Sunday, November 21, 2010


Economic and technological forces are bridging cultures, blurring their differences as nations share a common market and media, same time technological advancements diminishes their distance from each other, creating a global community.
In a perfect world, every culture and nation in the world would contribute in equal measure to the global community, however there is no such thing as a perfect world and as we know there are economic and technological differences among nations that we have to consider.
Developing countries find it more difficult to compete with power nations at an economic level, not to mention the digital divide as not every country has the adequate infrastructure to produce, maintain and export their own media, thus an imbalance occurs, where countries have a greater cultural influence towards the global community as they overpower developing countries, both financially and in media production and distribution. It is this imbalance that is defined as cultural imperialism.
Let’s look at the film industry as an example. Hollywood productions have overshadowed any other film industry in the world. America exports its films around the world expecting a huge profit knowing well that few non-American productions can beat it. Most other countries find it difficult to maintain a film industry, some nations for example rely on government subsidizes and grants to produce films, in order to keep up, not to mention the fact that many film artists, and I’m talking about actors, directors, cinematographers, editors etc… from other countries tend to migrate towards the US and make movies financed by American studios and distributed for a mass commercial audience. Thus we can say that there exists an imbalance in the flow of films, where the US holds a cultural empire against most other film industries.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Powerful and Persuasive ad

This is an ad from a work-safe campaign; similar to anti-smoking ads the intent is to shock you into awareness. Since these types of campaigns need to make a very important point they usually go for the shock factor as it is believed to be a great way to grab somebody’s attention or as they say to get your foot in the door. In this campaign what is being stressed is the importance of participation and involvement of employees in making their work place safe and avoiding accidents.
The poster features a young and healthy looking man staring directly at you. The background is out of focus but he seems to be in his workplace where surely heavy machinery is operated. The man has his left arm rested on a steel surface. His expression is somber, serious, and his left hand is missing. His left hand was cut above the wrist, what remains are scars and his exposed bone covered up by a thin skin, evidence of a painful accident.
In bold white letters superimposed over his chest reads: “I was new and afraid to ask.”
The tagline on the bottom reads: “It doesn’t hurt to speak up.”
I felt that this was a very powerful ad. It forces upon the viewer through shock and pain. The poster makes great use of visuals and texts to create meaning. The man’s serious face and eyes jump out of the poster and are embedded in your eyes. You feel the young man looking at you, as if through his eyes you can understand an unspoken message. The quote underneath articulates it for you. His relaxed posture shows that he is approaching you friendly and in no way is talking down on you or in any way threatening; he is merely relaxed as a friend of yours would relax next to you and talk to you about his day. Yet amongst his relaxedness and seriousness he has this terrible looking scar in the foreground almost like pointing it at you. Surely the visceral quality of the wound is enough to grab you attention nevertheless the tagline for the campaign is written underneath and it reminds you that speaking up does not hurt but rather the accident that the scar implies must have created enormous physical as well as emotional pain.
This advertising appeals to our need of safety. Like I mentioned before similar to anti-smoking ads these posters work towards bettering life whether it does by decreasing the consumption of cigarettes or by creating safety awareness and encouraging asking questions and speaking up.
This ad exemplifies this appeal because of it very purpose, to shock you and make you consider the difference you can make if you ask questions. It can save lives, hands etc… It appeals to people that are perhaps shy to ask questions, it appeals to employers who feel that in order to avoid work related accidents they should encourage employees to ask more questions or provide them with more information.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Neo's Journey: The Matrix & The 3-Act Structure

Last week I talked about the Three Act Structure within the sitcom, I mentioned how it changed due to TV’s format. In this post, I will address the three act structure yet again but this time I will be using it to analyze films. In today’s post I will dissect a film into each act, showing how the story progresses in each, what commonly is the length of each act and I will also make emphasis on the plot points that move the story for one act into the other. The movie I will use for my example is one of my favorite films of all time and a landmark of modern cinema (hey this is my blog I’m entitled to my opinion if you don’t think so, set up your own blog and write about, who cares) this is of course the 1999 smash-hit The Matrix.
This is the beginning. We get familiar with the world, where we are, where the story is going to take place. If we are watching a science fiction film, we learn or we see that we are in space, Mars or perhaps an alternate timeline. Furthermore films usually start by introducing us to our main characters, we meet our protagonist and we get to see him in his “Ordinary World,” this is the protagonist’s normal world, before being affected by the Major Dramatic Question that starts his journey. This will serve as a contrast as to how in the end the journey changed him. In terms of length we could say that the first act typically lasts around 30 minutes. Its end is marked by the hero’s first decision to act towards resolving the dramatic question, often this means that the protagonist packs his bags and chooses to tackle the problems head on.
In The Matrix at the very beginning of Act I we are introduced to most of the characters. The film opens with a chase involving Trinity, and the Agents.

