This week on our VCE Media revision blog, I wanted to travel back all the way to the beginnings of Unit 3, where you would have learnt about two really important terms - codes and conventions. In the Narrative and Ideology unit of Media, codes and conventions are everything; we use them in almost all of our exam answers, they help to convey ideologies in media texts, and they help us to understand the media narratives we’ve chosen to analyse. In saying this, I think it’s super important to have a great memory and understanding of codes and conventions. In my experience, the easiest way to memorise these terms is through the acronyms CAMELS (codes) and COPMESS (conventions). Lots of Victorian schools tend to teach these acronyms, but if you’re not familiar with them that’s totally fine because I’m about to summarise them here:
CAMELS - for Codes
C - Camera Techniques. This includes how the camera moves, how the camera is framed and what kind of shot the director has chosen
A - Acting. This includes how actors carry out their performances, through gestures, movement, tone of voice and facial expressions.
M - Mise-en-scene. French for ‘everything in the frame.’ This sounds very broad, but mise-en-scene usually refers to things like props, costumes, sets and the inclusion of colour.
E - Editing. How the film is cut together. Making note of all the different transitions used in a scene, the pace of editing, and any other editing techniques.
L - Lighting. Light is often manipulated by directors to create certain moods, either by making lighting seem natural or more abstract. We can make note of the sources, the brightness, the colour/warmth and the direction of lighting, and also look at the presence of shadows.
S - Sound. Includes everything we can hear in the film - music, sound effects, dialogue. We should always look at whether the sound is diegetic (in-movie, the characters CAN hear it) or non-diegetic (the characters CANNOT hear it).
COPMESS - for Conventions
C - Cause and effect. The main driving force of a narrative, as events in the film are carried by cause (action) and effect (consequence). We get to see how characters react to new situations and events.
O - Opening, development and resolution. We can often look at how characters, moods or situations evolve over these three stages of a film. Comparing how codes and conventions are used in opening versus closing sequences can score really high marks.
P - Point of view. Whose point of view are we being shown in a particular film sequence? How does this contribute to what information we are told, and how engaged we are in the film?
M - Multiple storylines. Almost every modern linear narrative film has multiple storylines. In Avengers: Endgame, each Avenger goes off on their own adventure at the same time to collect an Infinity Stone. The interrelation and tensions caused by all these events happening at once can cause tension and engagement.
E - Establishment and development of characters. Character is the important word here. Characters grow and change over the course of a film, and their introduction and development is a source of meaning-making and engagement.
S - Setting. The place/s where a narrative takes place. Settings can hold specific meanings or moods which are implicitly understood by audiences, such as a dark, scary forest or a sunny beach.
S - Structuring of time. When we watch a film, it often takes the events of a day/week/year and condenses them into a 2-hour package. This is done through structuring of time. Films can also show events out of chronological order - showing the ending at the very beginning of a film, cutting away to a flashback, etc. These are all conscious decisions by the director, and often hold a lot of meaning to the narrative structure.
So, there’s a lot to remember there, but I seriously cannot understate how useful it is to memorise these acronyms. In my exam, there was a question I had never practiced before in my study, and it totally threw me off - I couldn’t think of any examples I had used before. Instead, I had to rely on my memory of codes and conventions to come up with a new example from my film The Sixth Sense (1999), dir. M. Night Shyamalan. Knowing all your codes and conventions lets your brain focus more on phrasing a strong answer, rather than stressing because you can’t describe something you know from the film.
In saying this, I also HIGHLY recommend preparing some examples of codes and conventions before your exam. Every Media exam will have a question that says something like:
‘How do codes and conventions help to (create meaning/create tension/convey ideology) in one of your narratives?’
Every. Time. So you can prepare for this by having a few really strong examples ready to go.
My other big suggestion, one which really helped me excel in Media, is to combine examples of codes and conventions. Looking at CAMELS and COPMESS, we can see that all these elements are already linked. Here’s an example:
We perceive that a film sequence in a horror film is being shown from the point of view of a scared young woman. Sitting in her point of view creates tension because we feel like we are sitting in her shoes/experiencing her terror. We feel this because a point-of view shot (camera techniques) is used, where the camera shakily moves to open a door to try and escape a house.
In this example, point of view and camera techniques are being used at the same time, to create one big effect. Showing that you understand this effect is a really sophisticated way of answering questions, and always helped me to achieve high marks.
One last thing I wanted to mention is our Rule of Three - this can make your codes and conventions sound even better. The main idea here is not just to name a code, like acting, but instead mention specific elements of acting. Quick example:
Average answer: In this sequence, the actor’s acting showed that they were scared, which created engagement by making the audience feel scared as well.
Great answer: In this sequence, the actor was shivering and hunched over as they cautiously walked through the hallway, indicating they were frightened. This fear was also shown through their extremely wide eyes and the fact that they whispered to themselves. This increased tension by leading the audience to expect a ‘jumpscare’ moment of intense fear.
That’s all the advice I have for this week! Enjoy the rest of your school holidays, and I’ll be back next week with more Media tips.
Have a question?
In the final weeks before exams Stefan will be hosting 2 Live Q&A sessions to help everyone get fully prepared for exams. If you have a question on how to best get prepared, have been stuck on an exam question or want to clarify an area of content send it through here, and Stefan might answer it live!