Facebook Share

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Media Equation and the Film Director: Application of the Media Equation Theory to the Craft of Motion Picture Directing

The Media Equation and the Film Director:  Application of the Media Equation Theory to the Craft of Motion Picture Directing

Abstract
The Media Equation Theory of Communication popularized by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass suggests that the expression “Media = Real Life” is true. People respond to communication media, especially in the realm of the motion picture film, as if the images were human. A viewing audience will respond to the images of the theater screen just as if they were in present in the scene in real life. There are three areas of research connected with analysis of communication theory apply to the study of the Media Equation and how it applies to the vocation of a film director. These fundamental communication rules are “interpersonal distance, similarity and attraction, and source credibility” (Griffin 407). These rules should serve as elemental guiding principles and standards for all movie directors because they all have an influence on how people receive the message on film.

Introduction
          Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass have proposed the “Media Equation Theory” as a valid model and concept of communication.  This theory claims “that people respond to computers, television, and other communication media [including motion pictures] as if they were human.” (Griffin 379).  The Media Equation Theory can be represented by the following expression:  “MEDIA = REAL LIFE” (Griffin 403).  Reeves and Nass believe their theory of communication has application and can be applied to all forms of modern media currently in use today, including the medium of motion picture film.

Overview
          The purpose of this essay is to apply the Media Equation Theory to the craft of motion picture directing.  My goal for anyone who reads this essay is for them to have a strong appreciation for the aesthetic improvements and excellence in quality of the final cinematic product if the motion picture director adheres to the fundamental rules of the Media Equation Theory.  Adhering to the basic principles associated with Reeves and Nass’ Media Equation Theory of Communication will enhance the aesthetic aspects of the film production in a beneficial way.   

Key Terms and Definitions
1.  Communication Theory:  “An umbrella term for all careful, systematic, and self-conscious discussion and analysis of communication phenomena” (Griffin A-2).

2.  Interface:  “A term for human-media interaction that suggests that we use the same rules in these encounters as in face-to-face interpersonal interactions with other people” (McGlish 298).

3.  Interpersonal Communication:  “The interactive process of creating unique shared meaning” (Griffin A-6).

Description of the Media Equation Theory
          The Media Equation Theory makes the claim that people “respond to media using the same rules that govern face-to-face interpersonal interactions with other people” (McGlish 296).  It is based on the assumption that people “respond to communication media as if they were alive” (Griffin 403).  Once an audience begins to look at a television show, motion picture film, or even a computer screen, the Media Equation Theory asserts that people will “follow all the rules of interpersonal interaction that we’ve practiced throughout life.  Thus, the word ‘interface’ [face-to-face interpersonal interactions] is particularly apt when describing human-media relations” (403).  

          Assuming the validity of this theory, it is very important for film directors to understand the benefits that are available to them by applying the rules of the Media Equation Theory to the film production process.  Moreover, it is even more important for students undergoing academic and practical training in Cinema-Television to understand the rewards of applying the Media Equation Theory to a movie production.  This is because Cinema-Television students are in the process of formulating their own perspectives and views relative to communicating a message through the media of film.  

          There are three areas of research connected with analysis of communication theory that I will apply to the study of the Media Equation and how it applies to the vocation of a film director.  These fundamental communication rules are “interpersonal distance, similarity and attraction, and source credibility” (Griffin 407).  These rules should serve as elemental guiding principles and standards for all movie directors as they carry out their corresponding responsibilities in shooting a full-length motion picture film.  A film director can apply these rules of the Media Equation Theory to the planning and implementation phases of each scene that is shot on film (camera angles, sound, lighting, special effects, etc.).  In addition, the director can take the rules of this theory into consideration while coaching the actors in their portrayal of the particular character that they are representing in the film.  Let us now take a closer look at each of these rules and the benefits of adhering to each of them.

