All entries for March 2008

March 17, 2008

Humphrey Jennings (1907–1950)

Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950)

Under Construction  

One always hopes - without too much presumption - that one is helping to keep the work alive...Yet as the years pass these films, which should be familiar to every schoolboy and girl in the country, seem to be seen and known by fewer and fewer people. (Lindsay Anderson, cited Drazin 2007 p 159-60.)

Jennings Swiss Roll

Above Humphrey Jennings' Swiss Roll which is in the Tate collection


It is only recently that there has been some attention paid to the legacy of Humphrey Jennings yet many consider him to be one Britain’s best filmmakers if not the best yet the medium of documentary shorts that he worked in doesn’t gain the attention of the more flamboyant aspects of feature film narrative cinema. It was gratifying to find a comment which I very much agree with in book which arrived yesterday by Charles Drazin (2007) who draws attention the the fact that Sir Dennis Foreman who was director of the BFI in the early 1950s put on an exhibition of British films for the Italian government showing only Jennings films. Foreman reported that:

The Italians were absolutely stunned. They said "This is neorealism 10 years before we invented it"' (Foreman cited in Drazin 2007 p160)

Jennings was renowned for his very ‘poetic’ style of documentaries. Jennings studied English at Cambridge working as a poet and painter specialising in surrealism. 1934-36 he worked as a designer, editor and actor at the GPO Film Unit. Jennings was one of the least likely people to be in the British Documentary Movement given that’s its style of documentary realism was very distant to the sort of activities Jennings participated in. His restless eclecticism meant his energies were spread across a range of activities. Jennings partook in intellectual activities and was a poet, painter, critic, an organiser of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition which famously featured Salvador Dali speaking in a deep-sea diving outfit. In 1936 he also founded the Mass Observation Movement with two others. On top of all this he was a film maker.

Jennings: from GPO to Crown Film Unit  

In 1936 he was one of the three founders of the Mass Observation movement along with Madge and Harrison. In 1939 he made Spare Time for the GPO film unit. It was only around ten minutes long yet its Kazoo band scene is highly memorable for Jennings’ more than almost any other film maker was able to capture the surrealism of everyday pastimes in which strange juxtapositions and ‘found objects’ are but a natural cultural occurrence.

During the war he made many ‘propaganda’ documentaries including London Can Take It!, Words for Battle (1941), Listen to Britain (1942) as shorts. His full length drama documentaries were Fires Were Started (1943), The Silent Village (1943) reconstructing the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice by the Nazis. Diary for Timothy was shot in 1944 and the beginning of 1945.

MacDougall has commented that documentaries influenced by the Grierson School had been the film maker confronting reality rather than exploring the process of reality as a ‘flow of events’. They could be seen as a style of synthesis which used images to develop an argument or impression. In this style comments MacDougall:

Each of the discrete images... was the bearer of a predetermined meaning. They were often articulated like the images of a poem, juxtaposed against an asynchronous soundtrack of music or commentary. Indeed poetry was sometimes integral to their conception, as in the The River (Lorentz, 1937), Night Mail (Wright and Watt, 1936), and Coalface, (Cavalcanti, 1936)”. (MacDougall in Nichols, 1985 p 277).

On this argument it can be seen that JenningsListen to Britain - for many his ‘masterpiece’- belongs to this sub-genre of documentary. Certainly it was entirely observational in attitude as might be expected from one of the founders of the Mass Observation Movement. It is also clearly a propaganda film but one with a ‘voice’ which is very different from the propaganda documentary of a Leni Riefenstahl. As Dalrymple who became head of the Crown Film Unit commented:

“When we make propaganda we tell, quite quietly, what we believe to be the truth. The Nazi method is to bellow as loudly and as often as possible, what they know to be absolutely and completely false…We say in film to our own people ‘This is what the boys in the services, or the girls in the factories, or the men and women in the civil defence, or the patient citizens themselves are like and what they are doing. They are playing their part…be of good spirit and go and do likewise.” (Dalrymple cited Aldrich and Richards 2007 p 219)

Listen to Britian 4

Above a range of stills from Listen to Britain. At the bottom the Queen listening to Dame Myra Hess playing Mozart in the National Gallery which is bereft of pictures as they have been sent to the safety of old slate mines.

Whilst the approach of Dalrymple is clearly very patronising towards the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ it is also a denial of the myth-making of national ideologies that is essential to a propaganda agenda - where propaganda can be taken to be having specific aims and objectives or a strong preferred reading. What is especially interesting about Jennings’ wartime output is how they tended to avoid making direct reference to the Nazis altogether the fact that the Queen was in the National Portrait Gallery listening to a concert of German composers strongly signified an internationalism not an anti-German position. In Listen to Britain, Britain effectively became the defender of the civilised world for at the time it was made Britain and Greece which was about to fall were the only two European countries not under Nazi control apart from neutral countries. One must remember at that moment the Hitler – Stalin pact was still in force. But what Dalrymple said can certainly be applied to Listen to Britain for Jackson (2003) points out it is ‘free of these Riefenstahlian properties’ (bombast, overblown rhetoric and melodramatic theatricality). It seems to be commonly accepted that his wartime output were probably his best films.

"Voice" in Documentary

Bill Nichols suggests that as the documentary has developed one of the major contests between different forms has been centred upon the question of “voice”. “Voice” he argues is a narrower concept than style. It gives a sense of the text’s social point of view and of how the materials are organised to present the materials. Therefore “voice” isn’t restricted simply to one code or feature - spoken commentary for example: “Voice is perhaps akin to that intangible, moiré-like pattern formed by the unique interaction of all a film’s codes, and it applies to all modes of documentary”. (Nichols.B, 1985, p 260-61).

Nichols points out that very few documentary filmmakers are prepared to accept that “through the very tissue and texture of their work that all film making is a form of discourse fabricating its effects, impressions and point of view”. JenningsListen to Britain is clearly a documentary form which isn’t reflexive in the way that the work of Dziga Vertov is and is clearly in a different ‘voice’. Man With a Movie Camera isn’t merely a symphony to the modern industrial city, or modernity in general it is modernistic in its reflexivity about the very making of a film itself as well as incorporating audience and exhibition. By comparison Jennings’ work has a deeply poetic quality which seduces the viewer. With strong justification the filmmaker and critic Lindsay Anderson described Jennings as “the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced

Pat Jackson another director who was working with the Crown Film Unit at the time described him as a painterly director:

It was terribly like a painter in a way; it wasn’t a storyteller’s mind. I don’t think the dramatic approach to a subject, in film really interested him very much. It was an extension of the canvas for him. Patterns, abstractions appealed to him enormously, and those are what people remember most you know”. (Jackson cited Aldgate and Richards 2007 p 220)

Jennings went to Germany in 1945/46 and made the short documentary A Defeated People (1946)

The film is an excellent piece of visual reporting, ably assembled and edited with a pointed and impartial commentary. There is no attempt to work up pity for the Germans, only a desire that we should realise what the war they started has brought back to them on recoil. The film ends with shots of children dancing in their schools, alternated with shots of German judges being sworn in to administer justice in the new Germany of democratic control. (Monthly Film Bulletin review March 1946)

Jennings' Postwar Period 

Many suggest that his post-war period was less fruitful than during the war where he reached the height of his powers. Jennings’ last film before his tragic fatal accident falling of a cliff in Poros Greece whilst doing location work for a film was a documentary short for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Graeme Hobbs in a MovieMail review describes it as follows:

a film ‘on the theme of the Festival of Britain’, it is propaganda for the nation that urges the nourishment of tolerance, courage, faith, discipline and mutual freedom. Jennings’ central conceit is that the fabric of the nation takes its texture a mixture of poetry and prose, the poetry of imagination combining with the prose of industry and engineering, with its culmination coming in an invention such as a ship’s radar, which perfectly matches the two. Jennings took his cue for the theme from one of the Festival displays, that of the Lion and the Unicorn symbolising the two main qualities of the national character, ‘on the one hand, realism and strength, on the other, fantasy, independence and imagination.


Seemingly Jennings was always engaging with the enigma that is the ‘national’ character. Certainly he was never patronising towards those he represented and he carried his brilliance lightly able to empathise with his subjects who were ordinary people well before the Italian neo-realists started to carry out their post-war aesthetic approach. Arguably Jennings was a neorealist in methods before his time his content was far more poetic represented than Rossellini’s and was probably a more powerful representation of nation and a call for unity than a film such as Paisa. Hopefully Jennings will not always remain so under-recognised and hopefully he will be inspirational to new film makers who could do worse than to study Jennings closely.


  1. The Changing Face of Europe (1951) (segment 6 "The Good Life")
    ... aka The Grand Design (UK)
  2. Family Portrait (1950)
    ... aka A Film on the Theme of the Festival of Britain 1951 (UK: subtitle)

  3. The Dim Little Island (1949)
  4. The Cumberland Story (1947)
  5. A Defeated People (1946)
  6. A Diary for Timothy (1945)
  7. Myra Hess (1945)
  8. The Eighty Days (1944)
  9. V. 1 (1944)
  10. The Silent Village (1943)
  11. Fires Were Started (1943)
    ... aka I Was a Fireman
  12. The True Story of Lilli Marlene (1943)
  13. Listen to Britain (1942)
  14. The Heart of Britain (1941)
  15. This Is England (1941)
  16. Words for Battle (1941)
  17. London Can Take It! (1940) (uncredited)
    ... aka Britain Can Take It!
  18. Spring Offensive (1940)
    ... aka An Unrecorded Victory
  19. Welfare of the Workers (1940)

  20. Cargoes (1939)
  21. The First Days (1939)
    ... aka A City Prepares (UK)
  22. Spare Time (1939)
  23. S.S. Ionian (1939)
    ... aka Her Last Trip
  24. Design for Spring (1938)
  25. English Harvest (1938)
  26. The Farm (1938)
  27. Making Fashion (1938)
  28. Penny Journey (1938)
  29. Speaking from America (1938)
  30. Farewell Topsails (1937)
  31. Locomotives (1934)
  32. Post-haste (1934)
  33. The Story of the Wheel (1934)


Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings: Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

Screeonline Biography of Humphrey Jennings  

Channel Four. Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain

British Film Resource page on Humphrey Jennings  

Guardian: Derek Malcolm on Humphrey Jennings

Kevin Jackson in the Guardian on Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings The Man who Listened to Britain. Channel Four documentary available on DVD

Telegraph on Jennings 2007. "True Poet of Cinema"

English Heritage awards Jennings a Blue Plaque. (Recognition at Last).

Simon Garfield on his book Our Hidden Lives about the Mass Observation Movement 

The Mass Observation Movement archive

Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Humphrey Jennings Issue (Winter, 1961-1962)

Guardian: The Buried Secrets of British Cinema  

BBC The Film Programme Radio 4. You can download a Realplayer file here of a discussion with Kevin Jackson Biographer of Jennings 

BBC David Puttnam on Movies With a Message. You can download a Realplayer talk here on Diary for Timothy

Radio Prague pages in English on Lidice and Jennings portrayal of the Nazi massacre there. Many Associated links.  


Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey.2nd Ed. 2007.   Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. London: I. B Tauris

Jackson, Kevin (ed.) 1993. The Humphrey Jennings Film Reader. Manchester: Carcanet

Jennings, Humphrey (ed.).1987. Pandaemonium. London: Picador

Jennings, Mary-Lou (ed.)1982.  Humphrey Jennings: Film-maker, Painter, Poet. London: British Film Institute

Lovell, Alan and Hillier, Jim. 1972 Studies in Documentary. London: British Film Institute/Secker and Warburg,

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 1986. 'Humphrey Jennings: Surrealist observer'. In Charles Barr (ed.). All Our Yesterdays (London: British Film Institute,

Orwell, George, 'The Lion and the Unicorn', in Sonia Orwell (ed.) Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970)

Russell, Patrick. 2007. 100 British Documentaries. London: BFI

Lindsay Anderson: 1923 – 1994

Lindsay Anderson (1923 - 1994)

He was the most thoughtful film-maker Britain has ever had. He wanted to think through, in private, in public, in print, on film, what films we should be making and how. Today there is a lot of talk about the need for "good" films. "Good" means those that make money; films that make money are "good": there is no place for thought.
I miss Lindsay. I miss the old bastard. We need him now. Mamoun Hassan

YouTube Extract from 'If'. Cafe scene expressing the interiority desire & imagination set against the realism of a transport caf. a fine example of Anderson's surrealistic tendencies


In many ways the enormous contribution of Lindsay Anderson to British Cinema is critically underwritten yet two of his feature films are present in the top 100 most popular British films . 'If' (1968) also won a Palme d'or in 1969. Anderson's contributions to cinema started as early as 1947 when he became a founder member of Sequence a critical film magazine based at Oxford University.  Anderson was also a key figure in the Free Cinema movement and again a key figure in the British New Wave of Social Realism which emerged at the end of the 1950s and continued until 1963. His film This Sporting Life (1963) is a memorable one from this period and like 'If' also figures in the British top 100 British films. Anderson also did a lot of work in the theatre and in TV which explains why his output of feature films is quite low. The key point is that his significance goes far beyond the films which he made although those were ones which most people would be proud of. 

Anderson behind a Camera

Anderson Where Art meets Cinema 

I'm always disappointed when critics complain about Anderson's Oh Dreamland (1953) as ' attack on the leisure habits' of the working class (Hedling, 1997 directors such as Malle p 180). It is clearly an attack upon those who exploit the desires of the British working classes in the name of 'popular', it needs to be compared with the surrealism of Humphrey Jennings who was a key inspiration for Anderson, indeed Anderson was to describe Jennings as the only poet British cinema had had up until that point. When Jennings features a British Kazoo band on a Sunday he is noting the surreality inherent in popular culture that is genuinely popular in a Gramscian sense of being developed by and for the people. Anderson's Oh Dreamland in an excoriating approach to the massification, expropriation and exploitation inherent within a commercialising postwar society which is industrialising 'popular culture'. 

