Editing query

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From: “David Allison”
To: “A discussion list for teachers of OCR Media Studies specifications”
Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2010 08:38:48 +0100
Subject: [mediastudies-a] Textual Analysis struggles

Hi all

I’m about to start re-sit classes with half of my Year 13s, who are taking a second attempt at G322 after a disastrous summer examination. And I’m struggling. They know all the technical vocabulary. They see instantly the role that mise en scene plays in representation of character traits, and camerawork is mostly not too much of a stretch. However, the other two are much more of a challenge.

So, my question – can anyone share examples of really strong writing on how sound and editing contribute to representation, as required by the exam question? Stronger than the Doctor Who examples from Get Ahead, I mean*. Even better, has anyone developed a checklist of editing codes in particular and their possible relationships to representation as a concept?
* They’re great on holistic analysis, but rubbish on representation of character traits, in my view.

If you know what I’m on about, and can help, thank you, and stop reading here – it’ll save time! If you don’t understand why I’m feeling lost, please feel free to read on…


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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to any thoughts!


From: James Baker
To: A discussion list for teachers of OCR Media Studies specifications
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2010 09:32:25 +0100
Subject: RE: [mediastudies-a] Textual Analysis struggles [HH Scanned]
Hello David

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

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

Hope this is helpful

James Baker (definitely not bluffing)


Written by blackpropaganda

October 22, 2010 at 08:23

Posted in Uncategorized

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