Interpersonal Distance
          The principle of Interpersonal Distance “suggests that media images that appear close should engender in viewers more intense reactions than media images that appear farther away” (McGlish 296).  Reeves and Nass’ claim that when a television or movie picture gets “up close and personal,” the viewers “should be stimulated and respond the same way they would if someone had walked into the room and approached [them] to within a few inches” (Griffin 407).  “The basic purpose of framing a [close-up] is to show images as clearly as possible and to present them so that they convey meaning and energy” (Zettl 116).  This principle already has the support and confidence of many film directors.  Robert Johnston states that many film directors will use “close-ups of long duration on a character’s face to create intimacy” (Johnston 187).  As a result, we can see that this type of prediction is practiced by many film directors today and has proven to be very valuable and beneficial principle for them to follow in a film shoot.  For instance, if a director is establishing a scene where he/she wants to ensure a high level of audience involvement, shooting a close-up of the character(s) will help accomplish this goal.  This is because of Reeves and Nass’ interpersonal distance principle which claims that decreasing the interpersonal distance through the media of film by use of close-ups will incite a response on the part of the viewer just as if a real person approached the individual within only a inches of their face.  

          Director “Paul Mazursky’s films are often personal, intimate observations of the human condition” (Stevens 229) and depict the use of the interpersonal distance principle of communication.  When questioned if he shoots close-ups in highly emotional scenes, Mr. Mazursky responded, “I generally don’t do too many close-ups.  I want to save them for the absolute right moment.  I want to see what it’s about; I don’t look at just the face.  If I have a specific emotional reason to draw attention to what the character is thinking or feeling inside, I save close-ups for that” (Stevens 244).  As a result, the interpersonal distance principle is a valuable rule for Mr. Mazursky as well as other directors to follow in order to engender a particular response on the part of the viewing audience.  Therefore, interpersonal distance should be considered a key factor by the director while carrying out the initial planning and shot composition development of each storyboard in a film screenplay.  

Application of Similarity and Attraction
          The principle of Similarity and Attraction is based upon the assumption that “similarity increases attraction” (McGlish 297).  Nass and Reeves believe that a person will enjoy using a computer more if it is programmed to respond with a personality similar to that of the user.  Presuming this is true, then the same principle can apply to moviegoers.  People will enjoy a movie much more if the main character reflects character quality traits that they can relate to, endorse, and approve of.  In other words, if the main star of the film is seen as very different in character from the audience, it is very likely that they will not enjoy the movie as much as if he/she had demonstrated a similar personality to theirs.  

          When viewing a film, people see themselves in the role of one of the main characters of a movie.  Therefore, if a movie star exhibits a character trait that is in agreement with the viewers, there is an attraction that takes place between the audience and the actor on screen.  Scott McCloud believes that “humans are a self-centered race” (McCloud 32) and that “we see ourselves in everything… and we make the world over in our image” (McCloud 33).    Therefore, when a film is being produced, the targeted audience should be considered by the director of the motion picture before filming ever takes place.  The age and type of audience (children / teens / college students / adults / senior citizens / etc.) that is being targeted by the producers of the movie should be a major consideration by the film director.  If the director emphasizes the character quality traits of the main character of the movie that are ‘similar and attractive’ to the bulk of the movie’s audience, the film will have a larger probability of being well received by the viewers.  

          The director controls the aesthetic quality of the film and the level of degree and manner in which particular character qualities of the movie stars are portrayed throughout the film.  This involves the coaching of the main stars of the film to bring out the desired character trait for the audience to see, as well.  Director Rob Reiner in an interview concerning “A Few Good Men” stated, “A particular actor may have a problem with a certain kind of emotion, so you alter it to help him but always never to destroy what your main  plan is to begin with” (Kagan 36).  Hence, when a director takes into consideration the principle of ‘similarity and attraction’ while carrying out the filming of the movie, the motion picture has a greater chance of being enjoyed by the viewing audience.

Application of Source Credibility
          Source credibility is interpersonal communication that “is affected by the roles and reputations we bring to a relationship” (McGlish 297).  Nass and Reeves propose that “the credibility of a message source has a strong effect on how listeners respond to the message” (Griffin 410).  This principle has a significant impact on electronic media, especially in the television and film industry.  Todd Gitliin in his book entitled “Inside Prime Time” states that an “important factor in the selling of TV movies is the star, who by himself or herself may be the magnet drawing that audience in” (Gitlin 160).  The credibility of a movie star has a major influence on how the attending audience will view the film.  