After the action sequence we meet our central character Neo along with the Dramatic Question, What is the Matrix? We go trough our main character’s workplace, we learn a little bit about him mostly through other characters and so we shape this persona.

So we now know the question driving the narrative and we have established who our hero is and his inner psychology however there is a character of the outmost importance for the progression of the narrative that is slowly introduced throughout the act, of course I’m referring to Morpheus. First we see a glimpse of him at the computer screen. Then we hear mentions of him, we listen to his voice on the cellphone until we at last meet him. Now this character is important not just because as we will see later he explains the story to Neo and the audience, but because he aids Neo into taking the first step into his adventure.  He offers him the truth, the answer to the major question, however Neo has to make the choice, and so he presents him with the red pill and the blue pill. Red pill will take him to answer what the matrix is? the blue pill will leave him in his ordinary world undisturbed. It is this “Pill scenario” that Morpheus presents that obligates Neo to make the first choice, advancing the story into the next act and providing us with our first plot point which completely complicates our story world we had developed.

After Neo takes the red pill he awakens in this very strange land that we hadn’t seen before in the film. It is cold, scary and unknown. He faces a machine that you’re not sure if it’s going to help him get out of his situation or kill him. He plunges down through a tunnel to what could be certain death but thankfully he is rescued and brought about a ship in where we see Trinity and Morpheus but they are different. After this point we are no longer in the world of the first act, this is not our hero’s ordinary world in fact this is not even remotely close to the time where we started clearly we are not in the 20th century anymore. At this point the narrative is more complicated and it will get even more complicated in the next act as we learn what this new world is, what the matrix is and what the Agents are up to.

In almost every movie, the second act is the bulk of the story. Commonly the longest part of a movie and usually introduces secondary characters, it complicates the hero’s journey by adding one obstacle after the other. The stakes get higher and higher. At this point our goal oriented protagonist goes through a series of challenges in order to resolve the major dramatic question however as he advances he learns that it is not as easy as he thought it would be. Now the function of these difficulties or obstacles is primarily to prepare the character for the final confrontation, we need to see if he will have what it takes to resolve his situation and end up triumphant. So in other words this part of the film in the classical three act structure constitutes a bunch of tests, in which we sometimes see our protagonist fail or has at least difficulty in overcoming these obstacles and the more he suffers in common Hollywood terms the more we sympathize and we identify with the characters and the louder we will cheer when at the end he overcomes every obstacle no matter how hard and he resolves the dramatic question.
In our kung-fu sci-fi extravagant example, the second act constitutes a complication of the journey, a series of tests for Neo and we meet the enemies, allies and Judas. However in this particular film there is a shift at this point as I will point out that the major dramatic question changes slightly and another more urgent question presses on our characters.
After Neo wakes up in the real world, Morpheus explains to him the nature of the world, he answers What the Matrix is. At this point we now have resolved that main dramatic question however it did not do anything for our main characters except complicate his existence even more (same thing for first time viewers).  The truth for Neo wasn’t as easy to swallow as that red pill, nevertheless knowing that the real word is harsh he will continue his journey as Morpheus posits the next driving question. He explains to Neo the prophecy and hits him with a ton of bricks when he confesses to him that he has blind faith that Neo is the one, the savior or future messiah. 

Neo does not believe it and as the audience we kind of doubt it too. I mean in the first act we saw just how regular, common, and weak Neo is. Morpheus puts Neo through rigorous tests on where he learns each time more about the artificiality of The Matrix world. There is a martial arts test, then we have the jumping test etc… in addition he is also walked through a training session in which he is taught to distinguish those who want to harm the human rebels, these are the Agents we met in the previous part of the film.
At this point there existence is explained and their purpose, but not only them but also the Agent’s counterpart in the real world. We meet the sentinels at exactly the same time. But after all this knowledge our hero needs to fall and fall big time  for him to able to rise victorious and this is exactly what’s going to happen to Neo next.
Neo visits the Oracle and his own belief is confirmed, she tells him that he is not the one and to make matters worse, she explains to Neo that a life or death situation is near in which he will need to decide if Morpheus lives or dies. Such an important choice and we can cleverly assume that is our next turning point. 
Furthermore as Neo (crushed by the news) and his crew are going to exit the Matrix, they are entrapped by the Agents and Morpheus is captured. The rest of the crew that escapes get to die one by one by the hands of the Judas in this outfit, of course I’m referring to Cypher.
Eventually he gets his due and Trinity and Neo exit the Matrix unharmed however everything is at its darkest. More than half of their crew is dead and their leader has been captured. It is in this dark climate that our hero makes his most important choice. Neo decides to go against the odds and try to rescue Morpheus. This decision pits him against certain death and it is this decision our second plot point which moves us from the second act towards the third act and the exciting Climax where we will find out if Neo will rescue Morpheus.

