Content is More Important than Quality – Digital Storytelling

There is so much digital content available for consumption and most people have relatively easy access to technology to create this content, however, high production values do not seem to be a prerequisite for audiences. As long as the content is of interest, and able to be downloaded or buffered, users are willing to engage with it (Dobrian et al. 2011). The online video with the second most views over the first 24-hours is known as Chewbacca Mask Lady, reaching 50 million views in a day (Parker 2016). It was originally recorded and posted to Facebook by Candace Payne while sitting in her car. While this example is definitely an outlier, I’m curious about the relationship between perception of quality and user engagement.

Audio First for Audiovisual

In support of content over quality, if the audio is of poor quality and the information cannot be heard, it creates a big barrier for audiences to engage (Beerends & De Caluwe, cited in Harrell n.d.). This definitely aligns with the findings of Dobrian et al. (2011) where audiences are willing to sacrifice video quality (to a certain extent) as long as they are interested in the content. If the audio quality isn’t perfect, videos can be helped by using subtitles, Ashraf (2016) found that ‘78.2% of all views are silent’. This is all in services of making it easier for audiences to understand the creator’s intended message.

Amateur Hour

The internet and social media have provided an open platform for users to share their digital creations and Jenkins (2006 p. 136) identifies its value for amateur storytellers:

“Most of what the amateurs create is gosh-awful bad, yet a thriving culture needs spaces where people can do bad art, get feedback, and get better. After all, much of what circulates through mass media is also bad by almost any criteria, but the expectations of professional polish make it a less hospitable environment for newcomers to learn and grow.”

For online distribution, the ability for people to reach a community with shared interests is more important than the quality of the production. The deeper value of amateur production was also recognised by Allocca (2018) who, trying to comprehend YouTube as a vessel for ‘authentic entertainment’, saw ‘The authenticity that attracted us to early YouTube videos and channels came not from their amateurism, but from the aesthetic honestly that naturally accompanies amateurism.’ I believe that the appearance of authenticity has become its own visual aesthetic, identifiable by recordings with phone selfie cameras, and used in video marketing to give the impression that something is unrehearsed, unpolished and produced with the same technical resources and capabilities of its intended audience.

References

Allocca, K 2018, Videocracy: How YouTube Is Changing the World . . . with Double Rainbows, Singing Foxes, and Other Trends We Can’t Stop Watching, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, USA.

Ashraf, S 2016, The Silent Movie Era Returns On Social Media, Locowise, 9 December, viewed 21 April 2018, <https://locowise.com/blog/the-silent-movie-era-returns-on-social-media&gt;.

Harrell, L.S n.d., Why Audio is More Important Than Video Image Quality, VTREP, viewed 21 April 2018, <http://vtrep.com/audio-is-more-important-than-video-picture-quality/&gt;.

Dobrian, F, Awan, A, Joseph, D, Ganjam, A, Zhan, J, Sekar, V, Stoica, I & Zhang, H 2011, ‘Understanding the Impact of Video Quality on User Engagement’, in SIGCOMM ’11 Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM 2011 conference, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 15 – 19 August, pp. 362-373, viewed 20 April 2018 <https://dl.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=2018478&ftid=1012372&dwn=1&CFID=31083971&CFTOKEN=6f884d4dd7ac3957-6DD46D29-079F-0AB0-320EA49C7CAE8053&gt;.

Jenkins, H 2006, Convergence Culture, NYU Press, New York, USA.

Parker, R 2016, Chewbacca Mask-Wearing Mom Hits 50 Million Facebook Views in 24 Hours, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 May, viewed 21 April 2018, <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/chewbacca-mask-wearing-mom-hits-896120&gt;.

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Writing Digital Stories for an Interactive Audience

Panopticon Digital Story Proposal


One of the difficulties I have faced when writing the script for Panopticon arises from the awareness that the audience has agency in the story world. They can decide which content they want to look at and, because the story won’t automatically continue, they will need to choose to keep engaging with the content. I am worried that telling the story through a non-linear collection of moments and mediums will make Panopticon inaccessible and fail to engage the audience or hold their attention.

