Film Studies in Motion: From audiovisual essay to academic research video

(Annotated) excerpt

In audiovisual study of film, the most rudimentary form of video is the simple act of quoting a film excerpt. Early examples can be found in Kevin B. Lee’s efforts from 2007, when he uploaded isolated scenes, sequences, or trailers to accompany his written blog posts (see Chapter I). The mode of selection established here flows throughout subsequent incarnations: the excerpt basically functions as an enhanced or animated substitute for a traditional screen grab that commonly appears as a still inserted in a body of text. The film excerpt is a point of reference or can serve as mere illustration, and theoretically does not work as an autonomous instance. The context and intended focal point of such excerpts are explicated in the writing that is commonly referred to as an ‘accompanying article’ – while factually these textual write-ups are the dominant source of information, and the audiovisual excerpt is an ‘accompaniment’ to the text.
            ​Bringing the practice to the next level, psychologist and film scholar Tim J. Smith also moved from inclusion of stills in articles, to excerpt videos online. Illustrating the results of his eye-tracking research efficiently, Smith uses his visualization software to create a composite image that overlays the visual representation of the gaze of a viewer on the video being watched. Through their ‘The DIEM Project’[44] Smith and his colleagues started to post these enriched excerpts in 2010,[45] and made a breakthrough in 2011, certainly in the field of Film Studies, by a guest publication on David Bordwell’s blog about a research on a specific excerpt from Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 There Will Be Blood (Smith 2011). “The result” – as Bordwell claims in his introductory paragraph – “is almost unprecedented in film studies” (ibid), to which we could add that the audiovisual presentation mode of these results was rather exceptional too.
Smith’s latest videos show dual presentation of the same excerpt, comparing eye tracking results of both novice and experienced viewers (on the top and on the bottom of the screen, respectively - see video and screenshot [Figure 11]):
The functionality of these video excerpts is comparable to the function of stills in written text. The videos make up the (highly illustrative hence convincing) empirical evidence supporting Smith’s theses and scientific writing. The excerpts have no rhetorical setup, most often include the original soundtrack or no sound at all, and have no in-video reference other than perhaps the film/series/subject’s title (see examples on The DIEM Project’s Vimeo channel).

One of the most developed and user-friendly utilizations of the excerpt came from Jennifer Proctor. Her ‘Popcorn Maker’ project used Mozilla’s free web-based application that allowed users to embellish audiovisual content already located on the web – for example footage from YouTube, Vimeo or other streaming sites could be funneled into the Popcorn Maker interface – where they could be annotated by means of pre-fab text balloons and templates of symbols.[46]
The Popcorn Maker interface worked with a timeline and featured drag-and-drop usability. In terms of functionality and user-friendliness it surpassed YouTube’s (then available) annotation possibilities, and compensated for Vimeo’s lack of such utilities [Figure 12].
Added information or annotation, which would otherwise be supplied in the accompanying text, could here be superimposed directly onto the video. Although the result of this annotation may not suffice as an ‘essay video’ in itself, it does show a departure from the basic use of excerpts. In contrast to other, more accompanying forms and roles of the excerpt, a Popcorn Maker-enriched video could suffice as standalone work by presenting an unsophisticated but straightforward attempt towards an autonomous audiovisual essay (though it is unlikely one would not appropriate such video with introductory or additional text).

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