Friday, 12 December 2014

Media Magazine Conference 2015

On Tuesday 16 December, once again we'll be holding the Media Magazine student conference at Logan Hall in London. We are expecting a full house for the event, with over 900 teachers and students attending. Our speakers are Channel 4 newsreader and reporter Jon Snow, film-maker Destiny Ekaragha, music video director Jake Wynne and writer Owen Jones.

Jon Snow has had a colourful career, fearless about going against the dominant view in order to speak up for the oppressed. His wikipedia entry is here. You can follow him on twitter @jonsnowC4

Destiny Ekaragha's first feature film, Gone Too Far, was released in cinemas in October. It offers a refreshingly different portrayal of young black people in London- no guns or knives, lots of laughs! Destiny's other work can be seen here and you can follow her on twitter @Destinyfilms.
Jake Wynne started editing music videos in the mid 1990s with work for The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. He formed a directing duo with Jim Canty and went on to make videos for a wide range of artists including Paul Weller and Super Furry Animals. Jake's website is here and you can follow him on twitter here: @JakeWynneHD
Owen Jones is an activist and writer who has appeared on Newsnight and BBC Question Time and writes regularly for The Guardian. His first book was Chavs: the demonisation of the working class and this year he published The Establishment and How They Get Away With It. Owen's wikipedia entry is here and you can follow him on twitter here: OwenJones84

I will be speaking about production work and we'll be announcing details of the 2015 MediaMagazine competitions- one for video and one for writing. I'll also be previewing a new FREE online film course from the BFI and NFTS which starts in February and which you can sign up for here

This year's competition winning videos, as shown at the event:

Music Video winner
Creativity winner
Creativity winner 2
Short film winner

Monday, 10 November 2014

Film Openings event at the NFT

Presentation summary as used November 2012:

I had a very enjoyable day at the National Film Theatre yesterday, chairing an event of film openings from schools and colleges. We looked at some material which is expanded upon in my post below on film openings, but also some additional material which I am linking here. We were joined by two industry speakers whose work could be useful to a wider audience of students, so I am posting links to them here too.

Three film openings on which I showed at the event

Catch Me If You Can

Good as a graphic titles sequence and an illustration of how a film-maker can suggest things about character and narrative as well as establish a sense of place in an opening. A very large number of titles integrated into the graphics, which serve as a good model for thinking about how titles need to be used in student film openings too.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

In this sequence, we looked particularly at the fragments of narrative (a kind of back story) and at the way the titles appear in red on black with a little 'bleed' each time, but of particular interest is the use of sound, which is quite 'layered' with the Johnny Cash song, the heartbeat noise, the bits of dialogue and other little stings which link with the images.

Napoleon Dynamite

This sequence is a really novel way of representing the titles, but also gives us a sense of the characters, even though only one character appears and then only on his ID card.

Our guests for the day were the man behind all the Bond film titles from Goldeneye to Casino Royale, Daniel Kleinmann, and the editor of the film released today, Monsters, Colin Goudie.

Daniel mainly works in commercials, having started in music video in the 1980s with work for the likes of ZZTop, Adam and the Ants and Gladys Knight; he is based at Rattling Stick in London and his recent adverts can be seen here. His titles for Casino Royale drew upon the influence of Saul Bass (Vertigo, see post below) and blended graphic work with live action to introduce the then new Bond, Daniel Craig.

Casino Royale

Colin Goudie has worked on a number of films and TV productions as a sound and vision editor and his latest work on Monsters was the subject of our session. The film is released today at both arthouses and mainstream cinemas and is well worth seeing. He describes it as a love story and a road movie, but it has the look of Sci-fi in a post-apocalyptic world.

The official site is here

Colin talked very animatedly about the process of making the film, including the improvisation, the largely amateur cast and the use of multiple locations. The film has caused quite a stir as it has been made on a micro budget yet got quite a big release. Another BFI event interview with Colin appears here.

Colin also mentioned the value of youtube clips which show how things are done. One on visual effects is at

Film openings for A level

This post is aimed at students doing the film opening task for AS Media with OCR, but there is plenty of advice here which can be of use to students doing other film-related projects, such as a short film or a trailer. The main thing is to make your final project look like what it is supposed to be- so if it is meant to be a trailer, you need to be sure it shows the conventions of a trailer, but if it is a film opening, it MUST follow the conventions of film openings!