The Loop

Tarrant (2003, p. 201 – 202) points to Lev Manovich’s ‘proposition that the loop might be understood as ‘A Narrative Engine’ [where] interactivity becomes less about stopping and going, and more about the continuous re-direction of flow and energy’. The structure of the loop implies that the story needs to return to the same place, a place that can now be explored with new information and any momentum gained must be redirected. Sharing Panopticon through the Verse portal would allow us the opportunity for both linear, chapter-based, exploration and a duplicated landing page that would serve as the location for the loop. Within the boundary of this loop, the story content needs to include directions for the audience that indicate there is more specific information available in other mediums that will deepen the understanding and experience of the story.

Narrative Structure in Three Dimensions

The emergence of the transmedia form has required new structures for developing a narrative. One proposed structure depicts the narrative as three-dimensional, with one dimension being logical and linear as in traditional cinema or books, the second as the choices that audiences can make to influence the first dimension, and the third as the medium through which the story is delivered, which also recognises that there is a meta-level of experiencing the stories – a journey of connecting plot points across these dimensions (Bastiaens & Bouwknegt 2014). We started developing our story concept through a chronological, linear version of events and identified which mediums we would use to tell these parts of the story. Our next step would be to engage our audience through developing the other story dimensions, using tools that lend itself to the transmedia format.

Withholding or Misleading Information

One tool we can use is choosing to withhold some information from the story. Long (2007, p. 53) discusses playing on the audience’s desire for more knowledge, ‘building strategic gaps into a narrative to evoke a delicious sense of ‘uncertainty, mystery, or doubt’. To encourage the audience to make choices about the story, we can also offer alternative descriptions of events or moments depending on the medium it is told through. Bastiaens & Bouwknegt (2014, p. 1284) say that for, the user, this ‘offers the possibility to design his own significance within the text. […] each choice in paradigmatic design has the ability to differ and change according to personal interpretation.’

Hopefully, by implementing these ideas we will be able to create a rich experience that encourages deeper audience engagement with Panopticon.

References

Bastiaens, O & Bouwknegt, H 2014, ‘Transmedia and Semiotics, A Structural Model for Transmedia Dynamics’, in New Semiotics Between Tradition and Innovation: Proceedings of the 12th World Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS/AIS), New Bulgarian University, Sofia, 16 – 20 September, pp. 1279 – 1289, viewed 12 April 2018, <https://iris.unito.it/bitstream/2318/1645420/1/01_STANO_Con-Fusion%20Cuisines_New%20Semiotics.%20Between%20Tradition%20and%20Innovation.pdf#page=1279>.

Long, G 2007, ‘Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company’, MSc, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, viewed 12 April 2018 <http://www.geoffreylong.com/downloads/geoffreylong_transmediastorytelling.pdf>.

Tarrant, P 2003, ‘New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative’, Media & Education Magazine, 2003, Issue 136, pp. 201-202, viewed 12 April 2018 <https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/docview/236471115?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo>.


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Assignment 1: Analysis / Reflection Blog Links

#1 – Reflect and Write
https://backyardcreativesblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/reflect-and-write/

#2 – Goals and Desires
https://backyardcreativesblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/goals-and-desires/

#3 – Crew Roles
https://backyardcreativesblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/crew-roles/

#4 – Keyboard Shortcuts
https://backyardcreativesblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/keyboard-shortcuts/

#5 – A Scene
https://backyardcreativesblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/a-scene/

A Scene

The scene opens with a CU of Travis in his taxi, it cuts to a reverse angle WS where the camera tracks along the sidewalk looking over the hood of the car and, as it passes the taxi, zooms in to follow Travis into the office building. I believe that this zoom keeps the audience at a distance from Travis, we are watching what he does closely, but he is ultimately alone, and loneliness is an idea that will repeat in this scene. I believe that if the camera dollied in behind Travis the audience would feel like we were walking in with him as if we, metaphorically, had his back.

Once inside, the camera tracks in front of Travis in a MS as he walks through the busy office, indicated by phones ringing and people talking loudly. The camera movement reverses to Travis’ POV walking quickly and shakily towards Betsy and Tom in a two-shot that passes by Tom into a MCU of Betsy.

Travis steps up to Betsy’s desk in a low angle MS and we see a CU of Betsy when Travis singles her out and dismisses Tom. Here the ambient sounds of the office start to fade. Throughout the rest of the dialogue we hear some phones ringing and muffled chatter but we almost hear more of the cars and traffic from the street outside.