In the third and last act, generally the protagonist comes face to face with the antagonist or antagonistic forces that keep him from realizing the goal he set out to attain at the end of act one. In this act rarely do we meet new characters, there are exceptions but usually at this point the focus of the story turns to the main character’s final conflict, the climax, where he either resolves the major dramatic question.  Often the third act runs in about 30 minutes similarly to the first act. After the climax the narrative then slows down and shows the aftermath of the hero’s journey, the things he changed in his world and the overall consequences of his decisions.
In the third act of our example Neo and Trinity shoot their way into rescuing Morpheus.  At various points of the rescue all three characters hang on the edge of their life providing excitement to the audience as we follow our main characters through their most difficult obstacles. Neo acrobatically dodges bullets in “bullet time” barely saving his life. Morpheus almost falls into certain death when he is shot as he jumps to salvation. Trinity faces death as well as she escapes the exploding helicopter.

There the question posed by the second plot point was answered. Neo survived and in fact rescued Morpheus but the excitement is far from over. After Morpheus and Trinity exit the matrix Neo fights off Agent Smith for his life. Neo has a chance to run but he decides to confront the Agent.
After a lengthy and should I say it, kick-ass fight, Neo beats Agent Smith, but as soon as Agent Smith perishes a new one emerges. Neo this time runs.

The chase ends when Neo is shot to death by Agent Smith, at the same time in the real world Morpheus and Trinity prepare for a squid attack. And it is at this point where the central dramatic question posed by Morpheus in the second act is resolved. Trinity after witnessing Neo’s death, confesses to Neo’s corpse (in the real world) that she loves him and that the Oracle told her that she was going to fall in love with the one, so he can’t be dead.  In the matrix just as the Agents are walking away from Neo’s body our hero rises from the ashes reborn and with a new sense for his surroundings. This answers the dramatic question that yes, Neo is most definitely the one.

Neo is able to stop bullets, fight off Agents with one hand and defeat them easily, in fact at this point the Agents run from him. Neo exits the matrix just in time for the squid attack, he wakes up, kisses Trinity and now there is no doubt that Neo is the one. After this long and exciting climax the next brief scene closes in on Neo arch and shows the ultimate transformation. Neo dictates his manifesto towards the machine over the phone, hangs up and if we contrast him with the Neo we saw in Act one and two this one is different. His outfit is cooler, he’s wearing sunglasses like the rest of the crew was. His clothing is simple, dark tones, yet he wears an open long coat that flaps in the wind like a cape as he flies towards the camera in the end.
The three act structure is the most common narrative structure that we can find in films. Most plot are constructed this way, you can substitute The Matrix in this analysis and you will find that most movies follow this pattern. In the first act we are introduced to the main characters and establish the dramatic problem that needs to be resolved, in the second act things get more complicated for our characters that are trying to resolve the problem and in the third act the action reaches its zenith where our characters make the ultimate decision that will lead them to resolve the dramatic question and provide much excitement for viewers.

On a fun side note -
Enter the Fart Matrix: 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Three Act Structure of the Sitcom

A key element of the TV sitcom, no matter if its narrative structure is episodic or serial, is the three act structure. The three act is closely associated with film and literature but nevertheless it still present in TV programming after all what these three mediums have in common is their function of telling stories. What the three act structure consists off is a kind of guide, which serves to construct stories around. It follows what seems to be a logical and natural progression of events starting by Act I: the introduction of the main characters and the dramatic problem. Then follows Act II: a series of complications that arise for our hero as he tries to take over the problem and finally it reaches Act III: a climactic point where the hero finally overcomes the obstacles and reaches his goal and everything is resolved. This is in a nutshell what the three act structure is, there are certainly more complications and further ramifications in each act but a simple definition of this story design will do for this analysis.  Moreover this structure is found in books, movies and TV shows but it is in TV where the three act structure is modified in order to fit in the highly segmented format that is TV. 
In TV sitcoms there is a pause in between each act, due to the fact that the shows have to cut to commercial breaks in order to advertise their sponsors. The production of most of sitcoms is possible by many means, cable subscription etc... But one of the most important factors is sponsorship. Several shows have been pulled off the air because sponsors felt it wasn’t a good investment because they are not pulling enough audience in etc… Nevertheless along with this obligatory pauses in the narrative that threaten the flow and logical progression of the story we discussed before, TV programmers and writers employ a simple technique in order to maintain an interest in the story after all the breaks.  What they do is they insert commercial breaks at turning points or also known as plot points. These are the transitions from act to act.

