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Teaching Argo for SQA Media


Title: PowerPoint Presentation Author: Library2011 Last modified by: Rick Instrell Created Date: 11/7/2012 10:16:25 AM Document presentation format – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Teaching Argo for SQA Media

Teaching Argo for SQA Media
  • Rick Instrell
  • Deep Learning
  • info_at_deep-learning.co.uk
  • Version 2.0
  • 10 September 2013

Association for Media Education in Scotland
Integration of Key Aspects of Media Literacy
  • purpose, medium, form, genre, tone
  • technical cultural codes their interaction
  • organisation of content structure, plot,
    narrative structure
  • stereotypes non-stereotypes
    dominant/oppositional ideologies

create UGC
  • ownership (commercial, public service,
  • finance (budget, income from sales,
    subscription, advertising license fee)
  • personnel, deadlines, resources
  • controls (legal and regulatory compliance,
  • target audience
  • uses pleasure
  • differential decoding (personality, gender, age,
    class, ethnicity, interests, nationality, )
  • producers
  • technologies of production, distribution

  • social, cultural, economic, political events,
    lifestyles ideologies

Marketing Poster and DVD Cover
Marketing Official Website
Marketing CD Cover
Photograph of US hostages in 1979
Marketing Book Covers
Key Aspect Institution
  • Q. Who produced the film and how has this shaped
    the film?

Institution 1 Director - Ben Affleck
  • Ben Affleck Yes, I would say I'm a moderately
    liberal guy. I mean, there are things that I
    agree with the Democratic Party Yes, I would say
    I'm a moderately liberal guy. I mean, there are
    things that I agree with the Democratic Party.
    There are things I don't. For example, I'm not a
    big gun control guy. I believe in all the bill of
    rights, including the Second Amendment. I'm not a
    party guy one way or another. I don't believe in
    subscribing to that. I still believe in people
    more than I believe in parties per se. But how I
    arrived at my beliefs, I was born and grew up
    here Boston. And this is a obviously heavily
    Democratic town, a big union town. Labor played a
    big part of that. My father was a janitor. My
    mother was a public school teacher.

Institution 2 Smokehouse
  • Smokehouse Pictures is a partnership between
    George Clooney and Grant Heslov

"...the liberal movement morally, you know, has
stood on the right side of an awful lot of
issues. We thought that blacks should be allowed
to sit at the front of the bus and women should
be able to vote, McCarthy was wrong, Vietnam was
a mistake. George Clooney
Left-right George Clooney, actor/director Ben
Affleck, Grant Heslov
Institution 3 GK Films
  • Produced by film production company GK-Films
  • UK producer Graham King has worked as producer on
    Martin Scorseses Gangs of New York, The Aviator
    and The Departed
  • Co-owner Tim Headington, a Texas oilman worth
    1.5 billion

Graham King
Institution 4 Warner Brothers
  • One of big six film production and distribution
    companies (Columbia, Warner Brothers, Walt
    Disney, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox,
  • Warners subsidiary of Time- Warner
  • Make and distribute mainstream multiplex movies
  • Argo Official Website

Institution 5 CIA
  • Producers had the cooperation of USAs Central
    Intelligence Agency
  • Since 1947, CIA responsible for centralized
    intelligence organization aimed at correlating,
    evaluating, and disseminating information
    affecting national security
  • Information collected assists military,
    government, and legislative leaders in
  • CIA is sanctioned only to work abroad
  • Covert operations have included paramilitary
    activities and propaganda campaigns aimed at
    destabilizing and influencing opposing regimes,
    even during peacetime
  • Covert operations need approval of the President

Institution 6 CIA OPA
  • CIAs Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has the
    responsibility of assisting moviemakers, writers,
    and television producers
  • Began cooperating with Hollywood in the 1990s to
    help reverse its image in film and television,
    since they usually depicted the CIA as a rogue,
    immoral organisation with a penchant for
    assassination and failure
  • Those who wish to use CIA resources or premises,
    understand they must depict the Agency
  • This leads to self-censorship, motivated by
    financial and creative gains (rather than sheer
    ideological ones) and plays a role in the shaping
    of motion picture content
  • Researchers who consult with the CIA are often
    given a whitewashed version of its actions, where
    valid criticisms are downplayed or even ignored.
  • Some scenes in Argo shot at CIA HQ which means
    that the CIA must have given approval to a film
    which gives an essentially positive image of the

CIAs Entertainment Industry Liaison
Institution Ratings
  • rated by the MPAA as R for language and some
    violent images

Key Aspect Categories
  • Q. What kind of film is Argo?

