beyond broadcast session: iterative media

notes from iterative media group2

Originally uploaded by schwa23.

I participated in a session called Iterative Media: treating your media as code. The gist was how can collaboraiton and constructive, group creation be applied to more traditional media output. Thanks to Josh Kinberg and Dee Harvey for taking awesome notes! Read on for the notes we took from the session.

Continue reading

Reacting to Marie-Laure Ryan’s narrative as Virtual Reality

“It is the ability to tell stories that will decide whether hypertext will secure a durable and reasonably visible niche on the cultural scene or linger on for a while as a genre consumed mostly by prospective authors and academic critics” — chapter 8, Can Coherence Be Saved?

One element of hypertext that gets thrown in the storytelling mix which I find most interesting is how the reader can quickly become the author, imbuing new facets to a story, or creating an altogether new meta-story. Continue reading

Oscar Hates Technology.

Was I the only one who noticed the scolding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave to those of us who enjoy films on DVD in our home theater instead of going to the multiplex?

The president of the AMPAS took a convoluted side track from his empassioned speech about movies and the art of storytelling in order to remind everyone that going to the movie theater is different than watching a DVD at home. Well, duh. He even said, “I know that none of the artists nominated tonight finish shooting a scene and say ‘That’s gonna look great on the DVD.'” Don’t tell that to someone like Peter Jackson, who knows that DVD is a perfect opportunity to tell your story in a more robust and expanded form than what can be toelrated in the theater.
Continue reading

response to Shaw on Ibsen

on G.B. Shaw’s essay “The Technical Novelty in Ibsen’s Plays” (with a little Brecht thrown in for good measure):

I don’t think that Shaw’s notion of plays as ‘discussion’ is necessarily incompatible with the Action-based theories of Aristotle.  Indeed, Shaw is not arguing for just plays with people talking about ideas, which Robert McKee or David Ball would find untenable.  Discussion as a play’s motivation, I think in Shaw’s eyes, is more about the nature of ideas themselves, which are deeply rooted in individual’s desires, and therefore their actions.
When A Doll’s House shifts to the discussion mode, the characters are laying their inner subtext bare, so that actions=ideas; Nora’s decision to leave Torvald is not then, because of the untenable circumstances of the plot, but driven by the conflict of her desires with torvald (and society).

Most importantly, when the audience can feel the shift when the play goes south of their well-made-play expectations.  The playwright then has the opportunity to really engage them on an intellectual level.  As opposed to simply the emotional joyride of tension and release that the well-made play offers, this jarring shift forces the audience to look at the play, and the characters situations, from a more mindful, thoughtful place.

This was Brecht’s goal too, his alienation effect was not meant to turn the audience off, but to force them to find distance from the play so they can think about it on a deeper level than plot and circumstance.  That said, I have seen Brecht-inspired (or so they claimed) works that  pushed the audience too far away, so that the only intellectual engagement was on technical or directorial feats.
Personally I think there’s a middle ground between intellectual and emotional goals in the theater, and narrative in general.  I think that by generating a powerful emotional response in an audience, you can stimulate their  minds not just during the narrative experience, but for some time after.

Meta-narrative examples

For post-linear narrative lab we were asked to bring some examples of meta-narrative. Some of my favorites:

Anything Andy Kaufman did. Most obviously, the foreign-guy-into-Elvis routine. There is self-conscious shift which causes the audience to re-evaluate what they’ve just seen. This actually works on two meta levels; first the foreign guy’s flailing attempts at ‘comedy’ are themselves a commentary on the tradition of stand-up; then after the dead on elvis routine meta-response is the comedian stepping out and reversing the audience’s expectation of the joke, the setup and the punchline.

Andy Kaufman also brought to television the now everpresent ‘faux-real’ — blurring the line between what the audience thinks is performance vs. fact. This is another type of meta-narrative, where the pretense of factuality allows us to comment on or develop a grander sense of the structure and messages of the medium (in Andy’s case, TV, and professional wrestling).

Even Shakespeare could get meta on us, if you’ll permit. The opening chorus of henry v (“O for a muse of fire…”) which not only brings the audience up to speed with the backstory, but does so as an apology for the insignificance of the players and the lacking nature of the theater to do justice to Henry V’s grandeur:

But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

On Robert McKee’s “Story”

A response to “The Structure Spectrum” from Story by Robert McKee

McKee’s presentation might be a bit didactic, but he really does understand the mechanics of Hollywood screenwriting. I’ve read the book before, but reading this chapter individually highlighted one thing in particular, the notion that Classical structure is how our minds work, how we experience the past and future; minimalism and absurdism are merely reactions to this inherent, invincible point of view.
Continue reading

on Backwards and Forwards

On David Ball’s Backwards and Forwards

Of course this ties ever so neatly into Aristotle’s observations about causality. I think one element that Ball uncovers is how causality can be directly tied to suspense — building the audience’s expectations in such a way that they can’t help but watch. He mentions directors cutting out huge scenes from Hamlet, without realizing the significance to the story; I am reminded of watching The Exorcist once, late at night, and I would doze off in the ‘boring’ parts of the film, and wake up just in time for the scary ones. But they weren’t scary at all. The pacing of the film, and the events that set up the most disturbing moments are only scary because of the lulls before, either because some bit of information had been laid out, or often, because the audience has been misdirected so as not to suspect the inevitable fright that is about to occur.
Continue reading

On Aristotle’s The Poetics….

This is a response I wrote up for Tuesday’s class on The Poetics…

For Aristotle the climax of a Tragedy should have two characteristics: that it be both surprising and inevitable. These qualities can be found in non-linear or computational media, but in different ways. If you are trying to tell a story but allow changes to the order of the plot, or the behavior of the characters, or prevent certain events from happening at all, the sense of inevitability is inherently removed. Perhaps surprise is heightened, as the audience is never quite sure what to expect. This tends to put the audience in a position of trying to figure out just what is going on. In traditional linear media a certain level of confusion might be tolerated, even welcomed, if there is some payoff for it. In non-linear experiences (games, for example) the payoff of overcoming this confusion — putting all the puzzle pieces together — can be even greater than that experienced at the resolution of a Tragedy — IF the audience is engaged and/or committed enough to suffer through the learning curve, and IF there is indeed the a resolution to be had (some non-linear pieces stop at the level of invoking confusion). Here is where the inevitable kicks back in — when some solution or pattern or story becomes obvious – and the audience can experience the same ‘A-ha!’ moment which is so critical in Aristotle’s definition of a Tragedy’s climax. Indeed, our minds are pattern matchers, and pattern makers — we want to see disparate elements resolve themselves into something recognizable–take this week’s LeCoq exercises — given enough effort and a little bit of structure, and we can make even the most absurd elements seem ‘inevitable’.