Polished but Not Finished

This blog post is dedicated to my Eportfolio that while is not finished, is ready to be seen. The website features a landing page of downtown Des Moines, Iowa, where I interned this past summer. Throughout the website, one can find my works of trying to summarize the experience in three separate genre experiments, each producing a new perspective than the others. It was through these experimentations that I learned how much one mode of communication can vary from another. While my immersive journalism piece offered a detailed look into the office of a company, a short film screenplay was able to show audiences information that would have been potentially rude to write about.

This semester has offered me a chance to explore my own summer experience by interacting with different genres and mediums of expression. Each afforded me the ability to tell the story in a powerful way due to the conventions of that genre. They also, however, limited my message in some way due to the very same reason. This push and pull situation forced me as a writer (and reader) to consider in depth the rhetorical choices I made when experimenting.

Take a look at my website if you get a chance. I would like to personally thank whatever database gave me the old pictures of Des Moines through Google images.

https://cmilne11.wixsite.com/gatewayeportfolio

 

Writer to Writer: Howard Markel

On Tuesday, November 21st, I attended the Writer to Writer Series featuring the accomplished medical history writer, Howard Markel. The event, moderated by the brilliant, feared Shelley Manis, began with an introduction of Howard Markel, followed by a series of questions on his current work and writing processes. The event ended with a few rapid fire questions (which writers would you like to bring to a writing retreat?, etc.) and a Q/A session with the audience.

Howard Markel is downright impressive. Next to him, calling myself a writer doesn’t feel appropriate. After majoring in English as an undergraduate, he went on to receive an M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School and then a Ph.D. at the John Hopkins University. Beyond the 10+ years in school, his writing accomplishments include self-authoring or coauthoring ten books, 12 years of writing for the New York Times, monthly medical history writings for NPR and the American Journal of Public Health. On top of his “1000 words” he writes daily, he teaches at the University of Michigan. Fun fact, as a teenager, he was paid $5 per joke he wrote for The Detroit News.

He had much to say on the topic of today’s writers and what it means to be a flexible rhetor. Howard prefers to complete his daily writing in his pajamas whilst listening to Mozart– Beethoven is “too intellectual.” When asked what’s wrong with today’s writing, he mentioned the need writers feel to solicit themselves in their work. Respectfully, I disagree Howard, but that’s irrelevant. At the end of the session, he made a statement that made the entire event worthwhile…”Regardless of how bad the times are or how frustrated we are with something, we have the opportunity to write about it.” This statement deserves its own space on a plaque or maybe a feature on some avant garde film. Either way, I’m skeptical that he was the first one to say it.

Howard was delightful to listen to and seemed to understand his audience perfectly–a learning objective for the minor in writing students. He discussed his experiences of writing for an audience of nine people versus a million. The audience he writes for shapes the genre and style of writing he produces. Howard’s consciousness of his own writing lends itself to a variety of intended outcomes that other writers may never achieve.

An Ode to The Office

The Proposal: Short Film Mockumentaries

Social media content is becoming increasingly more visual in today’s world. I scrolled down my Facebook timeline today and those lengthy blog posts that were more prevalent a few years ago have been replaced with videos and photos. The content we see on social media is a direct response to how people want their information and the formats that are effective in conveying information. Why read an article when you can look at an infographic or watch a commentary on an event and gain the same information quicker? When we passively take in information, visual channels seem to be the most effective in underscoring the intended message. For my third experiment, I will write a script for a short film mockumentary on a day in the life of Dull, Inc. To placate the masses, I need to transform the original piece into a genre that will utilize specific elements of film to connect with audiences.

The rhetorical situation is an internship experience in Des Moines, Iowa, working for a multifamily real estate management company. The experience was filled with plenty of frustrations, comical observations and important takeaways for myself that I have decided to explore through writing experiments.

The rhetorical purpose for my short film is to give my audiences a perspective on the topic that they wouldn’t otherwise understand had the short film been replaced by another format. Because the purpose of film is to capitalize on the specific elements afforded by visual storytelling that enhance a story in ways that traditional writing cannot, my short film will take full advantage of the surroundings, context, and other visual information that could be better shown than described to display the frustration of feeling out of context.

