McClennen's Guide to Media Literacy

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This version of the key concepts of media literacy from the Ontario Ministry of Education's Media Literacy Resource Guide was written by noted Canadian media educator, Father John Pungente.

    The media do not present simple reflections of external reality. Rather, they present carefully crafted constructions that reflect many decisions and are the result of many determining factors. Media Literacy works towards deconstructing these constructions, taking them apart to show how they are made.

    The media are responsible for the majority of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of our view of reality is based on media messages that have been preconstructed and have attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in. Thus the media, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality.

    If the media provides us with much of the material upon which we build our picture of reality, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning according to individual factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or troubles of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background, oral standpoint, and so forth.

    Media Literacy aims to encourage an awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how they impinge on content, technique and distribution. Most media production is a business, and so must make a profit. Questions of ownership and control are central: a relatively small number of individuals control what we watch, read and hear in the media.

    All media products are advertising, in some sense proclaiming values and ways of life. The mainstream media convey, explicitly or implicitly, ideological messages about such issues as the nature of the good life and the virtue of consumerism, the role of women, the acceptance of authority and unquestioning patriotism.

    The media have great influence in politics and in forming social change. Television can greatly influence the election of a national leader on the basis of image. The media involve us in concerns such as civil rights issues, famines in Africa, and the AIDs epidemic. They give us an intimate sense of national issues and global concerns so that we have become Marshall McLuhan's "Global Village."

    As Marshall McLuhan noted, each medium has its own grammar and codifies reality in its own particular way. Different media will report the same event, but create different impressions and messages.

    Just as we notice the pleasing rhythms of certain pieces of poetry or prose, so we ought to be able to enjoy the pleasing forms and effects of the different media.

"Eight Key Concepts of Media Literacy" by Barry Duncan et al. Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ontario Ministry of
Education, Toronto, ON., Canada, 1989

Key Concepts for Media Education


    People make media messages to inform, entertain, and/or persuade for political, commercial, educational, artistic, moral and/or other purposes.


    Media messages communicate explicit and implicit values.


    Media messages are constructed; they are only representations of real or imaginary worlds.

Codes, conventions and characteristics

    Each medium has its own set of codes, conventions and characteristics which affect the way messages are transmitted and understood.


    People who understand the media are better able to make purposeful media messages.

Audience Interpretation and Influence


    Audience members bring their knowledge, experience and values to their interpretation of and emotional responses to media messages.

Influence of media on audience

    Media messages can influence people's attitudes, behavior, and values.

Influence of media on audience

    People can influence media institutions and the messages they produce and transmit.


    People who control a society's dominant institutions have disproportionate influence on the construction and dissemination of media messages and the values they contain.


    Media technologies influence and are influenced by the political, economic, social and intellectual dimensions of societies.

This information comes from The Media Awareness Network -- Visit their Site!


Basic Questions  for Media Analysis

"All media productions embody "points of view" about the world. Whether these viewpoints are consciously intended or not, they manifest themselves through a variety of choices by the people who make them. 

What story will be told (or reported)? 
From whose perspective will it be presented? 
How will it be filmed (camera placement, movement, framing)? 
How will it be edited? 
What sort of music will be used, if any? 
Whose voice will we hear? 
What will the intended message be? 

Questions surrounding the media's point of view will lead us to ask: 
Who has created the images? 
Who is doing the speaking? 
Whose viewpoint is not heard? 
From whose perspective does the camera frame the events? 
Who owns the medium? 
What is our role as spectators in identifying with, or questioning what we see and hear? 

That's what media literacy is all about. It is an education that aims to increase an individual's understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized and how they construct reality. 

Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products; it's hands-on training to teach critical viewing skills." 

National Film Board of Canada, briefing notes for the Government Film Commissioner, 1993-1994. 

Key Questions about Specific Representations

Daniel Chandler, UWA 1997 

What is being represented? 
How is it represented? 
How is the representation made to seem ‘true’, ‘commonsense’ or ‘natural’? 
Whose representation is it? Whose interests does it reflect? How do you know? 
At whom is this representation targeted? How do you know? 
What does the representation mean to you? 
What does the representation mean to others? 
How do people make sense of it? 
With what alternative representations could it be compared? 