Anderson was one of the founding members of Sequence an Oxford based film criticism magazine which ran between 1947 - 1951. Anderson, please note, was involved in writing film criticism before the worthies of Cahiers du Cinema. Anderson's Oh Dreamland was also prior to the work of the swelling of works leading to the French New Wave by directors such as Malle and Vadim. Britain played its role in the developments of European post-war cinema leading to many 'New Waves'. After Sequence ended Anderson continued with his critical role writing for Sight & Sound writing an important article on Humphrey Jennings for Example: Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings.

After playing an important role in the development of the Free Cinema Movement Anderson was integrally involved with the British New wave of social realist filmmaking. Some like Hedling (ibid) saw This Sporting Life as something of a shift towards a Griersonian educational realist approach, but there was too much dramatic intensity and a representation of the interiority of the miner turned rugby league star to be a purely naturalistic account. The narrative structure which was dependent upon flashbacks also was antipathetic to British documentarism of a Griersonian ilk. 

It wasn't until 1968 with 'If' that Anderson was to repeat and exceed his success with This Sporting Life. This was the first and most successful of his loose trilogy of films which included Oh Lucky Man (1973) and then Britannia Hospital (1982). These last films were never so popular as 'If' although all to some extent were films of their times as Gavin Lambert pointed out in his book Mainly About Lindsay Anderson (2000). Hassan's review article comments on this:

Maybe Lambert is right that the hostility to both films is due to Anderson holding up "a devastating mirror-image to Britain". But there is a problem with "the way it is said". The Brechtian alienating device adopted to make the audience "think" is difficult enough (how many films in that style have succeeded?) but the internal rhythm is not consistently dynamic. Swiftness of attack was called for. The dash, so evident in This Sporting Life , is not always there. (Hassan THES)

Although Hassan has noted the Brechtian approach which ensures that the viewer is distanciated rather than alienated ( abetter translation of verfremdungseffekt) somehow the mood of the country had changed. The long boom had ended, sixties optimism and radicalisation, which 'if' represented so brilliantly, was on the wane. The Conservative Party under moderniser Ted Heath had regained power between 1970-1974. The period was marked by increasing inflation and economic unrest including two miner's strikes culminating in the three-day week. 

Hedling points out that the critical mood of film studies represented by the work around Screen had also changed. It was strongly Althusserian / Lacanian emphasising a structuralist-Marxist approach which was antithetical to Anderson's more humanist approach as well as being critical of Brechtianism wanting more of a critical engagement with 'popular' cinema. Across the board then Anderson was losing his audience. Britannia Hospital was made into the teeth of a Thatcherite storm which saw the Falklands War start in March 1982. As a film of the left Britannia Hospital was never going to get a look in in the mainstream.

His last two films as a director Foreign Skies (1986) & The Whales of August  (US 1987) appear to have sunk into critical abyss.

Andrson's contributions have still continued throught the tradition of the British art film for both Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway have paid tribute to Anderson. But Anderson's strength when at his best was the ability to bridge the gap between the "Art Film" and popular film which appealed to wider audiences. He both contributed to and was influenced by the overlaps of art cinema and the popular which also had a critical edge. Britain in the 1960s perhaps led the way in this with Films like: The Servant; A Hard Days Night; Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment; The Charge of the Light Brigade all being a part of this wider movement.   

Theatrical Work

This section isn't intended to be complete but included as an indicator of Anderson's versatility. Anderson was involved with producing many of the most radical of the British plays being writtenin the late 1950s and and early 1960s, such as: Willis Hall's The Long the Short and the Tall; John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance; Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar. This last play was of course turned into the last of the social realist films of the British New Wave by John Schlesinger. Its content brilliantly representing Britain on the cusp of changing from the tale end of austerity Britain to London of the 'Swinging Sixties' and the mood shift in the population marked by the return of the Labour Government of Harold Wilson in 1964. 

In Celebration

In Celebration, by David Storey
(Andrew) 22.iv.69, Royal Court Theatre, London
directed by Lindsay Anderson
American Film Theatre film, 1975, directed by Lindsay Anderson



The Lindsay Andrson Archive @ Stirling University. This is an excellent site and should be a very early port of call for anybody interested in Lindsay Anderson. 

Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

BFI Feature. Lindsay Anderson interviews Satyajit Ray at the NFT 1969 or 1970

Free Cinema Movement  

Screenonline Biography of Lindsay Anderson  from Brian MacFarlane 

Screenonline Credits for Lindsay Anderson  

Lindsay Very useful website developing knowledge and connectivity about Anderson 

Never Apologize (2007)  Directed by Mike Kaplan, whose friendship with McDowell began on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and who produced Anderson’s last feature film, The Whales of August  (Cannes, 1987)

Mamoun Hassan in The Times Higher Education: The virgin queen and his progeny


Hedling, Erik. 1997. 'Lindsay Anderson and the Development of British Art Cinema'. In Murphy, Robert. 1997. The British Cinema Book. London: BFI

Hedling, Erik. 2003.  'Sequence and the rise of Auteurism in 1950s Britain'.  MacKillop Ian & Sinyard Neil. British Cinema in the 1950s: A celebration. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lambert, Gavin. 2000. Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: a Memoir. London: Faber
and Faber,

March 15, 2008

Camera Movement / Mobile Framing

Camera Movement / Mobile Framing

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With mobile framing the framing of the object being filmed changes. The concept of the mobile frame means that parameters such as camera height, camera angle, camera level and distance may all change during the course of a shot. below is a list of the different terms which describe the possibilities for the camera. Firstly though just to whet your appetite here is the famous tracking shot utilising a crane from Touch of Evil by Orson Welles. At the time is was the longest in duration and most ambitious tracking shot ever produced, enjoy it really is a classic.

Bordwell and Thompson note that camera movements have had a strong appeal for filmmakers as well as audiences ever since the beginning of cinema. They explain this as follows:

visually camera movements have several arresting effects. They often increase information about the space of the image. Objects become sharper and more vivid than in stationary framings.  New objects or figures are usually revealed. Tracking shots and crane shots supply continually changing perspectives on passing objects as the frame constantly shifts its orientation. Objects appear more solid and three dimensional when the camera arcs (that is tracks) around them. Pan and tilt shots present space as continuous, both horizontally and vertically. (Bordwell and Thompson 2008 p 195/6)

In this YouTube extract from Malick's The Thin Red Line. In following the progress of a group of soldiers through the jungle there is a cut to the camera  tilting upwards while tracking to almost 90 degrees tracking the forest canopy whilst maintaining the feeling of being with the awestruck soldiers. There are two diagetic soundsources: the internal thoughts of one of the soldiers and the sounds of the jungle and the men advancing through it. Non-diegetically there is the beating of drums which have the feel of instruments of Pacific Islanders mixed with some electronic rhythms, this keeps a progressive tension in the consciousness of the viewer.  The camera then tilts and cranes down again to track them through some bamboo groves. 

Bordwell and Thompson  point out that in this film Malick used a crane with a 72 foot arm which allowed the camera to rove over the high grass in a very unusually shot battle scene. (bordwell and Thompson 2008 p 195).

The Main Camera Movements

Crane Shot. Please see extract from Touch of Evil above for an excellent example of a crane and tracking shot of very long duration.

Dolly Shot. A dolly is a platform with wheels which allows the camera and camera operator to move around very smoothly. for a tracking shot the camera is placed on rails. this allows he camera to make smooth changes in distance in relation to the subject of the shot. The word dolly is also used as a verb to describe the action of moving the camera when it on a wheeled platform. See tracking shot below.

Hand Held.  Hand-held camera gives a shaky documentary feeling of really being at a place where events are happening. The now well known invasion of the Normandy beaches in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan provides an excellent example of this:

This YouTube extract from the second chapter of Saving Private Ryan features a lot of crane work near the water level as well as plenty of hand-held camera work giving a real feeling of being there. It is of course best viewed in the cinema to have anything like the full-on effect. Recommended.  

Pan ( short for panorama). This extract from Lawrence of Arabia starts with a panning shot to the right. Later there is a pan to the left as Peter O'Toole is enjoying his new Arab robes.

Steadicam. The invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown has enabled cmaera operators to shoot in difficult circumstances whilst keeping the shot steady. This has enabled filmmakers to maitain a more continuity based editing sysyem which doesn't draw attention to the film making process itself whilst being able to take advantage of making shots that were previously only available in handheld with the inevitable shaky feel. This shaky feel is now used as an aesthetic effect see entry under handheld.  Wikipedia entry on the Steadicam.   Interview with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown.

Tilt. The camera is able to point either up or down in the vertical axis.

Camera Tilt

Tracking Shot / Dolly Shot. Please see the opening sequence of Touch of Evil. Also check entry for  'Dolly' above. The film camera is quite literally placed on a low platform (a dolly) which is on a track like a railway track. This means that the camera can be kept at a precise heigght and the speed can be adjusted. A very famous and extremly long tracking shot is in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend which tracks in a parallel way alongside a road filming dozens of cars which have been involved in a a pile up. Tracking can be in parallel to a scene or else the camera can track forwards or backwards. The way the tracking is done can create a range of different connotations. Tracking done at high speed is often used in Action-adventure films in chase sequences which will emphasise the sense of speed. If tracking is done very slowly a dream or trance like feel is expressed. If a person is held consistently within the frame at one extreme of the frame it could impart a feeling of being imprisoned for example. Below is the forementioned extract courtesy of Youtube  from Godard's Weekend:

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March 14, 2008

Textual Analysis: The Shot

The Shot

Under Construction

(Most parts are now in place and the core definitions are now available)

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Camera Movement / Mobile Framing Entry  

Introduction: Codes and Conventions of Cinema

Codes and Conventions (General). Cinema uses a number of methods to organise meaning production. Some are general to narrative forms and others are specific to cinema. Cinematic conventions usually work to make the product appear to be seamlessly produced which means that it appears as though meaning had already existed prior to the construction of the film. This is called continuity editing. In fact the cinematic codes and conventions of production produce an axis of meaning which will interact with both the reactions of audiences and the exhibitionary context.

  • Photographic conventions. Framing, long-shots, medium shots, and close-ups all generate particular forms of meaning: To the extent that close-ups are most commonly of central characters in film narratives, they may function to constitute that psychological realism of character which is a mark of the classic narrative. ( My emphasis: Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures: 37).
  • * Mise en Scene*. See separate entry and also lighting.
  • * Mobile framing*. This effect can be produced by different camera movements and can produce a narrative meaning in several ways. A zoom-in can emphasise detail which can be read as bearing a particular significance within the narrative. Camera movements can also move the plot along through panning and tracking. 

Conventions. See also Codes and Conventions. Conventions are established procedures within a particular form of media ( painting, film , novel etc) which are identifiable by both the producer of the artefact and their audiences. Conventions are thus conventions can be understood as agreements between the producer and audience. These will sometimes remain fairly static and at other times there will be moments of strong challenge to these conventions. The French nouvelle vague can be understood as challenging a range of cinematic conventions.

The Shot

Discussion of the shot relates to the framing / camera movement during the shot / the duration of the shot. This article is primarily concerned with the framing of the shot. Linked articles on camera movement and duration will be added soon.  

Shots are the smallest unit from which scenes and sequences are constructed. Shots function to frame the camera's subject. (Framing and the construction of meaning itself will be discussed in another article).  Shots themselves are linked together to form scenes by a range of cuts or transitional devices.  In reality camera shots combine several factors including the angle of the camera which can be tilted up or down and / or from side to side. The size of the content of the frame for the viewer depends upon what distance the director wants the objects/ characters to be visible. There are also decisions to be made about whther only parts of the shot are in focus or whether the whole of the foreground to the background is in focus. The fact that a camera can be moved about on a special crane or a dolly for the duration of a shot also makes a difference. The lighting too is an extremely important factor. The the way the cinematographer makes these decisions is done in discussion with the director.  Becuase of the range of variable involved it is easier to break these different elements of a shot down in different areas however it is important to understand shots as combining a range of features in order for them to effectively move the audience. Below the discussion of shots is focused mainly upon the framing of the content of the shot. Fuller discussions of particular aspects such as camera movement will be added in separate sections accessible via hyperlink when they become available. 

Shot Framing

Aerial Shot. This is a shot taken from a plane or a helicopter. These shots normally function as an establishing shot. These high altitude shots tend to take a detached perspective of what is happening. The opening scene of Mission Impossible is one such example. Aerial shots can also be involved in chase scenes such as the remake of the Italian Job or in Terminator 2. Blackhawk Down had some impressive shots of helicopters flying into Mogadishu.

Birdseye Shot. See Overhead Shot 

Boom Shot. See Crane Shot 

Camera Angle. (See also separate article). In the taking of a shot the camera can be tilted either up or down or from side to side (Canted shot).  To work out  what angle the camera is at in order to describe the  shot  one needs to  think of  what might constitute a 'standard' shot.  This is assumed to  be a straight on  shot  with the camera at the shoulder height of  an average human.  Below this height with the camera tilting upwards is a low angle shot. Above that height with the camera tilting downwards is a high angle shot.

Camera Movement. (See separate article). 

Canted Shot. See Dutch Angle

Close up. Usually a shot of the head from the neck up. Could also be a wringing of hands. See performance and shot. The object or part of the body (usually face or hands / sometimes an iconic murder weapon fill most of the frame. The purpose is to isolate detail from their context to get the audience to focus on the importance of this detail. When it is a character within the diegesis it empahises the expression of that character and it helps the audience to identify with that character.

