Interactive Spectatorships

Media Viewing Practices in the Digital Age

Project Blogs

Pilot Screening 2 - Jackie Brown

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 6:15 PM

In this, slightly belated, blog I’m going to write about my initial impressions from the second pilot screening of the interactive spectatorships project. The first screening of Catfish raised as many new questions as it answered regarding the logistical set-up of the project, its value as a pedagogic tool, and wider conceptual implications of trying to marry old and new media in this way. Taking place on Wednesday the 9th of May this screening was made up of an audience primarily consisting of level 2 film students and the film shown was Quinton Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997). This was chosen because it provided a thematic intersection between two optional modules – Women and Film; Black Cinema – which students have been completing this semester. Attendance was lower than the first screening even after a lot of advertising and encouragement to attend. Judging from both screenings it seems that the marrying of twitter and film is a fundamentally attractive prospect on its own terms. However, a combination of looming deadlines, the fact the screening was not a compulsory part of a unit, and the general apathy towards screenings that I have described in earlier blogs, are all arguably contributory factors to the low attendance.

The most significant alteration I had made for this screening was the spatial set-up of the screens themselves. It was always the intention to try different configurations and in this instance a portable screen and projector were set up at the right hand side of the main screen (see images below). This provided new logistical problems in terms of the positioning of the screen, the depth of field in relation to the main screen, the size of the text, positioning of the second projector and broadband connection etc. We also decided to change the screen design using an app called Janetter rather than the classic twitter software. This allowed us to have a dark background with white (and different coloured) text, and use a different typeface, giving a much clearer view from the back of the auditorium. Also this app was much faster in registering tweeted comments (using the classic twitter app in the first screening there was an approximate 40 second delay).


The consensus was that this configuration of was much better for several reasons. Firstly, it allowed us to use the full specification of the cinema screen purely for the film. The blu-ray of Jackie Brown projected through the cinema’s system obviously gave a superior picture and sound quality. The cinematic experience was, therefore, much less compromised by not having to run the film through a separate laptop DVD drive. Secondly, having the twitter feed on a separate screen was significantly less distracting. There had been a concern that audience members would have had to adjust their attention more acutely with two separate screens. In fact the very spatial separation of twitter seemed to make it easier to adjust one’s attention instantaneously from film to feed, and back again. The general feeling from written feedback was that this was a better system for facilitating audience interaction, although logistically it requires much more organisation to set up, which could be a factor if trying to regularly embed the system into teaching.

The stream itself I felt reached a higher critical level, which was perhaps indicative of the difference between level 1 and 2 students. However, within this screening I had decided to try and shape the online debate to reflect more clearly the themes of race and gender within the film thus linking directly to the level 2 modules that the students had been studying. The first screening was more or less unstructured and one of the outcomes was that the comment stream was quite random, lacking a clear focus on conceptual issues intrinsic to the film. For Jackie Brown I prepared by storing a number of questions in my smartphone, which could then be tweeted at relevant times. This direct shaping of the debate, added to the fact that the film did relate to the issues that students had already gained knowledge, created a much more theoretically sophisicated debate. Humourous and random tweets did appear but these were more of an aside to the central virtual discussion. In thinking about embedding interactive screenings into teaching practice these pilot screenings have undoubtedly revealed that quite a high level of structuring is required to ensure pedagogic value.

Students that I talked to afterwards did suggest that they felt generally there would be benefits in using the system in order to try to improve critical viewing. Issues of ‘distraction’ from the narrative were again raised and there was also a sense that the system would work better if this was a second or third viewing of the film. The quite complex nature of Jackie Brown’s narrative had two effects. Some students felt that it was simply too difficult to follow the narrative and the twitter feed simultaneously. However, another student pointed out, correctly, that the tweets tended to stop when more concentrated viewing was required narratively. A more frequent stream of tweets then resumed at moments that seem to require less attention. This suggests again that viewers are able to alter their level of interaction with the twitter stream and the film as they see fit. It also points to the general assertion that audience concentration throughout a film does not function at a continuously even level. Perhaps the most positive thing was that many students in the screening did say that the interactive system did force them into a more active viewing mindset, giving them a more complex and nuanced ability to read the film. Students also agreed it could definitely help subsequent seminar discussion. I did feel that the overall consensus was more positive than the first screening. Again the screening highlighted further issues to think about as I organised the final screening in the initial series of three.

My next post will discuss this!

To view the twitter stream for Jackie Brown link here.

Categories: Project blog

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