Cut to a MS two-shot of Travis and Betsy to watch Tom cautiously walk away, and once he is gone the camera starts to track in closer on the two shot. It reverses to an OTS MS of Travis that also tracks in as he tells Betsy she is “the most beautiful woman I have ever seen”. This cuts to a CU of Betsy that tracks around her, it feels like we are admiring her as if she were on a turning pedestal, and this movement stops at Travis’ POV in a dirty OTS. Betsy doesn’t take the bait and questions him on his original motives for being there as Betsy’s POV continues to track in on Travis almost into a CU as she puts him on the spot. The reserve dirty OTS CU on Betsy is steady and Travis shuffles in the foreground. When we are in Travis’ CU he has found his ground, the camera is steady and the two characters exchange professional small talk for a moment.

We then cut back to a MS where Travis and Betsy, who seemed so closely engaged a moment ago are at the opposite edges of the screen with a big distance between them. The intimacy of the CUs drops, the depth of field is deep keeping the background office space between the characters in focus which Tom steps into and he stands between Travis and Betsy in the frame. Whenever he appears in the scene it is almost always in the space between them. His point of difference is supported by the costume design, Travis in red and Betsy in red and white, the carpet and Palentine’s campaign ads in black and white with red, and there, in the middle of the frame is Tom, in a powder blue suit and pink shirt, standing out like a sore thumb with only his red tie to indicate that he belongs in the room. His pastel colour palette works better with the stacks of yellow legal pads than it does with Betsy or Travis. In this shot, there is harsh daylight streaming into the background of the office, noticed particularly on the floor, all the key characters are in the shadows in front of this bright spot. I think that this gives the shot dynamic range that would otherwise be quite flat, but the highlight also does draw your eye upwards in the frame calling attention to Tom’s action.

The camera returns to the Travis and Betsy CUs as Travis asks her out. When she asks, “Why?”, the camera starts to track back away from Travis and Betsy. As the frame gets wider Travis talks about how he has seen Betsy, alone, and the audience gets to see her and Travis in relation to the growing space around them. We look down at the desk as Travis sweeps his arm over it referencing her work, and we get the chance to look at both Betsy and Travis OTS with more air around them and distance between them. This wider shot also makes Travis appear less intimidating, we aren’t in his face.

The OTS from Travis’ POV during this exchange is from a high angle and it is the first time that we have looked at Betsy from the same plane as her low angle POV of Travis. Both of these OTS shots are wide enough that we can see Tom hover past the desk again to hide behind a pillar in the background. When Betsy giggles, the first time she has really relaxed her professional and observing demeanour, Tom slowly peaks his head out from behind the pillar. When she finally offers Travis a chance, Tom’s head retreats.

As they shake hands the office sounds start to ring louder for a moment before the saxophone music begins playing and we watch Betsy watch Travis leave. This music transitions us into pacing with Travis outside the office, on the street, waiting for Betsy.

Keyboard Shortcuts

These are the shortcuts that are new to me and will be really useful for my editing in Premiere.

Clear In & Out – Option + X

It’s a simple one but, when I am editing, I usually forget when I have selected In & Out points in the timeline panel and often have that moment of hitting play and being taken to the In point when I had hoped I would get the start of the sequence. With no button to Clear In & Out I needed to search through the menu to find what I need, this shortcut will be a quick and easy solution.

Decrease/Increase Audio Tracks Height – Option+- (or) Option+=

Changing the height of the audio tracks is always a clumsy manoeuvre with the mouse, especially when working on a laptop screen and trackpad. It is easy to change the height of a different audio track than the one intended and the tracks can often end up being different heights, which is just frustrating to look at. This is an easy option to change the heights of all the audio tracks and get a better view of what I am working with. (To change the height of the video tracks Option is replaced by Command).

Nudge Clip Selection Left/Right Five Frames – Shift+Cmd+Left/Right
Nudge Clip Selection Left/Right One Frame – Cmd+Left/Right

These shortcuts will be really useful when doing a detailed edit and finding the precise time to cut from one shot to the next. I have found that this process is usually a matter of trial and error and, to be as exact as possible, I would normally move the playhead using the arrow keys and drag the clip to the playhead. I should now be able to use this shortcut to move the clips around and have the playhead free to move to where I need it for quick playback.