The primary audience for my short film mockumentary will be employers, bosses, leaders and other authoritative figures in work environments that have the power to affect change. Invoked audiences can be the employees that feel trapped or unsatisfied, interns that have dealt with similar experiences or teenagers curious about what it means to work in a typical office.

The conversation I’m hoping to join is on office life and the frustrations of the underutilized worker. A short film mockumentary done right could be the doorway for pulling many others into the conversation that grow stronger with size. With the right momentum, the authoritative figures in offices, companies and work environments can be shown a perspective outside of their own on a culture they are responsible for. If I can connect with others on those frustrations of office life and sway them to view something about their own work, the potential for change will have increased tenfold.

How to Write a Short Film Mockumentary

An introduction to the short film script.

Image result for in a heartbeat

The short film is particularly effective for telling stories because of its brevity and ability to convey a message. In a matter of minutes, a short film can engage any viewer emotionally through a compelling story that has established stakes, conflict to be resolved and internal or external dilemmas. They serve as the perfect vehicle for demonstrating an idea or concept to audiences in an entertaining format because visual storytelling has the power to convey emotion, which is highly effective in educating audiences on concepts. Rather than write an article on the courage taken by gay teenageers that come out to their friends and peers, a short film could capture every moment of emotion in their journey can give audiences the opportunity to empathize and understand with a foreign concept (In a Heartbeat – Animated Short Film). Below are some requirements for the short film mockumentary.

1. Short Film means Short
At most, short films can be 50 minutes as determine by the Sundance Film Festival. The rule of thumb for screenwriting is the amount of pages will be the length in time of the film. Thus, screenwriters typically cap their screenplays at 120 pages because it reads as a two hour film. Shorter is better when creating short films for the sake of mathematics. If a festival is forced to choose between two ten minute short films in place of a twenty minute short film for programming, they will opt for the two shorter films (No Film School).

Image result for the office gifs

2. Brevity and Density
The short film only has minutes to convey the intended message and therefore the filmmaker has to quickly establish goals or stakes that help to develop the character(s) and keep the audience interested. If a twenty minute short film can be condensed into a ten minute short film, the filmmaker should proceed to cut out anything that isn’t vital for the story or the intended impact. This is one of the major drawbacks of short films because it is so challenging to cut irrelevant moments or Because short films have the reputation of addressing the point quickly, audiences allow themselves to be pulled in knowing it will be over soon unlike longer films that discourage viewers for their lengthy run times. Viewers know that a point will be made, a goal will be achieved, an internal conflict solved or some other problem fixed in a matter of minutes and thus they are willing to stick with it longer.

2. The Mockumentary
I spent a lot of time watching The Office to better understand this genre. The tv show aired on NBC and won several Emmy’s for its writing, serving as the example for all sitcoms and mockumentary style films. The show portrays a typical office and its employees in their daily lives, but pairs this with endless comedy that becomes addicting to watch. While the show is not classified as a mockumentary, there are elements of the of the documentary-style sitcom that closely resemble a mockumentary.

Image result for dwight gifs

A mockumentary can be defined as a motion picture or television program that takes the form of a serious documentary in order to satirize its subject (Wikipedia). The Office’s unique approach consists intercutting between scenes that display real-time events occuring and interview scenes giving their opinions in hindsight that affords the filmmaker the opportunity to create an entertaining narrative effective for comedic purposes. What’s specific to a documentary or mockumentary are the way scenes are composed through camera angles. The Office pairs scenes of objective shots (observing a scene from the outside) in which the camera appears to be hidden with interviews where characters break the fourth wall by speaking directly to a camera. A motion picture that is classified as a mockumentary will consist of these types of scenes.

3. A Specific Type of Comedy: Satire
The Office appeals to mass audiences because of their specific approach to humor. When asked how the show’s writer, Brent Forrester, approaches each episode, he responded saying “silly isn’t funny” (Vanity Fair). He went on to discuss how the real funny stuff comes from tragedy, but there exists a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Some stuff is inappropriate to be laughing at but “stuff that’s a little bit difficult–that’s where humor really lies.” A mockumentary lands well when it pokes fun at some aspect of culture or society where a deeper flaw lies beneath the surface–this is satirical humor.

Image result for the office gifs

Satire can be defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices (Wikipedia). When a motion picture appears to be taking whatever issue that’s at stake unseriously, the audience naturally leans forward in their seats, curious to why they are ‘mocking’ the problem. Consequently, the mockumentary is successful because its humor is effective in pointing that flaw out to the audience.

