Codes And Conventions Comparison Evaluation
After reaching the stage of completion for our own factual programmes, we now examine the codes and conventions Press Start utilizes within its entire composition. To further aid us in this process, comparisons can be made against an already established documentary that will form the basis of how well these assorted elements have been executed in our documentaries.
The existing factual programme that will be compared to Press Start will be the 2014 film Video Games: The Movie, based on the fact both share computer games as their main subject matter allowing clear observations to be made in relation to how components are shown or expressed.
To begin, both documentaries demonstrate a similar structure that shows an observational approach to the focus of the films; each looking at video games and the evolution of them in our society and their expanse in mainstream culture. If we break down the format of them, Video Games: The Movie is, in general, linear; done through the basis of a timeline graphic that chronicles the profession from the birth of video games to modern-day. However, at points, the film does venture back in time, resorting to a non-linear structure, to reinforce or introduce a new item relevant to the narrative.
Press Start has a more simplistic structure that can be devised in three separate parts; the industry of video games, the perception of female gamers and violence in video games. To briefly expand on these segments in more detail compared to the pre-production stages, there was going to be a further section based on video game addiction which was not included in the final edit for two reasons; the first was that I felt it might outweigh the message of the overall piece to be seen as negatively portraying video games by having an additional segment to show the ‘bad’ side of the industry. Secondly, no recorded footage could be filmed by myself to accompany the narrative, and to use additional library footage would not do justice to the intentions of our brief.
A magnitude of experts and their opinions, including Nolan Bushnell, Cliff Bleszinski and Alison Haislip are used to drive the piece along or authenticate a point made by narrator Sean Astin. Having numerous experts means that less explanation is needed by the narrator at the start of the respective segment as all their comments can be fleshed out to form a comprehensive response to what is trying to be explained- for example, when describing particular console generations, the combination of their responses, and how they can be edited together, comprehensively answer what is intended to be highlighted.
With only having two interviewees in the form of Josh Warrenger and Fiona Banks in Press Start, meant that more depth was needed in the narration to give purpose to why they were on camera- giving subjective responses to a general theme based on their expertise. Josh was chosen as he is knowledgable in that specific area and has experience of both playing and writing about games as well as attending eSports events which formed a small section of the documentary. Being a girl gamer, Fiona was perfect to represent that demographic.
An interview was intended to be carried out with a representative of the retail company GAME to add credibility to the industry of video games section, but unfortunately no one was available to carry out this planned part of the documentary that would have covered a larger area of debate and brought to the surface another level of response.
In terms of narrative, both heavily use talking over footage- and in particular library shots of an assortment of gameplay. Cleverly, each shows signs of clearfully selecting footage to accompany the dialogue. For example, in Press Start (15:04) when the narrator is talking about violence in video games taking attention away from the positives in which games showcase, the scene shown over this is a high angle shot of one character nudging another and jestering him to look over in the distance; which was intended to be a physical representation of what was being said and a device that allows the viewer to engage more easily with the narrative and appeal to the demographic in which Press Start was intended for; video game players. Video Games: The Movie has a greater emphasis on technological terminology like ‘bits’ as it explores the scientific aspect of the industry more than Press Start as it wasn’t a feature that I wanted to include, however, every effort was made to use the correct terminology in relation to topics covered.
Text is also used as a powerful device to link into following scenes. Video Games: The Movie uses iconic quotes from influential people from history before each segment and targets one word from it as the subject in focus, e.g. Mahatma Gandi and taking the word ‘history’ to tie in with looking at the industry’s past. Press Start also does this in the title sequence. Initially meant to be a voice over performed by one of the performing art students at West Cheshire College that was unfortunately never scheduled, a quote from Hideo Kojima not only epitomizes the theme of the documentary, but has an air of grandeur against the chosen ‘Press Start’ screen of one of the video games he produced.
When we compare the storyboard to Press Start drawn up in pre-production, we can see various changes to scenes chosen in the final piece, but the structure remains the same and the essence of the factual programme is kept. Various reasons account for these changes; one of which being my initial opening scene of a long shot taking place in the Bunker Room was not able to take place, so all subsequent interviews had to be filmed in the Green Screen Room of West Cheshire College. This new interior location meant that later shot styles like the full arc shot expressed in Shot 12 had to be compressed due to the narrowness of the space provided. Conscious effort was poured into filming as many shot techniques as possible and to be creative in how they were edited into the documentary.
Illustrations of just some of the camera techniques used include a two shot (00:35), a POV shot (00:46) and a cowboy shot at the end of the film (17:39). Interesting to point out is that Saskia Steels-Wright, the female in the distance of the cowboy shot, improvised a muscular pose before fading away to the credits; this was kept due to the fact one of the themes surrounding the documentary are girl gamers and this action raises connotations of empowering women in the context of video games and how they are seen by the perceived-majority male audience (played by Andrew Shepherd).
