Project 18 Motivation

De-edit a sequence Choose any scene from a film or TV programme. Load this into your editing package. Watch the scene a couple of times, try to identify if there is any particular rhythm to the speed of the cuts. Does this change as the scene progresses? Is the rhythm suggested by action – dictating how the cuts should be made, or is it created by the cuts themselves? Cut the scene up into each of the individual shots. Look closely at each shot.

List the elements of composition within the shot and try to think what purpose each element serves. What effect does it have? Identify the motivation/justification for each element. Identify the motivation for each cut. Could you have cut any earlier in the shot? Try to cut each shot down to the absolute bare minimum. Reconnect your shots and see how short you can make the sequence without losing its meaning. Upload your finished sequence and invite comments. Answer these questions: • Does your sequence still convey the meaning you intended? • How does it feel? Has it changed? Why? • Has the feeling affected the meaning?

The Thin Red Line ( dir, Terrence Malick, 1998 )
The opening sequence of this epic cerebral war movie uses long picturesque takes to set the scene. Sequences include a crocodile entering a body of water, trees in the jungle, the inhabitants of the South Pacific island, the local children swimming under sea, an AWOL American GI canoeing with the island’s fishermen. All these shots run ten seconds and over. By shredding seconds off the shots and re-editing them together still keeps the mood, but with much less impact. In the original each shot dissolves into each other and there is a sense of timelessness and calm, as well as peace and tranquil. By joining them together again I opted not to use the dissolve transition to see how this would alter the mood, and yes it affected the ambience of the piece dramatically.

Project 17 – Time

Research blog Choose a film with a nonlinear narrative.
• Try to devise a diagram of the narrative structure that represents the relationship between the different time frames.
• Upload your diagram and compare it with others. Look for good examples of time being contracted or expanded.
• Try to find at least one example of each technique listed above.
• Try to identify a couple of examples of the same techniques being used in very different ways. Describe them and explain how they work. If possible upload examples. Write a short script extract for two scenes that connect different parts of the same day.
• The transition should suggest what has occurred in between.
• Upload your script and ask other students to describe what they assume has happened in the intervening time.

Hotel Room
• Is this what you intended?

Project 16 Other narratives

In this project we will consider two areas that demand a different approach to narrative.
In some documentaries it is easier to recognise the narrative form than in others. The ‘true life stories’ approach is often structured much like a drama, maybe even including fictionalised scenes or re-enactments to provide the material needed for the chosen narrative. An investigative report has a similar narrative structure. The situation or problem is laid out in Act 1, the investigation carried out in Act 2 and the answers laid out and conclusions drawn in Act 3. In observational documentaries it may be harder to recognise a simple narrative.

A classic observational documentary like the work of Frederick Wiseman takes its cues from the material that is observed. He tries not to impose his preconceptions or influence the action in any way. In editing the film he has to create a unique narrative from the hours of footage observed. Other documentaries have a clear agenda; the starting point for the film-maker is to put across a point of view or discuss an idea. This format is far more scripted; the structure or the key plot points can be laid out in advance. The film-maker then goes out to find or create the necessary footage to fit their script. An example of this might be Michael Moore’s ‘Farenheit 911’ in which he sets out to make a series of points and chooses locations, people and scenarios to test and illustrate these. The narrative here follows the structure of a discursive essay: an introduction, a series of assertions with examples, and a conclusion.
Crudely put, documentaries tend to fall into two categories: those with something to say and those which seek to explore. In the first case the film-maker must fit the evidence and the material they find to their story; in the second case they must try to discover what the story is in whatever they find. In both cases they will have to decide at some point what the story is and create a narrative to tell it.

Think of documentaries you have seen and try to identify which category the film falls into:
Asking – the film-maker goes into the project without pre-conceived ideas of the message or conclusion
Telling – the film-maker has a point to make or a message to convey
Pick a film from each category and try to draw a diagram of the narrative structure. (You will probably have to watch them again for this.) You may find there are multiple narrative strands.
Try to include these in your diagram. In each case try to identify the central narrative. Choose a single scene from one of the films and draw a diagram of the structure of the scene.
Upload diagrams to your site.
Compare your diagrams with those of other students.
• Do you notice any patterns? Do your analyses generally agree? Are there any anomalies?
• What do you notice about your diagrams of scene structure?