 

A Proposal and Guide for Writing Immersive Journalism like David Foster Wallace

My high school english classes were the most interesting classes in my IB program. This was largely due to some awakening I experienced in writing and reading thanks to a man known as David Foster Wallace. Our first assignment was to analyze and comment on the choices made by the writer David Foster Wallace in his essay “Consider the Lobster.” In his article, DFW shared his experiences of attending the annual Maine Lobster Festival that included observations of its attendees, a history of lobster catching, and a philosophical exploration of whether lobsters feel pain when being boiled alive. It may seem underwhelming but his writing is addictive.

DFW reflecting on his intelligence in all matters unrelated to fashion

DFW has written many articles over his lifetime for small magazine publications or news media websites, but unlike other writers, DFW’s work stands head and shoulders above his peers for its ingenuity and brilliance. Not only does he engage mundane topics in ways that are disruptive to how we view things, he does so while unapologetically bashing their existence and succeeding in leading us as readers to question it too. Reading his work opened my eyes to a style of writing that felt scandalous relative to the academic writing I had been familiar with prior to the class. He engages topics that are overlooked or under considered in ways that are endlessly entertaining–leading me to want to emulate this approach to immersive journalism.

Immersive journalism is the appropriate genre for someone who wants to write about their experiences in their summer internship working real-estate finance in Des Moine, Iowa. I currently possess a list of observations and opinions that are begging to be written for audiences that can emphasize with my trauma of corporate boredom. Immersive journalism is a form of news reporting or in my case, informative writing, that’s written by someone who has experienced that subject matter personally. Because the topic of my writing will be on the mind-numbingly boring life of Iowa real estate finance, a style of writing similar to DFW’s will help me entertain my audiences while informing them of what that life is like.

Immersive journalism will allow me to be effective in sharing my experiences for a few reasons. It’s affords me the opportunity to foster empathy in my audience by sharing personal experiences as opposed to a commentary on office life from someone on the outside looking in. Because I am joining several conversations on corporate life, Iowa life, intern life, and boredom life, immersive journalism will allow me to serve the purpose of my genre: to inform while entertaining. I mention entertain because this is not some article on sex trafficking in Nigeria. I am going to attack the boredom of working in Iowa for a company with an average employee age between 45 and 55. This will not be a serious matter and because my complaints will most certainly come off as petulant, they will be complemented with humor targeted at myself.

Lastly, my piece would preferably be published in an independent magazine. Because the final product would be too long for a new source like NYT or the Washington Post, It would be more appropriate for a magazine, intended for laid back readers with the time for a more sizable chunk of reading. The audience is nobody in particular, but can be anyone subscribed to that magazine and are hooked by the title of the article. The goal is to entertain as many people as possible and because the article will touch on topics that are felt by those working in environments that are slow or regressive, they will be the audience I hope to reach.

 

 

 

 

 

The following are a list of elements that are necessary in defining my self-titled genre I will explore for experiment two: David Foster Wallace Immersive Journalism.

1.Immersive Journalism is told in first person about the events or situations experienced by that writer.

Immersive journalism is when a journalist immerses their self into the experience of which they’re writing about in order to provide more depth and insight in their work. While the write does not necessarily have to express their thoughts on certain moments or aspects of that experience, the narrative will ultimately take on the first person perspective. The first person narrative is particularly effective in this genre for it’s ability to create empathy in its audience. Immersive journalism when utilizing empathy has the power to convey information that may otherwise be difficult without someone who has experienced it themselves.

2. Journalism in itself is the profession of writing for the sake of news and therefore the primary goal is to inform.

Journalism is defined by the American Press Institute as the “activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. What distinguishes journalism as a whole from any other genre of writing is that it’s centered on news. It’s rhetorical purpose is to inform the audience on something of relevance in a way that caters to their needs. By needs, I mean how that reporting is delivered to the audience for their ease, appealing to their emotion when appropriate and including evidence that maintains their curiosity in the subject matter.

3. The “David Foster Wallace” part of the genre title infers a style of immersive journalism that extends beyond basic reporting of news.

