How Do Media Studies Students Watch TV?

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A-level Media Studies By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: A-level Media Studies
Last updated: 23/11/2017
Tags: film studies, media, media studies, stranger things, tv

You might think the answer to that is – easily! A lot! But do you know what goes into studying a visual and narrative text? Often media students are not given enough credit for the analytic skills involved in their pursuit of understanding. So how can you develop a more critical mindset for watching films and TV sets ready for your media and film studies work?

Most media students are given set texts – set films or TV programmes they have to study for an exam, just as you would a set book. I would recommend that each set visual text is watched 5 times. But each time the student watches it differently. Here's how.

1. The first time a media student watches a TV programme may well be the same way everyone else does – for enjoyment, for the experience, whether that is at the cinema, on the TV with the family or on their own on a phone or Ipad. BUT after they have watched a programme they are studying they will make notes to capture that initial experience – what they liked and why, what they didn't like and why, how the programme made them feel, what they noticed about the programme. That initial viewing is well worth capturing as after all the subsequent analysis that may well be forgotten. Binge watching TV series is easily done, for example when series 2 of Netflix’s "Stranger Things" came out many people watched the whole series in one sitting. But good Media students will be disciplined enough to pause between episodes and note down how they feel and what they think will happen next.

2. The second time a media student watches a TV programme could be to observe and take notes on the narrative, even in news, documentaries or quiz shows there will be a sense of Todorov's five narrative stages of context (for example, happy picturesque scene in "Poldark"), disruption (George Warleggan has done something to antagonise people), recognition of disruption (Ross Poldark finds out about it), attempt to repair disruption (Ross charges in and an argument or fight ensues) and reinstatement of equilibrium (George is beaten and Ross waits for the next time). There may even be a deeper level of enjoyment and appreciation of the programme in how it is put together and how clues early on are played out later.

3. The third time a media student watches a TV programme or film is likely to be very s.l.o.w.l.y making full use of the pause button. This is when the detailed analysis takes place, looking at the camera angles, what is in shot (mise-en-scene), the use of colour, costumes, lighting and character, use of language and props. An awareness of the genre and the conventions of the genre, e.g. jump scare, point of view shots and hand held camera are common conventions in the horror genre. 

4. The fourth time a media student watches a TV programme or film will be after they have researched other people's interpretations of it. Ideally interviews with the actors and directors which you can often find on YouTube. Netflix had an excellent series “Beyond Stranger Things” with round table discussions with actors, writers and directors on their insights on how the series worked for them. Also critics' views of the programme or film which now can be easily sourced on Google. They can then contrast and compare those opinions with their own initially held ones.

5. The fifth and possibly final time a media student will watch a TV or film will be for pleasure again, to see if there is anything they have missed and to compare their viewing experience with their original one. This is best left until much later and ideally near to the exam so the visual text is fresh in their minds.

Next time you are watching a film or TV series, consider everything a media student has to look out for!


Nicci Bonfanti GCSE Media Studies Tutor (Kingston upon Thames)

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