Key Aspect Categories Form/Genre
  • American-made mainstream feature film 2h long
  • Budget 44.5m
  • Purposes inform, entertain, make profit
  • Based on true story (based on Joshuah Bearmans
    "Wired" magazine article and "The Master of
    Disguise" by CIA operative Antonio Mendez)
  • Events changed to make them more exciting
  • Generic hybrid
  • Docudrama
  • Spy movie
  • Thriller
  • Caper movie
  • Comedy (satire on Hollywood)

Key Aspect Categories Genre 1
  • Docudrama blend of fact and fiction to dramatize
    events and historic personages
  • Documentary elements opening 2 min montage
    giving historic context closing credits with
    photographs of real persons alongside the actors
    playing them
  • Dramatic elements Story simplified to make it
    more exciting
  • Most of tensest moments did not happen e.g.
  • Bazaar scene
  • CIA bosses trying to kill plan
  • Escape at airport (plan went off perfectly at 5
    in the morning)

Key Aspect Categories Genre 2
  • Spy movie government agents on a covert mission
    against enemies of the state
  • Us (good) v Them (bad)
  • Them can be Nazis, Soviet Russia, Terrorists
  • Sub-genres
  • Fantasy
  • Spoof
  • Realistic
  • Critical (questions the activities of the work
    that spies/states do on behalf of us)

Key Aspect Categories Genre 3
  • Thriller genre
  • Q/A narrative with narrative resolution at the
  • Suspense is generated by audience anticipation of
    2 possible outcomes
  • Immoral but likely outcome
  • Moral but unlikely outcome
  • (Carroll, 1996)

Key Aspect Categories Genre 4
  • Caper movie
  • Narrative improbable task has to be completed by
    mixture of ingenuity, deception, bravery, luck
  • Structure of caper movies
  • Challenging problem
  • Presentation of scheme
  • Planning and preparation
  • Carry out scheme

Key Aspect Categories Genre 5
  • Comedy satirising Hollywood
  • One-liners which sometimes demand a knowledge of
    the US film industry
  • Lester Siegel If I'm going to make a fake
    movie, it's going to be a fake hit.
  • Lester Siegel You're worried about the
    Ayatollah? Try the WGA. (Writers Guild of
  • Tony Mendez You really know Warren Beatty?
  • Lester Siegel Yes, I do. I took a leak next to
    him at a
  • Golden Globes party once.
  • John Chambers Target audience will hate it.
  • Tony Mendez Who's the target audience?
  • John Chambers People with eyes

Key Aspect Language
  • Q. How are images and audio used to
  • tell the story
  • express themes and conflicts
  • engage the audience
  • express different settings and situations?

Key Aspect Language 1
  • Different treatment for locations
  • Iran (actually Istanbul, Turkey) documentary
    grainy texture to film stock shot with handheld
    camera to convey tension and instability some
    super 16mm and super 8mm film used to suggest
    protesters own footage
  • Iran (preparation scenes in house) handheld
    coverage with 2 cameras
  • Hollywood, LA used style of 1970s US film
    camera placed in uncomfortable position and
    zoomed in for coverage
  • Washington clean crisp image constantly moving

Key Aspect Language 2
  • Scored by Alexandre Desplat
  • Not wall-to-wall underscoring e.g. no music at
    start because it is realistic (get full melody at
    end when the Americans have escaped)
  • Traditional Persian instruments in first half
  • Also wailing woman cliché
  • Ostinato percussion used to anchor action scenes
  • When piano and orchestra is used music is more
    American and comforting (e.g. get full melody at
    end when the Americans have escaped)
  • Also use of period source music e.g. Led
    Zeppelins When the Levee Breaks

Key Aspect Language 3
  • Top Persian and Middle Eastern musicians used for
    soundtrack for non-US settings
  • Sussan Deyhim Persian female vocalist (jazzy
    scatting and lament)
  • Dimitris Jimmy Mahlis Oud
  • Kudsi Erguner Ney flute
  • Bijan Chemirani Ethnic Percussion
  • Derya Turkan Kemence

Key Aspect Narrative
  • Q. What is the narrative structure?
  • Q. What are the storylines?
  • Q. How does the plot seek to engage the audience?
  • Q. How do the storylines work out?