The reason I have chose this genre is not for the immersive journalism component, but because of the way David Foster Wallace composed his immersive journalism. His style of writing is unique from any other kind of immersive journalism and it is one I will attempt (and probably fail) to emulate. For those who have been living in caves, David Foster Wallace is considered one of the greatest writers of the twenty first century. Having blown the minds of self aware teenagers and mature adults everywhere, his style of writing is what journalism should strive to be: form-breaking and entertaining while fact-based and brutally honest. On writing, DFW was quoted saying “If a writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart they are. Wake the reader up to stuff that reader’s been aware of all the time.” This is clear in his work as he has made a name for bashing the most mundane events, qualities, and situations in our culture. He has contributed a perspective to topics that can make anyone become addicted to learning more. However, he’s not to be mistaken as someone who only sneers at the behavior of others as the “primary butt of [his] humor is himself” (NYT). His creative approach to immersive journalism will be the style of writing I attempt to emulate.

4. Undefined Writing Structure

There aren’t any conventions that apply to immersive journalism in regards to writing style or formatting. While immersive journalism is often narrated in first-person in the past-tense, there are no rules to how formal the writing should be or if the writing is intended for a newspaper or for a memoir. Immersive Journalism can pair with many different writing genres that will then guide these details but to qualify as immersive journalism, the text only needs to satisfy the purpose of informing through personal experience. This affords the writer plenty of space for creativity in how they develop their text in order to best entertain or inform their audience. Immersive journalism can take on the form of a video essay (like 60 Minutes) or a magazine article (DFW for Harper’s Magazine) that will reach its intended audience.

 

TED Talks and other Multi Modes of Communication

In searching for examples of multimodality around me, I wanted to hone in on what people don’t often consider texts for the purpose of this assignment. Whether it be a financial spreadsheet or a grocery store receipt, we often overlook how those texts are formatted visually, spatially, linguistically and aurally or gesturally if presented that way. Over the last few days, I noticed a few examples of texts that requested further understanding into why the elements of that texts are arranged as such. In this assignment, I contrast the the grocery store receipt and the romantic comedy, compare the vintage circus sign and the modern billboard advertisement, and discuss why Ted Talks are effective.

 

The Grocery Store Receipt vs. Romantic Comedy
Date noticed: Sept. 22, 2017

These two are examples of texts that are vastly different in rhetorical situation. The grocery store receipt is a series of tightly arranged lines containing an item and a price. The linguistic goals are to inform the grocery shopper of factual information of what was purchase. Aural and gestural modes of communication are absent. Visually, a receipt is just black text overlaid on a narrow white strip of thin paper. It relies heavily on the linguistic mode to serve the purpose of its existence. Spatially, it is not designed for the shopper to marvel at it’s beauty but rather to save paper thus the tightly spaced lines. In contrast, the romantic comedy movie serves an entirely different rhetorical situation and thus differs in audience, situation, and purpose. The romantic comedy, or rom-com, comes through the visual format to tell a story about two people who are somehow emotionally attached. Within the film, the blocking of the characters composes the spatial element of that format. The audience reacts to certain scenes and shots based on the characters gestures among other elements. The script, the words spoken by actors, comprises the linguistic mode of communication. Aural and gestural modes are conveyed through the acting, which attempts to mimic realism. Therefore, the two texts are different in nearly every characteristic of their existence.

 

Vintage Cotton Candy Sign and the Modern Fanta Billboard Advertisement
Date thought of: Sept. 23, 2017

 

After watching a tv show (American Horror Story; Freak Show), I noticed the font of a vintage circus sign and found myself comparing it to a modern billboard sign. Both texts had similar rhetorical situations: an image of a product with visually appealing colors and design with the purpose of attracting and maybe informing customers of that food/beverage product. Both offer visually and spatially pleasing information to look at; the colors, the arrangement of the imagery relative to the framing. The visual mode is the appropriate approach when trying to sell a product to consumers and these signs attempt to entice customers through attractive imagery lacking the linguistic mode. Both images are not filled with information, they are meant to be simple to look at with a hope of planting the thought of that product in the consumer’s mind.

 

 

TED Talks
Date realized: Sept. 24th, 2017


I was able to find one example of a ‘text’ that use all five modes of communication (linguistic, aural, visual, spatial, gestural). The TED, as it was called in its first appearance in 1984, began as an event where the two founders could demo items such as the compact disc and 3D graphics for an audience. The brand lost money and failed to excite audiences until they began to use other members to share their stories. Attracting speakers that were scientists, philosophers, musicians, business leaders, and more became an effective way to capture the attention of curious, open-minded audiences. The company officially became a non-profit organization in 2001 designing the brand that we see today in 2017: seeking the most interesting people on Earth and letting them communicate their passion.

