Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Examiner's report - June 2009 - Dr Who - Representation of gender

G322 Key Media Concepts (TV Drama) 

Overall, this was an examination session, with a wide range of candidate responses, with evidence of excellent candidate responses in analysis and understanding of the question set in response to television drama and the representation of gender and for question two, on ‘how important is technological convergence’. The candidates appeared to have enjoyed responding to the TV drama extract and some very full answers were marked in this session. The session was also characterised by a number of brief or incomplete responses by candidates.

For question one, the majority of candidates addressed the technical features of camera shot, angle and composition, and mise en scène well, with some fluency at times and there was noted improvement from January’s session in the candidates’ address of editing and sound. There was plenty of evidence of candidates being able to reach the higher end of the marks available and candidates, where needed, were awarded full or nearly full marks for their responses. 

As indicated by the mark scheme for this exam paper, the use of media vocabulary is a very important part of the exam at AS level. The mark scheme and syllabi clearly stipulate that a number of marks are available for the use of terminology. Good practice suggests that candidates should be keeping a vocabulary list of technical language for both questions. At times, in question one there was an absence of vocabulary in some candidates’ answers and some common misconceptions or misapplied camera shots and angles, for example, there was some evident confusion with the use of low/high angle shots in analysis of the extract. On page eighteen of the specification there is a list of the key terminology used in relation to analysis of the technical features of television drama. It is advisable that centres ensure coverage of these in preparation of the candidates in the exam; likewise for candidates embarking on the analysis of radio drama this key vocabulary list can be found on page twenty four of the specification.

Comments on candidate’s responses to Question 1 – Television Drama

There was plenty of evidence that the question set on gender and representation and the extract Doctor Who achieved the desired differentiation of candidate responses. The extract was approximately five minutes in length and enabled the candidates to engage with the key skill of textual analysis using the four technical features: Camera shot, angle and composition, mise en scène, editing and sound. Of these technical area’s, camera work and mise en scène were by far the most comfortable concepts the candidates addressed, with editing and sound the least, despite many improved attempts to address these technical features. Candidates responses, which did not link technical analysis to gender representation often lacked focus in their answers on how gender, was constructed through the technical features of the extract.

Candidates structured their responses in a number of ways for question one. Some began by addressing the concept of representation in the extract and a discussion of the representational differences between The Master the challenging stereotype of Martha Jones and contrasted this with the Doctor and other characters in the extract. Or on the other hand, the candidates would address the technical areas one by one.

Stronger candidates could provide an integrated analysis of the extract through analysis of key examples identified. These candidates explored how the technical features could be applied using a combination of the technical features, for example, in discussion of the argument that takes place between the Master and Martha. Stronger candidates could then place this sequence of conflict in its mise en scène (the spaceship, with reference to cross cutting to the flashback sequence on Earth), through the use of shot reverse shot (and editing) between Martha and the Master, camera types used and through the analysis of sound also discuss the Master’s emasculation of power and authority. Weaker candidates could list many technical aspects, with varying degrees of accuracy, but struggle to say anything meaningful about the representation of gender.

Either of these approaches to the structure of question one is advisable and centres need to plan and help structure the candidate’s responses in the classroom. It is advised against preparing candidates to word a long and lengthy introduction about what they are going to answer, or give theoretical introductions and/or historical contexts to television drama. Question one does not require a discussion of the generic qualities of the television drama.

It is also important that candidates move from description of key technical areas to analysis of how representations are constructed. This will enable candidates to achieve higher notional marks for their responses and avoid sets of basic answers, which on occasion in this session offered quite general textual analysis. These types of responses lacked focused discussion of the representation of gender.

