Which Genre??…

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Media

To help me with establishing the genre of my trailer when filming (I know I’m doing a big revenge theme in my trailer’s plot but Thriller is my main genre and so is my main focus in this particular task), I thought I’d show 3 different audience members a clip from a thriller film and see what their initial reactions were. I then gave them a few questions to answer so I could see if they could tell what the genre of the clip was and find out what aspects of the clip lead them to their conclusions…

Thriller

Chosen clip- ‘The Green Mile’- Dead Man Walking

For this process I chose a  clip from the thriller film ‘The Green Mile’ of which I chose because I have analysed both the trailer and film itself, plus the fact that personally, it is one of my favourite films.

Below is a clip from the film when it is just about at the equilibrium (well it can be argued to be) as this is when the film goes into the flashback which is where most of the film itself takes place. This clip in particular shows the arrival of the important character of John Coffey to the Green Mile as well as establishing other main characters such as Paul Edgecomb, Brutus ‘Brutal’ Howell and Percy Wetmore.

I asked the audience members to watch from the very beginning of the video until about 5:35 (Or when Percy leaves the block in other words…)

(Oh and I’m sorry about the subtitles that constantly run at the bottom of the screen in some kind of strange language but YouTube deleted the clip I had wanted to use initially so I had to find a quick alternative to show to audience members)

And here’s what they said…

Q- Firstly, can you make an estimated guess at what genre the film is just from watching this clip? How?

Audience member no.1- ‘Well I think it seems like it will be a thriller film. You can tell because of the really slow pace the clip has and how it makes the audience tense. I also think the fact that the film appears to be set in a prison and it’s characters are guards/prisoners that seems like something you’re more likely to see in a thriller film than any other else because you know the film will about murder in some way or another.’

Audience member no.2-‘Thriller-because of the prisoners and the guards who seem to be the main characters of the film. I also think it has quite a dark mood, which thrillers seem to have, which is mostly due to Percy constantly shouting ‘Dead man walking!’ throughout most of the clip and this being repeated over and over really makes it seem sinister.’

Audience member no.3- ‘Thriller/drama- mostly because of the whole ‘prison’ theme but my reason for saying drama aswell is because it has a kind of sad atmosphere to it. It doesn’t look like it will be a nice film at all- there are character conflicts between the little guard (Percy) and the other guards (Brutal and Paul) and also between the little guard (Percy again) and the prisoner he hits in quite a nasty manner (Delacroix). The music also makes it sound like a drama too- it is quite dark and tragic music, telling us the film will be upsetting.’

What does this tell me??

Before I begin analysing what they have said about the genre I’d like to say I agree with each of them entirely- mostly because they based their assumptions on things that I also picked up on and tended to be ‘conventions’ of the thriller genre (hence how they all associated the correct genre with the clip). What I personally thought revealed the genre of the clip to the audience were the following- 

The constant conflicts (or hint to conflict happening later on in the film) between various characters in the clip. I’m glad at least one audience member stated this to be a reason they thought the clip fell into the category of the thriller genre because I agree with this entirely and believe it to be true. Ok, obviously every film, no matter the genre, is going to have some conflict between the characters in some way or another, so I can see where my argument could lose its strength. But my argument is that, like audience member no.3, I think that the kind of conflict that is insinuated or shown in the clip from ‘The Green Mile’ is dark and very intense- like a fight/argument is just about ready to go off and that characters are likely to snap. And overall this makes the audience expect later on in the film, for one or more of the characters to snap due to these established conflicts and this could lead to disastrous results. For example, we already have an established conflict between characters (quite literally) with Delacroix and Percy in the clip. We see Delacroix grin at Percy being sent away to do a different job he’d rather not do, and when Percy sees that Delacroix is in delight at his misfortune, he snaps and lashes out by smashing Delacroix’s fingers with his baton. And this violent act not only establishes that the characters of Percy and Delacroix have a bad and conflicting relationship but also, as I said before, implies the thriller genre- the audience can guess as the film plays on, this relationship will only get worse and the violent act alone is more conventional of a thriller genre than any other (Too violent for a comedy, not violent enough for a horror…etc…).