Crew Roles

The most exciting part of this reading for me was examining how a crew is structured. In my previous experience, I have been exposed to sets as an actor, an art department assistant and, on my own short films, as a director. These roles have significant distance between one another. When I was acting or assisting in the art department I felt my place on the periphery of the production team, understanding that everyone has their job to do including me but not really sure what those jobs are and how such a huge team is coordinated. When I made my short films we had a tiny crew and, while I could articulate details to the DP or actors, I didn’t have a big picture vision that I could share to help even a small crew feel like they were all contributing to a specific direction.

While reading Rabiger’s (2003) Developing a Crew chapter I started to realise the importance of a director’s pre-production to start to make decisions even before approaching crew members. These decisions obviously can and will change as other creative input is shared during the pre-production by the producers, writers, DP, art director, editor and composer but there is importance and value in unifying these departments by being able to set a direction and say, this is where I want us to go, this is what I want us to make.

Looking back at my previous experience as a director, I think I wanted to create an open collaborative environment for everyone to feel like they could contribute creatively. However, as an actor and as a crew assistant, it is really difficult to work without decisive direction and it is easy to lose confidence in the project without it. Even listening to DPs discuss their role in Nord’s (2018) podcast they identified one of the key skills that a director should have is the ability to make a decision.

Reference

Nord, Liz 2018, No Film School: DP Roundtable: How to be the Cinematographer Your Director Needs, podcast, 5 February, viewed 28 March 2018, <https://nofilmschool.com/2018/02/dp-roundtable-how-be-cinematographer-your-director-needs>.

Rabiger, M. 2003, Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, 3rd edn, Focal Press, Boston, USA.

Goals and Desires

My major goals for this course are to feel more confident with film equipment and to have a better understanding of the expectations of the professional world. I would like to be able to work on a crew and not feel lost or that I would be a distraction to other crew members.

I really want to increase my hands-on experience with production. From what I have taught myself I believe I have an intellectual understanding of the elements that contribute to creating a film image but I feel like there are still things that I don’t know I don’t know and have many mistakes to make and learn from. I would really like to get as much practical experience as possible working with equipment that is of an industry standard and start to get a better idea of my own habit, figuring out what is the thing that I think about last or just forget about when shooting.

It would also be great to have shot some really interesting footage and keep shaping my aesthetic as a filmmaker.

Reflect and Write

After reading the three different versions of the presentation, I was really surprised by the commentary for each of the descriptions. After reading the first version I thought ‘Ok, they’ve shown us how to do it now they’re going to show what not to do’. The second version didn’t flow well and I felt it was difficult to read because it was so disjointed. The third version was so casual and rambling that I gave up reading it halfway through and skipped ahead to the commentary. I couldn’t believe version one was the worst and version three was the best (for “quality of reflection”). I went back, started reading the third version again and still found it hard to read. I find the reflection is so emotionally driven and in a stream of consciousness style that it really doesn’t get to a point. Maybe I am just a descriptive person by nature and not a reflective one? Or, is it just challenging my beliefs of academic writing in a university context?

I think that I get a better sense of who the person writing the reflection in the third version because of the style. But that doesn’t ring true. There is personality in the first version but, to me, it is just written with a professional voice. This reflective style of writing reads like something that I tried to leave behind in personal diaries from high school (you know, the one with the little locks that might have been a bit weak to hold such dear thoughts). Even now, Dear Diary, I am wondering how much of this I should go back and edit and “professionalise” and, for lack of a better word, censor.

This train of thought leads me to the next section of the reading, in particular, the first three subheadings, ‘Investigate metaphors and images’ (Moon 2004, p. 223), ‘Recognize assumptions that we have made’ (Moon 2004, p. 224) and ‘Question and challenge familiar situations’ (Moon 2004, p. 224). The image that the reflective writing brought up for me was of a high school diary, and that response probably deserves more questioning than the validity of the ideas and concepts outlined by Moon (2004). Because, I went in search of other research that might provide a counter-argument and instead I found a lot of support for the reflective writing, across a number of academic fields, including in an article by Kessler & Lund (2004). As I read this article, I saw the phrase ‘reflective journal’ repeated and realised, I have done this before, in an academic context, as a journal, and found that the journalling was really helpful for me to work through ideas that I was getting stuck on. It just wasn’t the core material for assessment. And, what really challenged me in the third version of the reflective writing wasn’t the reflective form or ideas but the voice of the writing. In hindsight, my journals from previous studies were, actually, mostly descriptive (especially if I got behind on them). This quick judgement is something that I really need to be aware of, I need to be careful that I don’t dismiss things at first glance because of the style or expression that presented on the surface.