The OCR AS video task asks you to make "the titles and opening of a new fiction film, to last a maximum of two minutes". Many students fall into the trap of thinking this is a really easy task and they can just have a laugh doing it and walk off with a good grade. Nothing could be further from the truth! Expectations are very high from this production work and you will need to work systematically and be extremely well organised if you are to be successful.

However, there are a number of steps you can take which will undoubtedly maximise your chances of producing something for which can get you good marks and of which you can be proud!

Step 1: Ideas

Keep them simple. the more complicated your idea, the more will go wrong. Put limits on settings, actions, characters, story. Try to whittle down the pitch so it can be explained in 25 words, like these here or try to summarise it so that if you were explaining it to someone in a lift, you would get through your explanation and they would understand it by the time the lift reached the floor you are going to.

Step 2: Research

This is a much abused term and often seems to be seen by students as doing some kind of survey and watching a few film openings chosen by the teacher.WARNING- this is not enough!

Research for this kind of project really means getting a full understanding of what the task involves by looking properly at real examples and at examples done by previous media students. A few years ago, this would have involved a big collection of VHS tapes but since youtube came along, frankly, it's all there on a plate for you to select from. This link will take you to a whole load of film openings from a range of different genres.

Even better though, is, where you can download openings from a huge variety of films in SD and HD without any adverts or other stuff getting in the way. The site also features directors, designers and others, talking about their work on these openings- for films, tv programmes and video games.

For some really innovative graphic-style titles from the past, the work of designer Saul Bass is well worth a look. There is a collection of his work here on youtube, including this one for Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'

Research needs to cover film conventions- how is an opening established in terms of story, genre, location, character, camerawork?- but also institutions- which personnel, jobs and organisations are credited in those opening two minutes and in what order and why?- and the audience- all media texts are specifically targeted at particular audiences and you need to consider how this is done and who that audience is.

You can do the conventions bit by watching a range of examples and identifying how they work; institutions can be covered by making good use of a range of examples on the artofthetitle site. An exercise that helps with this is this one here, making a timeline of the titles from an existing sequence. This example of what a student did to plot the titles of 'Iron Man'

For the audience research, the temptation is to do loads of questionnaires and then endless pie charts. You really don't need to do this and it is of questionable value anyway. Two strategies I would recommend are for quantitative data (numbers) do some online research to find breakdowns by audience age and gender for particular films and for qualitative data (what people say, in more depth) have some regular feedback sessions with your classmates where you look at each others' ideas, progress, animatics and rough cuts and then finally your finished work to give and get feedback. This needs structuring with some focussed questions, and you could always video it and put bits on your blog for evidence.

Finally, look at old student work. A search for 'G321' on youtube or vimeo or 'Year 12 film openings' will yield lots of results. Your task is to identify the strengths which you could learn from and the weaknesses which you will attempt to avoid!

Here are a couple of sites which contain plenty of them and an example to get you started.



Step 3. Planning

This is the other big aspect of the process where you can do so much to ensure the overall success of your project. I would suggest that a blog is the best place to gether evidence of both your research and your planning, so that the whole project can be seen as a journey. It is also a lasting record for when you come to do the exam at the end of the second year, when you will need to refer back to things you did a while ago in your preparation for the exam. Blogging can allow you to show all kinds of examples which have inspired you and which you have used for research.

For planning, everything needs to be taken into account. It is always tempting not to bother with storyboards but it is a mistake if you do so. You need a visual plan for your work as it won't just happen when you have a camera in your hand! I would recommend using post-its for constructing a storyboard, as you can move the frames around and change the order easily. Once you have done the storyboard, the next step is to turn it into an animatic, which quite literally involves taking a photo of each frame (on your phones or a webcam, nothing fancy) and then dropping the frames onto the timeline of your digital editing program. You can then cut them to length, add titles and sound and then export the whole thing as an animatic- a moving storyboard. here's one...

L3 Group 7: JAHMAL & SVEN - OPENING SEQUENCE ANIMATIC from cmdiploma on Vimeo.

