ClipNotes: Digital Annotation and Data-Mining for Film & Television Analysis

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Andrew deWaard

    University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

In the age of Big Data and technology­assisted research, scholarship in the humanities is developing innovative new approaches and methodologies, be they quantifiable and visual (Moretti, 2005), algorithmic (Ramsay, 2011), built upon ‘distant’ and ‘machine’ readings (Hayles, 2012) and ‘cultural analytics’ (Manovich, 2009), or of the many possibilities and techniques offered in the field of Digital Humanities (Burdick et al, 2012). Film and television analysis, however, has been slow to adapt digital data­driven research. This presentation will demonstrate a software project entitled ClipNotes, a software application created by Dr. Stephen Mamber at UCLA along with a team of graduate students that are helping to develop it. Examples will be shown of both traditional textual analysis amplified by the software and my own research that quantifies product placement and brand integration in film and television.
Though cinema and media studies has rightfully continued on its course of splintering and diversifying into a multitude of interdisciplinary amalgamations and sub­disciplines, close textual analysis remains at the heart of what we do, particularly with regards to teaching. Technology has dramatically increased our ability to deconstruct a film text, from VHS to DVD to digital interfaces which allow even more minute control over image and sound. Creating clips and screengrabs is becoming easier and is an increasingly common feature of lectures and presentations, but the method of visual analysis itself hasn’t advanced very much, nor has the incorporation of many other research technologies. Notably, the use of programming and algorithmic analysis is quite limited in film studies research compared to other disciplines within the humanities which are utilizing digital tools to invigorate their methods and broaden their scope.
ClipNotes is an iPad and Windows 8 app that facilitates quick segmentation, annotation and presentation of film clips, an example of the research possibilities that are provided in a collaborative, database-­driven, XML-­based software environment. The design of ClipNotes is deceptively simple: it allows users to mark up video files with metadata and present this analysis. Start/stop times, clip descriptions, and captions are assembled in easily­produced XML files, which stands for extensible markup language that is both human and machine readable. When the XML file is linked to the video file, precise, granular analysis is made possible and is easily presented and disseminated. A public repository for these XML files is available at, which will allow for widespread sharing of textual analysis and should provide an invaluable teaching resource. Users are encouraged to upload their own XML files for inclusion and we have begun building an extensive database of freely available teaching and research materials. For obvious copyright reasons, the films are not included, but guides are available to demonstrate how DVDs can be easily and legally encoded into digital files under fair use exemptions. Then, the video is linked together with the XML file by the application. In practice, ClipNotes collapses the research and presentation process by bridging the two: your textual research and analysis is the development of your presentation.
To get the archive started, a series of films have been coded in XML and are available for teaching usage. Citizen Kane, of course, has been catalogued, providing quick access to its landmark visual style. All instances of deep focus, triangular framings, door and window framings, graphic matches, media representations, and the motifs of light and bulbs, bars and fences, and mirrors are quickly and easily accessible through ClipNotes. The ability to quickly but briefly demonstrate a series of scenes ­­ particularly ones involving sound or camera and character movement ­­ is a tremendous resource in a lecture or presentation situation. One of the distinct strengths of film is the symphonic arrangement of audiovisual patterns, something that is lost in merely showing screen grabs or a few extended scenes.
Beyond this kind of instructional usage, however, the practice of granular analysis can reveal new discoveries in even the most well­worn films. Hitchcock is likely the most thoroughly researched auteur, but with the ability to isolate and compare shots on a frame­by­frame basis, very subtle visual patterns can be identified. For instance, the ability to document the most minute patterns in Psycho reveals a micro­detailed facial dramaturgy that adds significant visual emphasis to Hitchcock’s already complex exploration of identity.
Douglas Sirk is another master of this kind of over-­determined mise-­en-­scene, and a fitting subject for ClipNotes, as well as my own work that concerns the political economy of media as a textual phenomenon. Written on the Wind is a fine example, and for my analysis I catalogued over 100 examples of 4 distinct patterns: frame within frames and obscured frames, the mirror motif, vertical objects as phallic imagery, and what I hope is a new addition to the already ­extensive Sirk Studies archive: the product shot. While Sirk’s satirical savvy is well­documented by scholars, the contradictory impulse ­­ the ways in which he helped promote and fetishize the very consumer culture he was satirizing ­­ is a less prominent element of his legacy. Barbara Klinger provides a useful corrective of his body of work in Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk, in which she considers the various extra­-textual discourses (academic, industrial, trade, popular press, star, gossip, camp) that have contributed to Sirk’s legacy, but she expressly decides not to engage in any textual analysis, as her interest is in the surrounding discourse. I believe textual analysis could be a useful addition to furthering her nuanced reading of Sirk, particularly the industrial and promotional elements of his work that get overlooked in favour of his more critical characteristics.
Klinger shows how Written on the Wind was heavily promoted in women’s magazines as a part of lifestyle marketing, particular tie-­ins with its fashion, make-­up and home decor. Textual analysis of the film itself reveals a similar impetus for commercial promotion, catalogued here as the “product shot.” At least two dozen shots of consumer products are featured in the film, most prominently luxury cars, fashion, and jewellery. The first scene immediately establishes the patterns of framing, mirrors and vertical objects, but it also quickly pronounces the importance of products, by featuring Kyle’s shiny, yellow sportscar. Far from claiming that this kind of quasi­product placement deems Sirk some sort of sell­out or salesman, I think a more complete picture of all that Sirk accomplished in his films just adds to his stature. That he was able to satisfy the high standards of critics, scholars, studio executives, and promotional agents is a testament to the complexity of his filmmaking ability. It also provides some insight into the early history of product placement, brand integration, and transmedia.
ClipNotes and XML­-encoding provides the opportunity to generate and catalogue large data sets of analytic material for audiovisual texts, lending quantification and data ­processing possibilities in the future. Sound and image are inherently more difficult to catalogue and quantify than the written word, which accounts for some of the delay in the use of digital humanities methods in cinema and media studies, but creative new digital tools should be able to bridge this gap. Similar to the Text Encoding Initiative, the data­mining prospects generated by ClipNotes are impressive. With the assistance of digital tools, we will be able to both dig deep into solitary texts, discovering and quantifying micro-­relationships, while also mapping broad, macro-­cultural dynamics as a result of this wide-­ranging data. In a digital era marked by the vast proliferation of complex texts, software applications can be utilized to enact a more rigorously detailed analysis, to archive and disseminate provocative insights, and to extend digital scholarship.
Thank you, and please visit for more information.

Burdick, Anne et al.Digital_Humanities. The MIT Press, 2012.
Hayles, N. Katherine.How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. University Of Chicago Press, 2012.
Klinger, Barbara.Melodrama and Meaning : History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Manovich, Lev."Cultural analytics: Visualizing cultural patterns in the era of more media." Domus: 923 (2009).
Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models For A Literary History. Verso, 2005.
Ramsay, Stephen. Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism. University of Illinois Press, 2011.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

XML available from (needs to replace plaintext)

Conference website:

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO