It’s A Funny Business: A Case Study In Comedy

For all the passion and skill and talent and blood and sweat and tears and risk that producers bring to the mix the one most often looked over yet is the most important is that of business person. Because when the lights go out, the talent and crew go home the business of film and TV really starts. Like all businesses the goal is to make money. It is something that ‘creatives’ don’t like to talk about because their driving force is the ‘art’ or ‘craft’. In the pilot of ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’, Aaron Sorkin writes ‘…there’s a struggle between art and commerce. Well there’s always been a struggle between art and commerce and now I’m telling you art is getting its ass kicked.’ In the scene the producer of a Saturday Night Live style sketch comedy show angrily laments the way in which the network panders to their conservative, vocal, right-wing, Christian minority audience in an effort to not offend anyone while simultaneously limiting the breadth of creative input the show requires to be appreciated by the masses.

In the decade since ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ premiered the struggle between art and commerce continues but the lines have changed and multiplied. Many disruptive technologies have risen in popularity and technologies have become faster and smarter to allow audiences instant access to what they want, when they want it. Some exceptions apply especially for news (although apps provide an ever increasing alternative), sport (again, apps) and reality format programing and other live events. As an aside, the ten Thursday night games of the 2016 NFL season will be broadcast on twitter, in a ten million dollar deal that co-presents the game on the NFL’s own cable network and traditional free-to-air broadcaster CBS, and positions twitter as a new platform for live TV.
Not surprisingly many producers are holding on to the old traditional distribution model; make a programme, sell it to a network who make money off of advertisers, then repeat. The problem is that model doesn’t take into account any of the struggles that traditional distribution models face. The primary one being; where is the audience?

Content Creators (the social media title for a producer) are more savvy and accommodating of risk. Take for example Louis CK who is an American stand-up comedian, writer, director, actor, producer and editor. But those talents and skillsets are not why Louis CK is a subject of this case study. In 2011 he produced a 90 minute stand up show entitled ‘Live at the Beacon Theatre’ which he recorded. So far, nothing too clever. Many comedians and other performing artists, including Louis CK himself have recorded live shows for sale to networks. In this instance Louis took over the distribution process himself. He set up a website to sell the show directly to his audience. The purchase process was made as easy as possible and in just 12 days the show had been downloaded 200,000 times at US$5.00 per download earning a million dollars and nearly a Guinness World Record for most downloaded show. CK gave away 75% of earnings to staff as bonuses and donations to charities. Social media exploded with the news and proclaimed this disruption to distribution as the new model for content creators and producers to earn revenue. Until then the majority of alternative distribution models required some kind of advertising or sponsor supported revenue model to even approach revenue neutral status let alone be profitable.

Shortly afterwards Jerry Seinfeld launched his new show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (CiCGC). The format is a weekly webisode of varying duration featuring one of Mr Seinfeld’s favourite stand-up comedians or comedy writers with the exception of President Barack Obama who used the show as a vehicle to promote his ObamaCare policy. The show starts with Jerry introducing the classic car and the interviewee for that episode. In each episode there is a product placement ‘bit’ for car company Acura (the US version of Honda). The show is available to stream on its own website and on Crackle, a free streaming service supported by in program and pre-roll advertising. In this way, Crackle is merely replicating the traditional distribution revenue model but using technology to provide audiences with the two biggest revolutions in digital media consumption; watch what you want when you want (time shifting), where you want (device agnostic portability). It’s no surprise then that Crackle is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment which owns the rights to one of the largest libraries of television and cinema as well as production companies around the world. Crackle offers Sony greater reach with their library of content to an audience more comfortable with smart phones and tablets (iOS and Android), gaming consoles (PS4 & Xbox), streaming devices (AppleTV, Chromecast etc) and smart TVs (Sony, Samsung et al).

So while the product of both Louis CK’s show and Jerry Seinfeld’s show were similar in so far as they bypassed traditional free-to-air broadcast television, Mr Seinfeld’s was much closer to the original distribution model. Since its inception, CiCGC has had eight series ranging between five to 10 episodes, 53 in total and has been renewed for a ninth season. Additionally, a weekly ‘Short Shot’ episode is produced and streamed in the weeks where there is no regular show. The show has been nominated for three Primetime Emmys (won zero) and two Producers Guild of America Awards (won both)!

