Uses and Gratifications Theory

The uses and gratifications theory is one of the popular theories used to understand mass communication.

The theory places more focus on the consumer, or audience, instead of the actual message itself by asking “what people do with media” rather than “what media does to people” (Katz, 1959). The approach suggests that people use the media to fulfill specific gratifications. This theory would then imply that the media compete against other information sources for viewers’ gratification (Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. 1974).

The reasons why people choose to “use” or consume media include:

  • Cognitive needs – To gain knowledge of surroundings, self-educate and be aware of the happenings in the world. This satisfies people’s intellectual needs. Eg. quiz shows on TV, news programs/reports, etc. It is also theorized that films which have a strong enigma code also satisfy intellectual needs because people need to think and pay attention in order to figure out what’s going on or predict an ending.
  • Affective needs – This is when people consume media to satisfy emotional needs. They want characters to relate to in order to validate their own feelings and emotions and feel “less alone”. Film or television dramas have a tendency to build a connect with people either through characters or storyline, sometimes causing people to cry or feel other emotions in response to what is happening on the screen.
  • Personal Integrative needs – Sometimes people watch films and movies to reassure themselves of their place or status on society, and also often out of their need to conform to certain status quo. Media advertisements play to this psychological response and attempt to get people to buy things in order to “fit in” better  or improve their lifestyle.
  • Social Integrative needs – People not only use social media to socialize and interact with others, but also watch films and television shows because everyone is talking about them. People will use media to ingratiate themselves with society and be a part of the general discussion.
  • Tension free needs – People sometimes use the media as a means of escapism and to relieve themselves from tension and stress.

Application of the theory:

My short film would primarily satisfy the affective needs of people because I want it to provoke some kind of emotional response from them. The struggle and inner conflict of the protagonist should ring through in a manner that strikes a chord with the viewer and actively engages them. They sympathize with the main character even though there isn’t too much time to get attached. By speaking to their affective needs, I hope to build a strong connect with the audience and maybe even tell a story that is relatable to them in some way.

Apart from this, it could also be said that my short film would speak to the cognitive needs of people because I plan to have a certain level of ambiguity through most of the film, that will hopefully cause people to think and question. It should give people something to ponder and reflect on.

 

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Research: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Before further developing the plot and storyline of my short film, I decided to do some in-depth research on the disorder I’ll be basing my movie on.

Definition:

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly multiple personality disorder (MPD), is a mental disorder characterized by the existence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that cause a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity, and alternately show in a person’s behavior. There is typically an average of two to four personalities present when the patient is initially diagnosed, and an average of 13 to 15 personalities that can become known over the course of treatment.

Causes:

While psychologists are still vague on the exact causes of this disorder, research shows that it is likely a psychological response to some form of emotional trauma or abuse, typically triggered by childhood experiences. 99% of individuals who develop dissociative identity disorders have personal histories of recurring, overpowering, and often life-threatening disturbances at a sensitive developmental stage of childhood (usually before age 9). Findings show that in families where parents are frightening and unpredictable, the children may become dissociative. The disorder is likely to be coping mechanism wherein the person literally tries to dissociate themselves from a situation or experience.

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Rastaa

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Rastaa (2011), directed by Digvijay Chauhan,is the story of two boys, both beggars, on the streets of Mumbai. The film narrates the incident of a day in the life of these boys at a traffic signal, where they both struggle for survival. Short films have become a useful medium for telling a powerful story in a short amount of time. They are the preferred medium for film-makers working with a low budget and who don’t have access to big studios, celebrities or high-end equipment. This short film exemplifies the art of simplicity and of saying a lot, without really saying very much at all. The narrative is simple and the message clear and impactful.

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Narrative Theory: Barthes

Roland Barthes describes a text as –

“a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can read, they are indeterminable…the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language…” (S/Z – 1974 translation)

He basically stated that a text is like a tangled ball of thread that needs to be unravelled. He said that texts may be ‘open’ (unravelled in a lot of different ways) or ‘closed’ (there is only one obvious thread to pull on). Thus, he theorized that there are five main codes that describe the meaning of a text:

  • Hermeneutic/Enigma code – This code refers to mystery within a text. Clues are dropped, but no clear answers are given. Enigmas within the narrative make the audience want to know more. Unanswered enigmas tend to frustrate the audience.
  • Proairetic/Action code – This code contains sequential elements of action in the text, which add suspense.
  • Semantic code – This code refers to parts within the text that suggests or referes to additional meanings. Elements of the semantic code are called Semes, and they have a connotative function in the text. They have an extra layer of meaning in additional to the surface-level meaning.
  • Symbolic code – This is very similar to the Semantic Code, but acts at a wider level, organizing semantic meanings into broader and deeper sets of meaning. This is typically done in the use of antithesis, where new meaning arises out of opposing and conflict ideas.
  • Referential code – This code refers to anything in the text which refers to an external body of knowledge such as science, history or culture.