Norms of Hollywood film
  • Bordwell and Thompson (2011) say most mainstream
    Hollywood films obey five norms
  • Goal orientation the main characters want
  • Double plotline 2 lines of action one of which
    involves romance
  • Four-act structure 4 acts of 25-35 min with 3
    turning points (set-up-complicating action-
  • Dangling causes an unresolved action in one
    scene will be pushed further in a later scene
  • Deadlines time pressure is often used to resolve
  • Q. To what extent does Argo conform to these

Four-act narrative structure
  • Film scholar Kristin Thompson says most
    mainstream Hollywood films have a 4-act structure
    with 3 turning points
  • (prologue)
  • 1. Setup
  • Turning point
  • 2. Complicating action
  • Turning point
  • 3. Development
  • Turning point
  • 4. Climax
  • (epilogue)

N.B. Prologue and/or epilogue may be omitted
Four-act Narrative Structure in Argo
  • Applying this to Argo (115 min) 4 acts of 20-36
  • Prologue (in title sequence)
  • Setup
  • Turning point 1 (2222) Mendez figures out plan
  • 2. Complicating action
  • Turning point 2 (4236) Plan gets go ahead
  • 3. Development
  • Turning point 3 (7911) Mendez disobeys orders
    and goes ahead
  • 4. Climax
  • Epilogue (plus end-titles)

Q/A Narrative 1
  • One of the main problems for the filmmaker is
  • how does one scene link to the next?
  • Nöel Carroll argues that mainstream films are
  • using a Q/A structure in which there are
  • Major questions (e.g. will the hero survive?)
  • Minor questions (e.g. who is this new character?)

Q/A Narrative 2
  • Seven types of scene in Q/A narrative
  • Establishing scene introduces setting,
    character, actions
  • Questioning scene posing one or more questions
  • Answering scene answering one or more questions
  • Sustaining scene continues and intensifies
    earlier question
  • Incomplete answering scene partial answer
  • Answering/questioning scene one question
    answered which immediately poses another question
  • Fulfilling scene scene which shows what was
    predicted in an earlier scene
  • If scene does not fit the above it is a

Q/A Narrative questions
  1. What are the main questions which engage our
    interest in the Argo narrative?
  2. How is suspense generated? (moral unlikely
    outcome v. immoral likely outcome)
  3. What other questions engage our interest in the
    Argo narrative?
  4. Identify different types of scene in Argo
    (establishing, Q, A, sustaining, incomplete A,
    A/Q, fulfilling, digression)

Narrative codes
  • Enigmatic code the use of Q/A to engage the
  • Action code e.g. rapid storytelling by showing
    easily recognisable part of an action
  • Semic code connotations of image elements and of
    music e.g. Persian instruments connote Iran and
    piano/orchestra connote the West
  • Symbolic code the way that conflicts and themes
    are symbolised e.g. opposition of East/West in
    music and in images
  • Referential code references to general knowledge
    e.g. source music, fashion, hairstyles, CIA logo,
    images of Ayatollah Khomeini, Hollywood sign

Key Aspect Representations
  • Q. How are people, places and events represented
    in Argo? (what is selected and how is it
    portrayed? what is absent?)
  • Q. Explain these representations in terms of
    institutional, audience and social context.
  • Exercise
  • Use the internet to investigate what Iranians (in
    Iran and in the West) think about Argo.

Representations of the CIA
  • Q. How has the CIA been represented in film and
  • .

Representations of the CIA
  • CIA represented in film and tv in five main ways
  • As an organisation which
  • Is intent on assassination
  • comprises rogue operatives who act with little
  • fails to take care of its own officers and assets
  • operates on morally ambiguous and perhaps morally
    reprehensible grounds
  • Is bedevilled by its own buffoonery and hopeless
  • (Jenkins, 2012)

Why CIA Image so negative?
  • Reflects a number of highly publicised cases
    where covert operations were made public (bad
    news is more memorable than good news)
  • Left/liberal political leanings of writers,
    actors and directors play a part
  • Belief by many creators that CIA does not respect
    civil liberties
  • The demands of cinematic storytelling much
    easier to cast CIA as bad guys because audience
    is used to the stereotype and such an image can
    be conveyed quickly in film by phrases such as
    rogue CIA officer

Representations of Iran/Iranians
  • Stereotyping involves general beliefs that we use
    to categorize people, objects, and events, while
    assuming those beliefs are accurate
    generalizations of the whole group
  • Iranians are portrayed as unreasonable, evil,
    inept, backward,
  • Images of bearded, hysterical, violent, bearded
  • Tends to conflate Iranians/Arabs/Muslims and
    conflate mainstream Islam with militant Islam
  • Ignores the fact that Iranians speak Farsi not
  • Ignores the facts that many Arabs/Iranians are
    not Muslims

Dominant Ideology
  • Studies of representation of Muslims in the media
    identify the use of a restricted set of recurring
    visual images (e.g. violent mobs burning US flag)
    as well as loaded terms (Islamic extremism,
    Muslim fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism)
  • This suggests that extremism is a feature of all
  • This stereotyping in news and features, in
    political speeches and everyday life supports the
    ideas that
  • Islam is a threat to the West
  • Muslims are deviant, irrational, violent
  • Islam is antiquated
  • All Muslims are the same
  • Acceptance of such ideologies may lead to a
    general public acceptance of torture, drone
    killings, covert operations, oppressive
    legislation, etc.

