|Posted on May 7, 2012 at 7:35 AM|
Last Wednesday (2nd May, 2012) was the first screening for the interactive spectatorships project. This started an investigation and analysis of film and social media that will continue for at least the rest of the year. The information and feedback gained from this first screening I have yet to barely even glance at, however, the very process of organising and experiencing the first in a series of pilot screenings has given me a great deal of food for thought concerning the logistical aspects of the project, its possibilities as a pedagogic tool, and the very effect of social media on the concept of the ‘audience’. This blog is a summary of those initial thoughts.
In planning this project the notion of fusing a film screening with a live twitter feed did not strike me as a particularly problematic or sophisticated technical aim. But in testing I realised the dynamics of space (the positioning of the screens, their size, orientation, colour and tone), and how this would affect audience interaction, would be a fundamental consideration. For this first event the twitter feed was run adjacent to the film, all on the same screen, with tweets scrolling from the top down on the left side. Twitter took up approximately one quarter of the total screen size and was run on the classic app view for Macbook pro (see image below). The film was played on Mac’s DVD player and magnified through the cinema’s projector via a VGA connection. Technically, it was simple to marry the twitter and film together in this way however, the desktop window and running time were visible throughout serving as a constant reminder of the computerised mediation.
The potential distraction of the digital windows may have been more acute if the film being shown was a ‘traditional’, fictional film. Because we screened the 2010 ‘documentary’ Catfish (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman), which is specifically about social networking and uses the aesthetics of Facebook throughout, the film and twitter interface seemed to sit together quite well. Understanding the effect of different spatial dynamics will have to be factor when assessing the model generally. In future screenings we have the intention to use a completely separate screen for the twitter feed, allowing the full 16:9 aspect ratio to be used for the film. This could have an entirely different effect on audience experience.
We had prepared a two-part questionnaire which respondants answered before and after the screening. Part one consisted of general questions regarding the film going habits of the participants, the second asked about the reactions, positive and negative to the interactive process. The questionnaire was quite specifically designed for (level 1) film students but I’m not sure at this point whether further screenings will have a standardised questionnaire that would be suitable for all audiences. Feedback was taken anonymously using a numbering system to match up the data collected before and after the screening. The total number of respondents was 45.
For this screening I wanted to set out the fewest guidelines possible in order to let the process develop organically. However, I felt it was important to remind respondants that they were in an academic environment stressing that this should contextualise the kind of tweets they send. Having researched various attempts to use twitter with students there is always the potential for a discourse to emerge that that was offensive, banal, overly comedic or unrelated to the film in question. However the overall tone and level of tweets that would emerge from a specifically students audience was always a central question of the project. Using the search facility of the twitter app we could ensure that the screen only relayed tweets that carried the event’s hashtag (UCFCatfish). I impressed upon the audience that a colleague and myself would be tweeting questions as the film ran and that comments using that hashtag should relate to the film and/or to other people’s comments about the film. This inevitably raised a level of amusement with the possibility of these ‘rules’ being broken.
Admittedly, I was somewhat trepidatious as the film began not really knowing what would emerge from the largely Level 1 undergraduate audience. Generally, however I felt that the level of comment, debate and discussion was good and on the whole reflected the academic context I was attempting to achieve. Without going go into a detailed analysis of the comments here (a transcript of all comments can be found at this link) there were certain interesting developments that became apparent out of the screening that will undoubtedly inform the project as it moves forward. Firstly, tweeting in a public arena when tweets are revealed immediately to the audience on the screen alters the dynamic of using twitter. I think the best way to understand this is to suggest that it solidifies the connection between those tweeting and the tweets they write. All social media imbues a certain anonymity (even if a users real name is given) which somewhat disassociates an author with their statements, the impact their statements have on others, and how statements reflect back on the author. With everyone tweeting in the communal space of the cinema auditorium I sensed a much greater awareness that tweets are representative of a person. This meant that whether a comment is clever, insightful, humourous, immature, banal, rude or offensive, its connection to an identity in the room lends a weight to the tweet that it wouldn’t have if everyone were in their own private space.
Such a significant shift itself has various smaller knock-on effects. For example, it took some time for the audience to work up the confidence to make regular statements. Indeed one tweeter admitted their discomfort. The public display of comments thus seemed to imbue a level of perceived judgement that, again, would not be felt with private tweeting. Many people didn't get over this barrier at all and did not tweet anything throughout. It is perhaps a concern that students who are naturally gregarious and expressive will be the ones who use the system and those who are shy or lack confidence to talk in public would not be helped by this method. Also I felt some of the respondents dismissed the system from the start. Perhaps one possible reason being the unability to free himself or herself from a traditional film spectatorship position (which is perfectly understandable). Cleary this model of film watching will not be for everyone.
Another thing that became self-evident is that for this to have any pedagogic value it has to be quite rigidly structured. If my colleague and I had not been tweeting our own questions and comments, or if we had even left the students in the auditorium by themselves, I doubt that forum would have produced much in the way of constructive criticism. It is clear social media is understood by a majority of students as a fundamentally informal tool for sharing personal, abstract and often frivolous information and thus trying to bridge the gap to the more formal environment of a film screening is the main difficulty. Indeed, one cannot control tweeting about the event using alternate hashtags, direct messages or other social media, and indeed one would not want to. It is the layers of dissemination that make applications such as twitter such an important part of digital culture.
One of the clear positive outcomes was how the shifts in narrative and theme throughout the film corrolated with the level and depth of the twitter discussion. When the film was humourous and lighthearted the audience's tweets reflected this but when the film because more serious the debate intesified and some very interesting questions and statement were made. Clearly there is a lot more to come from this project which is the most encouraging thing for me. I am looking forward to the next screening (Jackie Brown – Wednesday, 9th of May, 5pm). A very different film with a different audience, which I’m sure will bring up further issues to reflect upon.
Categories: Project blog