Cutaway. A cutaway shot briefly interrupts the flow of the conversation between characters for example. It can be used to reveal what characters are thinking about, to show what they are seeing as in a reaction shot. It can also provide a transition and it can comment on the action. They are also used to to avoid showing something which may well be considered as objectionable. The scene in the de Palma version of Scarface (1983) where one of Al Pacino's associates is being cut up with a chain saw to make Pacino talk has many cutaways. 

Crane Shot. A shot made using a crane or a boom also known as a boom shot. A crane is a mechanical arm-like trolley used to move a camera through space above the ground or to position at a place in the air. A shot taken from a crane allows the camera to vary distance, angle and height during the shot.


Dutch Angle. This is a shot which noticeably deviates from the normal horizontal and vertical axes. Images thus appear tilted in realation to the rest of the objects in the frame. This gives the audience a sense of disbalance and signifies within a character a mental imbalance. This YouTube extract from Carol Reed's The Third Man (recently voted the most popular British film ever and strongly recommended) is full of canted / Dutch angles. Set in post World War Two Vienna which at the time  was occupied by Americans, British and the Russians the film's style symbolises a Europe and a world still out of kilter as it struggles to get itself back on its feet. The film can also be seen as 'Rubble film' as it has many shots of Viennese bombed and shelled buildings. 

Establishing shot. This shot uses a distant framing and enables the spectator to understand and map the spatial relationships between the characters and the set / location they are in. It usually occurs at the beginning of a scene. Its purpose is to situate the action for the audience. After the establishing shot takes place the scene becomes broken up through editing. This sequence can clearly be seen in a short YouTube extract from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. The two characters are black dots in this Extreme Long Shot (ELS), there are then some other shots around the issue of taking a drink of water and then the ELS is cut in again:

Extreme Close up. (ECU). This shows only part of an object filling the frame. In terms of the human figure an ECU isolates part of the face such as the eyes or the mouth. See this extract from a Vertigo trailer on YouTube:

Extreme Long Shot. (ELS). This is a panaoramic shot usually of landscapes in which the human figure is barely visible. These shots might empasise human vulnerability or the need for long and arduous effort in order to travel the intervening distance. There is a lot of this in Lord of the Rings for example. Please also see establishing shot above.

Eyeline Match. (See Match Cut) 

Long Shot.  Long shot is where the subject of the camera is seen in its entirety within the context of its surroundings. In relation to the human figure a standing person would be fully visible within the frame. Please see extract from Lawrence of Arabia above under establishing shot for ELS.

Match Cut / Eyeline Match. (See editing article) 

Medium Close-Up. In terms of the human figure this frames the body from the chest upwards. In this Youtube extract from Hitchcock's Vertigo James Stewart at the wheel of the car is kept in MCU: 

Medium Shot.  In terms of the human figure this frames the body from the waist upwards.

Master Shot. this is usually a wide-angle shot that shows all of the action taking place in the scene. This is then edited together with either shots taken of the same scene with different cameras from different angles or else they may have been shot at different times. The use of this shot is a fundamental tool in achieving both coverage and continuity. The mastershot willbe intercut with a variety of mid-shots or CUs. The transition will occur where there is a lot of action in order to maintain the seamless editing which is fundamental to the continuity editing system. 

Overhead shot. Here the camera is placed directly above the action.  There are often (but not always) implications of entrapment .  Fritz Lang's 'M' has a lot of overhead shots of the child murderer. Here the shots can be read as expressing vulnerability of the character to his own mental illness and also to the inexorable hunting down of the killer by all of society. He is totally isolated with police, criminals and beggars united in their efforts to hunt him down.

Pan Shot.  This is when the camera moves though a panning action in the horizontal axis. (See article on camera movement). 

Point of View (POV). This is the eyes  though which the spectator views the developing plot. In mainstream films this is understood to be through a neutral camera. This can be changed to subjective viewpoints of individual characters. This can be very drmatic at times however the normal use of this POV is to exchange perspective of characters involved in the plot in order to involve the spectator more effectively. The director can vary the amount of POFV time allotted to each character in order to have the spectator identify more with a specific character.

Plan Américain. Common in Hollywood cinema hence its description - the American shot- the human figure is framed from around the kneees upwards. Bordwell and Thompson point out (in their 3rd edition) that when a similar framing is done with non-human content the shot is described as a medium long shot (MLS). Blandford et al (2001) have a slightly different understanding of this shot.  They  argue that it signifies a Two Shot  (two characters occupying the frame) - from approximately the knees up.  The term came about from French critics describing aspects of the 'Classical Hollywood' cinema.

Process Shot. This is the general term applied to a special effects shot in which the live action in the foreground og the image is filmed against a background projected onto a screen by a rear projection system. This was very common in the studio era of cinema but location shooting has grown in importance.Special effects such as wire work in films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Hero shoot the wirework with a greenscreen as a background the rest is added later. 

Reaction Shot. This is frequently a close-up shot which shows the reaction of a character to some action or event or dialogue in the previous shot.  

Shot Reverse Shot.

Tilt Shot. This is when the camera  moves up or down through a vertical axis. See article on camera movement.

Two Shot. This is a shot in which two people dominate the frame usually in a close-up or medium shot. The increasingly common use of widescreen formats allows variations upon this theme. It makes it possible to have three people in medium to close up shot. Pirates of the Caribbean has a witty scene fairly early on in the film in which Captain Jack Sparrow engages in conversation and gradually distracts two guards so that he can get around them onto a ship. 

Tracking Shot

Return to textual analysis hub page

Camera Movement / Mobile Framing Entry


Blandford Steve, Grant Barry Keith and Hillier Jim. 2001. The Film Studies Dictionary. London: Edward Arnold

Bordwell David and Thompson Kristen. 2008 8th Edition. Film Art: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw Hill 

Hayward Susan. 1996. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. London: Routledge

Return to TV DRAMA Hub PAGE (AS 2008 onwards)

March 12, 2008

Chronology of Development of Free Digital TV in the UK

Chronology of Development of Free Digital  TV in the UK  

Tue 8th May 2008

Freesat Service Launched
Wed 17th Oct 2007
Whitehaven begins the digital switchover process as BBC TWO is closed on analogue.
Wed 26th Sep 2007
ABC-1 is pulled from Freeview and other platforms
Mon 20th Aug 2007
Channel 4 starts the first timeshift of a terrestrial channel with Channel4+1
Wed 27th Jun 2007
BBC iPlayer is launched as a beta test
Tue 8th May 2007
NEWS 24 becomes the first BBC TV channel to go online.
Fri 27th Apr 2007
BBC and ITV announced high definition Freesat service to launch Spring 2008
Wed 14th Mar 2007
Michael Grade closes ITV Play.
Thu 25th Jan 2007
MPs invesgiate quiz TV channels in the Houses of Parliament
Wed 15th Nov 2006
Channel 4's quiz channel Quizcall is removed from Freeview
Sun 23rd Jul 2006
Film4 relaunches as a free channel and gains a 4.3% share of viewing.
Mon 22nd May 2006
Sky launch their satellite HDTV service
Thu 11th May 2006
BBC launch their HDTV service on cable, satellite and Freeview (London only)
Wed 19th Apr 2006
ITV Play starts as a full-time Freeview channel.
Sat 11th Mar 2006
CITV, ITV's Children's Channel, starts broadcasting
Sat 17th Dec 2005
Ofcom publishes the Digital Dividend Review - how the government can make money by selling off TV frequencies C31-40 and C63-68
Tue 1st Nov 2005
ITV-4 starts
Mon 31st Oct 2005
Sky Three starts
Wed 12th Oct 2005
ITV and C4 join Freeview founders BBC, BSkyB and National Grid Transco.
Mon 10th Oct 2005
More4 launches free-to-air on Freeview.
Wed 25th May 2005
E4 relaunches as a free-to-air channel on Freeview.
Wed 27th Apr 2005
ITV pays £134m for acquisition of a Freeview multiplex
Mon 1st Nov 2004
ITV adds a third branded channel to Freeview
Thu 21st Oct 2004
Sky relaunches the non-subscription satellite boxes for one-off payment of £150.
Tue 31st Aug 2004
National Grid Transco buys Crown Castle International for £1,138m
Mon 29th Dec 2003
The Office of Communications (Ofcom) becomes TV's super-regulator.
Sun 9th Feb 2003
BBC THREE replaces Choice channel.
Wed 30th Oct 2002
BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle International launch Freeview: a package of 30 free channels though and aerial with no contract.

BBC Press Office Press Release about launch of Freeview

Fri 5th Jul 2002 launched
Wed 1st May 2002
ITV digital (see below) closed with huge losses.
Sat 2nd Mar 2002
BBC FOUR replaces Knowledge channel.
Mon 11th Feb 2002
BBC children's channels, cBeebies and CBBC start in BBC's digital daytime airtime.
Thu 27th Sep 2001
Sky's analogue satellite service is closed.
Wed 11th Jul 2001
ONdigital re-launched as ITVdigital.


Tue 1st Jun 1999
BBC Knowledge launches.
Mon 7th Dec 1998
ITV-2 launches.
Sun 15th Nov 1998
ONdigital launches a 40 channel mixture of pay and free channels, using digital technology though a roof-top aerial.
Thu 1st Oct 1998
Sky launches Sky Digital, now with hundreds of channels and the highest standard pictures using a compact dish. New technology makes pay-per-view films and entertainment a daily reality.
Wed 23rd Sep 1998
BBC Choice, the first UK widescreen channel launches with BBC Parliament.
Sun 9th Nov 1997
BBC launch their News 24 domestic news channel.

March 11, 2008

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer

Link to Chronology of UK Digital TV

The Guardian Organgrinder commentary asks:

So just how important is the BBC's £131m investment in the iPlayer to the future of television viewing, audience measurement and competition with commercial companies such as ITV and Joost?
Other useful nuggets revealed that streamed iPlayer viewing is dominating downloads by 8:1, although the BBC expects this to level out at 4:1 in the future, with 70% of shows downloaded actually viewed.

Partner deals with the likes of Bebo - and now Yahoo, MSN and Blinkx - are an important part of fulfilling the iPlayer's public service remit, said Highfield. He pointed out that 8 million internet users engage with BBC content via non-BBC websites - three million of whom never visit

...the iPlayer internet service is just a stepping stone to making BBC programmes available on every available digital outlet and device - including iPhone and iPod video in the coming weeks - with a launch, albeit slightly delayed, on Virgin Media's cable TV service next month.

such a well-funded project from a household name like the BBC, offering high quality content, could well take broadband TV into the mainstream.

An ITV insider argues that the success of the iPlayer was an endorsement of its own strategy and revenue targets - which include making £150m-a-year in digital revenues from by 2012 - as opposed to a threat that will kill any commercial operator's chances of making money out of broadband TV stone dead.

Of course the rise and rise of the iPlayer's popularity could also prove to be its biggest bone of contention with ISPs.
Best of the Organgrinder Blog comments

I would like to see the entire archive of BBC programmes placed online without any DRM limiting how long I have to watch them. There are thousands of programmes out there that are worth watching, but are never placed on DVD or any other form of media that allow them to be watched again.

As someone who has paid the licence fee, I think that the BBC's remit should include making all its programmes available to all who pay the licence fee. (Roadie)

Making the entire archive of the BBC available is the ultimate goal of the BBC too. however there's 2 major hurdling blocks.

Firstly the getting rights usage from all all these programs.
the bbc don't 'own' the rights to use and do what they wnat with these programs as you might imagine. it is amazing how complex this is, particularly for older programs and anything involving music. for every clip you licence a variable fee is paid to the writer, principle performers etc. depending on the length. A fee and agreement has to be worked out and agreed to for every program from all contributors.

Second. Finding the master copies, digitising and storing all this content and creating an infrastructure and capable or serving the content via the web is no small task.

Thankfully all programs now made at the bbc are digitally archived and i would assume most contracts contain either buyout or internet rights usage.(Attic)

I've been using the iPlayer since it was the alpha product, the BBC iMP.

The introduction of the Flash version which gives immediate access from Windows, Macs and even my Linux Eee PC is great.

The download version just needs the Microsoft DRM snake oil removing from it, but I've been bugging them (and they are nice people who were very polite about it) for some years.

What's missing?

1) Series stacking. PACT didn't like the idea that you could catch up with all the episodes of a series you missed, so that's a bit crappy/..

2) The long tail. Yes, you know what it is. Auntie know what it is. But the iPlayer has docked it! How wrong is that?

3) IMHO the BBC should be - for the licence fee - a national library, not just another pusher of shiny things. There needs to be just a little more public service in the iPlayer. (Briantist) 

I've been using the iPlayer since it was the alpha product, the BBC iMP.

The introduction of the Flash version which gives immediate access from Windows, Macs and even my Linux Eee PC is great.

The download version just needs the Microsoft DRM snake oil removing from it, but I've been bugging them (and they are nice people who were very polite about it) for some years.

What's missing?

1) Series stacking. PACT didn't like the idea that you could catch up with all the episodes of a series you missed, so that's a bit crappy/..

2) The long tail. Yes, you know what it is. Auntie know what it is. But the iPlayer has docked it! How wrong is that?

3) IMHO the BBC should be - for the licence fee - a national library, not just another pusher of shiny things. There needs to be just a little more public service in the iPlayer.


About the BBC iPlayer

February 08: Guardian Organgrinder : Could this be Broadband Tv's Freeview Moment?

