My Research Pack
3 pieces of Media – (LO1.1 – Critically describe range of contextual perspectives influencing a chosen discipline in creative media production)
- Zero Day- Movie
Zero Day is a 2003 movie written and produced by Ben Coccio. The film follows the lives of two high school students as they plan a massacre at their school.
Zero Day was only Coccio’s second film, his first being a short called ‘5:45am.’ He has since two more scripts for films such as The Beginner in 2010 and The Place beyond the Pines in 2013.
Coccio graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1997 after becoming influenced by his older brother who was a film maker. He credits directors such as Sergio Leonne and Akira Kurosawa as his inspirations as he would often watch their films with his Mother as a way to bond.
When talking about Zero Day, he stated the 1999 Columbine shooting as his biggest ‘influence’ as he remembers being in a New York Pizzeria when the news of the attack was breaking. He said, ‘I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.’ It was from this tragedy that he decided he want to make a film based on the massacre.
Coccio began writing the script in April of 2001 after getting into a car accident which he says ‘It made me think ‘If I want to make a movie, I’d better make it, because tomorrow may never come.’’
Pre-production started the following month with Coccio moving to Connecticut and contacting schools across the state, requesting filming permission and enquiring about drama clubs for him to hire actors from. ‘Some parents and teachers are suspicious of my motives,’ Said Coccio in an interview with MovieMaker.com, ‘I lost a lot of prospective actors.’
In June of 2001, Coccio met Cal Robertson and Andre Keuck, two drama students. He spoke with the two and their parents for hours, talking about how much the film meant to him and how much he wanted to use the parents in his film as well to create a feel of realism. ‘I wanted to use as many non-actors as possible. That was the thing that I was striving for all the time, to make it feel real to the viewer.’
Cal and Andre also used their real first names due to Coccio’s insistence and dedication to realism.
The budget was $23,000 which Coccio said was mainly spent on food for the (teenage) actors and the location for the massacre scene. The final scene of the actual massacre was filmed in The State University of New York and cost $5,000 to use, including insurance.
Filming took 20 days between July 4th and October 10th, 2001. Only two cameras were used, a Sony DCR-TRV 900 3-chip Mini DV and a Sony Digital 8 Camera. Natural light was used in most scenes, however, when needed, an old Lowel light kit was used. For editing, Final Cut Pro 3 was used by the production team, cutting down 13 hours of footage into a 90-minute film. Props, including everything from costumes to blank firing gun rentals, cost roughly $2,500.
When researching the Columbine shooting, Coccio discovered that the perpertrators, 18-year old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold made video tapes of them planning the massacre, building bombs and creating a hitlist. The tapes themselves have not been released to the public, however, a transcript was released by Jefferson County Police Department. They are most commonly known as ‘The Basement Tapes.’ Coccio decided to have this fact become the staple of his own film as the entire film is seen through Andre’s video camera. When comparing the Basement tapes transcript with the Zero Day script, they are very similar. It is clear that Coccio took a lot of inspiration from the tapes, not just the idea of them. Both pieces show the perpetrators acquiring ammunition, spewing their hatred of those deemed ‘popular,’ and building bombs.
Zero Day is filmed to look like a found-footage piece, filmed on a cheap video camera. The movie delves more in to the psychological side of the topic and what drives the characters to commit such an atrocious act, whilst simultaneously making the characters rather likable. Coccio took inspiration from The Blair Witch Project when it came to cinematography. He identified the tone that the cinematography, such as the cameras used, provided and wanted to recreate it.
Whilst Coccio has described Columbine as his main influence, the infamous 1999 school shooting wasn’t the first of its kind. The earliest recorded school shooting occurred in Pennsylvania in 1764. On the morning of July 26th, four Lenape warriors entered a school house and shot and killed the school master, Enoch Brown, and nine children. This is regarded as one of the most notorious incidents of Pontiacs War.
Before Columbine, school shootings were relatively unheard of. However, in 1998, a year before the massacre, 15-year-old Kip Kinkel shot and killed his parents before driving to Thurston High School and killing 2 students and injuring 23 others in Oregon.
Another major shooting that occurred before Columbine was the Dunblane Massacre. In March of 1996, in Stirlingshire, Scotland, 43-year-old Thomas Watt Hamilton stormed Dunblane Primary School, killing 16 children and one teacher before committing suicide. It was this tragedy that created new UK gun laws, outlawing private handgun ownership.
One of the techniques Coccio used was the method of using the actors’ real names in the film and including the actors’ real parents. ‘It’s a challenge because when you go into a movie theatre and you watch a movie, it’s very hard to pull one over on an audience anymore and I mean, I think I came close. You know, there are scenes when I cringe, but using their real names and their real families was just a device, just like having them actually break into the house.’