Mystery I also thought was very useful in this clip for establishing the genre of thriller (Ok, I was bit disappointed that none of the audience members picked this up but I can’t ask for everything). Well the clip was full of so-called mystery ‘devices’ that were conveyed mostly through either sound or camerawork. Firstly, with sound, I thought its lack of actual dialogue was quite useful to portray the film’s mysterious feel and therefore establish the thriller genre. For example, at the beginning of the clip what the characters actually do say is still limited so that not a lot about the film is given away- making the audience tense about just where the story is going and what is actually happening. The best example I think coming from Brutus when he has a very limited conversation on the phone:

Brutus (picking up the phone): ‘E block.’ *pause* ‘Yeah…’ *pause* ‘Right…’ (Puts phone down)

And it is this kind of dialogue that deliberately makes the scene tense and mysterious- there are no details given to the audience about what is really going on- they don’t know who Brutus is, who he’s on the phone to, or what his conversation was even about, because the short and simple replies we heard can tell us absolutely nothing about what is going on. So therefore it conveys mystery- as the audience doesn’t know any details of what is happening and has to watch on to find out. This can also make the audience every tense as they know something (and probably something important) is occurring but they don’t know what, and both mystery and tension are repeatedly seen in films of the thriller genre. Camerawork I thought perhaps even more useful. Most of the mystery in the scene was conveyed by extreme close-ups and reaction shots, the most clever ones being seen when John Coffey arrives in the clip. For example, we have various extreme close-ups of Coffey’s chained feet as he walks to E block and then down the Green Mile itself. This conveys mystery to the audience as we know the character will be important but we cannot see their true identity yet, thus, like many thrillers, the clip builds tension as to who the character is and how he’ll affect the narrative. What is also useful is how we see a lot of reaction shots from the other characters as they look at this character (from Brutus, Dean, Paul, Arlen and Delacroix) and this hypes up the tension in the audience even more- as they can see how the characters are re-acting to arrival of this character (astounded, shocked and a little scared I’d say from their expressions) and we obviously want to know who this character is and why the characters are reacting in the way they are.

The occupations and types of character that were established/introduced- although this doesn’t help me in my own thriller trailer as such (as I can’t exactly get a prison location or authentic police uniforms all by myself…) I had to agree that the fact that the film was located in a prison and the main characters seemed to be guards and the prisoners they watch over this seems like something that would make you judge the film to be a thriller (which is what pretty much all of the audience members said). It’s probably to do with the fact that crime is a big convention of the thriller genre so when audience members see a prison/guards/prisoners they naturally think of crime and make presumptions that the film itself will deal with this theme. And thrillers are more likely than most genres to deal with this theme so I think it is a good enough judgement to say that the occupations of the characters and the main location of the film helps categorize the clip into the thriller genre. 

Also, what I thought was a very good point from audience member no.2 was the fact that Percy is constantly shouting the words ‘Dead man walking! We have a dead man walking here!’ etc etc and as well as being irritating, this is somewhat ominous. It connotes death and darkness within the film and the strange fact that we have yet to see the character he is leading (Coffey) properly for the first time, yet we already know from Percy’s persistent chanting that he is destined for death. This in itself is quite dark, and the question left unanswered of why Percy is saying this and if it is indeed true also insinuates the thriller genre (due to the mystery surrounding Percy’s sinister shouts).

And lastly, but certainly not least, the extremely slow pace of this clip (which audience member no.1 cleverly picked up on) also suggests it is from a film that is a thriller. The clip’s slow pace makes the audience’s tension about all the different conflicts going on in this scene (Who is this new character? How will he affect the plot? Why does Percy act so violently towards Delacroix? What kind of relationship does Percy have with Paul and Brutus? etc etc)  build and build until it’s just about ready to explode. It also makes the audience think that the film will be very tense, as if we only have a slow pace throughout it, our tension builds no matter whether we think something is coming round the corner or not.

Q- How did the clip make you feel overall? Did this help establish the genre?