You can get feedback on yours from your peers and then adjust for the final shoot accordingly. Other planning which you could easily evidence on a blog would be moodboards of the overall piece- which could initially be produced using found images- 'recce' shots where you go out on location and take snaps of places you might use and things like costume and prop ideas. All the way through the project you can be taking screengrabs of your work in action, like work you are doing in photoshop or your digital edit program.

The other crucial aspect of planning is logistics.This involves production management skills, thinking ahead to everything that could possibly go wrong on your shoot and to every little detail of what you will need. Nothing should be left to chance- costumes, props, locations, camera equipment and people all need orgnaising. Don't have your actors just wearing any old clothes- plan what they will wear; don't rely on someone else remembering particular props, have a list of who is bringing what. Don't assume everyone will simply turn up- make sure everyone has all the phone numbers and everyone knows exactly where they should be and when.

As for locations, make sure you have got the place you want at the time you want and without other people getting in the way of your shoot. If any of these things can't be achieved, re-think where you are going to shoot. It looks terrible if you have members of the public around in the background or a tripod sitting in the corner, so plan things so that you can control your set!

Step 4. Production

As director, you will need to be in charge of your actors and it will be your job to get the best out of them. Key elements of this are explaining what you need and what their role involves, rehearsing so that their performance looks convincing and enthusing them so they give their best. A lame performance will spoil your film opening!

You also need to know your equipment- you should have had lots of chances to use it to experiment, to try things out as you build up the project but by the time of the main shoot you should be absolutely in command of it. If you fumble around or forget bits of kit, you will have wasted your own and other people's time.

Use your storyboard but get extra takes- don't rely on one angle for everything or just one take. when you come to review the footage there may be little bits you don't like, so several takes of each shot will give you some choice. You might do a bit of improvising on the day with other shots that you haven't thought of before. Extra footage costs nothing, so you might as well get it. go for some unusual angles and go for plenty of variety, especially close-ups.

Step 5: Post-Production

When you have all your footage, you need to get it organised back on the computer in the edit program, labelled and sorted. When you start to edit, always think of the big picture first before you go on to the small detail. If you obsess about getting a particular shot or transition absolutely right before you've got a rough edit in order, you may end up running out of time!

You need to give equal prominence to all the formal aspects- soundtracks,camerawork, choice of mise-en-scene, pace of editing and of course the titles, so be thinking about those all the way through your edit. Don't leave any one aspect until the last minute; it's all important.

Finally, remember it is a film opening not a whole film or trailer; don't have too much happening or try to tell too much of the story, but on the other hand don't make it so impressionistic that it looks like a trailer.

In a future blog, I will consider some good ways of doing the evaluation for the AS specification.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

20 Ideas to refresh your media teaching

Really, you needed to be there! A course for teachers run by me and Tom Woodcock, 6th Nov 2014 at the EMC...The twenty ideas:

Get to Know the Class

About Me

Post-It Lesson Plans

Twitter: Interactive Media in the Classroom

Out to Shoot

Storyboard: Choose your Weapon


Cut and Paste

Bingo for Writing

Assessment Challenges

Instagram Adverts

Don Draper

Research and the Art of Recording Learning


‘External’ ‘Experts’

Do Something Different

Rough Cuts and Step Deadlines

Attention to Detail

Writing for an Audience

Reflective Island

And the resources we used:

2  About.Me: a good site for students to create a profile

3 examples of post-it lessons based on

4 @bcotmedia does a lot of this!

5 other induction task videos here:

6 Storyboard this:

a person is standing outside a window
they look in through the window
they are shocked at what they see

What kind of storyboard sheets do you use?

Re-makes are a really good way to build skills:
  NFTS students do it with a painting! :

The Jamie's Dream School Trailer is followed by the original; also featured here are a  Juno titles re-make, a playlist of music video re-makes and some horror trailers. 