This theory is perhaps the most applicable to my short film, as it does not list out the structure or order of the film but rather points out features that tend to crop up in most films that help us make sense of the narrative. My film will primarily include many enigma codes as I want to build suspense and begin the film by giving the audience a lot of questions which only get answered at the very end. The enigma code will be used to engage the audience and capture their attention. This code will probably be used in addition to the action code as the sequence of events in my film will keep heightening till the major twist at the end. It could also be said that the symbolic or semantic code will be widely used if each of the personified identities is considered a symbol for different parts of the protagonist’s brain and thoughts, as they are not actual people. The personalities hide deeper meanings of imbalance, chaos, clutter and conflict.

 

Narrative Theory: Propp

Vladimir Propp’s narrative theory is designed to label the roles of characters in a full length film. These roles include –

  • The Hero: Usually the main character is in search for something or on some kind of journey. Conventionally the “good guy” but now always. He/she could also be a kind of anti-hero who has his/her morals in the right place but does bad things for a greater good.
  • The Villain: Opposes the hero; not always blatantly evil.
  • The Donor: Helps the hero in some way by providing a kind of “magical object”.
  • The Dispatcher: Sends the hero on his/her way.
  • The False Hero: Perceived as good character in beginning but emerges as evil.
  • The Helper: Helps the hero in his/her quest.
  • The Princess: The person the hero marries; often sought for during the narrative. Does not necessarily have to be a woman.

This narrative theory is not entirely applicable to my short film because none of the three or four characters are going to positioned as blatantly “good” or “bad”. However, applying this model, the teenage protagonist could be considered the “hero” as she is the one going through the struggle she cannot get out of. Each of the various personalities could adopt roles such as “the helper” by being a “friend” personality or a “villain” by having a negative constitution and being the one who causes the girl the most pain. If I choose to include a psychiatrist, he/she could be viewed as the “donor”, aiding the girl.

Narrative Theory: Todorov

Tvzetan Todorov suggests that a narrative is simply –

  • Equilibrium – Everything is normal; characters are introduced; setting is established.
  • Disequilibrium -Something occurs which causes a rift in the life of the characters, this starts a series of events which are an attempt to alter the state of disequilibrium.
  • New equilibrium – Back to equilibrium; order has been restored.

This model is closely tied to the “classic Hollywood” narrative comprising three acts and is most suited only in reference to full-length feature films. Short films, in most cases, begin at the disequilibrium as a result of the lack of time available and don’t necessarily end with a new equilibrium, either.

Since it is clearly true that not all films are structured simple as “equilibrium, disequilibrium and new equilibrium”, Todorov expanded his theory to include ‘subversions’ such as –

  • Parallel narratives –  This is when more than one story is played out throughout the film, and they may not appear to be relevant to each other, but usually tie in together at the end of the film.
  • Flashbacks/flash-forwards – A break from the chronological narrative, which shows a different time period. Such time jumps may be shown in the middle of a scene as a memory or dream, or they may be shown as a separate scene, so that the viewer must work out the time change.
  • Twists – This is when the storyline takes a completely unexpected turn and changes the direction of the plot completely. Plot twists are becoming more popular in films now so Todorov’s theory is becoming more flawed.

Todorov’s theory is not particularly applicable to my short film as I plan to begin at the disequilibrium stage and end with a twist, thus not restoring “equilibrium”, but leaving the viewers with something unexpected to think about. Thus, my film will, in many ways, be opposed to Todorov’s narrative theory.

 

 

Genre Conventions: Drama

A film genre is a motion picture category based on similarities in either the narrative elements or the emotional response to the film. Though there is no concrete rule-book that all films have to follow, both short films and feature films that have been categorized under the genre of “drama”, have several main conventions that can be recognized in a majority of them.

