In order to understand film genre and how to read film, the following language needs to be learnt regarding codes and conventions. So what is it? Codes and conventions.
What are codes and conventions in media and film?
Codes are systems of signs, which create meaning. Codes can be divided into two categories – technical and symbolic.
Technical codes are all the ways in which equipment is used to tell the story in a media text, for example the camera work in a film.
Symbolic codes show what is beneath the surface of what we see. For example, a character’s actions show you how the character is feeling.
Some codes fit both categories – music for example, is both technical and symbolic.
Conventions are the generally accepted ways of doing something. There are general conventions in any medium, such as the use of interviewee quotes in a print article, but conventions are also genre specific.
Codes and conventions are used together in any study of genre – it is not enough to discuss a technical code used such as camera work, without saying how it is conventionally used in a genre.
For example, the technical code of lighting is used in some way in all film genres. It is a convention of the horror genre that side and back lighting is used to create mystery and suspense – an integral part of any horror movie.
What to do next: Watch your favourite thriller film which could be The Silence of the lambs, Psycho, Se7en, Vertigo, Rear Window, All the President’s men, No country or old men etc.
Then read the genre conventions of the Psychological Thriller found here.