Audience member no.1- ‘Well strangely it made me feel very interested. I think it’s because the clip just really leaves so many things a mystery that I’m left wanting to know more- like I want to know whether the horrible guard (Percy) gets what he deserves and who the new inmate is and what he has done to be sent to prison(John Coffey). I think it may have helped establish the thriller genre as I usually think of thrillers as being mysterious and this clip definitely was as it left lots of things left untold…’

Audience member no.2- ‘Extremely tense. Like a spring all wound up so tight it’ll break. I don’t know why but all the characters conflicting, this new character coming in, Percy constantly yelling out his ‘dead man walking’ thing, the music, all of these things occurring at the same time just makes the clip so intense and it makes me expect something very bad is about to happen. I think this could help show a thriller genre of film because some thrillers are very tense as we never know what to expect from them (Like in the Sixth Sense for example)’

Audience member no.3-‘Sad, but strangely compelled. I don’t know why but the clip struck me as rather sad in a way- just that there is an inkling to horrible things that have happened/will happen later on in the film. The music especially makes me feel sad when I watch the clip. But it is from this sadness I feel compelled to watch on as I sympathize with the characters and want to know what will happen to them.’

What does this tell me??…

Interestingly an array of different feelings conjured up here. Again I agree with all of them and I also agree with their reasons as to how they thought these feelings help establish the thriller genre to them. I am going to explain each feeling the audience member described and why I think they felt this, and how it will be useful knowledge for me in particular when I come to make my thriller trailer:

Audience member no.2 discussed how the clip made them feel tense because of all the different conflicts happening in the scene all at the same time. This tells me that if there is a certain amount of tension between the characters, this is likely to affect the audience’s mood also and make them feel tense themselves. Thus they will connect better with the film and the characters themselves as they, in the short run, are being literally put into the character’s shoes. It is also a good idea to state that a good way to establish tension in film is to do as the clip does- use dialogue repeated over and over (Percy’s constant shouts) that will eat at the protagonist’s as well as the audience, especially if this piece of dialogue hits home with them or is quite horrible/sinister anyway.

I thought that sympathy (explained by audience member no.3) is equally an important or useful feeling to evoke in the audience. Like the audience member said, as the clip makes them sympathize with the characters (Like Del for having his fingers smashed to a pulp, or for Paul and his terrible unin*ry infection) this can naturally make the audience want to watch on. Seeing the characters in bad states such as this makes us connect with them and we want to watch on to see whether their state improves and how they overcome it (if they eventually do). Also, feeling sad while watching the clip does make us tense in a way, as we feel dread that something terrible is going to happen later on and we want to know what.

Interest is a feeling I always thought was good for audience members to have after watching an extract from anything ( no matter whether it’s  TV series, film or radio show) as we, the creators of these products, want them to be interested so that they’ll feel like they HAVE to watch on to see what happens next, and if this were not achieved then the product, whatever it may be, has obviously not been a success. The audience has to be compelled to watch on, to feel like they really HAVE to or they’ll miss out- and thrillers do this mostly with their ‘mysterious ways’.

Lastly, all of the audience members confirmed they thought that what they felt while/after watching the clip helped them to define the clip to be from a thriller film- why?- well audience member no.1 said they were left interested and compelled to watch on and audience member no.2 spoke about being tense- and both of these feelings lead to thrillers because films of this genre are well known to have elements of mystery (mostly conveyed through questions raised and left unanswered). Therefore, with this mystery, there is more tension created in these thriller films as to what is going to happen next, and this naturally makes people tense and eager to watch on so they can find out more. Lastly, audience member no.3 spoke about the sympathy and sadness they felt while watching the clip- this implies a thriller because the genre is well-known to have very tragic and upsetting themes as well as usually not having the traditional ‘happy’ endings or restorations of the equilibrium (like in ‘Se7en‘ and ‘Sweeney Todd’). I also think you can think of a thriller if the clip makes you sympathize with the characters, as protagonists’ in this genre especially seem to be extremely troubled individuals and sometimes put through the most horrific and brutal things (Like in ‘Dead Man’s Shoe’s’ and ‘Law Abiding Citizen’)which initially makes you want to watch on and see if their circumstances change and how.

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