My Scientology Movie ( dir. John Dower, 2015 )
Louis Theroux’s “My Scientology Movie” is a good example of a project that is not particularly pre-conceived. Despite Theroux’s extensive research into the subject, the film expresses a somewhat aimless sense, that is a metaphor to the confusion and secrecy that the subject matter is allegedly hidden behind. With total non-compliance from the organisation themselves, which is of course the production’s anticipated outcome, the narrative has more than one strand. Theroux’s attempts to interview the current leader David Miscavige; in failing to do so, to recreate interviews using Hollywood aspiring actors to perform documented incidents; and by telling the story of ex-Scientologist Marty Rathbun.
Having grown up in East Grinstead in Sussex, the home of the European headquarters of Scientology, I have been interested in this subject matter, not simply because of its locality, but also the organisation’s secretive and allegedly threatening stand-point to its critics and ex-members. Guilt is often the default reputation to clandestine activity and the movement appears to have done little to alleviate these rumours since its inception in the early fifties.
This particular scene involves Theroux’s attempt to hand a letter for Miscavige to the gatekeeper at one of Scientolgy’s Californian missions. The letter is rejected and Theroux is left with his own opinion of why, rather than a resolution, something which is common practice whenever investigative reporters and Scientologists converge. (1)


I preferred to use this format to portray the scene. Still broken down to three acts, the scene is set by explaining a letter is about to be delivered. The conflict is that the security guard refuses the letter, leaving a faux-conclusion as the reporter can only assume the guard is fearful of repercussions from the organisation he defends.


The Devil and Daniel Johnston ( dir. Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005 )
The artist Daniel Johnston is the lyricist’s lyricist, producing sad songs to die for. His traumatic life, documented via hours of cinefilm and audio cassettes captured by Daniel himself is blended with his artwork and interviews with friends and family,  even his older self in this outstanding documentary biopic. His mental health is recorded via his astonishing scribbled drawings and his unique songs which are brought to life so hauntingly here. The film is a telling of a life story, Daniel Johnston’s creative achievements crushed by paranoid schizophrenia and a lifetime of anti-psychotic medication. (2)

The scene in which Daniel and friends tell of his absorbing obsession with Laurie, the girl of his dreams, is very poignant and depicting of a creepy nature, indicating a very poorly soul, however his muse allowed him to tap into a creativity that is original and personal, which has a rare honesty that I can fully appreciate. The songs that are the result are incredibly touching and reveal an astonishing lyrical genius.


Non-narrative films
Narrative can be said to exist in painting, in music, and in poetry. Yet any description of these narratives would occur outside the artwork as they themselves contain no description. In describing them you either describe the story that you imagine they were trying to tell or you try and describe the artwork itself hoping this will somehow reveal the narrative you imagined. So it is with more abstract forms of film-making. It is often argued that rather than being non-narrative these films experiment with different forms of narrative. They may not have a plot but all films present a series of images one after the other, so all films present some form of narrative. It may be that the narrative takes place on another level that is not directly evident on screen. Perhaps the film-maker wants to take the viewer on an emotional journey. This journey could be seen as the story that is being told.

Going back to the dictionary definition, narrative is “that which is narrated, a story; a written or spoken account of a series of events in the order in which they occur”. In this case, rather than writing or speaking the film-maker is communicating emotions directly through images and sounds; the events are the emotions you feel as a viewer. There is no need for the images to make sense in a traditional, plot driven, way for there to be a narrative. The narrative could also be conceptual. As a viewer you are forced to ask questions; the conceptual journey you make as you struggle to find answers is the narrative. By definition it would be impossible to describe these film in a meaningful way so it is important that you find and watch some films with alternative narrative structures. You can find examples of this approach to film-making in other areas. They often crop up in mainstream films and are prevalent in advertising and music videos. Look for examples of narratives that are represented without a plot and try out the exercise below wherever you find them.
Find some examples of alternative narratives. In each case try to identify the nature of the narrative. This is best achieved by watching the film without any pre-conceptions. Don’t analyse the first time you watch, just watch. Afterwards ask yourself how you felt as you watched. What were you thinking?
• Did the film take you on an emotional journey? Did it cause any reaction – even irritation or boredom? Why was this?
David Lynch ‘s Inland Empire is a difficult film to follow and it takes the audience through what can only be described as a true nightmare, filled with confusing time-frames and red herrings, disturbing imagery, terrifying sounds.
• How was it achieved?
each time the film appears understandable, cuts are taken in such severe tangents, that leave you disorientated and confused.
• What questions were you asking yourself, what puzzled you? What strange ideas popped into your head?
I loved this movie, it was the disjointed nature that achieves its goal the best, it really is a surreal nightmare experience. Few films achieve the distrubing nature of bad dreams.
• Did your feelings or understanding change later when you remembered the film? It is often necessary to watch a film a couple of times before you form a strong sense of it. Of course your interpretation may be very different to someone else’s. This is how it should be. Consider it as a form of poetry. Try to draw a diagram of the narrative. In some cases you may have more than one narrative – for instance there may be a simple plot and a complex emotional narrative in the same piece. Upload your best diagrams to your blog.

