refers to the overall effect of make up, costume, props and colour within the frame. Select a shot from each of the narratives that you studied and write about the contribution that mise en scene makes to the narrative or audience engagement. It is often useful to focus on a specific shot because it forces you to describe specific aspects of the mise en scene rather than just making generalisations.
- Editing. Editing focuses on the way that sound and images are assembled to tell a story and engage the audience. When writing about editing, it is important to use terminology appropriately, including phrases like: cut, fade, dissolve, wipe, cross cut, shot reverse shot, ellipsis, flashback, flash forward, montage, fast motion, slow motion, time-lapse, jump cut, reversed, freeze frame, flash frame, split screen, parallel editing, speed ramping, superimposition, wipe by cut, audio match cut, visual match cut, l cut, j cut. Select one scene from each narrative in which visual editing contributes to the narrative or audience engagement. Describe how and when the director cuts and what contribution this makes to the narrative. Similarly, select a scene form each narrative in which sound editing makes an important contribution to the story. Describe how the audio is edited together and what contribution this makes to the story or audience engagement. Playing the scenes without sound is often an effective way to focus your attention on the sound mix.
- Lighting. Lighting is part science, part artform which makes discussing its use in feature films particularly difficult. It’s important to remember that in most feature films, although the lighting might look normal and natural, the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to achieve particular lighting effects. Identify a scene from each of the films that you have studied in which lighting helps to tell the story or engage the audience. Some terminology you might use to describe lighting includes: key light, fill light, high key lighting, frontal lighting, back light, side lighting, underlighting, rim light, hair light, hard, soft, diffuse, chiaroscuro, three point lighting, natural, naturalistic, expressive, stylised, fluorescent, incandescent, warm, cool, contrast, shadow. Being as descriptive as possible, explain how lighting has been used in these scenes.
- Sound. Some terminology used to describe sound includes: on screen sound, off screen sound, transitional sound, pre-lap, post-lap, audio match cut, inner voice, remembered sound, distorted sound, spoken writing, personal narration, impersonal narration, diegetic, non-diegetic, music, score, song, contrapuntal, ambience, sound effect, foley, loud, soft, strong, melodic, eerie, rhythmic, percussive, shrill, piercing, harsh, heavy, deep, reverb, echo, flanger, phaser.
- Point of view. In narratives, the audience is encouraged to identify with the point of view of one or more characters. For each film that you have studied, identify the characters that the audience has the greatest identification with. These characters are usually the protagonists in the narrative. Identify the scene or scenes in which the audience most strongly identifies with these characters. Making reference to production elements – including camera techniques, acting, mise en scene, editing, lighting and sound – explain how the director encourages the audience to identify with these characters.
- Multiple storylines. Narratives frequently have multiple storylines. These storylines often arise from external conflict. In most narratives, however, the characters also struggle with some kind of inner conflict. In many cases, these storylines are related. Make a list of the storylines in your film. Explain their interrelationship, how they are established, develop and resolve.
- Opening sequence. The opening sequence of a narrative performs a number of functions including inciting the narrative, establishing characters and setting, and engaging the audience. Watch the opening sequence of each narrative and explain how it achieves this.
- Development. Narratives are a carefully structured series of events. In many narratives, events escalate and tension rises as the narrative progresses, pushing relentlessly to a resolution at the end of the film. Throughout the course of the narrative, the characters will usually encounter obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. Describe how the narratives that you have studied develop.
- Resolution. The resolution of a narrative is when major storylines are resolved. It is also when dramatic tension reaches its peak. Watch the closing scenes of the narratives you have studied and explain how the storylines in your narrative are resolved. As a separate activity, explain how the audience is engaged during the climax of the films or television programs that you have studied.
- Cause and effect. Narratives occur in time and space. They are a chain of events linked by cause and effect. Character and character motivation usually performs an important role in driving the narrative forward. In traditional Hollywood narratives, this chain of cause and effect pushes relentlessly towards a resolution. Describe the chain of cause and effect in the two narratives that you have studied. Use a range of terms to describe how events are linked, such as cause and effect, causal chain, character motivation, opening, development and resolution. Avoid simply retelling the story.
- Character. Characters are an important part of narratives. Select one character from each film you have studied. Compare how these characters are established, making reference to appropriate production and story elements. In the course of a narrative, characters often develop as they overcome conflict. Describe how the character develops throughout the narrative. Characters are also defined by their relationships with each other. Identify a scene from each narrative in which the director establishes or develops the relationship between two characters and describe how this is achieved.
- Setting. Setting always plays an important role in the narrative. It often has a close relationship to characters, character motivations, storylines, themes and ideas. In some cases, the setting might serve an important symbolic function. Describe the setting of your film and the role it plays in the narrative.
- Structuring of time. Films rarely unfold in real time. Directors use a range of production elements to structure time in a way that suits the narrative and engages the audience. identify a scene from each of the narratives you have studied and explain how time is structured. Useful terminology for describing the structuring of time includes: linear, non-linear, montage, fast motion, slow motion, time-lapse, jump cuts, reversed footage, flash frame, split screen, parallel editing, speed ramping, superimposition, wipe by cut, audio match cut, visual match cut.
