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Making Media takes the media production process and deconstructs it into its most basic components. Students will learn the basic concepts of media production: frame, sound, light, time, motion, sequencing, etc., and be able to apply them to any medium they choose. They will also become well grounded in the digital work environment and the tools required to produce media in the digital age. The companion Web site provides interactive exercises for each chapter, allowing students to explore the process of media production. The text is heavily illustrated and complete with sidebar discussions of pertinent issues.
Audience: Students of media production looking for technical instruction on the the fundamentals of image-creation in all areas of media including sound and lighting.
Praise for the first edition: "The author does an admirable job of combining all aspects of traditional and new media in each chapter. The accompanying CD-ROM (future website) offers visual and audio examples of production design and is itself a good example of nonlinear programming in covering the concepts of storyboarding and releases, visual aesthetics, [and more]." -CHOICE
Jan Roberts-Breslin is an Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in studio and field video production and media arts. She is also the Graduate Program Director at Emerson, responsible for coordinating the graduate curriculum and advising over a hundred masters students. She taught previously at Temple University and at Seton Hall University. For the past sixteen years, Jan has been a media artist and freelance producer/director of film, video, and interactive multimedia projects, including a feature film, documentaries, experimental work, and corporate productions. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film and Video Production from Temple University.
Why make media? There are different aspects of media production that may draw you to the practice. It may be the challenge of understanding and mastering the technology that can turn light and physical vibrations into mediated sounds and images of breathtaking fidelity and clarity. It may be the aesthetic satisfaction of a stunning composition, evocative sound mix, or artfully choreographed camera movement. It may be the collective energy of a collaborative process or the satisfaction of individual creation. And it may be the power of mediated sound and image to express, confess, inform, persuade, and subvert. Ultimately there has to be something you want to say. The message can be literal and direct or abstract and implied. You may want to communicate to an audience of one or to the world.
This is not a book on writing. There are many good ones out there already. There are books about writing scripts for mainstream movies and television shows. There are ones that present an alternative approach and ones that emphasize the creative process and development of story ideas. This book is about the production process and the ways of realizing story ideas through sound and pictures. However, if we don't recognize the importance of content, the rest is in vain. All the virtuosity in the world when it comes to camera work, sound recording, lighting, and editing is not what brings us to the movie theater or causes us to turn on the TV, radio, or computer. We want information. We want to be entertained. We want to feel emotion or get a glimpse of life through another person's point of view. The techniques of media production are the tools that make expressing yourself possible.
DEVELOPING STORY IDEAS
The term story is used here in the broadest sense. It refers to imagined events enacted by made-up characters. It also refers to information you want to teach or messages you want to share. I would even argue (though some would certainly disagree) that an emotional response elicited from abstract sounds and images tells a story of sorts. Sometimes production is a process of realizing your own story idea; sometimes it's a matter of interpreting an idea developed by someone else. Generating ideas is something that comes easy to some people; for others it's a challenge. There are many techniques for encouraging creativity. Keeping a dream journal and creating a scrapbook of intriguing news clippings are just a couple of ideas. Careful observation of everyday life helps you create fictional characters and situations that are believable (Figure 1.1).
Keeping involved in the community and informed about social and political issues spurs the desire to inform and persuade others. Appreciation of other art forms, such as painting, sculpture, theater, live music, and dance, helps in making artful media. Ultimately, passion, keen observation, and perseverance mark good storytellers.
KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
Deciding what story you want to tell is just the first step. Next, you must decide to whom you want to tell it. There are a couple of ways to look at this. Do you want to produce your work and then try to find an audience that will respond to it? Or are you trying to target your message to a specific audience, be it large or small?
Media artists often fall into the first category. The creation of the work is satisfying in and of itself. Artists hope that others will appreciate the work too and that profit, or at least subsistence, will be forthcoming. As satisfying as self-expression can be, however, most artists are not satisfied to work in a vacuum. They want to contribute to the culture. Their work might be a critique of social values or an attempt to encourage debate or evoke a universal emotion. For that to happen, the work must find its audience.
Media activists and advertisers often fall into the second category. The work is created from and based on researched data or intuitive beliefs as to what will sway opinions and motivate action. The media activist might be promoting sustainable energy through a grassroots documentary to be shown at a community gathering. The advertiser might be trying to get everyone to buy a certain brand of shampoo. Both are driven by how the audience responds.
For many makers of media, the audience relationship is somewhere in between. There is the desire to create high-quality work that fulfills the maker's drive for self-expression. But media makers must also face the realities of the marketplace and the need to make a living. In a capitalistic society, the value of a piece of work is judged, by many, in primarily economic terms. Sometimes the motivation to express one's creativity and the motivation to reach an audience are compatible; sometimes conflict arises between them. Sometimes that conflict exists within an individual maker; sometimes it is a conflict between different participants in a collaborative media project. The dynamics of self-expression and audience response, and the resulting tension between them, can make a better work.
MATCHING THE MEDIUM TO THE MESSAGE
You can categorize a work of audiovisual media in many different ways. You can consider the type of programming: fiction feature, sitcom, installation, webisode, documentary, and so on. You can consider the method of production used to create the programming: film, audio recording, or digital imaging. You can also consider the means of distribution, the specific form of media on which the programming has been distributed. This could be a movie theater, Blu-ray disc, museum or gallery, or download from the internet.