Plot/Narrative:

  • Dramas portray serious representations of real life, either fictional or non-fictional, featuring realistic characters, settings and plot lines. However, as the purpose of such films is to move audiences emotionally, emotions and events are often dramatized for effect, hence the name “drama”. Thus, dramas can be viewed as a sort of heightened reality.
  • As well as depicting real life circumstances in a fictional story, the drama genre often depicts historical events with a fictional story (ex. Life Is Beautiful). The true stories of peoples lives are also made into films (ex. The Theory Of Everything).
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Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the critically acclaimed drama, ‘The Theory of Everything’.
  • The heart of any drama is conflict, be it internal or external, depicting hardships, difficulty, struggle and pain in some form or other. A lot of dramas also follow the protagonist on a journey, whether it is physical or emotional one.
  • Plots which have a complex structure or feature complicated or sudden twists and turns are also common because they give the audience something to watch for. An unexpected ending is a proven way to leave a powerful impact on the audience (ex. Now You See Me).
  • They are conventionally structured according to the “classic Hollywood narrative” featuring three acts – establishment, climax and resolution. This, however, is almost exclusively relating only to full length feature films. Short films dramas follow a simpler, less structured order, usually.

Protagonist:

  • The protagonist in any drama is usually unstable or vulnerable in some way or other, and going through a difficulty or hardship.
  • The protagonist also must usually be easy for the audience to sympathize or empathize with, so that the audience will form an emotional connection with the movie and stay engaged. Typically, audiences relate to the characters in some way by finding certain commonalities and similarities (Preferred reading – Halls theory).
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Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in ‘Room’.

The genre of “drama” being very broad, has numerous sub-genres which include social dramas, war dramas, courtroom dramas, youth dramas, realist dramas, etc. and deal with a wide range of subjects such as:

  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Infidelity
  • Racial Prejudice
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Class divisions
  • Poverty
  • Domestic violence
  • Gender
  • Corruption
  • Betrayal
  • Revenge
  • Crime
  • Mental illness

My short film about dissociative identity disorder will fall under the category of “drama”, as I will lean more on the emotional and psychological aspects of the disorder and keep the feel grounded and real. There will also be slightly surreal vibe running throughout, with the presence of the various personalities. While the physical personification of imaginary personalities in someone’s head feels like the subject matter of a thriller/horror film, I intend to keep the look and tone raw and realistic by presenting each “person” in very human manner.

I want to make the audience feel something by finding a way to connect with the struggle of the protagonist. I want keep them intrigued by creating a sense of mystery and anticipation and through a major plot twist at the end, which should leave them with something to think about. By dealing with the intense, serious subject matter in a mature, sophisticated way, I hope to create an intriguing and impactful drama.

 

Inside

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Having decided to base my film around the theme of dissociative identity disorder, I decided to watch the short film Inside (2002) directed by Trevor Sands, which deals with the same. The protagonist is a man struggling with this condition, who is admitted to an institution and spends a majority of the film sitting in a room with the doctor, awaiting evaluation, as the voices in his head take over his being.

The film was breathtakingly brilliant, genuinely gripping and moving me. The totally unexpected twist at the end, which revealed that the doctor was simply another dissociated identity all along, completely shocked me and left me thinking about it long after the video ended. I’ve come to understand just how important a great ending is because that is the last thing the audience will remember and something unexpected and sudden can cause a really meaningful impact for them.

Continue reading “Inside”

Short Film Ideas

I’ve decided to have my film be centred around the theme of a mental illness, specifically multiple personality/dissociative identity disorder.

  • I want the protagonist to be a teenage girl who is suffering from this disorder, and who’s identity comprises three or four distinct individuals.
  • The look of the girl and the film as a whole should be rather dark and even slightly creepy, but not frightening in the sense of a horror film. I want the girl to look troubled and like she’s struggling, but the audience shouldn’t understand entirely what’s happening up until the end.
  • The girl should be fighting/interacting/co-existing with “other people”, and it is revealed only in the end that they exist entirely in her head and are figments of her disorder/ her other personalities.
  • I want the viewer to feel like they are seeing the world through the eyes of each of the personalities, but in achieving this effect, rather than using point-of-view shots, I will use a variety of close-ups, tracking shots, pan shots, etc.
  • I visualize the film ending with all three personalities walking down an empty road, side by side in a straight line. Maybe they hold hands and disappear into the light or into the air as a sign of the girl having achieved a moment of peace.

However, all of these are very initial ideas and are subject to changes in the days and weeks to come. But I now have a clear idea of the direction I would like to go, and can proceed to plan in more depth and start the process of making my short film.

Empty

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Empty (2015) is an award-winning social realist short film directed by Tom Smith, which follows Keira as she struggles to live her normal day to day life while suffering from the effects of an eating disorder.The film feels raw and real, conveying the pain and struggle that comes with such a disorder in a brutally honest fashion. The lack of background music rids the film of a theatrical feel and makes it appear more like an unfiltered documentary, and this really helps connect with the audience in a whole new intimate way.

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