Freeview Posts Record Growth

Freeview Posts Record Growth Last quarter of 2007


Freeview is owned by a joint venture between the BBC, National Grid Wireless, Sky, ITV and Channel 4. The Guardian reported today that Freeview is now examining the possibility of developing a new generation of set-top boxes that consumers can plug in to their broadband connections. This would enable them to access online services such as the BBC's iPlayer through their television sets.

In its best ever performance, more than 3.8m devices that can receive Freeview were sold in the last quarter of 2007, according to figures to be released today. For the year as a whole 9.7m TVs, set top boxes and personal video recorders were sold that can receive Freeview's more than 40 free to air channels, up 64% on the previous year and also a new record. (Guardian March 11th 2008)

The History of Freeview

Before Freeview was the ill-fated On-Digital from ITV: (BBC October 2002) 

In fact numbers are much less important to Freeview than they were to ITV Digital. The new consortium does not have to sell subscriptions to recoup the cost of premium programmes like ITV Digital's ultimately crippling £315 million deal with the Nationwide League. (Nick Higham BBC)

Emily Bell's Guardian Media column in 2002 entitled: It's Free but will Anyone Want it? made the following comments:

But Forrester's pessimistic ponderings highlighted another conundrum at the heart of Freeview. What on earth is it for? The answer is plugging the digital gap - between those who don't want or can't have or can't afford cable or Sky but will need a new digital television or decoder in order to make it possible for the government to switch off the analogue signal. Undoubtedly one of the key correct decisions about Freeview is that it is free. But then, as Lemony Snicket might warn, there is an ever-present danger that you won't be able to give it away. (My Emphasis)

Freeview Now the third quarter of last year more than 86% of UK households were so-called multi-channel homes - which includes those still taking Virgin Media's old analogue cable service. (ibid)

The strong take-up of 'free' digital terrestrial TV was also fuelled by sales of flat screen TVs with built-in digital TV decoders. Last week, department store group John Lewis reported that it sold more flat screen TVs - the vast majority of which include digital TV decoders - over the festive period than it had in 2006. (ibid)

Faced with the possibility of losing television altogether, digital refuseniks have been caving in and buying a new TV or set-top box. With the market reaching saturation point, Freeview reckons its future growth is likely to come from sales of Playback branded devices. Like personal video recorders from Sky and Virgin Media, Playback allows users to pause or rewind live TV and record an entire series with the push of a single button.

"Clearly looking at TV as a whole and the way that the technology is moving, integrating internet-provided TV with broadcast-provided TV has to be the shape of things to come," said Howling.  (General manager of Freeview). 

Recent Information on Freeview Channels Viewership

The Launch of 'Dave' on Freeview

Chris Tryhon Guardian Media reporter 24th October 2007 

Dave's debut week makes it the fifth biggest channel - discounting the five analogue terrestrial channels - among all multichannel viewers over 16.

ITV2 tops the list with a 1.93% share, followed by E4 (1.61%), ITV3 (1.6%) and Sky Sports 1 (1.42%). Channels below Dave include BBC3, Living, UKTV Gold and Sky One.

Among ABC1 males and 16- to 44-year-old males, only Sky Sports 1 outranks Dave in the multichannel ratings outside the big five of BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel Five.

This appears to vindicate UKTV's strategy of rebranding UKTV G2 to Dave and focusing on a young male audience by offering a mix of comedy and factual entertainment programming.

March 09, 2008

Should the TV License Fee be Topsliced?

Should the TV License Fee be Topsliced?

Can James Purnell, the culture secretary, really be serious when he talks, as he does, of top-slicing the BBC licence fee to spread the money among other broadcasters? Talking to him at last weekend's Fabian conference, he confirmed he was indeed. (Polly Toynbee)

The problem with top-slicing – and the concept of the Public Service Publisher – is that identifying a particular section of any channel’s programming as its ‘public service output’ ghettoises some sectors and liberates others from public service obligations, a Faustian bargain which allows the popular to get really popular in exchange for keeping the good really good. On the other hand, it’s clear that a return to a universal public service remit is unrealistic. (David Edgar: London Review of Books)

Andy Burnham UK Culture Secretary

Andy Burnham made UK Culture Secretary Jan 2008. 

An ex -Treasury clone 

James Purnell Ex Culture Secretary

James Purnell ex-culture Secretary and previously adviser to Blair 

Stephen Carter, the former Ofcom chief executive, who originally put up the idea of top slicing the BBC's licence income and who is now Gordon Brown's chief stragetist and key fixer. (Nicholas Jones Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom)

To complete this brief round up of the pusillanimous "New Labour" approach to commercialisation Nick Gosling reports on Purnell's choice of metaphor BBC as "Venture Capitalists" in case any visitors thought I am exaggerating: 

"We want the licence fee to act as venture capital for creative talent and nowhere is this clearer than in the BBC's investment in training and research and development." Well it was April Fools Day, but the confusing comment of James Purnell MP, minister for creative industries and tourism did not amuse union delegates and academic specialists at a conference on the new BBC Charter organised by the TUC, Federation of Entertainment Unions and the CPPF. (Nick Gosling Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom)

Under construction


The debate about how to apportion the current and future so called TV Licence Fee is beginning to hot up. James Purnell has gone to be be replaced by another "New Labour" clone from the treasury Andy Burnham oddly only a couple of days after Polly Toynbee's original article.   One aspect of the debate is whether some of the licence fee should be awarded to commercial providers such as ITV / channel 4 who are meant to be providing some sort of public service broadcasting remit. Below I have searched some fora to see what the current state of debate in the digital public sphere is. Whilst this blog resolutely behind the BBC getting the full licence fee to provide the current levels and hopefully improved levels of service this doesn't mean for a moment that the BBC is above criticism. There is a separate debate to be had about how the BBC can be more in tune with its stakeholders and that must be carried on elsewhere. 

It should be remembered that New Labour has at least two reasons why it would like to curb the power of the BBC. They ran cap in hand to Rupert Murdoch before the 1997 general election to reassure him that New Labour wouldn't be against his media empire. Murdoch remember controls Sky TV who are very keen to emasculate the BBC. A view seemingly supported by Raymond snoddy of the Independent: 

The third bad idea, "top-slicing" of the licence fee, is far from dead, though it ought to be. Those with obvious self-interest, the commercial broadcasters who would like to get their hands on some of the BBC's money, will ensure it keeps running to the end. (Raymond Snoddy Independent: Monday, 21 January 2008)

The second reason is that the BBC stood up to Blair regarding the Iraq war. It eventually cost Greg Dyke his job. If you want more information on these issues Greg Dyke's book which describes some of the manoeuvering's around media policy are very educative! It is probably sensible to take these issues into account when considering New Labour's attitude to the BBC. Remember had New Labour had its way the BBC would have been severely curtailed in the digital world if Ondigital a fine commercial flop hadn't opened the door to Freeview. This fine effort from the "prestige" end of the Murdoch portfolio The Times had this to say in support of Burnham about "Topslicing", naturally it is totally unbiased and Mr. Murdoch didn't tell Hames to say this:

The challenge for Mr Burnham is to make it plain that he will be as radical as his predecessor. It is absolutely absurd that a modern party of the centre Left can accept what is effectively a poll tax on television sets, or acquiesce in the fantasy that the BBC is uniquely capable of creating material of the highest calibre. (Tim Hames Times online Jan 28th 2008)

Given that the New Labour clones including Tessa Jowell were hell bent on creating the UK as a Casino "Culture" having entirely failed to created any significant new manufacturing base in the North of England we can presumably expect the discourse of 'cultural industries'  to dominate the thinking about the BBC and carry on dumbing down culture. for those who think that is a an "elitist", "middle class" comment when it came to the Labour party making cutbacks  in culture a few years ago in Coventry including the music school and the Belgrade Theatre Theatre in Education it was Trade Unionists from factories like Rolls Royce who were the most ardent in attempting to defend a proud cultural heritage. 

This article from the Evening Standard is especially revealing as it shows the cosy cabalism which operates behind the myth of "transparency". The fact of the matter is there is heavy pressure on the Government and Ofcom to curtail the BBC, becuase unhampered by rabid commercialism it could be twice the force in the global media world than it is now:

But what are we to make of the relationship between Purnell and two very influential figures: Stephen Carter, the Prime Minister's strategy chief and principal adviser, who was previously chief executive of media regulator Ofcom, and Ed Richards, who succeed Carter at Ofcom and was previously a media adviser to Tony Blair. Richards even helped to draft the Communications Act, which Ofcom was set up to enforce. (Roy Greenslade Evening Standard 23/01/08)

Manchester Super Casino Plan

"Welcome to the Desert of the Real" Morpheus in the Matrix.

While this so-called "Supercasino" in Manchester was eventually stopped can anybody really trust anything that "New Labour" (?) say or do? It is clear they want to marketise culture as much as possible. Goobye Art and Quality..... Hello cultural industries. 

Comments From the Digital Public Sphere

I have kept the spelling of the original comments (even worse than mine on some occasions). 

Difficult to disagree with the comments from the Guardian Organgrinder blog below:

Top-slicing comeback is deeply depressing: Maggie Brown Media Guardian

Top-slicing - or giving a portion of the licence fee to broadcasters other than the BBC in return for public service content - is not the answer to television's problems. An alternative that does not entail undermining the BBC must be found

A politically insightful and thoughtful comment about continuing rightwing pressure to destroy the BBC. One might further  wish to enquire how far Murdoch Corporation etc are keen to see this kind of pressure:

It may be a paradox to rightwingers keen to inhabit their own parallel universe, but the digital age strengthens the case for the BBC.

We have already seen the crass dumbing down of commercial television since the advent of satellite and digital broadcasting. The only thing saving standards is the bulwark of the BBC and the fair, affordable and judicious TV licence.

The paranoia-racked Right thinks it works against their bizarre worldview, and set up loads of "blogs" in ever more desperate attempts to expose bias. Their predictable failure is the BBC's triumph. Their descent into obsessive madness proves that a public broadcaster is more relevant today than it ever was. It prevents the weird Right spewing its claptrap onto the airwaves without challenge (as happens on radio talkshows in the US). I'd pay treble to keep such a service.

To show how paranoid rightwingers are about the BBC, the governor Mark Thompson, posted a thoughtful blog on the BBC news site a week ago exploring issues surrpunding trust in the media (foolishly corroded in all sectors of television by cretinous "phone-ins"). Despite the clear evidence he posted that the BBC still enjoys far more trust than most other institutions, the comments below his piece are riddled with conservatives bleating about alleged bias (yet again again without any proof) and warning of some mythical revolt in viewer land!

Do I think the Guardian/Telegraph/Google/ Yahoo!/Times/Sky/Economist/TenAlps/Uncle Tom Cobbleigh should be allowed to pitch instead of just Channel 4 and ITV? Of course.

Do I think the licence fee should be top-sliced? No.

Why not? Because I have never believed in the pure economist theory that all markets are inevitably improved by competition. What has made BBC drama better is not necessarily public service competition here, but commercially-funded competition from the US. In areas where the BBC has enjoyed near monopoly positions - national speech radio, classical music production, non-commercial childrens' websites, worldwide online news, - one could argue that it has consistently produced better programmes than in the highly competetive areas - or at least programmes with greater public purpose. (Guardian Organgrinder comments)

From Polly Toynbee comments box the international perspective: 

If/when you live abroad (I live in Hong Kong) you realise that British people don't know they are born with regards to the BBC.
For 2 quid fifty pence a week per household, it is the best value entertainment in the world. It should be cherished. Imagine radio 4 with adverts, the BBC website directing you to things to buy, etc.
If I were Bill Gates, I would buy the BBC and keep it as it is to benefit the world. It is that good.

All these people talking up the demise of the BBC. Leave it alone. Out here in bangladesh if it weren't for the world service I'd have gone nuts by now. It still works and it still has great relevance. If it is getting weaker that only means that we need to revitalise it.

In hatred of Adverts 

From DigitaSpy

PLEASE, don't let this mean that the BBC will be forced to have the evil ADVERTS! Thats one of the main reasons why I like the BBC, the fact we fund it and that theres no adverts. I hate adverts!

Im sorry about that, ill just crawl under a rock now...

Marketising the media post 1990 broadcasting act leads to higher prices not lower, from DigitalSpy:

You know, i agree with you on that! (a first) Although it's not always the BBC that decides the fee it pays to the indies - it's the market ultimately. And the market price goes up and up and up the more the BBC is forced to use them.(My emphasis)

A more sophisticated contribution linked costs to the issue of Social Justice / Citizenship from DigitalSpy

But what about people that already struggle to pay the current £11.30 a month? Is it really fair to expect them to pay more?

One alternative may be to strip out some of the BBC's 'premium' services, like iPlayer & charge extra for that. Technically it'd be easier to enforce & people that can afford fast broadband should be able to afford, say an extra £10-15 a year.

An antipopulist contribution in support of weighty programming from the Toynbee box:  

Another problem is how often the more serious-minded BBC programs are jazzed up and undermined with populist techniques such as excessive use of CG, intrusive and inappropriate background music, dramatic reconstructions, focusing on controversial aspects of a subject and not the subject in the round, cutting out specialist/technical use of language by experts interviewed for programs. The BBC appears to have lost faith in making serious, weighty programs.

I agree - handing out the license fee to other broadcasters would be a disaster.

Arguments for advertising to make 'TV' "free" at the point of consumption model

This one is from the Organgrinder Comments Box

Pulic service causes? Surely the political trick of getting the BBC to pay for digital switchover (so OFCOM can sell the spectrum!) makes a mockery of this?

Copyright Payments? Does this mean I get all my digital media consumption free (both as in beer and speech)?

I don't think you've quite thought this idea through - so it may have been better to leave it "in the box" a bit longer.

The only viable model is the ad-funded one, as the cultural expectations for online digital media consumption, at the moment, is free at the point of delivery.