Audience Mainstream
  • Argo grosses (as at 10 September 2013)
  • Domestic 136m (59 of worldwide total)
  • Foreign 96m (41 of worldwide total)
  • Total 232m
  • Domestic DVD sales 19.4m (over 1.2m units)
  • Grosses suggests strong US appeal
  • Very patriotic ending typical of USA films cf.
    climax of Top Gun

Audience Non-mainstream
  • This audience prefers films which dont use
    mainstream content and style and are likely to
    dislike Argo
  • Film is full of stereotypes and clichés
  • Q. Identify clichés of the suspense thriller plot
    and of music.

Audience Left Critique
  • Left-wing critics have identified Argo as a
    propaganda film
  • According to Herman and Chomsky the US media
    manufacture consent to government policies and
    business interests
  • Thus the representation of Iran/Iranians in US
    media can be seen as creating general consent to
    US policy on Iran and the CIAs use of covert
    operations in combatting terrorism
  • So although Argo is set in the past it can be
    seen as contributing to dominant ideologies which
    shape policy in the present
  • Ben Affleck probably has not intentionally set
    out to make a propaganda film but this is an
    unintended effect of trying to tell an
    entertaining and engaging story

Audience Differential Decoding
  • Preferred reading enjoying film as intended by
    the filmmakers as a thrilling but heart-warming
    true story of how CIA agents self-sacrifice
    keeps US citizens safe from foreign threats
  • Negotiated reading enjoying the suspense but
    having reservations e.g. about its distortion of
    history and representations of Iran
  • Oppositional reading rejecting the preferred
    reading and seeing the film as US imperialist
    propaganda (left-wing critics, Iranians)

Technology 1 Specifications
Used for widescreen shots set in Iran
Used for crowd shots in protest at embassy
produces pillarboxing with black strips left and
right when projected
Average shot length 3.4s
Technology 2
  • Variety of film stock, lenses, lighting and
    digital processing used for different locations
    (Iran. Washington, Los Angeles) see slide 24
  • Preparation between director/star Ben Affleck and
    cinematographer tested effects of stock/ lens/
    lighting/processing before shoot
  • 95 of film was storyboarded and shot-listed
  • This meant that shooting time of 62 days for
    principal photography kept to a minimum
  • Budget allowed for some CGI

Technology 3 CGI by Method 3D
  • Aerial shot of the Azadi Tower in Tehran created
    with CGI
  • 3D version of tower and surrounds, people, leaves
    on trees, period cars, dirt on camera lens, etc.
    digital effects

Technology 4 CGI
  • Actual flag burned too quickly
  • So digital flag burned and digitally combined
    with foreground and background footage

Technology 5 CGI
  • In final escape the Swiss jumbo jet is a fully
    digital plane with layers of shading, dirt and
    debris, light effects and heat distortion to make
    it seem real

Integration of Key Aspects
  • Exercise
  • You have studied Argo in detail. Draw up a table
    with two columns labelled context and text.
    In the left column list aspects of the
    institutional, audience, technological and social
    context. In the right hand column identify ways
    in which context shaped the Argo film text (i.e.
    its categories, language, narrative and

  • Bearman, J. (2007) The Great Escape How the CIA
    Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From
    Tehran. In Wired, 24 April, 2007. Accessed
    08/05/2013 at http//www.wired.com/magazine/2007/0
  • Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2011) Minding
    Movies Observations on the Art, Craft, and
    Business of Filmmaking. Chicago University of
    Chicago Press. Visit their website and blog at
  • Bosley, R.K. (2012) Creative Conspiracies. In
    American Cinematographer, November 2012, 52-65.
  • Carroll, Nöel (1996) Theorizing the Moving Image.
    Cambridge Cambridge University Press.
  • Jenkins, T. (2012) The CIA in Hollywood How the
    Agency Shapes Film and Television. University of
    Texas Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Mendez, A. and Baglio, M. (2012) Argo How the
    CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious
    Rescue in History. London Penguin.
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