1.2 Origin Stories – Video Structure Meaning

Movies arose from a history of entertainment, engineering, and science. ey also arose from still
pictures. In fact, a movie is nothing more (or less) than a sequence of still images with one primary
structuring attributepresentation of the set of still images to the viewer at a xed rate. For the
video media available these days that rate is 30 frames per second. So, every minute of viewing time
is made up of 1,800 still images. What can we say about these collections of images that helps us
understand how they function for viewers, and how they generate meaning?
Figure 1.1: Individual frames samples from seven seconds of video.
ere are no restrictions as to what those frames should be for any given video, only that they
should be presented at 30 frames per second if the illusion of life-like motion is to be maintained.
Simply giving a viewer a package of 1,800 still images would not result in an illusion of motion. In
order to be a movie, the images must be structured in such a way as to be presentable at 30 frames
per second. Figure 1.2 presents a portion of the frames from a Hollywood movie printed at approx-
imately the size of the original frames. More than 12,000 frames from a 7-minute section of the
movie are printed on a large sheet of paper. ey make for a nice poster and they are not without
use, but they are not a movie.
Figure 1.2: Mural print of more than 12,000 frames from a seven-minute portion of e Birds (au-
thor's photo)
Whether the recording device is a lm camera, an analog video camera, or a digital video
camera, it is a device that records many still images rapidly. It is not a device that records motion. It
is a device that records fragments of motion. In fact, there is a signicant amount of time in which
it is not recording anything, even when running.
at is to say, this sort of collection of images functions as a movie, if and only if playback is
made at the prescribed frame rate. e structural element is temporal. Now, this is not to say that
the collection cannot be used in other ways. Football coaches have made a signicantly dierent use
of movies for decades by violating the temporal element. Stopping a lm at the moment a partic-
ularly good or bad move was recorded, reversing the lm and playing a short sequence over again
and again, or fast-forwarding through portions that are not relevant for the particular segment of
the team watching the lm. Police, athletic coaches, and lm theorists all routinely look at some
portions of lm or video footage in slow motion or even frame-by-frame looking for a particular
momentary piece of data or a particular discontinuity in the data. High-speed recording of numer-
ous frames (perhaps hundreds or even thousands of frames per second) enables playback at very
slow motion and, thus, analysis of a large number of data points per second.
On the whole, the lmic collection of frames is structured such that it only functions when
played back at a standard rate.
When we say “function,” we mean act as a message as
generated by an author/videomaker. Whether the individual
viewer understands the message in the same way as intended
by the author is a separate issue from transmission of the
message. e meaning of the video message to a recipient,
what it puts into the viewer's mind, what it enables the viewer
to do is a decoding process, just as the message making is a
coding process.
How are we to nd and make sense and make use of
lmic documents? Let us think about the production and
viewing processes to see if we can tease out other structures.
Let us look briey at the lm construction process, then at
the lm viewing process. Here we will use the example of
a documentary lm on a rodeo, as at the left. ere is no
particular reason for this choice, except that documentaries
generally fall between the individually produced home movie
or artistic piece and the large production team construction of
a Hollywood feature.
We make use of the term photocutionary acts” as
modeled by Greisdorf and O’Connor (2008) on Austins illo-
cutionary acts” for speech acts, performative utterances—“to
say something is to do something” (Austin, 1976). We take
this to be the doing of something with photographs (stills
and lmic) regardless of the formality of the purpose or pro-
duction process.
e lmmaker engages in one or more photocution-
ary acts. Either by pre-planning or by making decisions at
the moment of recording, the lmmaker gathers together a
collection of images at the rodeo. e content of those imag-
esboth topic and production valueswill have been guided
by the lmmaker’s plan for the collection, as well as by the
lmmaker’s understanding of the intended audience. at is,
if the lmmaker wants to present the human athletic ability
of rodeo riders, then the majority of images in the collection
will be constructed to give more frame space to the riders than
to horses, clowns, or audience. If, on the other hand, the lm-
maker intends an ethnographic study of the rituals surround-
ing rodeo, then there likely will be many images showing
behind the scenes preparations, audience members reacting
to events, announcers, clowns, and all the other participants.
After all the images have been made, they will be ar-
ranged. Some of the original images will likely be discarded
for poor technical quality, duplication, lack of appropriateness
for the lm, length considerations, or any myriad of other
artistic and logistical reasons. e lmmaker may choose to
leave the images in more or less chronological order or to
re-arrange the images to suit the plan of the lm.
ere is no “grammar” of lm in the sense of a verbal
grammar. ere is no analog to the noun or verb. is does
not mean that there are no structures to movies, far from it.
However, the structures are built on the understanding of
viewer perception. Filmmakers learned long ago that struc-
ture is a powerful component; they also learned that there is
no one-to-one correspondence of lmic structural practices
to verbal practices. ere are some “tried and true” practices,
such as using “fast editing to increase excitement. However,
there are other methods of achieving excitement and the
rapid intercutting of dull or inappropriate images will not
achieve excitement.
So, the lmmaker carries out photocutionary acts at
the image gathering and image ordering stages. In a general
sense, the lmmaker also conducts photocutionary acts at the
showing stage by determining the type of recording and distribution mechanisms (e.g., wide release
in theaters, showing to a few friends, releasing direct to DVD, etc.) Likewise, the viewer carries out
several photocutionary acts. e most evident is the choice to view a particular work. Once upon
a time, the collection of movies was limited to whatever came to the local theater. Film viewing
was passive at many levels, not the least of which was that the collection came in bits and pieces
and did not accumulate (the reels for last week’s lm were on their way to another town.) In some
communities, public libraries had small collections of lms, generally of the sort used in schools, but
that was really the extent if it. Now, of course, it is quite the opposite. Between multiplex theaters in
most municipalities, multiple video rental outlets, cable television, video-on-demand, video on the
web, and video on numerous personal portable devices the collection of videos is enormous and is
no longer ephemeral. So, simply choosing a movie document is now an active photocutionary act.
In the past, watching a movie in a theater or a television show at home was a passive expe-
rience in which the images went by in their prescribed order and at the prescribed rate. When the
movie ended, that was the end of the viewing act unless one paid for another viewing or waited
for re-runs. Now re-runs are easier to nd and there is a large array of time-shifting devices and
practices. ere is also the ability to directly and actively engage in the viewing process. e ability
to rewind, speed ahead, and play one segment over and over is now no longer only available to