Tv- and 



music video extract-,   


Re-makes can work well in print too:

re-make a film poster: (GCSE)

8 An exercise in image selection for a newspaper

9 The Bingo grid- put nine words on a grid and students write a mini essay using all nine then peer assess

10 Discussion of challenges around assessment

11 Instagram ads- choose object of stationery
take three advertising photos
put on instagram
think of target audience
leave negative space on pic for tagline
be ready to pitch

12 Pitch using the pictures!

13 Taking notes using paper v digital

14 Collaboration- the advantages of it for both coursework and research for exams!

15 Some people you might invite into the media classroom:

other staff
SMT / Governors
media practitioners
other arts/media organisations

16 Different ideas! The CD cover meme:

Use the title of a randomly-generated Wikipedia article. You HAVE to use the title of the page you land upon!1. Get a band name:

2. Get an album title: 
Use the last four or five words from the last quote on this page of random quotations

3. Get your image:
Use the random images  generator from Flickr's last seven days you HAVE to use the third image, whatever it is

4. Drop image and words into Photoshop:

Adjust your band name and album title by changing the font, colour and size and maybe putting a bit of layer effect on. Resize your image so that it is the right size for the front of an album. If you want, you can turn colour into black and white, but you can’t add anything else to the image!

The shoot out-

17 rough cuts and step deadlines- a better way to organise projects

18 a couple of sensational videos:

19 Tips for exam writing:

short sentences
short paragraphs
line spacing
concrete examples

20 Reflection Islands- thinking about your experience of courses!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Freedom of speech and 'trolls'

The newspaper phone hacking scandal which led to the Leveson Inquiry has rumbled on recently as other newspapers, notably The Daily Mirror, have admitted to hacking phones too in the past. Meanwhile, there is still no sign of the government fulfilling its promise to the victims of phone hacking that it would ensure the recommendations of Leveson would be enacted. At present, the only organization which has the function of dealing with press complaints is the recently formed IPSO, with some controversial board members, which many critics have argued is no different from the old PCC, which did little to stop the excesses of press behaviour.

On the eve of the Conservative party conference last week, a minor government minister, Brookes Newmark was forced to resign following an indiscretion involving taking a selfie in his pyjamas with a bit too much showing (ahem) and sending it to a woman he had never met. The story broke in The Sunday Mirror and caused minor embarrassment to the party, but as it unravelled it became clear that the whole thing was a newspaper ‘sting’. It appears that a male reporter working for the Guido Fawkes blog had set up a fake twitter account as a female conservative party activist and sent flirtatious messages to a number of conservative MPs over a period of time. Her profile picture was of a random woman in a bikini, lifted from facebook.

Though we might find the story comical and have little sympathy for the minister, it does raise questions about the ethics of press behaviour. Though the paper claimed it was in the public interest to expose the minister as a hypocrite, quite clearly there was an element of entrapment involved, as well as stealing someone else’s picture for the Twitter account. 

Obviously, it is very easy for someone to set up a fake ID on twitter or indeed on other social media and to make a nuisance of themselves, particularly in terms of abusive messages (see previous post on Stan Collymore). Online trolling is probably familiar to most people. But what about people who want to argue a particular line which is not unlawful but might be seen to go against the dominant messages of the media?

The McCann family, whose daughter Madeleine disappeared in Portugal in 2007 have been the subject of much media speculation and have had a very high profile ever since. They have successfully sued newspapers for libel. Last week they announced that they were going to take action against people who had trolled them online - senders of abusive messages.  As in the case of many crimes, like the shooting of JFK or even 9/11, there are a number of forums online where people speculate about the evidence and conspiracy theories emerge. The McCann story is no exception and last week Sky News sent their crime reporter Martin Brunt to the home of a woman, Brenda Leyland, who had tweeted about the case over a long period of time under the name @sweepyface. She had questioned the McCann account of what had happened and repeated allegations about misuse of public donations to the appeal fund. Brunt 'doorstepped' her with a camera crew and Sky featured her on a number of bulletins, describing her as a troll. Mrs Leyland then became the object of a lot of hate on twitter, including photoshop images turning her into a monster. Following approaches from other media outlets, she left her home on Friday and was found dead in a hotel room on Sunday, having apparently committed suicide.