The more thought out arguments for topslicing (We would see the back of Big Brother :-) ) 

From Corin at DigitalSpy:

Channel 4 was set up by the Thatcher administration as an advertizing funded network, so quite simply, if they did not carry paid commercial messages, they would have no income.

As for wasting money on programs such as Big Brother, Channel 4 have to generate sufficient audiences of the appropriate demographics in order to attract the advertizers who pay the bills and since Big Brother is an extremely inexpensive method of filling hours of the network schedule, it is very cost effective, but as you quite rightly observe, devoid of cultural and educational benefit. It could be argued that if this pays for the other quality programing, then it is a necessary sacrifice however unpleasant.

Of course, if the were more creative and innovative producers of programming, they would be able to broadcast something of substance even though produced on a very limited budget, as did the BBC in the 1960s.

More thoughtful comment from DigitalSpy: 

ok i have not read all of peoples comments on this thread but all i say is i think it should be top sliced but we have to pay a bit more for the licence fee. so an extra £15 a year on top of what we pay now. in return ITV take £10 of that to produce a min amount of 10 hours of regional programmes and bring childrens tv back poss 15 hours of that too and a small dose of other things. while CH4 also does childrens tv and other things that are different like along the lines of BBC2 with wildlife etc
at the end of the day people whp pay for cable and sky tv should be able to pay extra for the licence fee too.

On Excess in the BBC (difficult not to be horrified in the case of Johnathan Ross now Stephen Fry...) 

How they use them & how they pay them is though.

Remember Jonathan Ross's £18m pay deal, or not pay deal because it's paying for his 'indie', of which he presumably is a shareholder & would share in any profits.

That's not necessarily a bad thing as long as the profits are not unreasonable & the BBC/licence payer benefits from that investment.

It's also not necessarily unreasonable for shareholders to profit. ITV's shareholders are probably mostly institutional investors (give or take Sky's chunk) & so 'shareholder profits' help pensions etc.
(My emphasis)

DigitalSpy on whether Topslicing might actually reduce market prices: 

Not really. Any market needs buyers & sellers & if it's a functional market, prices tend to equalise.

The BBC does decide some pricing, ie if it keeps paying it, prices will rise, if it stops paying it, prices should fall. If the BBC can't influence the price, then that sounds like cartel behaviour & price fixing, which would be illegal.

It can (or should be able to) influence prices, the main restriction it has is the quotas imposed on it, then any self-imposed restrictions created by cutting it's production facilities.

If it can no longer produce it's own content, then it has less choice where to source it & has to go to market, where it's buying power can have a bigger impact on the market & force prices up for all broadcasters..

Or potentially the opposite, but that's not necessarily in it's interests if it's 'competitive' & focused on ratings.

Both OFCOM & the BBC Trust are looking at the effect the BBC has on the market & topslicing
may be a way to damp cost increases. (My emphasis)

What the Commercial Broadcasters Think

According to this report from the Times on February 18th 2008 ITV & Sky have rejected Conservative Party proposals to share the BBC licence fee. One can resonably suppose they are not altruistic rather they feel that they would make less money that way. Rather by curtailing the activities to providing services that they don't want to they can forge ahead making profits, however in the case of ITV the path to profit looks rather a tortuous one:

A Conservative plan to make the BBC share the £3.4 billion proceeds of the licence fee has run into opposition from commercial broadcasters.

David Cameron has ordered a rethink of the proposals, which he was sent for final approval last month, after ITV and BSkyB made clear that they were unhappy at the prospect of being required to take public funds, The Times has learnt. 

Topslicing a Political Potato: Maybe?

Sadly the current New Labour has a way with it of taking Tory clothes which can only irritate quite a lot of people a lot of the time however it has managed to confuse everybody by presiding over rampant inflation in house prices and endangering recent first-time buyers with the prospect of negative equity. Lets hope they don't follow the current Tory policy of supporting the topslicing of the BBC Licence Fee.

At midday today 31st of March rather than April 1st) the Tory party came out with a position on topslicing the licence fee. The timing makes this seem like a serious policy being tested out in the run up to the May elections and also in a year when there is an election for the Mayor of London.   

Cameron and James Hunt Topslicing plan

David Cameron here supporting his shadow Minister of Culture James Hunt in a call for the topslicing of the BBC Licence fee in the name of "diversity".

James Hunt came out with a blatantly flawed statement in the published paper in support of this which commented:

"When Channel 4, ITV and Sky are at their best they raise the bar for the BBC. Without them, the BBC will atrophy," (BBC online news)

"In order to avoid crowding out innovation in the Internet, publicly funded public service broadcasters should be wary of assuming there is a wide-ranging role for public service Internet activity," it said. (Daily Mail online 31st March).

The report said the BBC had used its brand to create a "massively strong - and controversial - online presence", with BBC Online now the most visited British website.
"The real danger is that a dominant online presence by a state broadcaster will crowd out the innovation that a market will naturally encourage," it added. (Daily Mirror online ibid)

Now this is fairly clearly a ridiculous thing to be saying. The BBC creates - despite furious complaints about mispending  of the license fee - one of the most popular websites, not just in Britain but in the World. Apparently it has something in the order of over 17 million users. 

Now in an age of hundreds of millions of web users this certainly seems successful but then there are thousands of other innovative sites out there most of which are commercial. The fact that the BBC has so many users tells us both about the quality of the content and the service and about the desire for very large numbers of users to have a service which is based upon the notions of citizenship before consumption which is what public service broadcasting is all about!

If the Tories want to go about crtiticsing success in a highly competitive media world then just carry on being out in the electoral desert because you clearly haven't changed your neo-liberal spots. The main problems is currently getting the Not so New but decidedly tarnished Labour party to change theirs! The Tories have no real evidence to back up their absurd statement the y more quickly they withdraw it the better. Even ITV don't want licence fee money Michael Grade wants to make the money slumming it, although it seems an unlikely prospect in the long-term.  

The fact is that the BBC is remarkably open as this open invitation to contribute to redesigning the home page to meet the needs of a remarkably diverse target audience  shows:

Reboot Logo

Blast from the past

Monochrome TV Licence holders are fading away

Monochrome Telly


Nicholas Jones Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom

BBC Trust Speech at Oxford Media Convention by Michael Lyons Chair of the Trust January 2008

Link to a forum on this topic run by DigitalSpy 

Link to Guardian 'Organgrinder' forum on topslicing  

The Register: BBC: Death by a thousand top-slices (I confess I haven't really looked at the Register before but on this article and links it looks well worth keeping an eye on)  

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Topslicing  In terms of the digital public sphere this has a huge number of comments on it many of which make excellent points. It is a very useful source of arguments although there are a fw silly unthought out contributions (presumably from Murdoch supporters!)

Business Times on Topslicing Jan 2008. (Beware paper from the Murdoch Stable) 

Evening Standard on the Licence Fee 

Raymond Snoddy Independent: Monday, 21 January 2008

BBC News on Topslicing threat in 2005

Media Watch UK 

A proper academic response to the clumsy marketisation ideas of Ofcom in 2004 from Sylvia Harvey

David Edgar: London Review of Books

For more on this blog on public service broadcasting

March 05, 2008

Is ITV Going down the Tubes?

Is  ITV Going down the tubes?

ITV Logo


Beginning to examine the British TV system in the contemporary Broadcasting / Multicasting environment can be little else but a work in progress which at least gives a notion of forward movement. It is highly debateable whether TV as we know it has got a promising future. Here we examine the long-term decline of ITV which up until the early 1990s had been the companion of the BBC in the British Broadcasting duopoly. What is discussed below is the question of whether the gloabl economic recession will send ITV to the wall or will it force a takeover or set of mergers. Whatever the outcome it is expected that ITV will not survive the next 18 months in its present form. 

One of my alert Sixth Formers alerted me to the fact that a problem had been announced with ITV, this morning. Well it was a very big but expected problem. ITV profits sank by a monstrous 38%.

Commercial broadcaster ITV has seen its annual profits for 2007 fall by 35% to £188m after a difficult year, but says its "turnaround plan is on track" (BBC News online check this page to listen to Michael Grade's rather tetchy protesting too much responses to serious questions. What does that tell you?)

It certainly begs the question about whether current shareholders should run for the exits and get what money they can for the shares despite the presence of the rather abrasive Michael Grade who came in a year ago to try and turn around ITV's lack of fortunes. It is a problem exacerbated by the great phone calls rip off, where loyal but rather naive suckers were phoning in to try and win competitions after the entries had been closed by the institution without telling anybody.

Michael Grade

Michael Grade currently ITV Chief Executive

Former BBC One controller Peter Fincham will join ITV as director of television, replacing Simon Shaps, the commercial broadcaster has said.

Of course I should have guessed these highly significant results were coming out as Monday's Media Guardian was full of upbeat messages about how well TV was doing with viewing hours up. The back page even featured a full page advvert claiming that teenagers were spending more time on line "discussing what they had seen on the TV Yesterday"!!!! 

teenagers online...discussing what they had seen on the TV Yesterday"!!!!

Well I don't think so! Neither did anybody else in the class. A couple said they mentioned a TV programme if they had just seen it and were explaining what they were doing, but to pretend that this is a harkback to the days of mass TV audiences who discussed a significant programme such as Coronation Street the following day...RISIBLE (LOL 2U).

Grade's struggle to turnaround the failing ITV

Below I look at the beginnings of change in the approach of ITV and place it into the contemporary world of rapidly increasing economic crisis in the US and ultimately the UK.  The fact is that the health of the macro-economy is extremly important to the survival and profitability of media companies. I suggest that the emerging economic crisi as well as a changing media environment is going to dramatically effect companies which are effectively medium scale regional players. ITV is one of these and it has had a series of failures and problems in the past few years which now make perhaps the weakest media company in the UK. With the chill wind of recession gathering pace there is little chance of ITV surviving in its present form. Whilst there is no doubt that Grade is probably the best man to get the best out ITV when it gets taken over or merges with another company or is broken up into a production arm and a distribution arm the market view is currently very pesssimistic. 

As far as Sky is concerned they would probably prefer to see the company break-up into a production arm and a distribution arm. With a 17.9% chunk which will need to be sold as a single chunk they are undubtedly engineering deals behind Grade's back. Perhaps with Disney is one suggestion. A likely outcome would then be the production arm being sold off, which might end up with Virgin Media who have no production presence and sorely need some in an era when production for the mobile market after 2012 is going to be highly significant.  It is hard to imagine what Disney would want with the news service and obviously Sky don't need it. Perhaps Virgin would take it on board? another possible is Bertelsmann, certainly speculation is rife, just don't expect ITV to last long in its present form. Grade is increasingly embattled.

Bertelsmann has always been the obvious buyer for BSkyB's stake in ITV. Its subsidiary RTL already owns channel Five. Now that Bertelsmann has shelved plans to spend £710m buying the remaining 10pc of RTL that it does not own, perhaps it will seek new targets to channel those funds. (By Juliette Garside Daily Telegraph Last Updated: 11:48pm GMT29/01/2008)

Regional Cutbacks

One of ITV's original strengths was the fact that it was a network and that it provided strong regional idenitities. Arguably it forced a change in the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) remit. Nowadays it wants to maximise profits (well minimize losses in thier case). As a result massive cuts are being made in regional programming. Given that one of the remits for PSB in the 2006 white paper was to provide for regional identity this is a little ironic! Let's look at what the Press Gazette has to say about it all:

ITV has already cut its regional budget by almost five per cent ahead of a drastic reorganisation of its news output over the next two years, the broadcaster revealed today.
In its end-of-year results, published this morning, ITV said its regional programming costs were reduced by £5m in 2007, down 4.2 per cent to £114m.
Regional news accounts for about three quarters of this budget, or £85m - a figure which could be cut to £40m if ITV's regional news reorganisation is approved by Ofcom.
Under the proposals, the existing 17 news regions will be merged to form nine bigger regions. Widespread redundancies are expected as part of the cuts.(Press Gazette Paul McNally)

Grade's optimism seems wildly misplaced given that the economy in general is heading into a downturn. However deep that downturn is the advertising industry is always the first to react. Just look at the regional advertising for newspapers from the important Johnstone press group which also announced its results today:  

Johnston Press has ruled out making any "significant acquisitions" this year and has warned it is beginning to feel the impact of a slowdown in advertising.
The regional newspaper group posted a 4.6 per cent decline in profit to £178.1m for 207, with revenue up 0.9 per cent to £607.5m.
In its end-of-year results, published this morning, Johnston said print advertising revenue fell 2.1 per cent in 2007.
Early indications based on the first few weeks of 2008 pointed to a 4.2 per cent decline in ad revenue compared with the same time last year, with motoring and property advertising among the worst-hit. (Paul McNally)

Economic Slowdown / Recession / Stagflation: The Evidence

Grade has tried to brush off the ITV share price as just a bit of a 'panic about a consumer downturn' however Evan Davis the BBC Economics editor makes some salient points about retail sales. Let's take a look at what is actually going on. The state of the US economy is fundamental in what happens because it represent 25% of the total world economy! The BBC economics pages make this clear: 

The US economy, a $15 trillion giant which makes up 25% of the world economy, is in trouble, and could drag down world growth. The US central bank has cut interest rates aggressively and the US Congress is planning an economic stimulus package to prevent a recession.

The chart from the 31st of January 2008 below is a disturbing one.

US Economic Growth Figures

This useful BBC timeline provides links to Bank losses in January and February

US economy in slowdown says Fed 5th March

Confidence level at four-year low (UK)

Housing market slowing in Europe 5th March

One in five 'has mortgage fears' 4th March

French Bank hit by losses sustained in US property market 5th March

Thursday March 6th. Large rise in USA of people losing their homes

United States March 7th Unemployment rises. This will contribute to a rise in home forclosures. A dangerous downward spiral is in danger of occurring.  