Another technique Coccio used was characterisation. He builds up backstory for the characters and provides anecdotes to make the audience connect with the characters even though they are planning an unforgivable act. The film includes scenes in which we see a more human, light-hearted side to the teenage protagonists, such as one where Andre celebrates his birthday with his family or one where Cal spends time with his friend Rachel who is also his prom date. In this particular scene, Rachel tells Cal that she thinks he acts differently when he is around Andre, compared to when he is around her. This provides more depth to the characters, we see them as real people instead of poorly written, 2D fabrications.
When thinking about the target audience, I am not exactly sure of who Coccio wanted to aim this film at. However, I can see it being a lot more appealing to a younger generation who have become familiar with the idea of their school not being safe than those who have grown up surrounded by different tragedies. I think that someone who has grown up around school shootings will be more likely to watch this film than those who grew up surrounded by IRA threats and recessions.
Regarding the gender of the target audience, I feel that this film will be more likely to appeal to females than males. I feel this way because females, specifically teenage girls, most often than not, relate to ‘troubled’ characters. It has been scientifically proven that women tend to be more empathetic than men. Teenage girls especially are attracted to ‘dark’ characters. This could be because they themselves are going through a difficult time and that lets them relate to someone who understands them, or it could be due to them wanting to ‘fix’ these characters. I believe that, in general, humans are very attracted and interested to the ‘dark side.’ The difference between men and women, however, is that women feel that they can fix these people whereas men are most commonly just interested in this side. If you need proof, just look at the YA section of any book shop and you will see countless books telling the same story, a normal girl falls in love with a dark and mysterious guy.
Regarding age, I don’t see this film being a favourite to anyone with children. Whilst those interested in human psychology might be drawn to this film, watching teenagers getting shot is hard for anyone to watch, let alone those with children of their own. Whilst parents may be able to watch this film and think that it is well made, I imagine that the final shooting scene would be enough to evoke a strong reaction. This disturbing movie plays on any parents’ worst nightmare as school is where a child should feel safe and learn, not hiding under tables, fearing for their lives.
Regarding nationality, I feel that this isn’t a big factor as the film has different subtitles so it can reach a wide audience. However, I feel that it would be more accessible in more developed, western countries and countries that have received news coverage of mass shootings. Also, regarding class, I think that this is an issue that affects everyone but mainly children in the public-school system so I feel that people from working class, lowers class and even upper middle-class families would be more likely to watch this compared to those who have been educated in a private school.
As this film isn’t widely available, it isn’t on DVD or on streaming services such as Netflix etc, I think that you could only watch this film if you were looking for it. As it is a small independent film, it is not majorly publicised or well-known. I feel that unless you were researching true crime or independent films, it would be rather difficult to come across. From this, I gather that it would not meet mainstream interests and would not be watched by this group.
Whilst the film was self-produced by Coccio, it was distributed by Avatar films. Coccio recalls paying thousands of dollars to multiple festivals to have his film shown.
Looking at the techniques used in this film, I aim to use some in my own work. For example, Coccio didn’t have a set script for his actors. He allowed them to improvise and truly delve into the mind of the characters they were playing. For my project (and my work in the future) I would like to work with some actors from our drama department to really explore the possibilities of this story. I haven’t worked with actors before so I feel that this could be a really interesting learning experience for me.
Another technique from this film that I recognised that will affect my writing is Coccio’s use of characterisation. Coccio constantly uses characterisation to add layers to his characters, creating an inner turmoil for the audience as they see these two likeable characters commit such a despicable crime. Coccio also adds humour into his work. I think this is to remind the audience that these people are in fact children, whilst also trying to lighten to mood and take a short break from the dark theme. The audience knows what these characters are planning yet they feel uncomfortable for relating to them or liking them. The following is a quote from the film, said by Cal:
‘Our original plan was that Zero Day would be on zero degrees, but that only happened once because it was so warm this winter, and that was the day that Andre had diarrhea.’
To be honest, this line did make me laugh. However, I was quickly pulled back when I remembered what this person was planning on doing. This is something I want to replicate in my own work, having the audience conflicted with their feelings about the characters, whether that be through humour or empathy.
As Coccio uses a lot of characterisation in his work, it is something that will definitely affect my writing from now on. I aim to create characters that people can relate to/empathise with even in their darkest moments. I will use characterisation in my own work to create characters that make the audience morally conflicted.
- No Easy Answers by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt – Book
No Easy Answers: The Truth behind Death at Columbine High is a 2002 book written by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt. The book was published by Lantern Books, a New-York based publishing company, founded in 1998. The book follows Brooks Brown, friend to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, as he recounts his experiences growing up with the two. The book provides a well-rounded insight into what made two teenagers commit mass murder.