On the whole the use of media vocabulary was very good, but could centres please note that there are up to 10 marks available for the use of media terminology – hence the previous recommendation that candidates should be encouraged to use the appropriate media terminology. Good advice for centres is to encourage candidates to keep vocabulary lists. There were a significant number of candidates who still adopted an overly simplistic approach – centres need to encourage candidates to use appropriate technical language for precision in analysis and to make sure that they avoid superficial terms like cameras 'switching' or 'jumping', and know the difference between zooms and tracking or avoid describing characters as 'goodies' and 'baddies'.
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This mark scheme is more able to credit answers, which have different strengths, and this session, the marking of candidates’ papers revealed the flexibility in its application, according to the standards set. It is advisable that centres make the mark scheme available to candidates for the next exam session so that they are aware of how the work is assessed. This could also be used for the marking of timed assignments in the classroom and for the marking of mock exam papers. Finally it is important that candidates address a balance in their responses to all the technical features used in the extract to construct meaning, at times some candidates would focus too much on specific ‘micro’ aspect of the television drama, for example writing a whole side on the use of mise en scène.

Comments on the ‘micro’ aspects of Question one on Television Drama
The following comments are selected examples points and for use as examples to assist centres with the delivery of the topic and to help advise on candidates’ answers, it is by no means an exhaustive list.

Camera Shot, Angle and Composition
This technical feature was well addressed by the candidates overall. Most candidates had a media vocabulary, which addressed the technical features of television drama. Where candidates used the correct terminology and could describe shot composition, this on the whole was well done. Weaker candidates were able to describe key shots used in exemplification, but would often lack explicit links to how these shots assisted in the construction of the representation of age. As with the January 2009 session, please be aware that terms ‘insert’ shots and ‘wide’ shots and the ‘tilt’ shot and ‘jump’ shot are common misconceptions/ vocabulary used by candidates. Many candidates argued how shot construction represented the juxtaposition of power between the antagonist and protagonist in the extract. It would have been encouraging to see a wider range of examples of shot sizes and camera movement referenced in relation to a sequence's representations.

Mise en scène
This technical aspect was by far the most comfortable used by the candidates. There was plenty of evidence of candidates’ discussion of clothing and props, visual iconography and character, for example the power and authority at the beginning of the sequence of the Master, dressed in formal attire, who exerts his authority and domination in his body language expression and speech. More able candidates would be able to contrast the gender representation of different characters through the mise en scène and how the roles of the different characters changed, for example, how Martha Jones becomes a symbolic messenger and on more than one occasion the team of examiners noted that there was some excellent analysis of the mise en scène focused on hierarchies and power.

Setting, although a little more problematic for some, was used well in discussion of the range of representations of gender used in the extract. More able candidates would move beyond description and use the technical features of mise en scène in order to discuss the signification of the representation of gender. For example, candidates analysed important moments in the extract when the Master’s empire and power was represented by the spacecraft and reference to the silver orbs in space, juxtaposed with cutaway’s to the missile silo, as representative of the Master’s domination. This represents the degree of sophistication in some candidate’s responses and there were a vast range of interpretations of the text by candidates.

Candidates were able to account for costume and props as key elements in mise en scène, though many are still wedded to deterministic colour analysis, which is misleading and naïve, for example, “the female character's dress is red which is a signifier of danger". The aspect least discussed of mise en scène was lighting, which was often commented upon without adequate analysis, for example the lighting was dark and the character of the Master was therefore evil. Special effects were often commented upon, quite legitimately in the discussion of the representation of gender to varying degrees of success.

There was some improvement in the discussion of sound since January’s session, although there was still plenty of evidence of candidates omitting or offering minimal discussion of sound from the textual analysis. Whilst there was some excellent reference to how sound assisted in the understanding of the construction of gender, for example, in discussion of synchronous/ non synchronous sound in relation to the ticking clock as a symbolic omnipresence of the Master’s power.

However, candidates often discussed this technical feature with some limitations, with some focusing solely on the use of dialogue between two characters. Candidates did also relate the use of non-diegetic sound to the triumphant victory of the Doctor over the Master at the end of the sequence. The use of non-diegetic sound to emphasise Martha’s role as a messenger was often commented upon, as was the reference to the ‘spaghetti western’ music at the beginning of the extract as a signpost for the showdown that was about to commence. The ‘spaghetti western’ feel of the initial music was signposted by candidates because they felt as though Martha was heading towards her doom.