The case has led to a flurry of news articles and much discussion on twitter. Whilst some have suggested that she brought it on herself, others have questioned why Sky treated her as a troll at all. The McCanns do not have twitter accounts, so it suggested they couldn't be trolled as the messages were not sent to them. Though she deleted her twitter account after the visit from Sky, text versions of it saved by other users have been posted, which reveal that though she had persisted in questioning the McCanns account of events, she had not threatened them. This article from Spiked challenges the way in which online opinion is sometimes represented as trolling and argues that it is often those who are determined to 'expose' trolls who are really the online bullies. 

The case certainly raises questions about the boundaries of free speech and two articles from The Guardian show both sides here and here. However outraged we might feel either about the feelings of the McCanns or about the suicide of Brenda Leyland, online media means viewpoints we might disagree with are never far away.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Useful resources, events and opportunities

If you've just started Media or Film Studies, you might find it useful to know about some of the resources available to you. In this post, I'll explain how to use this blog, how to use both MediaMagazine and the archive of material available on the MM site and suggest some people on twitter who post useful links.

One thing that's a bit different about Film and Media as subjects is that you are encouraged to use contemporary materials and to draw upon what you know from outside school or college. They are not 'textbook' subjects where you are led to believe that there is a 'right answer' or limited examples to use. Ideally, every film or media student will be able to use material covered in class and material from their own experience, so that every piece of coursework and every exam answer will be different. This means that you can draw upon lots of different ideas and find things for yourself.

There is an excellent article in the current MediaMagazine (issue 49) by Jonathan Nunns, about how to use back issues of MediaMagazine- accessible via the MM site- for research into all manner of topics for A2 Media and Film. Depending on which exam board you do, research takes different forms; so it may be that in your course, research is part of the production project or it may be that it takes the form of a long piece of writing. For all the exams, research into your own examples will be useful too. Whatever form it takes for your course, there will definitely be something for you on the MM site. Your school or college should have a password for students to use to login. There are searchable archives on there and in MM extra materials that didn't appear in the magazine itself which give further background to particular topics.

This blog is searchable too, using tags or 'labels', and I'm in the process of updating these. If you click on a particular 'label' at the bottom of a post, you can bring up all others with the same label, so 'music video' or 'AS exam'. But as with any blog, just like visiting a library or bookshop (anyone remember those?!) having a browse back through previous posts might bring up something that turns out to be unexpectedly of use to you.

I have a massive amount of bookmarks saved on my laptop, many in a folder called 'mediamag', of things that I think I might be able to use in a future blogpost. Lots of these are things that I find via twitter, when people I follow retweet stuff or tweet links to articles. I might not read the whole thing straight away but if I think it might be useful, I'll keep a link. If I were more organised, I'd use some kind of bookmarking site to help me keep track of it all, but every now and then I have a look at what I've got and link a few things together in a blogpost. You could follow a whole load of media departments and media teachers on twitter, which would help you stack up a lot of resources, but to save you the trouble, follow my twitter and I'll retweet their best stuff for you!


Finally, opportunities and events...

If your school hasn't signed up to bring a load of you yet, do it! The Media Magazine Conference on December 16th in London:

We've got great speakers including Owen Jones, Jon Snow, Destiny Ekharaga and Jake Wynne. It is always a great day! Look back through my blog for past conferences.

And if you haven't heard about it, check out the BFI Film Academy: here  It is an amazing opportunity for aspiring film-makers at over 40 centres around the UK. Some places still have spaces and their application date has not passed.

Being on one of the network academies gives you a greater chance of making it to one of the residential courses, but anyone can apply to those too: here

And best of all (though I am biased, because I help run it!) is the national two week residential held at the National Film and Television school at Easter, here. Applications for most specialisms don't open till November, but if you are interested in being a screenwriter, you can apply NOW! Deadline is 3 November.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Media Studies- Mickey Mouse?

“So you’re doing Media Studies A level? That's a Mickey Mouse subject, isn’t it? Waste of time, unless you just want to doss about for two years. Universities don’t accept it anyway- well the good ones don’t. And no employer will ever look at you with an A level in that- even if you do get an A*! (which of course everyone gets anyway). No mate you should have done a proper subject- you’ve made a big mistake there. Didn’t you see the graffiti in the toilets just above the bog roll? There’s an arrow pointing to it and it says ‘Media Studies A level certificates, please take one!’ Hahaha!”