However, where both creators and their shows are simultaneously different to traditional free-to-air broadcast television is that the creators both have a large and loyal fan base from which to bring a substantive audience for their programs. In reality, an audience of just 200,000 as Mr CK’s comedy special achieved for a 90-minute program on US primetime would in any language and by any metric be an unmitigated disaster. As Andrew Lipman argues in “… I’d argue that if you can get consumers to pay for content that is almost always the better choice, since you would need to reach an audience many times larger to derive anywhere near the same amount of revenue via a pay-for-content model.” Similarly, it would be impossible for Mr Seinfeld to be so hap hazard with duration of each show and irregular season length of his series for it to be at all programmable on a commercial network.
What these two content creators are essentially disrupting is what I will call the traditional linear distribution model. This is the model that flows from idea to concept to backing to production to audience and is then repeated.

The newer non-linear distribution model starts like the linear model but at any point can branch out and return to the beginning. For example, Mr CK conceives a TV show which he writes, directs and stars, while receiving fees for each. Simultaneously he is selling out large stadiums for his stand-up show. This is filmed and either sold to a network (as he has done with HBO in the past) or sold via his website. He has also recently co-starred in two feature films; one with Bryan CranstonTrumbo’ and in Woody Allen’sBlue Jasmine’.

As both Mr CK and Mr Seinfeld have other strings to their bows they derive both personal income and corporate revenue from more than just one source. Mr Seinfeld focuses on stand-up shows (ticket revenue) and ghost writing or scripting doctoring (fee for service) for other comedy writers.

In January 2016, Louis CK started production on Horace and Pete, a multi camera stage play style production. As he had had success before selling directly to his audience he again used the same methodology. Interestingly he did not promote the show at all, not even to his own fan base. He simply emailed his mailing list letting them know a new show was available. The show featured a star studded cast including Alan Alda, Steve Buscemi, Jessica Lange and Edie Falco. It cost $500,000 per ep and sold for $5 for the first episode, $2 for the next and $3 each for the remaining eight episodes. He financed the first four episodes himself and had to raise money to produce the final six. The critics loved Horace and Pete. The fans, not as much. As reported in The Atlantic, “…he (CK) told Howard Stern, ‘he was millions in debt’” Sims, J, 2016 The Atlantic. To that end, there are many reasons why his methodology did not work this time. Primarily Horace and Pete is a drama, not a comedy which is what his fan base would have expected. Secondly, with no pre-marketing, PR, interviews etc no one knew what the show was about which led to disappointing sales.

In conclusion, it is important to note the old adage that new doesn’t mean better. Risk, the great enemy of both creativity and profit, ensures this. Even the old distribution formula, in all its versions from the familiar studio model through to the disrupted tech based model is not a guarantee of revenue success. Just like cars and catwalks, new models appear regularly all promising something better. YouTube was supposed to be the end of free-to-air. It isn’t and won’t be but they sure are doing some interesting things. Even their advertising supported revenue model has run its course with the introduction of YouTube Red, a paid subscription model which removes the ads. And YouTubers were aghast when YouTube changed their policy under which advertising revenue would be paid; no longer content that is overtly sexual, violent, vulgar, drug related or controversial would earn revenue from embedded advertising for the creator. One could be forgiven for thinking the conservative, vocal, right-wing, Christian minority that threatened traditional distribution is doing the same thing all over again, but this time, digitally.


CK, L., 2011, “Another Statement from Louis CK”
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, 2012, Sony Pictures International, Los Angeles, California, USA

Horace and Pete, 2016, Pig Newton Productions, New York City, New York, USA

Lipma, A., 2012, “What does the Louis CK Experiment Mean for the Future of Digital Content Distribution?”,

Live at the Beacon Theatre, 2011, Pig Newton Productions, New York City, New York, USA

Sims, J, 2016 The Atlantic, “The Show That Left Louis C.K. With Millions in Debt

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, 2006, Warner Bros. Television, Hollywood, California, USA

The Three Roles Architecture Performs in Michael Mann Crime Films


"You can ball my wife if she wants you to, you can lounge around here on her sofa in her ex-husband’s dead-tech, post-modernistic, bullshit house if you want to, but you do not get to watch my fucking television set."