By Friday the Seventh March the US Federal Reserve seems to have been panicked yet again

Monday March 10th: BBC reports consumer prices at a 16 year high  

Monday March 10th:  Oil hits record price of over $108 per barrel

Monday March 10th: ITV Targets Youth Audience on BEBO. (Adaptation or desperation) 

Tuesday March 11th: The UK's employment outlook is the weakest for 15 years, as companies continue to cut back on their recruitment plans, a report claims.

Tuesday March 11th: The price of crude oil has set a fresh record at $109.72, its fifth day in a row of historic highs.

Tuesday March 11th: The mortgage market is shrinking under the impact of the continuing problems in the banking system, say lenders.

Tuesday March 11th: The world's largest central banks have launched their latest co-ordinated action to calm jittery credit markets. The question many re asking is whther this is a sign of panic and whether they do anything more than hold up flagging markets for a bit. Many commentators argue that central bank intervention can't deal with the underlying issue of too much spending on credit in the UK and the USA. 

Wednesday March 12th: The price of crude oil has set a fresh record for a sixth consecutive day, hitting $110.20 as a falling dollar encouraged buying.

Thursday 13th March looks unlucky for some

  1. Big fall in retail sales in the USA in February. Is this more than straws in the wind? 
  2. Gold hits $1,000 per ounce for the first time ever. Gold always goes up when investors are looking for 'safe haven'. Bit more than a consumer panic I think Mr Grade
  3. Whilst this news will create a flood of crocodile tears the fact that a hedge fund Carlyle Capital is going under even after the Fed and other central banks have taken action to try and reassure the markets shows how deep the lack of confidence is. Read this article and the associated Peston blog to see why this is important
  4. The fact that AOL has acquired BEBO for what seems to be  something of a bargain price shows just how down the market is on media and advertising at the moment.  A good  buy for AOL - does  this harbinger a good-bye for ITV as the media sector loks to 'consolidate'? AOL itself has suffered recent profit falls and is seeking to reposition itself in the internet marketplace. They can afford to buy ITV cannot!
  5. Oh yes and car depreciation rates are set to increase by %8 more than usual this year. Whilst a glimmer of schadenfreude passes the lips as a Range Rover passes the fact of the matter is that all the signs of recession there. In an era when targeted rather than mass advertising is the thing, particularly finding the premuim markets, what is ITV going to be advertising and too whom. Taking a topslicing if the government offers might be a good idea!
  6. A rather telling quotation from a city economist rather than a  panic stricken consumer: "Looking at the markets there is a complete loss of confidence and that's because the markets are concerned over the US financial sector and ultimately what the Federal Reserve will be forced to do to support that sector."

Friday 14th:

  1. US bank Bear Stearns has got emergency funding, in a move that raises fears that one of Wall Street's biggest names is on the verge of collapsing.
      • ...if Bear Stearns had been allowed to collapse, it could have put the whole financial system at risk.

        Bear Stearns shares dropped as much as 53% on the news before finishing Friday trading down 46%.

          Monday 17th: Well the day Bear Stearns banks is taken over for peanuts. This is a powerful financial institution with shares worth at one point apparently 100 times the selling share price of a mere $2.00 US!!! OK ITV isn't a bank but then its shares were never a few hundred dollars. 

          Still think Grade was right about brushing off the state of the economy? The fact isthe outlook is bleak for the weakest sections of the media in general. Expect 'consolidation' over the next 18months (especially with ITV).

          House Repossessions

          House Repossessions rising significantly. 4th of March

          US manufacturing activity shrinks 3rd March

          Property prices fall in February (for the fourth month in a row) 28th February

          Falling House Price 2008

          FSA sees credit squeeze on banks 27th February

          The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has warned banks that the crisis in the financial markets will force them to change the way they do business.

          All this very recent economic and business data shows had bad it is becoming, it seems that an advertising slowdown is well under way. Grade may get a larger share of a falling market but is that good enough? Well most investors must be examining whether it worth holding onto their shares at the moment.  Obviously Sky TV hold around 17% of these shares which it bought at a much high price in order to block any potential takeover from Virgin Media. If forced to sell Sky would make a large loss but from a strategic perspective it would probably be worth it.

          The fact of the matter is that everyday the business and stock markets come out with worse news about financial expectations. The debate over the preceding months has moved from one of a bit of overexposure to sub-prime mortgages in the US to yesterdays slumping markets as a recognition that the US is inexorably heading into recession comes to the fore. The problem for the rest of the world is that it is still highly dependent upon the US which has been living on credit for a long time. Now people are begining to draw the line.

          The UK is clearly in a very weak economic position with an overvalued pound, a housing market which has become entirely disconnected to economic fundamentals because of the availability of cheap credit which has lulled houseowners into feeling richer than they are because the house prices have nominally trebled in value in recent years.

          This is likely to have an enormous effect upon ITV and other commercial media companies, becuase the advertising spend is going to to start drying up big-time. People are rapidly reigning in their spending at a time when the basic cost of living is suddenly beginning to soar in terms of fuel and transport, heating and food costs. At the same time the cost of products is beginning to rise because of the cost of basic commodities such as metals. Interestingly there has been the return of the term "stagflation" in economic discourse.

          Stagflation is a term which emerged in the 1970s partially as a response to high oil prices which coincided with the end of the post-war economic long-boom.  It described a period when prices were increasing faster than wages and economic growth had halted accompanied by a gradual rise in unemployment.

          Whilst the sort of recession seen in the world in 1929 is very unlikely because financial institutions are far more aware of how to manage things there is likely to be a prolonged downturn in spending in the U.K. This means that advertising budgets will become rapidly reduced and overall economic activity is likely to see the weakest media organisations go bankrupt or be taken over by the strong. however a quick read of the influential 'Lex' column this morning (Saturday 08 / 03 / 08) makes my glomy prognosis by no means the most pessimistic about economic futures :

          Now after a very nasty week in markets, the whispers are that it might be the big one: the worst crisis since the 1930s. Signals of distress abound: Yesterday's non-farm payroll data were awful, the US auction rate market is closed, bank shares are collapsing, interbank rates are back in the dnager zone and debt spreads are ballooning. even sovereign borrowers such as Italy are being hit. Meanwhile credit funds that made silly bets are dying." 

          ITV is in a very weak position. It appeals to audiences who tend to be in the lower income brackets and who will feel the consequenses of any economic downturn the most. In the past this would have meant a reduction in profits but shareholders in a stable media environment would know that this was very much a cyclical business with any economic good news rapidly being translated into increased advertising revenue. 

          Because the nature of employment has changed quite a lot of economic activity can be reduced on the margins of society. People will go out to eat less and jobs for teenage studnets may become lower paid, shorter hours or disappear altogether. This is important because these teenagers usually feed their earnings straight back into the market-place buying cultural goods and services feeding the "cultural industries". 

          Already in the US we can see problems emerging in organisations such as Starbucks which is very much the beneficiary of some spare cash in the system:

          Starbucks has been hit by a combination of rising raw material costs, which has forced it to raise prices and a drop in consumer confidence as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has made its expensive coffee a little less alluring. The company increased prices over the summer but pricing pressures are continuing - milk prices, for instance, have increased more than 60% since the start of the year. (Guardian November 2007)

          Now if you read this story at first sight it seems to contradict my argument regarding advertising becuase they are going to try and advertise their way out of trouble.  Prior to this though Starbucks had never advertised and the other thing is they now have much more competition. Given the nature of the crisis it is unlikely that advertising is going to make anything other than a short-term difference. The next step will be special offers and promotions and will provide evidence that Starbucks is no longer a premium brand. By January 8th Starbucks had lost its chief executive:

          Starbucks has sacked its chief executive Jim Donald and handed the reins back to its chairman and former chief executive, Howard Schultz. (BBC Report)

          What we can expect in the UK over the next 18months is a consolidation of the market with brands coming up for auction. Possibly private equity will encourage the merging of a couple of brands. We have Cafe Nero / Costa Coffee / Starbucks in most town and city centres. Expect some to go! 

          The Changed Media Environment

          As if the general outlook for media in genral is pretty bleak there are specific factors which contribute to ITV's position as the investment dog amongst media companies. A lot of things have changed in the British media environment in recent years. The internet is still making a huge difference and models of media are still adapting and creating. Here the audience of ITV will tend to be less computer literate and to have lower numbers of computers in the household.  Many of this lower income audience upon whom ITV relies upon especially in the north of Britain have been largely excluded from the nominal rise in house prices which have fuelled the hidden inflation promoted by the government. They are most exposed to the credit squeeze and they inevitably end up with the most expensive credit which after all is spending one's future earnings / income at a price!

          The vast range of different types of media consumption is also also changing audiences. young people spend a lot of income upon games, mobiles, iPods etc.

          The changing media environment had meant that increasingly commercial TV companies had started to change the basis  of their revenue streams in a mockery of much hyped so-called "interactivity". This was the increasingly popular model of creating TV Premium phone-lines for viewers to "particiapte" in media events that were being staged (so-called "reality-TV" for example). To some extent this was managing to move commercial broadcasting companies away form their dpendence upon advertising revenue as advertisers themselves began to migrate onto the internet taking thier budgets with them.  

          Fragmenting Audiences

          As if the above unfurling economic slowdown isn't enough of a problem there is a problem of fragmenting audiences who are getting their content from elsewhere often via the internet. Young people seem to be gradually migrating away from TV and the TV they watch is clearly more targeted at youth audiences. My sixth form students seem to watch Channel Four the most and experience it as the main TV company which is aimed at 'Youth'. With a range of digital channels and forms of public service broadcasting coming from the BBC such as Asian Network there is also a growth of ethnically based media consumers as well. An OFCOM research report from July 2007 suggests that there will be little incentive for ITV to provide public service broadcasting  for regional news services.

          ITV certainly isn't targeted at today's aspirant consumers it is a channel "for grannies" commented one of my sixth-formers. Perhaps a little ageist but the fundamental point is that advertising itself is fragmenting and chasing 'niche' audiences. These niches themesleves are quite dynamic and multicasters have to be able to respond to changing tastes and fashions very quickly.

          Loss of trust in ITV and to some extent BBC

          As mentioned earlier revenue streams for broadcasting companies  previously dependent upon advertising increasingly promoted a model of cheap TV which provided the opportunity to get audiences to participate using premium phone-lines. Here I argue that to a large extent this led to an increased 'dumbing down' of popular TV and ultimately led to a total ripping off of the audiences. The long-term outcome of this is still unfolding however it is questionable whether ITV can continue in its current form.

          Where is ITV Now?

          There are signs of desparation crreping in at ITV as Michael Grade carries on with attempting what appears tobe structurally impossible. This recent Daily Telegraph comment on the business angle shows a scepticism is is hard to disagree with: 

          Show goes on for Grade as Shaps exits

          By Alistair Osborne, Business Editor
          Last Updated: 1:40am GMT01/03/2008

          ITV has instigated a bold management shake-up that sees the departure of television director Simon Shaps and the extension of Michael Grade's tenure as executive chairman for another year.

          As the Telegraph notes in ITV:  

          The shares, down 37pc in the last 12 months, slipped 2.4 to 68.7p. Mr Grade said: "The share price is all to do with panic over a consumer downturn and the overhang of BSkyB’s 17.9pc stake."

          Below in July an investment advice website This is Money noted the optimistic outlook of Michael Grade who argued in July 2007 that advertising outlook was looking strong. Clearly this argument is obviated by the current economic conditions outlined above.  

          First-half ad revenues at ITV1 were down 9% at £595m, slightly better than Grade had forecast at the group's annual meeting in May. With digital stations ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 and GMTV together producing a 24% rise in ad revenues to £122m, the overall group decline in the first half was 5%.
          The British television advertising market looks to be recovering strongly and is expected to be up by 10% in July. ITV's own experience shows that demand became increasingly strong through May and June.
          Chief operating officer John Cresswell said: 'Returning stability in the total TV advertising market has been an important feature of the first half, as has the improving schedule performance and the roll-out of'

          Below are the latest share prices taken from the BBC Markets page on Saturday 15th March. They make pretty grim reading having dropped by a quater since Xmas.

          ITV share price over three months

          Here is a chart for the ITV share price for the last 12 months, it makes pretty grim reading for Sky who have bought over !7% of the company:

          ITV 12 month share price

          Under the circumstances the ITV News at Ten initiative without adverts seems like a desperate measure to recapture audiences reports the Guardian :

          ITV is running its resurrected News at Ten without any advertising breaks - a move that is set to cost it hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue.
          The broadcaster said today it had no immediate plans to introduce a commercial break into the programme, after the first edition of the new-look programme ran uninterrupted last night, with a commercial break at the end before the regional news.
          ITV traditionally runs commercials halfway through its nightly news bulletin, with 60-second spots some of the most expensive on the network at up to £100,000.
          Industry sources said the move to run the new
          ad-free is a bid to lure more viewers away from BBC1's 10 O'Clock News, which runs uninterrupted.

          The Guardian reports that the return of News at Ten haslargely been a failure leaving ITV an even more unconvincing bet:

          BBC1's Ten O'Clock News has pulled in almost twice as many viewers as News at Ten since the ITV1 bulletin was relaunched a month ago.
          Figures for the revamped News at Ten show that since the bongs returned on January 14, it has pulled in an average of 2.7 million viewers, Monday to Thursday, when the ITV1 bulletin is head to head with its BBC1 rival.
          This compares with the 4.8 million viewers who have been tuning into BBC1's 10pm news on average.  