You may not have experienced quite all of the above, but having spoken with lots of media students over the years, I know that many have to put up with at least some of it- from their mates who aren’t doing Media, sometimes from family who wanted them to ‘stick to traditional subjects’, from teachers of other subjects who would rather they had opted for their course and perhaps most frequently from the media.

When I was at university studying film (Warwick 1979-82 if you’re interested!) I remember the same things being said. ‘Mickey Mouse degree’ was a common phrase and though I didn’t see the toilet roll joke about my course, I did see it  made about Sociology.  I suspect similar jokes have been made about most subjects when they started out; the trouble is that people are still saying those things about Media Studies as if it is a new subject- but it really isn’t. There have been qualifications in the subject since the 1970s, and both GCSE the A level itself started more than a quarter of a century ago. There are people in their forties who got A level Media Studies when they were at school and college, and just to reassure you, they are not all down and outs whose lives were ruined by their decision to take the course. In fact, if you add up all the people who have passed the A level since it started, you’ll find there are over 400,000 of them around- enough to fill Wembley more than four times over, or the equivalent of more than two complete Glastonbury crowds. If you add all those who have taken GCSE, vocational courses and degrees in the subject, the figure probably tops one million.

But despite this, people still routinely dismiss Media Studies as a subject and make all kinds of negative claims about it. From politicians, newspaper columnists and skeptical relatives to your Science-studying mates in the common room, I’m willing to bet they all have one thing in common: they have no idea what it actually involves. Some of their assumptions are undoubtedly based on the material under study- if it is popular, it must be easy. The assumption that English Literature is ‘hard’ sometimes seems to come from the idea that you have to read long books; whereas  Media Studies is 'soft' because it apparently just involves sitting round watching TV all day. Of course, it’s not as simple as this. Just because something is familiar does not mean it is easy to analyse, as you will quickly find on your course. 

The presence of coursework is another area which people often take to be synonymous with a course being ‘soft’; exams, the argument goes, are much harder than coursework. Hmmm, well you try making a film, even a two minute one, learning how to use the camera properly and how to use an edit program, organizing things as a team, keeping records of everything you do in researching and planning, making sure that what you have produced actually makes sense to an audience, not just to you, and then reflecting on the whole process and I think you’ll see that can actually be a lot harder than remembering the stuff for a one-off exam which you will probably then forget straight away afterwards.

Over the years, I’ve largely given up trying to respond to people who mock Media Studies. If that’s what they think, there’s not much that's going to persuade them. There are plenty of people who are receptive to the idea that it’s an important subject, at least as valid as any other, and frankly I’d rather concentrate on talking to them. Last year, I was asked to explain Media Studies to the boss of Warner Brothers UK and when I showed him what students actually do, he was most impressed.

In recent months, in my capacity as Chair of the Media Education Association, I’ve been involved in a campaign to convince the Department for Education and Ofqual to keep Media and Film Studies A levels, which were both under some threat of extinction, despite the large numbers of students taking them (28,000 combined completed the A levels this summer). To help this campaign, we asked schools and colleges to give us stories about what their ex-students had gone on to do, to feature on our website. We have had so many that we can keep featuring them for the rest of the year. As well as lots of stories of former students who have gone on to different jobs in the media, we have had many from people who just said that the course developed skills which have been useful to them in other occupations- such as the forensic scientist who said that it was the close analytical work in media that got him interested in forensics! Teamwork, speaking in public, skills with technology, organizational skills, research and working to deadlines were all cited by people who responded as skills they developed on their media course which they would not have been able to develop in other courses.

Here's a few of their stories: 

So next time you get the ‘mickey mouse’ speech from someone, just smile and let them be ignorant if that’s what they prefer! Oh and just to let you know,  your course won’t be a doss, employment rates amongst media graduates are higher than for almost any other subject, universities do accept Media Studies for entry to their courses (just depends on what subject you want to do and where) and the proportion of A* in Media is the lowest of any subject (1.5%) so if you get one that is really quite something!

Oh and here are two guys who did Media Studies A level and haven’t done too badly from it......

Tom Green (Director, Misfits and the upcoming Monsters 2- Dark Continent)

Noel Clarke (Writer, Kidulthood and Writer-Director, Adulthood + Actor)