Often weaker candidates showed confusion with technical terminology, referring to ambient sound which was not shown in the part of the sequence they referred to, or simply getting diegetic and non-diegetic sound the wrong way round. The analysis of sound is more than just dialogue and weaker candidate responses may interpret the soundtrack/use of music in too general analysis. Centres should also consider more carefully the role that sound effects have in the construction of meaning, particularly in relation to the diegetic reality of the drama. It is advised that centres do cover the technical features of sound thoroughly in order to give candidates an opportunity to fully engage with the analysis of the extract.

As with the January 2009 session, this technical area proved to be the most problematic for candidates and the one technical area of analysis that was often omitted in candidate’s answers.
Most candidates who addressed editing were able to address the type of transitions used and could comment on the pace of the editing. Indeed most candidates would recognise the use of the flashback, as an elliptical device in the narration of the story and this technical element was the most common discussed in candidates’ answers. Weaker candidates often omitted any discussion of editing or offered quite simplistic accounts of how editing was used, for example in the use of the shot reverse shot sequence between the Master and Martha.

More able candidates could analyse technical issues of editing by way of analysis of the ellipsis, accounting for how the extract collapsed a series of events, for example, in explaining the narrative to represent Martha as the messenger and helper who communicates the need to save the world. Candidates were able to comment on pacing and the use of continuity, most often through the shot reverse shot compositions in the extract and some through the use of sound as well. These candidates cleverly discussed how soundbridges were constructed through the use of non-diegetic music in the representation of gender, for example, the orchestral and triumphant mood music representing the power of the Master.

Overall candidate’s analysis of editing was satisfactory but, many candidates ignored this area completely or dealt with it in a perfunctory fashion. Very few candidates seemed willing or able to link editing to representation by, for example, showing how the editing created particular viewpoints which we are encouraged to identify with or how screen time indicated the shifting relationship between protagonists and antagonist in the sequence. With the right preparation, candidates can engage with the nuances of editing under exam conditions, with evidence that they could discuss crosscutting, eye line match and ellipsis in the extract. The lesser able candidates would refer simply to the continuity of the extract without reference to any of the technical aspects expected of them to use.
As in the last examiner’s report, the advice offered to centres is to encourage as much practice on the concept of editing as possible and how this assists in the construction of representation. Again begin with identifying the techniques and encourage students to apply these to a range of examples in class and importantly, test them on this. A balanced and high level notional mark requires all the technical features to be addressed in the candidate’s answer.

The candidates appear to have enjoyed the discussion of representation in this extract. There were a wide range of interpretations offered by the candidates, but the dominant reading of the text focused on the male as powerful and the female as dominated, to more sophisticated readings of gender representations, including how the representation of Martha’s character changed and gender stereotypes changed. The most sophisticated responses could argue that a range of gender representations had been used and provided a full range of exemplification.
This key media concept was either addressed at the beginning of the candidates’ answers or at the end. Candidates were able to relate the representation of a variety of gender groups closely to the textual elements of the extract. There was some solid analysis of gender and how it can be stereotyped in a variety of ways: female emotionality; male authority; changing shift of power between genders in the extract and other sensibly reasoned representations, such as men as users of force/ violence as opposed to women as unifiers/ action with words.

Some good examples in the candidates’ responses included: Martha, as a messenger was empowering in overcoming the Master, the Master was represented as dominant and all powerful, but by the end of the extract, defeated by the male Doctor, the Doctor was initially represented as feeble and emasculated in the bird cage, but the transformation of the Doctor by the end of the extract and through analysis of the mise en scène (lighting and special effects) is the dominant all powerful male. More perceptive candidates could illustrate the Master’s wife as a trophy, the Doctor as saviour and Martha as the helper.

There was throughout candidates’ answers good discussion of stereotypes, particularly around the challenge of expected stereotypes in the text, through the character of Martha Jones. Weaker candidates failed to focus on the representation of gender, limiting their analysis to relating everything to power with oppositions – men as superior in antithesis to women as inferior or the technical textual analysis failed to explain how gender representations were constructed. 

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