 So what you normally see in a TV sitcom is the first act in which our characters are faced with a problem they have to resolve then they cut to a commercial break and the audience is left intrigue due to the curiosity of how the main characters are going to tackle the problem. When we come back to the show, the main characters decide on a plan of action to take on this problem or threat and they go to action. Complications arise and our main characters are sometimes defeated or close to being defeated by the problem and then we cut to commercial break, leaving us the viewers, wondering on whether our characters are going to be able to resolve the problem. Finally when we comeback we reach the climax of the characters journey, they resolve the issue and all ends well. Then after a commercial break regularly shows come back for a kind of epilogue, or aftermath often shown as the end credits roll on screen and we get a glimpse of how our characters changed or the effects of the journey to resolve the problem caused them. Let’s look at an episode from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and see this structure in action.

Every episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air often begins with a prologue of sorts. It mainly introduces the basic dynamic that each character has to each other. For example in season 1 episode 22 “Banks shot” Vivian Banks, Will’s auntie, is going to be leaving town for a brief time period and so Ashley Banks, Will’s beautiful but dull-witted cousin tells her that she is mature and old enough to watch over the house but Vivian, knowing her own daughter refuses to let such a responsibility on her, after all her statements of maturity are undermined by the fact that she is 21 and reading a Seventeen magazine. Then our main character, Will the Fresh Prince himself enters the Banks mansion in his own style, dancing and listening to loud music. His auntie tells him that she is going to be leaving and that his uncle Phil will be taking over the household. After hearing this Will begs Vivian to stay after all Will and his uncle are the two opposite sides of the poll. Will is young, immature, hip, extrovert and a free spirit, while Philip is mature, uptight and old-school. Then we are treated to the Opening Song. In sitcoms what the opening titles do is create the necessary backstory to understand the episode even though this is your first one. So in our case the opening song chronicles Will’s move from the mean streets of Philadelphia to the affluent residential community of Bel-air in California.

So at the beginning of the show Phil is in control of the household. Will being the free spirit that he is asks his uncle for the car keys to drive to a pool hall and have fun. His uncle refuses but Will takes the keys and goes anyway. At the pool hall Will gets hustled by sleazy pool sharks and is hold in debt owing much more money that what he has, consequently the hustlers hold Philip’s car hostage until Will pays up the money. We cut to commercial and the viewer is left wondering what is going to happen? How is Will going to pay them and recuperate Phil’s car? Can he pull this off without getting Philip noticing? These questions are bound to pop up on a viewer’s mind and guarantee that if he is interested enough he just might be compelled and stay tune to finds out what happens.

After the commercial break Will returns back home to get money for the hustlers but Philip discovers what happened and is infuriated because he disobeyed him and because of the trouble he got himself in. But Uncle Phil puts his anger away for the moment in order to deal with the hustlers. They return to the pool hall and he demands his car. The hustlers refuse to give up the car easily and Phil is talked into playing pool for the car even though he continuously states that he has never played pool before in his life.  Go to commercial break. Now What is going to happen? The only way to get the car back is by playing but none of them are good enough for the hustlers? Even if they win Will is going to get grounded or sent back home disrupting the family and bringing about the end of the show. (This latest statement is overly dramatic, I highly doubt that even a diehard Fresh Prince fan will trip out this way during a commercial break but for the sake’s of this analysis let’s pretend that they do).

Back from commercial break and after losing Phil asks for a rematch and raises the stakes. The hustler agrees and unbeknownst to him, Uncle Phil breaks out his special pool cue and beats the hustlers getting the car back and even some money. In the end all the questions are resolved. Will was able to get out of that pool hall alive. Phil got his car back and he decides to spare mercy on Will as he identifies with him because as a youngster he used to sneak out to pool halls like he did and learn to hustle.
So as we’ve seen all that starts well ends well. Or whatever. In the end the commercial breaks in the sitcom came at the turning points leaving the viewer hanging with promises that everything will be answered and resolved after the commercial break and it did. So you see TV sitcoms keep the three act structure but TV writers have to raise the stakes and design their stories around cliffhangers to ensure that the audience stays tuned after the commercial breaks.