Film and commercials

How many hours do you spend each day watching commercials, films or short videos? Quite a few? We live in a world that is saturated with moving images. In fact, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! (Merchdope, 2020). If you view a lot of videos, it helps to have an understanding of the conventions of film and the moving image. This lesson helps you understand the stylistic and structural features that directors use to communicate through sound and moving image. 

  1. Work in groups. Assign each group a different commercial from Texts 1-5 below. Watch your commercial once without sound. Then watch it again with sound. Discuss how sound made your experience of the commercial different during your second viewing.

  2. What are the tools of film directors? What kinds of stylistic and structural features must you consider when analysing videos? As a class, study Text 6 (a famous commercial), the diagram and table of defining features below. Then return to your group and discuss how mise en scène, camera angle, shot, sound and montage help construct meaning in your commercial (Texts 1-5).  


    Feature Example
    Mise en scène: This refers to what goes into the frame, including the subjects, backdrop and props. It also refers to positioning of everything or the composition of the shot, including the lighting.  The large room, where all of the ‘skin heads’ sit staring at Big Brother on the screen, is featured in many scenes. The gas masks, the boots, the grey clothing and tunnel all contribute to the dystopian atmosphere. The use of colour in the hammer thrower’s clothing is sharply contrasted with the blues and greys in the scene, suggesting she brings hope and change. 
    Camera angle: What is the angle of the camera in relation to its subject? Is it a bird’s eye view, high angle, eye-level angle, low angle or worm’s eye view?   The scene opens with a bird’s eye view of a transparent tunnel, where we see the heads of prisoners marching. There is a worm’s eye view of the boots, and eye-level shots of the prisoners. 
    Camera shot: The distance between the camera and the subject is important to consider. You may see an extreme-close shot (XCS), a close shot (CS), medium shot (MS), long shot (LS) or extreme long shot (XLS) (see figure). Does the camera move or stay still in relation to its subject? Sometimes the camera is put on a dolly. Sometimes it rotates on its access, creating a pan. Cameras can also zoom in and out, often in combination with camera movement for special effects. Finally consider the length or duration of the shot, which will help determine the pace of the film.   The camera is on a dolly as it pans along the rows of prisoners. Close-up shots of the prisoners’ faces, as they march or sit give the viewer the impression that they are brainwashed like zombies. The running woman with her hammer approaches the camera, which switches between her getting closer, the guards chasing her and Big Brother speaking. Each shot zooms in on its subject more and more, intensifying the experience for the viewer.
    Diegetic or non-diegetic soundSounds which is created by the characters, objects or events on the screen, such as dialogue, are known as diegetic sounds. Sounds with an unknown source, added after filming, such as music, are known as non-diegetic sound.  

    The sound of Big Brother speaking is at first non-diegetic and then later diegetic, which creates suspense. The hammer thrower’s scream, as she throws her hammer at the screen, seems to cut through all of the background robotic noises. The prisoners’ make a strange singing noise in response to the exploding screen, as the voice over tells us about Apple’s new computer. 

    Montage: How are all of the shots and music put together? The skill of editing and joining shots to get a particular effect is called ‘montage’

    The shots switch between the woman with the hammer and the prisoners with increasing frequency. This creates tension and suspense, as the reader sees the inevitable conflict between her and the guards and Big Brother. The final text about the launch of the new Apple Macintosh frames the whole scene as an allusion to the novel 1984.

  4. As a group, prepare a short presentation on your group's commercial (Text 1-5) which explores your answers to these questions: What global issue does your commercial address? What is its call to action? How does it use the features described above to construct meaning? How does it relate to or deepen your understanding of one or more of these 7 concepts: transformation, perspective, representation, identity, communication, creativity or culture. Play your commercial for your classmates before giving your presentation.         

  5. What global issues were explored through Texts 1-5 and presented in these presentations? Which global issue intrigues you most? Find another video or commercial to deepen your understanding of this issue. It may be a music video, commercial, feature film or documentary. Can you also find a literary work, such as a series of poems, that explores this same global issue? Write an outline for an individual oral, in which you explore how your global issue is presented in both a non-literary, 'multi-modal' (moving image) 'body of work' and a literary work.  

If you should decide to use a multi-modal text for your individual oral, your extract will include several (3-5) stills. For each still, include a caption that states what is voiced either through diegetic or non-diegetic sound during that section of film. A documentary, an episode from a series or a feature film can be considered a 'body of work'. 

Last modified: Friday, 20 November 2020, 9:24 AM