          In a study conducted by Nass and Reeves, they discovered that people who viewed a news tape on a television set that had the title of specialist on it actually “rated the reporters’ stories as more interesting, important, informative, and disturbing than did viewers who saw the same tape on a generalist set” (Griffin 410).  This is simply because of the source credibility principle where a source of information that has been labeled as a “specialist will be perceived as superior” (Griffin 410) to another one that just “carries a generalist label” (Griffin  410).  This principle applies to the credibility of a director of motion picture films, as well.  


          If a film director is very well known throughout the motion picture industry and already has an established credibility in the eyes of the viewing audience, there is a great probability that the film will be a great success.  Examples of this apply to well known directors such as Steven Spielberg.  His past successes with great films such as Amistad, Schindler’s List, or Saving Private Ryan almost guarantee the majority of the movie going audience will receive his films in a positive fashion simply because he is a popular, well-known credible film director throughout the Hollywood industry.  No matter how much a person wants to logically deny that such a principle does in fact exist, “people are influenced by labels, and the influence goes beyond their ability to analyze their own responses” (Griffin 411).  This is why people purchase well-known brand non-prescription drugs versus the generic variety, even though the ingredients are exactly the same.  It is because the brand name medications already have been accepted by the buyer as a credible source while the generic brand has not.  The source credibility principle still applies here as well as in the motion picture industry.

Summary
          In summary, The Media Equation Theory of Communication popularized by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass suggests that the expression “Media = Real Life” is true.  People respond to communication media, especially in the realm of the motion picture film, as if the images were human.  A viewing audience will respond to the images of the theater screen just as if they were in present in the scene in real life.  This is because the emotions of people are stirred while watching a film.  Members of the viewing audience will cry, laugh, rejoice, express fear, clap their hands in agreement, and even talk back to the screen while watching a movie in a theater.  The reason they are so involved in the film’s story is because they view the media of film as if it is real life.  

Conclusion
          The interpersonal distance, similarity and attraction, as well as the source credibility all have an influence on how people receive the message on film.  When the interpersonal distance is shortened, as in an extreme-closeup shot of a person’s face, it engenders an intense reaction on the part of the viewing audience.  This occurs in the same manner in which we would respond as if someone actually got up close to our own face — the response is the same.  When considering ‘similarity,’ the viewing audience will be attracted to what they are seeing when they find a similar personality intertwined with the person or character they are looking at in the film.   The source credibility of the media is also very important.  People are influenced by the reputation that the messenger (such as a film director) brings to the viewing audience.  Credible sources are viewed as qualified specialists in their field.  As a result, their credibility as a media source does affect the way the audience receives their message.  In conclusion, when making a motion picture, a film director would do well to remember that MEDIA = REAL LIFE.
Works Cited
Gitlin, Todd.  Inside Prime TimeLos AngelesUniversity of California Press, 2000.

Griffin, E.M.  Communication – A First Look at Communication Theory (Fifth Edition).  Boston:  McGraw Hill, 2003.

Johnston, Robert K.  Reel Spirituality – Theology and Film in Dialogue.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Academic, 2000.

Kagan, Jeremy, ed.  Directors Close UpBoston:  Focal Press, 2000.

McCloud, Scott.  Understanding Comics — the Invisible ArtNew York:  Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 1993.  

McGlish, Glen and Jacqueline Bacon.  A First Look at Communication Theory (5th Edition Instructor’s Manual, Chapter 29, The Media Equation of Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass).  Retrieved 30 October 2002 from the World Wide Web:  http://www.afirstlook.com.

Stevens, Jon.  Actors Turned Directors — on Eliciting the Best Performance from an Actor and Other Secrets of Successful DirectingLos Angeles:  Silman-James Press, 1997.

Zettl, Herbert.  Television Production Handbook (6th Edition).  Boston:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Action and Adventure DVD Movies

Medieval Era Exclusives