Cary Bazalgette's Framework for Approaching Media 'Texts'
Media languages 
What does this text say? 
How does it say it? 
What sort of text is it? 

Producers and audiences 
How was the text produced? 
By whom, and why was it produced? 
For whom was it produced? 
How did it reach its audiences? 

What judgments do you make about the truth/authenticity/accuracy/realism/effectivity of this text? 
What judgments might other people/groups make? 
What can it be said to represent? 

Cary Bazalgette (1991): Media Education. London: Hodder & Stoughton,
p. 18

The central concept of the model is the idea that all communication, all discourse, is a construction of reality. Every description or representation of the world, fictional or otherwise, is an attempt to describe or define reality, and is in some way a construction, a selection and ordering of details which communicates aspects of the creator's view of reality. There are no neutral, value-free descriptions of reality – in print, in word, in visual form. An understanding of this concept is the starting point for a critical relationship to the media. 

This concept leads to three broad areas within which we can raise questions which will help students to "deconstruct" the media: text, audience and production. 

A text is any media product we wish to examine, whether it is a television program, a book, a poster, a popular song, the latest fashion, etc. When we discuss a text with students, we can discuss the type of text it is (e.g., cartoon, rock video, fairy tale, police drama) and how it differs from other types of text. We can identify its denotative meaning and discuss such features as narrative structure, how meanings are communicated, values implicit in the text, and connections with other texts. 


Daniel Chandler's The Grammar of Film and Television: Essential Reading for anyone who is studying media.

k.i.s.s. of the panopticon

The Internet Movie Database

Definitions for Media Studies by Steven Totosy 

Toward a Framework for Audience Studies by Steven Totosy

The Latin American Video Archive

LANIC: Cinema and Video

Vocabulario Clave para el Análisis de la Literatura/Cine/Televisión (con términos especiales para el análisis de la poesía, el drama y los movimientos literarios

Diccionario Español/English of film terms

Diccionario de conceptos claves para el estudio de cine



When we go and see a film, we see the actors and actresses who work in front of the camera. But do you know who has to work behind the camera and behind the scenes?

When we are watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (pictured right) declare their love for one another in 'Titanic', it looks as if they are on their own, but look behind the camera and you will see the staff in charge of lighting the scene, someone holding a microphone, at least two camera operators etc. etc! On a typical big budget movie, there will be around 200 other people working on the film to make it look and sound perfect, but who are all these people and what exactly do they do? Here we explain each person's role on THE CREW:

PRODUCERS - They are in charge of the budget/money for the movie making sure that there is enough money to finish filming and deciding how much money is spent on each part of the film

DIRECTOR - The director is in charge of filming and what is happening in front of the camera.

SCRIPTWRITER - A person who writes scripts for films.

STORYBOARD ARTIST - The person in charge of drawing the storyboards. These are drawings for each planned shot in the film with the dialogue (what the actors say), the music and sound effects written in for each shot.

CASTING DIRECTOR - The person who looks for the right actors to play the characters in the film. These are found through acting agencies. Actors will have to audition for these parts. Those playing the starring roles e.g. John Travolta in the film will not have to audition and will be asked by the director to star in their film.
LOCATION MANAGER - The person in charge of choosing suitable places where the film will be shot when the film needs an outside setting or scene which cannot be filmed at the studio.

The picture to the left shows one of the locations used in the film 'The Wind In The Willows'. This was used in outside shots for Toad Hall.

PRODUCTION DESIGNER - In charge of the overall 'look' of the film - the design, building and furnishing of the sets. The designers will draw sketches of the sets which will be made into small models before the real thing is put together.

The picture below shows 'Jones Dog Food Factory' - one of the sets designed for the film 'The Wind In The Willows'. This took nearly 4 months to complete from the first drawings to the finished product that we see. This was a huge mechanical structure of steam jets, steel pipes, tanks, rotating cogs, butcher's hooks and conveyor belts and was very expensive to make.

PROP MAKER - A craftsman - usually a carpenter who makes special props needed in scenes. These props could include furniture, food etc.

COSTUME DESIGN - Sketches would be made from suggestions given by the director and writer of the film saying how they would like the characters to be dressed. These would be made up into costumes that would fit the actors.

SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR - All of the exciting crashes and explosions that we see in films are made possible by special effects (SFX). The SFX supervisor will look at the script and break it down into those scenes requiring effects. These have to be carefully planned out in terms of what is needed and how much the effect will cost.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY (D.O.P) - The DOP works with the director to make sure that the pictures we see on the screen look right. They advise on camera angles, the lenses used and the lighting. This will help to create the right mood for the scenes.

CAMERA OPERATOR - The camera operator is the person actually looking through the camera. They will need to make sure that what they are seeing is in focus and not blurry.

BOOM OPERATOR - The person in charge of operating the microphone boom. This records the sounds made during filming - what the actors are saying etc.
The picture to the left shows one such camera operator on the film 'The Wind In The Willows' being dangled from a height to take a high angle shot of the weasels. In this picture we can also see the sound boom or microphone being lifted.

CATERERS - All of the people who are involved in the filming will need to be fed. If you are filming on location - outside caterers need to be employed as there will not be room in cafes nearby for all the crew. They also need to be fed quickly so that filming can start again without wasting time. The caterers will have to offer a lot of choice so that everyone can find something they like. An average lunch could be a choice of steak, chicken tikka, vegetable cottage pie etc.
CLAPPERLOADER - A clapperloader works as the camera operator's assistant taking the film in and out of the camera and sending it to the developers every day. They also clap the clapperboard at the beginning of each scene. The clapperboard has information written on it such as the scene numer and take. This is so the filmmakers know which take thay are looking at when viewing all of the scenes filmed and deciding which takes to use.

STUNT TEAM - These will be brought in to replace the actors when there is a dangerous event to be filmed. They would be made to look like the actor they are replacing - by dressing in the same clothes and wearing wigs etc. so that the viewer would not be able to tell the difference.
LIGHTING GAFFER - The chief electrician in charge of lighting equipment. If a scene is not lit correctly it will look too dark or too bright.
CHOREOGRAPHER - A choreographer is brought in if dance steps are needed in the film. They will teach people how to move in time to the music so that everything looks perfect.

The picture to the right shows the weasels from the film 'The Wind In The Willows' doing a song and dance routine. This had to be taught to them by the choreographer and practiced regularly.

FILM SOUNDTRACK TEAM - The team in charge of choosing the music for the soundtrack. If they would like music of a particular band or singer to be used in the film then they will have to approach their record company. The soundtrack team may include only one group of musicians who create the music for the whole film.
HAIR DESIGN - The person who arranges the hair of actors before filming begins.

MAKE-UP ARTIST - The person in charge of applying the actors make up. This can be made to make the actors look more attractive or less depending on the character they are playing.

The picture to the left shows actor Terry Jones who played Toad in the film 'The Wind In The Willows' having his make up applied. To make him look like a toad his face was painted bright green. This make up took one and a half hours to put on each day!

ANIMAL TRAINERS - If animals are used in a film eg. 'Babe II' or 'Doctor Dolittle', trainers will be needed to make sure that the animals behave and are looked after correctly. A scene of an animal running down the street with a newspaper in its mouth may look simple enough but probably took a whole day or more to shoot - the dog may drop the paper, go down the wrong street or even worse!

TUTOR - If children are working on the film as actors, they will need a tutor if they are missing school because of their acting. The tutor will work with them when they are not on set and teach them things that they would be learning in school.

EDITOR - When the filming has been completed, the editor looks at all the different 'takes' (filming of scenes) and chooses those that will be used in the film. The editor along with the director will also start putting the shots together for the film so that they make sense.

FOLEY - The person who creates sound effects, particularly of body movements (footsteps, rustling clothes, punches). These are created and added to the film after filming is completed

UNIT DRIVERS - If people need to be picked up to go to the shoot, this is the job of the unit drivers. They will drive the actors and others attached to the film to where they want to go.

Animated films like 'The Magic Sword' and 'The Little Mermaid' will have different types of people working on them. They will need various sorts of animators - to draw the characters, the backgrounds, to colour in etc. However they will still need a scriptwriter, storyboard artist, producer ...

If you stay to watch the credits of the film which appear at the very end, you will notice other people involved in the film who seem to do very unusual jobs. See if you can find out what the following do .


This information provided by Film Education Visit their Site!


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This site created and maintained by 

Sophia A. McClennen



Created on 6/20/00 

Last updated on 07/20/2007