          The ITV Owned loss making Carlton Screen Advertising 

          As if the above information isn't bad enough one of ITV's subsidiary organisations is managing to make a magnificent loss in the Cinema advertising industry. Hard to make a loss in a part of the economy which has been doing well but is likely to be hit as the recession develops. The Times recounts the sorry story yet another in the story of ITV mismanagement making you feel sorry for Michael Grade (well almost):

          The company behind Australian cinema chain Hoyts is looking to buy loss-making Carlton Screen Advertising from ITV.
          Pacific Equity Partners is one of two parties to have registered interest with Grant Thornton, the broadcaster’s adviser.
          Once worth £80m, analysts now value CSA at nothing, despite healthy cinema attendances. ITV may even have to pay someone to take it off its hands.

          The backdrop to declining audiences for both ITV and BBC in 2007

          The Daily Telegraph noted on the 19th January 2008 that:

          The fall in ratings follows an embarrassing 12 months marred by phone-in scandals, with both channels being forced to apologise to viewers for encouraging them to enter competitions they never stood a chance of winning. BBC1's share's of viewers during the peak 8pm to 11pm slot fell from 24.22 per cent in 2006 to 23.43 per cent in 2007, while ITV fell fromFor the first time in television history, fewer than half of viewers watched either BBC1 or ITV1 during prime-time last year. 26.82 per cent to 25.32. The ratings, published by Broadcast magazine, were based on official figures by the research organisation Barb.

          Grade stands by ITV strategy By Ben Fenton Published: March 5 2008 08:05 | Last updated: March 5 2008 21:18

          This article by Fenton in the Financial Times below sees Grade upbeat despite evidence to the contrary:

          Analysts said that, although the company had reported a good start to 2008, it was vulnerable to a slowdown in consumer spending and would be among the first to suffer the effects of tighter advertising budgets.

          Below is a share chart of the successful advertising agency WPP over the last 12 months which doesn't make pretty reading and clearly shows what he market thinks about the liklehood of a serious downturn in the eonomy in the near future. Inevitably advertising and media are very responsive to change in consumer budgets:

          WPP 12 Month Share Price 2

          WPP was very confidant about a good 2008 as can be seen in this trading statement:

          WPP, the world's second-biggest advertising group, expects 2008 to be a bumper year for the industry. The Beijing Olympics, the US presidential election and the European football championships are expected to boost business, it said.

          Maintaining a Public Service Broadcasting Remit

          Michael Grade is nothing if not dogged. At this Ofcom conference in Cardiff whilst the phone-in scandal was reverberating Grade put the case for how wonderful ITV is at regional broadcasting:ITV's role in the nations and regions

          But I want to start today by emphasising the place that ITV plays in national broadcasting and reflecting all of Britain back to itself.
          This year ITV will broadcast around 2,000 hours of dedicated programming for the nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, across news, current affairs and other programming.
          That represents a total investment of tens of millions of pounds every year across SMG, UTV and ITV Wales in programming for the nations.
          Remember none of our main commercial competitors provide a single minute or invest a single penny in such programming. It is just ITV providing a vital alternative to the BBC in this critical genre.
          In addition, producers in the nations continue to win network commissions out of the 50% of the ITV1 budget that goes outside London. That represents a further £30 million over the last couple of years, including programmes as diverse as Rebus and The All Star Poker Challenge.

          Of I fully accept that "All Star Poker Challenge" is a fundamentally crucial piece of regional broadcasting which manages to maintain the identity of a region of gamblers, sharks and small time crooks and presumabaly tax-evaders (are we talking the Isle of Man here?). Certainly the term "diverse" can hide a multitude of sins. Please note that the current government wants to top-slice the licence fee to support this kind of drivel. This is how business media analysts view Public Service Broadcasting as Brand Republic argues:

          Grade has also managed to dump most of its remaining public service obligations (arguably bringing back 'News At Ten' is ITV's attempt at compensation for this) and he may even be able to get rid of the hated Contract Rights Renewal (which allows advertisers to reduce their spend in line with ratings) soon.

          Recent Reports on the Future of ITV

          BBC Business report  2006:  Sky and ITV  

          Independent  07 March 2007

          This Times report from October 2007 on the success of Google advertising probably sounded the death knell of ITV as even the flagship of former year's Coronation Street is shown to be a blast from the past when it comes to creating revenue: 

          Google’s headline advertising revenues surpassed ITV1’s in the third quarter as the search engine demonstrated it could generate more money from sponsored links than 30-second commercials in Coronation Street.

          Grade may find a glimer of hope in this comment from the World Advertising Research Centre: 

          85% of consumers still find TV advertising to have the most impact on their buying habits, although online ads come second best with 65% saying they have the most impact, ahead of magazines at 63%. (World Advertising Research Centre March 8th 2008).

          However the bad news for Grade is that according to WARC the UK at 14% has the highest share of advertising based upon the internet and it's rising. Try out WARC's clickable globe to compare UK and other countries.

          ITV's Broadcasting Portfolio 

          The week ending Friday 21st March brought some interesting aspects of ITV's sports portfolio. sports after all has elements of Public Service Broadcasting embedded within it in terms of national regional and local representation it can also generate a lot of money in advertising. 

          The good news for ITV is that is has retained the broadcasting rights to EUEFA Cahampions League until 2012 as the BBC has reported:

          From August 2009 the channel will broadcast the first pick of Wednesday night games, including the final and Uefa Super Cup Final.

          however Sky has gained part of this competition:

          BSkyB earlier won the right to show coverage of live matches and highlights on a Tuesday, plus matches other than the first choice on Wednesdays.

          The BBC declined to bid for this one.

          Formula One

          Thankfully that ecologically stimulating sport Formula One is back with the BBC who have regained it after 12 years. This is strange as with Hamilton a potential British World Champion giving such a strong naotional interest in the sport it has probably never ben more popular. Was ITV short of the readies to bid up? One must presume either this or else the possibility of splitting up. It seems that Ecclestone is concerned with the future prospects of ITV reading between the lines of his comment on Radio 5 Live:

          Asked why he had decided to split with ITV, Ecclestone told BBC Radio 5 Live: "It's not that we are unhappy with ITV but I think maybe they will have their hands full with other things and maybe the BBC can service us a bit better.

          Ex Formula One presenter Murray Walker who did it for both BBC and ITV has expressed his astonishment and also thinks there is something else going on: 

          Murray Walker, former F1 commentator for both the BBC and ITV, said: "I'm absolutely flabbergasted - I was lying in bed listening to the news this morning and I almost fell out of bed when I heard it.
          "It's an amazing development because I think ITV did and do a superb job, and I think there is more to this than meets the eye." (ibid)




          Whilst it is premature to predict the total demise of ITV, in its current format and in the current economic climate it is hard to imagine a viable business model for the future. With Sky having a 17.9% stake and Richard Branson around 11% it is clear that the sharks are circling. Grade's interview with the BBC business programme so viciously cut out any questions about ITV being split into production and distribution arms inevitably points up the weakest point in Grade's armour. As Virgin doesn't need a distribution system a deal with Sky for the 17.9% stake in which Virgin would keep the production arm might be a possibility. The fact that we can sit around and speculate the likely outcomes at all would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. It shows how far ITV has fallen and how it has really failed to keep up with the rapidly changing media environment. Obviously any deal would have to go through regulatory approval, however with the probability of declining revenues and the possibility of a failing company on its hands the regulator would be under considerable pressure from the market. Grade's strategy of producing better quality programming is an expensive risk which might have worked in a different economic environment but would rely upon increasingly risk averse bankers to provide the funding. One can only assume that Grade is trying to rally around other large shareholders and trying to stitch up a deal which allows him him to exit from the post with a semblance of dignity and which outmanoeuvres both Sky and Virgin. Grade could try to enlarge the  group  by merging with other troubled media groups such as Scottish Media Group.  This would provide much needed consolidation in the sector and might act to water down  Sky's holding but it seems a thin hope.


          Coming back to this a couple of months later we can see how bombastic Grade's claims were. There has been aserious financial meltdown and there is little doubt that ITV will suffer from this. Added to this thay have just been fined a large amount of money by Ofcom over the telephone scam of around a year ago.  

          March 02, 2008

          Textual Analysis OCR Moving Image Hub Page

          Textual Analysis OCR Moving Image Hub Page


          Any information relating to the OCR AS Media Studies Exam  from September 2008 ONLY relates to students who are doing resits from earlier this year. There is now a completely new specification which is based upon TV Drama & Representation.

          I Repeat the new specification starting in September 2008 does NOT include Actio-Adventure films

          For work on the new specification: TV Drama please follow this link


          Several colleges and schools have put up information about this exam so I have decided to  create a hub page and copy and paste where there is different information and material.

          Hub links  

          For more detailed work on the shot please follow this link

          For more detailed work on Camera Movement / Mobile Framing please follow the link 

          For more details about the use of sound including some YouTube examples follow this link

          For discussion and YouTube Extracts about mise en scene please follow this link

          For a revision check list of things to remember in a grid form to practise doing textual analysis at home please follow this link  

          Breakdown of OCR AS Media Moving Image Section of Textual Analysis 

          This section comes from Northallerton College It is mainly taken from OCR's own material describing the exam specifications.  

          The purpose of this unit is to assess your media textual analysis skills using a short unseen moving image media extract and to assess your understanding of the concept of representation using two texts.

          The unit is assessed by examination in May of the AS year. The exam is 2 hours (including 30 minutes for viewing and making notes on the moving image extract) and you are required to answer two compulsory questions. The unit is marked out of a total of 90, with each question marked out of 45.

          There are two sections to this paper:

          Section A (45 marks)

          An unseen moving image extract, between three to five minutes long, from the Action/Adventure genre. There will be one compulsory question dealing with textual analysis of technical aspects of the languages and conventions of moving image medium.

          Section B (45 marks)

          One compulsory question on a comparative study of two Situation Comedies which you will have studied in class. The comparison will largley focus upon representation of gender.

          UNIT CONTENT

          Section A will focus on Action/Adventure Films and will require you to study the technical aspects of moving image language and conventions.The focus of study for Section A is specifically the use of technical aspects of the moving image medium, and its effects on the meaning of the text for audience, rather than the content of the text itself. The technical aspects that you are required to be familiar with for the unseen extract are:

          • Camera Angle, Shot, Movement and Position (Establishing shot; master shot; close-up (and variations); long shot; wide shot; two-shot; high angle; low angle; aerial shot; point of view; pan; crane; tilt; track; dolly; zoom/reverse zoom;framing; composition; hand-held; steadicam)
          • Editing (Sound and vision editing – cut; fade; wipe; edit; FX; dissolve; long take; superimpose; slow motion;synchronous/asynchronous sound)
          • Sound (Soundtrack; theme; tune; incidental music; sound effects; ambient sound; dialogue; voiceover;mode of address/direct address)
          • Special Effects/Graphics (captions; computer generated images (CGI); animation; pyrotechnics; stunts; models; back projection)
          • Mise-en-Scène (Location, set, studio/set design; costume; properties; ambient lighting; artificial lighting; production design period/era; colour design)

          Action / Adventure Films

          The information below is once again lifted directly from the OCR textbook.

          This unit tests analytical skills and assists you in learning how media texts are constructed. For 2003 and 2004 you are required to study action / adventure films.

          The focus is on TECHNICAL ANALYSIS, which means that you need to study techniques used to construct texts. (This is done in detail to help you research FORMS & CONVENTIONS).

          The test is UNSEEN so you can look at a number of different ways in which forms and conventions are used.

          You need to develop the TECHNICAL VOCABULARY to describe texts. This will be necessary to enhance your practical work.

          THE EXAM.

          An extract of between three and five minutes will be shown. It will be shown FOUR TIMES in 30 minutes. You have a further 45 minutes to write your answer.

          It will not matter if you have seen or not seen the extract before.

          GENRE. This is a major Media Studies concept. You will show that you have studied the conventions of the Action / Adventure genre.

          The CODES employed in a text are defined by the genre. There are also technical codes associated with the genre e.g. loud and fast orchestral music accompanies the action. This music would be out of place in the middle of a soap opera or during a news clip.

          TEXTUAL CODES - An Overview.

          N.B. Various examiners over the years specify different codes. Current OCR thinking specifies TECHNICAL CODES, as well as CHARACTER CODES and REPRESENTATIONAL CODES.

          OCR also mentions SOCIAL CODES and the REPRESENTATIONAL CODES to be found within the Technical Codes mentioned above.

          TECHNICAL CODES such as CAMERA CODES, LIGHTING CODES, EDITING CODES and SOUND or MUSIC CODES create EXPECTATIONS, and signal the GENRE of a TV programme or film. For example, the lighting of characters face is a code. If the face is lit from the top or below gives the character a harsh or soft expression. High angle shots make the character seem small and vulnerable.

          CHARACTER CODES include costume, make-up, gestures and language.
          (Film villains inherit many of their codes from days of silent cinema e.g. dark clothing, disability, and villainous gestures). STEREOTYPES are used to build on viewers' previous experience of film and of their own world.

          Character Codes are predictable and can be used as a 'shorthand,' to tell a story quickly or they can be broken for dramatic effect (when a 'goody' turns out to be 'baddy').


          There are REPRESENTATIONAL CODES such as the DIALOGUE and the NARRATIVE employed in a text. They establish whether it is a current affairs programme, a comedy, or another genre.

          We are constantly confronted with genre in this way through both TV and film, and we are able to respond appropriately as they fit in with our own experience, ideology and knowledge of the world.

          Even if we do not understand a foreign programme we can still 'read' the signs and codes and understand the type of programme it might be.


          After studying genre conventions and basic codes, you must look at texts to see how technical codes are used to ESTABLISH the GENRE.