Due to both focusing on a subject that doesn’t have a true physicalized form like documentaries covering wildlife or a biopic of an individual’s life, locations seen are rather scarce. Wanting to try to capture the impact of games in our everyday life, filming took place in the city of Chester; using sites outside of the GAME store and capturing town center shots of tourists, shoppers and everyday commuters to visualise in particular the financial and commercial side of the industry in a real-life setting. In the closing monologue, a wide-angled pan shot of the River Dee was recorded that beautifully suited the mood of the narrative.
The wealth of locations seen from Video Games: The Movie are from their interviewees locations; taking place in various places such as theatres, offices and arcades. Intending to have a professional backdrop for the conducted interviews for Press Start, it was decided that one location would be used to bring a sense of conformity for the audience. The space was designed into a set with standees, leather chairs and a games console to give a relaxed feel. Prior to Fiona Banks interview, an exterior shot of West Cheshire College is shown to establish the setting.
As the director and editor, when stock footage was chosen, it was selected to broaden the range of camera techniques incorporated in the composition of the documentary including establishing shots of Los Angeles and the Convention Centre (02:31) and split-screen shots of an interior professional gaming company office (09:28).
To give justification to just one of the scenes selected for Press Start, the part where the narrator talks about video games being the ‘ultimate art form’ combining art, story and interaction, excerpts from the 2010 Playstation 3 game Heavy Rain was selected as it is one which demonstrates all these qualities in this modern age of gaming.
Transitions such as a black fade out and white fade out were used mostly in Press Start to signify the start or end of a segment; in particular, the end of an interview.
Press Start and Video Games: The Movie are similar in regards to library footage used. Mainly due to the fact a documentary on video games will require gameplay video to relate to not just the subject, but the audience. The ratio of this footage between the 17 minute long Press Start and the 1 hour and 40 minute 2014 film would be fairly similar in proportion.
Finally, playing over these scenes in Press Start are music specially selected to distinguish it from other chapters and encompass the mood of the topic in question. Take for instance the narrators monologue about his memories of video games (15:11); it is nostalgic, poignant and captures the reflectiveness of that part of the film.
What Press Start arguably does better is in the way that it is more investigative and tries to delve in to areas not just affecting video games, but the ones who play them. Video Games: The Movie recognises aspects of the topic, like the boom and bust period of the mid 1980’s for video games and insights debate from the plethora of experts present.
Using facts and statistics taken from reputable sources, Press Start does try to answer questions ranging from whether violence in video games has a positive correlation with violence in society, to why women still struggle to find acceptance in that community.
The interviews are a key aspect in which the reporting style, common in most factual programmes, is strongest. With each interviewee having a set of questions tailored to them regarding their expertise, the questions were kept as open as possible to gain more valuable responses. The interviewer for both interviews remains off camera; allowing the audience to focus fully on the person in question. For Josh’s interview, Daniel Linford-Downes was present playing games alongside him- and this was kept for the final edit as it created a relaxed atmosphere; both conducting, and watching the sequence.
Both factual programmes also share how, in general, the narrator remains impartial to what they are speaking about- letting statistics build up a fuller picture on the subject so that the audience feel they can answer for themselves. As noted in ‘The Elements of a Good Documentary’, one of the central notions is that, ”Good documentaries can contrast content from many sources- the viewer serves as the juror.”
Subjectivity is found in those interviewee’s because they are giving their opinion. At one point in Press Start, the narrator gives his opinions on video games- breaking his objectivity that was intact up till that point. The reason for this is that the monologue in question looks at his own direct contact and experiences with the subject matter, and for this, the narrators thoughts had to be shared. To balance this, a closing statement summarising the positives and negatives of video games- leaving the definitive answer with the audience.
To close by looking solely at Press Start and evaluating the process from initial idea all the way through to pre-production and finishing the final edit, we can look at what worked well and anything that, in hindsight, would have been done differently.
Assessing the footage shot by myself endorsed both the message and the original objective of the documentary. Experimentation was done with a POV shot wading through the crowd which was initially set to be used over the end monologue that in the end didn’t suit when placed into the editing process.
Those shots kept though, incorporated various camera techniques and at the same time, served to reflect community and real life aspects of what video games bring to millions of people.
The first thing I would have changed rests in wanting to appear more in the film, so that certain segments were introduced by myself to break the use of library footage and let the audience have a figure they can relate to who drives the story of the documentary. Time factors prevented me from doing this, as well as not having a team of people during filming to shoot some of the shots- looking back, some of the shots were slightly ambitious. Secondly, it was unfortunate no interview could be attained with a GAME representative, as the questions would have served to not just compliment the section focusing on the video game industry, but also took a stronger line of questioning that would allude to companies like them indirectly prompting violence by stocking games promoting violence. Finally, due to time constraints, a section based on video game addiction was cut. Again, this would have augmented the final chapter of Press Start.
The positives taken from the whole process included the narration and the flow created through relevant, concise editing with library footage serving to bring those words and notions to life. I was also happy that, although it was not identical to the storyboard drawn up prior to filming, the structure that I intended the documentary to have corresponded to the final edit. Finally, the amalgamation of sound, image and text into one medium was something I could be very proud of as a creative.