In the past, the relationship between the programming, the method of production, and the means of distribution has been much more straightforward than it is today. Movies were shot on film and viewed in the theater. Television programming originated live and was broadcast to the TV set in your living room. Radio programming, also broadcast live, traveled through the air, via radio waves, and was heard in your house or car. Museums and galleries were for paintings, sculpture, and sometimes photography.
Now, the types of programming, the production methods, and the distribution means of media overlap much more. This is sometimes called convergence of the media. Movies can be in the theater, on DVD, streamed over the internet, or downloaded to your mobile device. Many movies are still shot on actual film, but high-definition and digital imaging techniques are increasingly being used in feature films. Even if it is shot originally on film, footage is converted to digital media to be edited.
In the 1950s, television was almost exclusively the live broadcast of video images and sound. By the 1960s, film became the prevalent production tool of primetime television, and it is still used, though it is being replaced by high-definition digital media. Video is also used in interactive applications on DVD and on the internet. Radio programming is often simultaneously broadcast via radio waves and streamed online. Such convergence is only expected to increase, but that doesn't mean the end of current combinations of programming, production methods, and means of distribution. It means new types and combinations of each. It means increased opportunities for media artists to create new forms and explore challenging content (Figure 1.2).
So many options do provide a challenge to the media maker. "I have a story to tell. Which is the best way to tell it? Should it be a two-hour film or an interactive online game? Should it be an audio documentary or a website?" These are not easy questions. Often the answer is driven by many factors. Audience becomes key to determining programming type and means of distribution. Who is your audience and what forms of media are they most likely to use? An entire sector of the media industry is dedicated to audience research to help answer these important questions. What programming type best communicates the message you want to send? Is the history of the civil rights movement in the United States told best by a dramatized reenactment or a factual website or perhaps by both? If you want to teach children about biology, is it better to create an entertaining TV show with a wacky scientist host or an interactive website that allows students to conduct virtual experiments and create digital habitats? The method of production is driven by the maker's talents and preferences, industry practice, and budget restrictions. The maker might prefer film to video, but the industry practice is to shoot talk shows on video. Industry practice might dictate that sitcoms are shot with multiple cameras in the studio, but a creator's vision and a budget to support it might allow a single-camera, location-based sitcom. If the audience likes it, there will be more, and it, too, will become an accepted way of doing things.
A basic premise of this book is that there are underlying concepts and concerns that apply to all types of media productions, from Hollywood blockbusters to museum video installations. You will find as you make your way through this book that concepts such as framing, sound, time, and movement exist in all types of media. But you will also find that it becomes necessary or convenient at times to be able to classify works of media production, even though those classifications can overlap. One way of starting to organize the types of media production is to set up categories that apply to the relationship of the content to reality, or whether the content of the production is fiction or nonfiction.
Any time you start exploring the concepts of what is real or what is true, you're opening up a can of proverbial worms. Philosophers have been struggling with those questions for thousands of years. But for the sake of convenience and trying to provide some structure to the way we organize our thinking about the broad spectrum of media production, perhaps we can agree that fiction is based on an imagined event or series of events, often with made-up participants and locations. Nonfiction, then, portrays actual events or situations that exist in the material world. Examples of fiction media include horror films, detective TV series, radio dramas, and role-playing games. Generally, fiction media will involve actors playing roles and plot and dialogue constructed by a writer. (In role-playing games, the player might be the one assuming the character's identity and making his or her decisions.) Nonfiction media range from historical documentaries, to web diaries, to reality TV, to live coverage of a football game. The events are often constructed into a story or narrative, but that narrative is based on real events. Participants or subjects represent themselves. It doesn't take long, however, to start asking questions about these terms. As with many attempts to categorize and label, these terms are problematic or, at the very least, incomplete. What about a fictionalized account of actual people or events that really happened in which real and imagined characters interact? What about documentary subjects that stage events for the camera or behave only as they do because the camera is there? What about "mockumentaries" that are made to look like nonfiction but are completely scripted and cast with actors? What about a webcam diary that is made to look real but turns out to be someone playing a character? What about reality TV, where "real" events are later constructed into a narrative that may not accurately represent the people or events? In our times, truth is often perceived as a subjective notion, and the media follow suit.
An equally tricky category to nail down is the common term documentary. Some would argue that any piece of media is a documentary—some document the physical world around us and some document our imaginations. More commonly, a documentary is considered a subcategory of nonfiction media—a narrative based on real people, places, and events. This definition assumes a maker with a point of view and a hand in structuring the narrative. It would not include the nonfiction media forms such as radio talk shows, game shows, testimonials, or coverage of a news event—though they may share some characteristics.
Another category of media production could be called nonnarrative. Works of mediated sound or image that don't tell a story in the conventional sense would fall into this group. Once again, some would argue with this thinking, saying that any media representation has a story or narrative of some kind, but I think we can agree that there are works of media art that defy our broadest definition of story. Nonnarrative works include art pieces found in a museum or gallery, such as a work of acoustic art comprised of ambient nature sounds or a video installation made up of abstract computer-generated images. It could also include a website that creates maps and gives driving directions or a cell phone game where the player shoots animated clay pigeons. Nonnarrative media works may not tell a conventional story but can evoke meaning or emotion or give information.
1. Content and Preproduction
2. The Frame
3. Depth and Movement within the Frame
6. Sound and Image
8. The Theory of Linear Structure
9. The Practice of Linear Structure
10. Nonlinear Structure
11. Approaches to Production, Exhibition and Distribution