Understanding Visual Communication through Screen Studies

Screen studies transforms the way we think about the visual entertainment we consume, and the media that surrounds us every day. For alumna Helen Jambunathan, completing a minor in the field developed many skills that she now uses in the workplace. The School of Arts and Social Sciences graduate, who is currently a behavioural analyst for a market research consultancy in London, tells us more about her experience with screen studies.

Many people might think that Screen Studies is mainly about watching movies. However, it’s really much more than that. It teaches students that “just watching” something is never as straightforward as it may seem. It completely changed the way I approach and consume the media in everyday life, and has proven to be really useful in my line of work.

Most screen studies classes consist of a lecture, followed by the screening of a film to be analysed. These call for close, fully engaged viewing, as students have discussions on the screenings later in the week. I enrolled in the gateway units of Film and Television Studies as electives during my first year of university, and was pleasantly surprised by how engaging the classes were.

I enjoyed them so much that in addition to pursuing my original majors of Writing and International Studies, I also completed a minor in screen studies by my final year! Due to its viewing component, screen studies requires a great deal of original thought from students.

Even something as simple as explaining why you liked or didn’t like a film will lead into larger questions. What sort of feeling did it provoke? How did elements of the direction (like sound or framing) contribute to this? What were the ideas the film presented that you agreed or disagreed with, and how were they politically significant? You’re expected to come to class having done the set readings, and with thoughts and questions to share with everyone. This hones critical thinking skills, crucial to employability in a competitive job market.

Working as a market research analyst, my job often involves looking at how a brand is perceived, and how their advertising can be made more effective and engaging. Given that every single unit involved the in-depth analysis of themes and messaging, many of the same questions from class still apply.

What makes one advertisement stand out from the rest? What emotions does it provoke? How is it framed? What ideas is it selling?

Screen studies has helped me to ask the right questions as well as provide answers to them. As increasing numbers of people seek information and entertainment on screens, understanding how messages can be communicated effectively, through audiovisual media is a massive asset in the workplace. This was also useful when I worked in digital content production, and was tasked with creating engaging social media posts for various brands.

I believe understanding visual communication is crucial in almost any media industry today. The field is relevant to anyone who wants to understand how narratives work, and how to get messages across to viewers.

One subject in particular which I found really useful in the workplace, is the final-year unit of Stardom, Society, and Power. We had to conduct original research projects analysing a chosen celebrity’s persona, looking at what they symbolised to people, how this might change over time, and so on.

I found this cultivated a sensitivity to impression management, which has been very useful in market research - celebrities are brands too, after all. The sentiment-tracking, news monitoring, and analysis I did in class are very similar to what I now do in the office.

Organisations today look to hire individuals who are aware of the nuances of representation and managing public relations. Screen studies allowed me to engage with these issues directly.

Similarly, it has been helpful that the film and television covered were international in scope. Students watch movies from national cinemas around the world, from the USA to the Philippines. This leaves them with an impressive cultural catalog and understanding of various national contexts. It also means that they are more attuned to the politics of diverse representations of race, class, and gender on screen - again, an asset in any workplace.

Personally, screen studies turned out to be among the most enriching and enjoyable parts of my degree. It contributed significantly to my employability following graduation. As cultural industries like those of film and television grow more lucrative, globalised, and influential, employers will be looking to hire graduates who are able to look “beneath the surface”, to consider issues of power, production, and cultural context in media.

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