Over the last fifteen years, what had transformed into TED Talks had accumulated interest and had become an established platform for interesting people to share ideas worth spreading. If you were a psychologist with something that needed to be publicly known, your goal was to become a TED speaker. Even today, it’s easy to get swept away with the over 1400 existing TED talks one can find on the internet. But what makes their videos so effective in capturing audiences and delivering important messages?

The purpose of TED Talks are to share ideas worth spreading, yet when looking closer at the structure of their presentations, they utilize each of the communication modes to entertain their audience as much as possible. Aside from the speakers use relatable topics such as happiness, knowledge, ethics, food, or psychology, they tap into the best qualities of every form of communication to deliver the most enjoyable experience possible.

The first mode of communication utilized is the visual mode. By pairing the speakers words with visual depictions of the content, they are strengthening their argument and drawing focus to something interesting outside of their own voice. Rather than just say Mickey Mantle was the best Yankees baseball player, they will show a picture in tandem to give a face to the name. There is small gray area where visual information adds value to a presentation rather than distracting, confusing, or even irritating the audience. The the slide decks are clean and empty of any words that would require the viewer to deter their attention from the speaker. Yet the pictures also effectively complement the speaker’s words to enhance the viewer’s experience. The successful TED speaker maximizes the benefits of visual storytelling to improve their own presentation.

The speakers also employ aural channels of communication to create an interesting dialogue that maintains the audience’s curiosity throughout the talk. Captivating speakers employ verbal patterns, strategies and rhetoric that are intended to be effective. By fluctuating their voice tone, volume and pitch, their incorporating variety into their presentation that is far more enjoyable than monotonous fact reporting. They put emphasis on certain words that attune the audience to the message they are communicating. We can infer the speakers are not reading off scripts or memorizing their lines from their conversational approach..

Even the titles of their presentation impact whether viewers will choose to listen. Personally, I would sooner click on a video titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (Simon Sinek) over a presentation titled “Learning from Leadership’s Missing Manual” (Fields Wicker-Miurin). The linguistic techniques used by speakers matter immensely. Word choices is all too important in these videos as they tend to be the first impression on a viewer in those first ten seconds. The successful speakers are forward with their content, making short but intriguing claims such as “On a given day, studies show that you may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times” (How to Spot a Liar, Pamela Meyer) before diving into an explanation. At a TED Conference, the speaker has only eighteen minutes to share their story. Therefore, any moment they spend validating a claim is wasted time and will bore the audience. Linguistic choices made by speakers have the power to enrapture an audience or lull it to sleep.

The reason viewers watch TED Talks rather than just read about the findings of a study or theory online is because of the public speaking element. Each of the speakers convey a stage presence that’s noticeably charismatic. They use their hands in a way that opens the audience to trusting them. And it is the use of these nonverbal communication techniques that drive the success of TED Talks. Unlike your high school public speaking class, nobody is pacing or making untimely, awkward gestures. TED speakers speak to everyone in the audience with eye contact that sweeps the entire audience. Often, they smile to communicate confidence and intelligence. Their gestures are warm, displaying approachability, and openness. Never has there been a successful, motivational speaker that has had poor posture or arms folded at the chest. They utilize specific to gestures that assist in their ethos and pathos. And we as the audience subconsciously open up to a speaker that gestures to their openness.

TED talks also utilize the spatial mode of communicating in a unique way that written texts cannot compare. Through video editing, TED manipulates the way audiences view the speakers and their presentations. In any given TED Talk on the internet, the viewer will notice that it’s not just one long take of someone speaking. The video interchanges between various camera angles, jumping from the speaker to a shot of their powerpoint. Dramatic points are further enhanced through close up shots of their face. Moments of explanation are sometimes paired with a shot that pans over the audience. The constant variety of how we view the TED Talk is an example of how their utilizing spatial modes of communicating their presentations.

Because of the way TED has been able to engage their audiences in every available form of communication, they have risen to the pinnacle of public speaking, idea sharing, and unique storytelling.