- Reception context. Reception context refers to the conditions in which a narrative is consumed. It includes the physical environment, technology used to watch the narrative and knowledge the audience might have about the narrative, its production or genre. Although it is easy to describe generic situations in which reception context might influence the audience’s experience of the narrative, like the difference between watching a film in the cinema versus a poor bootleg copy, it is much better to describe the reception context of your specific narratives. The Bourne Supremacy, for example, is a sequel and viewers not familiar with the first film might not be as invested in the relationship between Jason Bourne and Marie. Likewise, in the 1960s audiences weren’t as acclimatised to screen violence which made the shower scene in Psycho particularly shocking. Think carefully about the two narratives that you have studied and describe something specific about the film that might affect its reception.
- Genre. Consider the relationship between the narratives you are studying and the genres that they belong to. Some filmmakers deliberately play on expectations of genre to engage audiences. There are other cases when audiences enjoy narratives because they conform closely to genre conventions. Identify the genres of the films you have studied and make a list of the production and story elements that audiences expect in each genre, e.g. in a romantic comedy, audiences usually expect a happy resolution and in horror films audiences expect the director to use low key lighting. Describe one scene from each narrative that best exemplifies its genre.
- Organise revision notes. When you finish studying your narrative texts, it’s time to organise your notes. When you start revision, it’s a good idea to have a concise and well-organised collection of notes that you can refer to. This isn’t a matter of simply putting all of your notes in one folder or photocopying pages from your textbook. Actively rewriting your notes means that this becomes a useful revision activity in itself. Make sure you have a clear and detailed example of every production and story element. Don’t forget to cover genre, reception context and audience engagement as well!
- Past exams. Past exam papers for VCE Media are available on the VCAA website. Download all of the exams for the current study design and answer the questions on the narrative section.
- Practice SAC. It is likely that your teacher will get you to sit a practice Narrative SAC in class time. That shouldn’t stop you from getting a little practice in beforehand. Ask your teacher for copies of previous SACs and practice answering these questions in your own time. Compare your answers with friends and discuss how you can improve your responses.
Production Design Plan: Film
- Top Screen. Before you start thinking about the film you are going to make in Units 3&4 Media, you need to watch some short films. While we all watch a lot of feature films, very few of us can say we are familiar with short films. Start by watching some of the films selected for Top Screen as part of the VCAA Season of Excellence. Think carefully about the type of stories you can tell in just a few minutes. It is also worthwhile checking out some of the Tropfest finalists to see what can be achieved in a short film.
- Intention. Rewrite your intention to make it as concise as possible. If you can’t convey what you intend in a single sentence while ensuring that it is compelling you probably haven’t put enough thought into your idea.
- Audience. Make a list of ten traits that define your average viewer. Be as specific as possible. There’s nothing worse than vague statements about how you’re creating a film for people between 18 and 35. When you’re done, do an image search to find a visual representation of your typical viewer. Explain why you have selected this image.
- Character. If you are creating a narrative film, it’s important to think carefully about your character before you dive into your screenplay. There are a range of tools that you can use to plan out characters. Understanding your characters means you have a better understanding of how they will grapple with the complications in your narrative and the audience is more likely to perceive them as fully rounded. Consider using some of the ScriptLab resources when thinking about your characters.
- Create a look board. A look board is a collection of images that define the visual style of your film. They can be photographs, images from magazines or stills from other films. When compiling a look board, it is important to annotate the images and explain how you will achieve a similar visual style in your own film.
- Call sheets. Once you’ve completed the call sheets for your film, ensure that all of your actors and crew get a copy well in advance. Actors should receive a final copy of the screenplay attached to the call sheet. This will give them an opportunity to read over the script and start to learn their lines in preparation for the read through and rehearsal.
- Rehearsal. Once your actors have had a chance to read over their scripts and learn their lines, it’s time to do a read through of the script. This gives your actors a chance to see how the dialogue will sound and interact with the other performers. Once you’ve done a read through of the script it’s also a good idea to do some rehearsal, preferably in the shooting location.
- Block through. On professional films, directors will do what is called a ‘block through’ with their actors and crew, taking everyone through the location or set and explaining how it will be filmed. This ensures that everyone will be on the same page when the time comes to shoot your film. As you are doing the block through with your actors, you can use a digital camera to pre-visualise what you plan to shoot and include these storyboards in your design plan.
- Skill up the crew. As the director of your short film, you will probably spend most of your time behind the camera and directing actors. This means that you’ll need help to set up sound equipment and lighting. When you’re preparing to shoot your film, it’s a good idea to get friends involved and train them up to use this equipment. Of course, it’s also nice to help them out with sound and lighting on their own film shoots.
- Animated storyboard. Once you’ve completed the storyboards for your film, cut together an animated storyboard which includes sound, music and temporary dialogue. This is a good way to anticipate how your film will feel when it is completed. When you are done, watch the animated storyboard several times to get a feel for the pace and structure of the film. What do you need to add? What do you need to cut out? During the planning stage, you can always add a modified screenplay and shotlists based on your experimentation.
- Music. By the time you have finished planning your film, you should have a list of all the music you are going to use. Avoid commercial, copyrighted tracks. The process of getting the rights for commercial music can be time consuming and expensive. Look for alternatives, including royalty-free, creative commons and public domain tracks. Better still write your own music using Garageband or FL Studio. Find friends who are willing to write music for you or approach local bands.
- Sound. For every scene in your film, make a list of the ambient sounds, sound effects, foley sounds, location audio and dialogue you will need to record. Identify how you will record these or where you will obtain the sound effects from.
Photograph: Death to the Stock Photo