          The examination will ask you to comment upon how the text communicates with / manipulates / engages the audience through the use of technical codes.

          As a conclusion for each question about the technical codes you will be asked to comment upon the rationale behind this approach and reflect upon its success. This is intended to ensure that you do not simply describe the technical codes employed without considering their function.

          You must go beyond describing what you see and hear and explain why and how the texts are constructed in the way that they are.

          It is not possible in 45 minutes to discuss everything, but you can make an informed decision about which are the most significant codes.

          The list of codes which follows, is NOT a definitive list - some may turn out to be irrelevant.

          By observing a selection of action / adventure movies you may discover other codes which may apply.

          SIX TECHNICAL AREAS (Treat every filmic discipline as codes to be read and understood by an audience which 'reads' the messages in the text.

          1. Camera techniques framing and angle
          2. Camera techniques - movement
          3. Editing
          4. Manipulating time
          5. Sound
          6. Graphics / special effects

          1. Camera techniques framing and angle

          e.g. Long shots - show large subjects and their surroundings

          Extreme long shots - sometimes used as establishing shots. They emphasise background and reduce importance of the subject. Can be used as MARKERS between scenes - tension often builds from this point.
          Establishing shots define the location and give audience a perspective on the action to come. They are often essential to initially defining the genre.

          Master shots - are similar to establishing shots and are used at the beginning of sequences.

          Medium long shots - often frame a standing actor. Lower frame line will cut off actor's feet.

          Mid-shots - emphasise both the subject and its setting in roughly equal measure. Emphasises body language from head, chest and hands.

          Close-up - shows a fairly small part of the scene. It abstracts the subject from its context. See also Medium close-up (head and shoulders), big close-up or extreme close-up (forehead to chin).
          Close-ups focus on emotions or reactions, and are sometimes used in chat shows to show people in a state of emotional excitement, grief or joy.

          BCU's are intense, MCU's less so; the camera maintaining a sense of distance.

          Angle of Shot - conventionally subjects are framed at eye-level. Divergence from eye-level tends to have a specific meaning. High angles can make the viewer more powerful than the people on screen, or can suggest an air of detachment. A low-angle shot places the camera below the subject, exaggerating his / her importance.

          Point-of-view shot (POV) - a shot made from a camera position close to the line of sight of a subject, to imply the camera is 'looking with their eyes'. Can be used to imply defencelessness in action film.

          2. Camera techniques - movement

          Zoom - when zooming in the camera does not move; the lens is focused down from a long shot to a close-up whilst recording. The subject grows in the frame, and attention is concentrated on details previously invisible as the shot tightens. It may be used to surprise the viewer. Reverse zoom reveals more of the scene (perhaps where a character is, or to whom he or she is speaking) as the shot widens. Zooming is unusual because of the disorientating effects.

          Tracking (dollying) - when tracking, the camera itself is moved smoothly towards or away from the subject while the focus remains constant. Tracking in (like zooming) draws the audience into a closer relationship with the subject: moving away tends to create emotional distance.

          Tracking back tends to divert attention to the edges of the screen. The speed of tracking may affect the viewer's mood. Fast tracking (especially when tracking in) is exciting; tracking back eases tension.

          Tracking in can force the audience to focus on something such as the expression of a character. During chase scenes the camera will often 'track' with the action to emphasise the sense of speed.

          Pan - the camera moves from right to left or left to right to follow a moving subject. A space is left in front of the subject to ensure that the pan 'leads' rather than 'trails'.
          A pan usually begins and ends with a few seconds of still picture to give a greater impact. The speed of a pan across a subject creates a particular mood as well as establishing the viewer's relationship with the subject.

          Whip-pan - a very fast pan causing the subject to blur.

          Hand-held camera - a hand-held camera can produce a jerky, bouncy, unsteady image, which may create a sense of immediacy or chaos. A hand-held camera can be used to build up tension with unsteady images.

          Steadicam - a hand-held camera worn as a kind of harness. It uses a gyroscope system to ensure the camera remains perfectly level and smooth as the camera moves. For example, a steadicam was used at the beginning of Gladiator to film the battle scenes, so the camera could be within the action to engage the audience more directly. The effect was first used in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

          3. Editing techniques & 4. Manipulating Time

          Cut - a change of shot from one viewpoint or location to another. This may be done to change the scene, vary the point of view, elide time or lead the audience's thoughts, for example at the opening of Gladiator where the CU on the hand trailing through the grass in the sunshine cuts to a MCU of Maximus waiting to begin the battle. The audience immediately makes the assumption that the hand and the character are connected.

          There is always justification for a cut. Where a 'transition' itself is important it can be highlighted, for example, by using a fade to black to suggest a passing of time or a change of scene.

          Reaction shot - any shot (often also a cutaway), in which a subject reacts to a previous shot.

          Invisible editing - the vast majority of narrative films are now edited in this way. The cuts are intended to be unobtrusive except for special dramatic shots. It supports rather than dominates the narrative: the plot and the characters are the focus. The technique gives the impression that the edits are motivated by the events in the 'reality' on screen.

          Mise-en-scene - meaning is communicated though the relationship of things visible within a single shot. Composition is therefore extremely important. All features of the background, costume, proxemics (or spacing, relationship of objects to others), lighting, style of production and framing are significant.

          Setting - can be location or studio, realistic or stylised. Aspects of the setting or props in the text may take on symbolic meanings such as the red and blue pill in The Matrix.

          Costume and make-up - these follow on from and develop these concepts. Towards the beginning of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the elaborate costumes into which Jen is forced serve both to emphasise the importance other family and position (indicating the reason why she should not misbehave), but also to reveal the restrictions and limitations of her world (showing why she feels stifled and longs to break free).

          Costumes in The Matrix are futuristic and aggressive, with frequent use of sunglasses for effect and impact. This heightens the atmosphere of the film and imparts depth to the characters.

          5. Sound

          Music or sound, that belongs within the frame or can be considered to be a natural part of the narrative, is called DIEGETIC music. The source of the sound is often, but not always visible on screen. When the sound (usually music) is used without being part of the action (such as whenever Neo is pushed between the matrix and reality in The Matrix, it is defined as NON-DIEGETIC.

          Music is a key SOUND CODE. The type of music in a text can convey a great deal of information about the mood and tone of the text. Tension can be established, emotions communicated and the music can be used as a comment on the action, to set the context for the next sequence or to provide closure, such as the beginning and end of a round in a quiz show or the entry of a new guest on a TC chat show. Music can be very powerful in shaping the form of the text. The rhythm of the music can dictate the rhythm of the cuts, such as the way the drum controls the cuts in the fight sequences in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or can be used to establish tension. Silence can be used to create tension.

          Voice-Over / Narration are used mainly in TV. Commentary can be used to mediate the audience's interpretation of visuals e.g. in Mad Max II.

          Sound can be used as a bridge, to maintain continuity in a sequence by running a soundtrack under a series of images to link them. This can be useful in chase sequences for example to both create tension and to link the parallel stories of chaser and victim. The music in The Matrix acts as an underscore in this way on several occasions.

          6. Special Effects and graphics

          Titles are central to the opening of a text and may be interspersed at different points during the text to act as information (such as an overlay giving information about time and place) or as markers to define the action (the context information at the beginning of a film such as at the beginning of Gladiator) or to provide visual interest and reflection, or vital information such as use of subtitles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

          The style of text on screen can be deconstructed just as with a print text and choice of font, colour, size and so forth will all be directly related to the text.

          Graphics can be used in many ways. Where used, they can be analysed as a part of the mise-en-scene of a piece and should not detract from the text.

          Still images can be superimposed on each other on screen to create an effect - superimposed images ate merged to some degree as opposed to overlaid images, which hide whatever is behind them on the screen.

          CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is now common in both film and TV and yet increasingly hard to identify. Identifying the scenery seen through the back window of a moving car as a back projection is easy - it is not so straightforward with more sophisticated techniques and equipment.

          Most action / adventure movies make great use of special effects. Some of the final scenes in Gladiator had to be constructed using CGI following actor Oliver Reed's death. The Coliseum and the vast vistas of Rome were almost all created using CGI. (Compare these with those of Ben Hur or The Fall of the Roman Empire.

          Action is frequently shot against a 'blue screen' or a 'green screen' so that the appropriate background can be constructed using CGI and the two merged to make the scene. The use of the 'blue screen' or 'green screen' means that this simple colour is easily to identify and 'key out' of the scene using a computer. It is, however, important that actors or presenters do not wear clothes of the same or similar colours or they can seem to disappear off screen.


          A substantial number of Hollywood films are action / adventure films. The term is often used to define a single genre, since it can often be difficult to differentiate between the two. Films that might be included within this genre include Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone as well as the James Bond films.

          Action / Adventure films are exciting stories in exotic locations. The plot will be action driven with danger and excitement throughout.

          The audience may experience conquests, explorations, battles, discovery, creation of empires, and situations which threaten to destroy the main characters.

          Adventure films were intended to appeal mainly to men, creating major heroic stars through the years such as Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

          These courageous, patriotic or altruistic heroes often fought for their beliefs, struggled for freedom and overcame injustice.

          More modern films have been balanced with female stars as well. From this came movies such as 'Speed', 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' etc.

          Within the genre can be included traditional 'swashbucklers' and epics, disaster films, or searches for the unknown.

          They may include stories of historical heroes, kings, battles, rebellion or piracy.

          The action / adventure film first became popular with weekly Saturday serials, running in instalments that often had 'cliff-hanging' endings to entice viewers to return to the next show. (Heroine Pearl White in the silent era's The Perils of Pauline (1914); was the first major super-star of these serials.

          Later examples included successful cheap or 'B' movies; 'Flash Gordon', 'Buck Rogers' and 'Captain Marvel'.

          Steven Spielberg's 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', (1981), the first of a very successful trilogy, was a tribute to these Saturday morning matinees with comic-book archaeologist hero Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) battling the Nazis while searching for the sacred Ark of the Covenant. 'Romancing the Stone' and 'The Jewel of the Nile' were similarly successful.

          The first full-length adventure films were the swashbucklers which included many 'stock elements' such as lavish sets, costumes and weapons of the past. They were often built action scenes of sea battles, castle duels, sword and cutlass fighting e.g. Errol Flynn as Captain Blood, (1935), Robin Hood (1938) and the Sea Hawk (1940). Also notable from this era, Burt Lancaster as 'The Crimson Pirate' (1952).

          Action / adventure Films have a tremendous impact, continuous high energy, lots of stunts, possibly extended chase scenes, rescues, battles, fights, escapes, non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing, and adventurous heroes - all designed for pure audience escapism with the action / adventure sequences at the centre of the film.

          The cinematography and sound is directly structured to sustain this level of activity throughout.

          Within the genre, these days, there can be said to be many genre hybrids: sci-fi, thrillers, crime-drama, kung-fu, westerns and war.

          Always however, they have a resourceful hero / heroine, struggling against incredible odds, or an evil villain, and or trapped in various modes of transportation (bus, ship, train, plane etc), with resolution achieved at the end of the movie, after two crisis points along the way.

          Action / adventure films have traditionally been aimed at male audiences, aged 13 to mid-30s, although modern action / adventure films have features strong female characters to attract a wider audience.

          Among the most well-known and well defined modern day action / adventure hero is James Bond. Beginning in the 60s, the slick Bond 'formula' appealed to large audiences with their exotic locations, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, high-tech gadgets, fast-action suspense, impossible stunts and stunning women.

          The action hero battled unlikely and incredible criminals, usually without even staining his dinner suit.

          The action / adventure-film genre has been among the most successful genre in recent years. Raw, indestructible, powerful and muscular heroes of modern, ultra-violent action / adventure films are often very unlike the swashbuckling heroes of the past.

          Each decade has tended to define its own heroes for the genre and this has defined the style of action / adventure films. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a career out of starring in action films in the 80s and 90s, most notably in the action / adventure films Conan the Barbarian (1982), Commando (1986), Raw Deal (1986), Predator (1987), Red Heat (1988), and True Lies (1994), and also the hybrid sci-fi/action/adventure films.
          His more recent films have been less successful - perhaps because he has attempted to move beyond the action / adventure genre?

          To analyse the technical codes for the action / adventure genre is essentially the same as to analyse the technical codes for most mainstream Hollywood output.

          There are stock conventions used in action / adventure films but these should be familiar to you from many films that you have seen. The process of analysing will be more straightforward since you will have a more secure frame of reference than if you were researching a less popularist genre.

          Suggested Activities

          1. You are casting a new action / adventure movie similar to The Terminator. Draw up a character description for your lead character assuming he will be a conventional hero. Define at least FIVE CONVENTIONS of the ROLE e.g. (tall, dark, handsome, like Mr Mannix!?!). Consider the implications of casting a non-conventional hero.
          2. Select two short sequences of not more than five minutes long. Using the skills that you have studied on textual analysis earlier in this chapter explain how the sequences reflect the codes and conventions of action / adventure movies.


          The Art of Film (Bordwell & Thomson)
          Codes Summary


          Handling the Exam Advice 

          The most recent examiners report gave the following advice

          • Make useful detailed notes on the extract
          • Identify moving image language techniques accurately
          • Select appropriate examples from the extract to discuss – you do not have to cover the
          whole extract or every example
          • Analyse why/how these aspects are used to create meaning for the spectator, deconstruct
          what you see and hear, explain function, purpose and effect
          • Refer closely to the set extract – no generalised analysis of action adventure films nor
          reference to what you might know about the rest of the film
          • Cover all five aspects – do not miss one out
          • Avoid just describing what happens – do not just give a descriptive chronological
          commentary – analyse and interpret.

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