Literal POV drama – your questions answered

On 11-11-15 I gave a talk at the eLN Conference Beyond ‘click next’…digital learning solutions come of agebased on my blog Point-of-view Drama – How Does it Work?  As the subject is so complex I felt I left my audience wanting some less equivocal answers to their questions.  Here’s a bit of an explanation of why it’s so complex followed by my attempts to better answer some of the questions I received.

It Ain’t Easy

Alfred Hitchcock said that other people made films of people talking while he made films of people thinking.  The expression of point of view is one of the hardest elements of film-making to perfect.  It’s a very subtle business, but there are some rules to it.

One major theme of the conference was set by the keynote Pedro De Bruyckere – myth-busting. The myth I want to dispel is that if you film something from the literal point-of-view of the protagonist you make the film more psychologically immersive and increase empathy.

Skip back to my blog to find out why.


Q – I’m producing a course to train doctors to consult with patients, should I film it in a literal point-of-view style or in a more traditional film style?

A – Literal POV will work well if you want to get the viewer to experience the relationship with the patient at one remove, to look upon the patient unemotionally.  Use traditional film language if you want the user to empathise with the patient – to experience the emotional impact from the patient.

Q – A video game can have a literal POV and be immersive, surely branching video scenarios are immersive in the same way? 

A – No, for 3 reasons:

  1. Structure – The structure of a computer game, which allows for hundreds of interactions per minute, is nothing like that of an eLearning course. Branching scenario videos typically have less interactive complexity than any old fashioned eLearning course. The frequency of interaction is the main element that makes a game immersive.
  2. Biological feedback. A well-recognised phenomenon in a film audience is the mirror rule. If you’re empathising with a character you are driven to mirror their actions.  It’s rather like folding your arms when the person opposite you displays that body language.  The uninhibited – principally children – might leap about the room screaming during an action movie.  We adults are more restrained, but we do laugh more easily at a joke when there is a laughter track, this being a more socially acceptable version of the response.  In gaming we have the opportunity to physically engage with our mirror rule urges often several times a second by pressing the console and making that avatar jump over the chasm.  This is continual biological feedback.  It does not necessarily, however, make for more an emotionally immersive experience.
  3. Duration. A POV drama is not like a computer game because drama in the context of eLearning requires you to establish the characters (and empathy with them) very quickly and get on with the learning, whereas in games (and movies and TV) you spend a long time getting to know the characters.

Q – Some of my clients, (said a video producer), believe that if you put the camera literally in the position of the protagonist you solve all sorts of problems to do with diversity and representation.  Is this a credible position? 

A – Absolutely not.  In fact, I would go so far as to say this is an anti-diverse notion because it suggests that users cannot empathise with characters who do not have exactly the same ethnic and age profile as themselves.  And it underestimates the incredible power of traditional film language to create empathy.

Q – Is it a good idea to use popular formats to increase user engagement?

A – Yes – because of course we want to appeal to our users.  But let’s take care to start with the problem before we decide upon the solution.

Q – What reading matter would you recommend to any learning designers wanting to learn more about video and its use?

A – Why not start with our own Know-how blogs and vlogs? The book I have read again and again is Hitchcock by Truffaut – which is drawn from a very long taped interview with Hitchcock in which François Truffaut talks through every one of Hitch’s movies he’d made at that time, discussing the technical challenges and innovations.  Not just in terms of the mechanics of filmmaking, but story structures, using new visual and audio devices, etc etc.  More recently a book has been published titled Flicker by Jeffery Zachs, which is a review of the scientific evidence of the mechanisms by which film affects us.

Q – Video from a literal PoV works for learning but not for movies?

A – More precisely, video from a literal POV makes us stand back from emotionally engaging with the characters.  In this way it can be a good starting point to make us engage intellectually rather than emotionally.  Traditional film language is more powerful for emotional engagement, which is why it’s used for drama for entertainment.

Thanks to everyone who attended and thanks so much for your questions.  Please look out for my forthcoming vlogs about film language.

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