References

Kessler, Penny D. & Lund, Carole H. 2004, ‘Reflective Journaling: Developing an Online Journal for Distance Education’, Nurse Educator, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 20-24.

Moon, Jennifer A. 2004,  A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory & Practice, Routledge, New York, USA.

24 Hours in Melbourne

Hootsuite Screenshot 1 Hootsuite Screenshot 2 Hootsuite Screenshot 3 Hootsuite Screenshot 4 Hootsuite Screenshot 5 Hootsuite Screenshot 6 Hootsuite Screenshot 7

The Connection between the Creator and the Audience in Social Media Storytelling

While composing my short story to share on Twitter, incorporating four Instagram images, posted by other creators with the hashtags #cmwp2018 and #24melbourne, I realised that the linear story I was constructing would not be consumed by the majority audiences in that order. Once the final Tweet has been posted, the closest a viewer would get to seeing my original story would be to land on my feed at the last image, decide to scroll to the beginning of the feed and work their way through the chronological posts returning to the story’s end. What seems more likely, however, is that the audience would see one of my Tweets among unrelated posts, either within their own feed or within the context of a hashtag. Considering how users interact with social media, do previously accepted concepts of narrative structure apply to this medium?

In an interview with Mark Cousins for The Story of Film: An Oddessy (2011), Baz Luhrmann identified the first rule of making his Red Curtain Trilogy as ‘we need to know the story up front.’ Luhrmann elaborates explaining, ’In this participatory cinema…you need to know where it’s heading and you need the story to be extremely linear, one thing happens precisely after another like maths so that you save time. You can take the human moment…and we could expand the emotional experience of that beyond the reality in life. …we’re making something that happens in life better than it is in life – bigger than it is in life’ (The Story of Film: An Oddessy 2011). These ideas resonate in context of social media storytelling where the audience enters the story at the most recent content, particularly on Twitter. If the audience chooses to go from the most recent post back to the beginning, they are aware of what is coming at the end. Also, the story itself is comprised of moments that, when shared, go beyond the reality of life. The reality is distorted by the captions, filters and modifications that the content creator uses to influence the audience’s perception of the moment, and by the ability for the audience to choose how much time they spend examining the content. However, in terms of narrative structure, these stories are not complete. We enter them midway through the telling, not at the end, and they often do not follow a linear series of meticulously crafted events.

In social media storytelling, it can be difficult to define a beginning, middle and end, taking us into what Robert McKee identifies as ‘Nonplot’. ‘Story dissolves into portraiture, either a portrait of verisimilitude or one of absurdity. …Although they inform us, touch us, and have their own rhetorical and formal structures, they do not tell story’ (McKee 1999, p. 58). The complete collection of images and captions shared by the content creator offer an insight into their day-to-day existence, inviting audiences to perceive the world as they choose to perceive it. McKee (1999, p. 58)  continues to say that “Although nothing changes within the universe of a Nonplot, we gain a sobering insight and hopefully something changes within us.”

These examples of narrative structure presume a distance between the audience, the creator and the content, however, in the social media medium, users occupy both roles and have the ability to interact and manipulate existing content. One new narrative approach born from this interaction has been collaborative storytelling through hypermedia. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states that ‘participants can develop different story branches in hypermedia while in [a linear appraoch] they share a single story path.’ This approach allows for multiple versions of a story to exist, with multiple creators contributing to the growing narrative world while crediting the proceeding creators. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states ‘social media that facilitate social creativity on the Web must create an environment that attracts potential contributors around the world to participate in creative works.’ Such an environment could be the platform for the development of new narrative structures where single path stories can evolve into an interactive labyrinth without a singular and all-knowing creator.

References

Liu, C-C, Liu, K-P, Chen, W-H, Lin, C-P & Chen, G-D 2011, ‘Collaborative storytelling experiences in social media: Influence of peer-assistance mechanisms’, Computers & Education, vol. 57, pp. 1544-1556.

McKee, R 1999, Story, Methuen, London, UK.

The Story of Film: An Oddessy (episode 14) 2011, TV mini-series, More4, UK, directed by Mark Cousins.