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Original research adds meaning and insight to Rick's writing, directing, and editing.
His methodology is Participant Observation from the field of Cultural Anthropology*.

Participant Observation

Systematically Inferring Themes from Observable Behaviors

Participant Observation is a systematic method of original research, that originates from the field of cultural anthropology. It enables the inferring of cultural themes (values, beliefs, and assumptions) that motivate observable human behaviors in subcultures.

Participant Observation is useful for filmmaking because it reveals underlying subtext, motivation, and beliefs within a social setting, or scene. Participant observations focus on the same social elements that are key to filmmaking: actors, activities, goals, events, feelings, uses of space, and the meanings behind objects.

Participant observation is by nature visual and behavioral, and thus can help a filmmaker to SHOW storyline or character development, rather than simply DIALOGUE about it.



Domain Analysis

Step Two In Participant Observation

Once you have made observations based upon the above questions, and have recorded field notes, you can analyze those notes to find cultural “Domains.” This is called Domain Analysis.

A Domain is a category of knowledge that may include other categories. It is a basic unit of cultural meaning. By identifying how objects (including people, goals, concepts.) relate together, you can derive cultural themes.

Themes are beliefs that dictate behavior within a subculture. And knowing cultural themes can be highly useful in filmmaking, because themes provide clues for the subtext and motivation which underly a character's actions.

Originality in filmmaking is more possible if filmmakers 1) make original observations, 2) write those observations into scripts, and then 3) direct actors in ways sensitive to these observations. And it all starts with Domain Analysis.

Domains are identified by connecting observable objects (including concepts) by “semantic relationships.” Such objects or concepts are typically nouns and verbs found within field notes. Semantic relationship include these: Strict inclusion (X is a kind of Y); Spatial (X is a place in Y, X is a part of Y); Cause-effect (X is a result of Y, X is a cause of Y); Rationale (X is a reason for doing Y); Location for action (X is a place for doing Y); Function (X is used for Y); Means-end (X is a way to do Y); Sequence (X is a step or stage in Y); Attribution (X is an attribute, or characteristic, of Y).

Participant Observation Diagram

The Participant Observation process can be used "forward or backward," to either derive meaning from a social scene, or to fill a film scene with more subtextual, culturally relevant meaning.