Journalist Robb Merritt, who co-wrote the book, graduated from the University of Iowa in 1999 with a BA in Journalism & Mass Communications and Theatre Arts. He began work as an Education Reporter for Marshalltown Times Publications in 1998 before being promoted to Features Editor in 2001 before leaving in 2004. In 2005, he began working as an Arts & Entertainment for The Gazette Company before leaving in 2007. In July of the same year, he began work as Director of Marketing and Community Relations for Theatre Cedar Rapids. He worked there for 5 years before leaving in 2012. In February of 2013, he began working as Marketing Director for the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library before leaving a year later. He returned to The Gazette Company in 2014, this time as a News Editor, where he worked with ABC News before leaving in mid-2016. He is currently working as Director of Communications for Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, where he has been working November 2016.
Brooks Brown was born in 1980 in Littleton, Colorado, to parents Randy and Judy Brown. Brooks first met Dylan Klebold when they were in Elementary School. The two were best friends for years before losing touch as they went to different middle schools. The two reunited in High School, however, by this time, quiet and awkward Klebold had become good friends with short tempered, brash Eric Harris.
Little is known about Brown’s academic history past his education at Columbine High School due to him understandably wanting to keep himself out of the spotlight. However, it is known that Brooks worked on the Michael Moore political documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ which focuses on gun control in the US.
Whilst very little is known about both authors creatively, I can imagine that the there are two main influences for Brooks. The first being, he experienced it. He was at the school when the shooting happened and he was friends with the gunmen. It’s a life changing event for anyone and I imagine it must really affect you mentally for the rest of your life. Another influence I believe Brooks has is what is known as ‘survivors guilt.’ He wants to tell the story of Columbine because so many can’t. Whilst this may not be a positive influence, it most definitely made an impact in his life and made him want to tell his story. This could be through survivors’ guilt or to honour the victims. This book could be his way of giving the world a wakeup call.
Lantern Books was co-founded by Martin Rowe and Gene Golloghly in 1998 in New York. They are distributed by Steiner Books and in turn, distribute a number of publishers including the American Mental Health Foundation. They have been the publisher of 2004 Nobel Peace Prize-winning book The Green Belt Movement by Wangari Maathai. Other notable authors they have published include Carol J Adams, Steven Best, Thomas Keating and many more. Lantern Books publish and distribute a wide variety of books; however, they specialize in books on the topics of religion, veganism, social justice, animal advocacy and family therapy. They aim to provide books for people wanting to live a life in greater depth.
Regarding target audience, I believe that this book is aimed at people over the age of 18, purely because of the subject matter. When it comes to gender, I believe that it isn’t particularly aimed at either gender but I believe that women would be more likely to read this book. I feel this way because during one of my projects last year, when I wrote about JonBenet Ramsey, I found out that women are usually more interested in True Crime compared to men and for this reason, I believe that women will make up the core audience for this book.
I also recently found out that this book is taught in several college classes across the US, so I believe that when it comes to class (ie. Middle, lower etc,) this book isn’t aimed at any one in particular but is more susceptible to those who have attended public school.
This book has affected my writing massively. Brown uses short sentences that add a lot of impact in his work and this is something that I aim to replicate in my work. These sentences are structured to be informative without drowning the reader in unnecessary information.
He also has a very personal style to his writing which isn’t surprising due to the subject but I feel that he was really able to reach the audience through his words which is what all authors aspire to do. He knows how to reach people and this is something that will affect my writing as I want to be able to do the same.
- We Need to Talk About Kevin – Movie & Book
We Need to Talk About Kevin is 2011 psychological drama based on the book of the same name by Lionel Shriver. Directed by Lynne Ramsay, the film was produced by a multitude of companies including BBC films and UK Film Council.
Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish Director, born in Glasgow in 1969. She studied photography at Napier College, Edinburgh before graduating from The National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, specialising in cinematography and direction in 1995.
Ramsay’s debut short film called ‘Small Deaths’ was released in 1996 and centres on three disturbing experiences a woman has. Ramsay has also produced several other short films such as ‘Kill the Day,’ ‘Gasman,’ and ‘Swimmer.’ She has also produced several feature films such as ‘Ratcatcher,’ ‘Movern Callar,’ and ‘You Were Never Really Here.’ One common theme in her work is grief and death amongst children. Her most famous film is ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin.’
Regarding influences, Shriver states Ian McEwan, Philip Roth and Richard Yates as just some of her influences. When Shriver was asked who or what influenced her novel, she said that there was not a set event that triggered her inspiration but her brother
The author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver, was born in 1957 in North Carolina. She studied at Columbia University and Barnard College in New York. Shriver wrote seven books, six of them being published before writing We Need to Talk About Kevin. Shriver has stated that she prefers writing characters that are ‘hard to love.’
Ramsay doesn’t shy away from difficult topics with her low dialogue and visually bold films. Her films are gritty, realistic and personal. They capture the audience’s attention. She uses angles and scenes to make the audience uncomfortable. For example, in We Need to Talk About Kevin, there are two scenes in which we are zoomed in to the point of discomfort. For almost 20 seconds, we watched Kevin bite his nails before placing them on the table. We can’t drag our gaze away from the screen, even when we are zoomed in on his mouth and on the bitten fingernails on the table. Another scene that causes discomfort is short but not sweet. The camera is zoomed in on some Lucky Charms cereal pieces on the counter top. Kevin licks his finger before crushing them under his fingers. This scene overall lasts for about 10 seconds but it is enough to leave you squirming. It’s an odd scene that would seem out of place and pointless in any other film but in this, it works.
Something else I noticed about her camera work was the fact that she never showed the explicits of the killings. For example, in the school attack, the camera is solely based on Kevin the whole time. We don’t see who he kills or any of the victims. I believe this is for one main reason. That being the fact that the most effective things aren’t always the ones we can see. She is using the technique of showing and not telling. She is showing that Kevin is hurting people without explicitly telling us that he is killing them but we can draw that conclusion ourselves.
The only time she shows anything violent is in the final 10 minutes in which there is a scene where Eva finds her husband, Franklin and her daughter, Celia, dead in their garden, murdered by Kevin. In this scene, we see still close ups on the bodies that are paired with quiet, sombre background music. This can really impact the audience as the scene is quite upsetting and has a completely different style to it compared to the rest of the movie. This is the first violent scene we see.
Throughout both the book and the film, we are guided by Eva. We see everything through her eyes and every situation from her point of view. This could be seen as having an unreliable author. Whilst Eva is not the most likable character, we feel the most attached to her as we know how she feels and what she thinks.
Regarding target audience, I feel that this film is more suitable for those over the age of 30 due to the predominant theme of family throughout the film. The film focuses more on the family dynamic and how it plays into Kevin’s mental state. I think that whilst a teenager would watch this film for the thriller aspect, someone either over the age of 30 or someone with children will be able to empathize with Eva and the story.
As the film was produced by both British and American companies and distributed by Oscilloscope, an American company, I see the main audience being from the Western world. Due to the availability and media interest, I believe that the nationalities and class of the target audience is those living in first world, mainly English-speaking countries. Considering how much of an issue school shootings have been in places such as the US, Australia, Canada etc, people living in said countries where they are exposed to the tragedy are more likely to watch this film.
As this film focuses on a very raw subject and was made by an independent film company, I would hardly call the film ‘mainstream.’ It didn’t receive a lot of press coverage or any big marketing scheme, however, it is available to watch online through Amazon Prime. However, you have to search to find it so that leads me to believe it isn’t a very popular film.
We Need to Talk About Kevin will inspire my writing in many ways. The first technique that I want to use in my own work is the style of an ‘unreliable author.’ The entire story is told from Eva’s point of view as we experience everything through her eyes. She makes several assumptions about Kevin’s behaviour, such as him being responsible for his sister Celia, losing an eye. We never know for sure if he was responsible. However, this could also be seen as the use of ‘showing not telling.’ As we only see through Eva’s eyes, it is difficult to gather an unbiased version of the story. This technique used by Shriver is very effective as it casts a shadow of doubt over the protagonist whilst using other techniques such as ‘showing not telling.’
Another technique I want to use more is the use of flashbacks. When I wrote my JonBenet Ramsey piece last year, I would go back and forth between the present (the crime scene) and her experiences growing up. This is something that I feel really enables me to be able to tell a grounded and intricate story and after reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, it is something that I want to use in my writing again. Switching between the scenes is a way to keep the audience interested and the tension high.
The book provides an insight into the lives of the parents of school shooters and the guilt and grief they have to deal with. Parents of school shooters are often scrutinized in the media as they are demonised for not ‘knowing’ their children. Shriver shows the aftermath of the attack and how the world quickly sharpens their pitchforks to point them at Eva. We see Kevin grow up and his mental state spiral as he becomes more and more resentful of his Mother. In the final scene of the film and book, Kevin admits that he doesn’t know why he committed the murders. This is a rare moment of vulnerability for Kevin as Eva tells him she still loves him. This scene is crucial when trying to understand the psychology behind Kevin’s actions as we were led to believe that Kevin did this as an act of spite towards his Mother.
Through reading this book, I feel like I have not only learnt about writing, I have also learnt about grief. This will give me other avenues to explore when writing. To me, this book is a looking glass into a family suddenly struck with both grief and guilt. This book/film really turns ‘unconditional love’ on its head and it makes you question if it is possible to love a child through anything.