After various visits to Inland Empire, I still maintain that it is excellent. With a running time of over three hours, which feels even longer upon viewing, it requires stamina. But with each viewing I find it harder to watch. Part of its attraction is the wonder of what is going to happen next. Just like in a dream. (3)
Inland Empire ( dir. David Lynch, 2006 )

(1)  Official film website: – accessed 12th April 2017
Daniel Johnston website: – accessed 12th April 2017
(3) – accessed 12th April 2017

Project 15 Traditional Narrative

The three act narrative
The most popular narrative form in mainstream cinema is the three act narrative. This is, in a sense, a simple expansion of the beginning, middle, end principle.
Act 1 The beginning. It establishes the background to the story, sets the scene and introduces the characters. Typically Act 1 will represent the world of the main characters in a state of stability. The climax of Act 1 will be an event that upsets this stability. This climax will typically come about a quarter to a third of the way into the film.
Act 2 The middle. The protagonists seek to resolve the problems created as a result of the first climax. The story may diverge, becoming more complex. The climax of Act 2 brings all the threads together presenting the possibility and anticipation of a resolution. This will often be the highest point of tension within the film. Typically this occurs about two thirds of the way through.
Act 3 The end. The final resolution plays out, the characters are returned to a state of equilibrium, their world is stable again.

You can do this with any films you watch. Try designing these charts with some older Hollywood classics for a solid three act structure, and then compare these with more recent films. As you watch films, pay attention to the narrative structure. Try and identify if the film conforms to a three act structure. If it does, can you pinpoint the beginning of Acts 2 and 3? Can you identify any other narrative structures?
Try to sketch out a diagram of the structure of the film. Upload a scan of your diagrams and notes to the blog. Invite comments.
Do other students agree with your analysis of structure?

Psycho ( dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960 )

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho has an interesting structure. Although still a three act film, the film uniquely changes protagonist from act one to act two. The first act follows Marian Craine ( Janet Leigh ) as she impulsively steals her client’s money rather than take the $40,000 to the bank on her bosses request. She is in love with a man who wont commit to her because he is broke and she decides this will be their ticket to happiness. Setting off on a journey from Phoenix to LA, she tires and decides to rest at the Bates Motel, owned by the psychotic Norman Bates ( Anthony Perkins ), a character that murders her and also takes the throne for the movie from the beginning of act two until the end of the film. (1)

The Dead Zone ( dir. David Cronenbourg, 1983 )

Sweethearts John Smith ( Christopher Walken ) and Sarah have their marital plans dashed as John has a car accident resulting in a coma for five years. Upon waking it emerges that John has released a dormant gift of second sight as he goes through his rehabilitation plagued by visions of other people’s futures. He meets an increasingly popular right wing politician Greg Stillson ( Martin Sheen ) and he becomes aware that this man will one day become president of the USA with drastic consequences. Therefore he decides to assassinate him and save the future of mankind.
Although very episodic in its formula*, this Stephen King adaptation by Jeffrey Boam still follows a three act structure, when stripped down to the character arc of John Smith and that of the antagonist Stillson. As the movie industry advanced it is clear that although many films still followed the three act pattern, further options were being explored that blurred the edges of the particular template. (2)
* The Dead Zone was later adapted into a TV series, exploring in greater depth the visions of fate that John sees upon meeting various characters.

Ex_Machina ( dir. Alex Garland, 2014 )

Caleb ( Domhnal Gleeson ) is an employee of Nathan’s ( Oscar Isaac) corporate BlueBook Enterprises, a fictitious Google-like search engine. Nathan lives alone in his “Jurassic Park” island hideaway. Caleb wins a staff lottery to spend some time with Nathan. This soon reveals to be an experiment, in which Caleb is the human element of the Turing test as Nathan has developed an AI robot called Ava ( Alicia Vikander ).
Ava and Caleb get to know each other and using her programmed sexuality, she secretly persuades Caleb to help her escape the imprisonment, which in itself is pre-staged as part of Nathan’s experiment, however this leads to disastrous consequences.
Still  three-act in its narrative, in a contemporary cinema that is more experimental ( post “Pulp Fiction” ), I selected this film for its impressive example of excellent story-telling. The three characters are superbly developed, and the Turing test is flipped upon the audience, as we all know she is an actress, but we fully submerge in the character of an AI, leading the audience down pathways of philosophical introspection. (3)

Do you agree with other students about their structures?
I looked at both Chloe and Ashley’s structures. Chloe had written a detailed graph based diagram to show the narrative of the 007 film The Living Daylights. She had successfully used the formula to display the flow of the film. Whilst it was easy to follow and was well presented, I had chosen not to use a graph for my structures as I felt that this could result in being unnecessarily complicated, although Chloe’s example was not. However in a structure that is episodic such as The Dead Zone, it could easily be the case.
Look at different ways people have attempted to represent the structure. Try some alternative approaches yourself. Do these different ways of representing a film structure change the way you think about it?
As with the previous question, my flow chart version below proves how complex the diagrams could become. I much prefer the examples I had posted above for Psycho, The Dead Zone and Ex_Machina.


(1) Obituary of Psycho screenplay writer Joseph Stefano, by Ronald Bergan, The Guardian September 2006.  – accessed April 10th 2017.
(2) The episodic structure of The Dead Zone, stripped down to the classic three act- formula in Jeffrey Boam’s screenplay. Blog post in Cult Projections by Bryn Tilly, April 2016. – accessed April 10th 2017.
Ex_ Machina in Magic of Story blog September 2015 by Selin Sevinc Bertero Bertero – accessed April 10th 2017.