(Mann, M., ‘Heat’ 1995)

Michael Mann has cultivated a distinctive directorial style throughout his filmmaking career. This style relies on many techniques and one of the most important is his use of architecture. More so than merely stating the location of a scene, in a house, in an office, at the railway yards, in LA’s South Central or New York’s Upper West Side, etc, Mann carefully uses domestic, commercial and industrial architecture as well as infrastructure, streetscapes and cityscapes to reflect and enhance his character’s traits and unspoken tendencies.

Mann’s use of architecture, especially post-modern 20th Century form, sits on screen in a way to show the audience rather than tell. He forms a whole other language that expressively and seamlessly speaks to the audience without the simplified and often banal use of dialogue. Or as Omar Ahmed more eloquently writes, “…contemporary architecture – buildings, spaces, glass, metal – could be used to embody and reflect the psychological, sociological and sexual attitudes of certain characters and describe with great intelligence relationships between estranged people without having to resort to reams of pointlessly inert dialogue.” (Ahmed, 2009)

However, Mann occasionally articulates the environment for enhanced effect as per the introductory script extract above from Heat. Additionally, in Collateral (2004, Paramount Pictures) LA is described by Tom Cruise’s character (with coincidentally the same character name as Al Pacino’s character in Heat) when asked if this is his first time in LA, thus:


Nah. To tell you the truth whenever I’m here, I can’t wait to leave. It’s sprawled out, disconnected; but that’s me.


17 million people. 5th biggest economy in the world. Nobody knows each other.

(Mann, M., ‘Collateral’ 2006)

As Robert Arnett says, “Space, not time, drives Mann’s crime cinema and offers an alternative vision of the crime genre.” (Arnett, 2009, pp 44-53)

There are three roles in which Mann utilises architecture to enhance his characters. Firstly, to help tell their own distinct story of the place. In Miami Vice (2006, Universal Pictures) the high rise towers and unique architecture of the city are used to reinforce the pre-conceived notions of Miami being a flashy haven for drug lords and the criminal underworld in general; a sort of modern wild west with a beach. In Collateral (2004, Paramount Pictures) a pedestrian bridge with high wire fencing becomes both an illustration of how Vincent and Max are concurrently separated from the city yet bound to and imprisoned with each other by the cage created by the fence.

Secondly, Mann incorporates architecture to reflect and/or magnify invisible aspects of his characters. In Heat (1995, Warner Bros.) Vincent Hanna who is a meticulous detective and former Marine with a dysfunctional marriage lives with his soon-to-be-ex-wife in a constantly untidy and chaotic yet architecturally designed, post-modern home. The environment reflects the inner turmoil he is experiencing. His antagonist, master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), for all his professionalism lives in an ultra-modern seaside home devoid of anything but the barest essentials required to live. In Thief (1981, United Artists) both master thief Frank and mafia boss Leo live in upper-middle class style homes. Leo, the older of the two lives in a neo-classical two story suburban family home while Frank’s home is a modern early single story 1980’s home featuring large amounts of glass and light. The significant differences in the homes reflect the differences in the two men but the similarities reinforce the most significant difference between these two men which is their moral code.

Thirdly, the character changes the environment by Mann adding their presence. In Collateral (2004, Paramount Pictures) the city of LA is transformed into a killing field as Vincent the assassin arrives in town. While he is driven by his hostage/taxi driver through the near empty streets of LA, every encounter is heightened to a potential murderous outcome. Additionally, Mann reflects the panic and confusion of Max and the DA while they are being chased by Vincent into the train station. Highly polished stainless steel presents a clean environment for Vincent to do his work but the maze of escalators and stairs represents the confusion of the situation while they try and escape. In Manhunter (1986, DEG), FBI Profiler Will Graham is visually imprisoned by the bars and railings of the Atlanta High Art Museum even though he is not physically incarcerated. This scene adds tremendous depth to the psychological thriller aspect of the film and enhances the powerful mind games being played by Brian Cox’s character, Dr Hannibal Lecktor.

In conclusion, Michael Mann’s use of architecture in three very distinctive ways aids in the storytelling of his films. Without having to resort to dense explanatory dialogue or exposition he expertly crafts environs to enhance, magnify, reflect and evoke unspoken and mostly invisible aspects of both character and place.


Ahmed, O., 2009, “The Films of Michael Mann”, Ellipsis–The Accents of Cinema

Arnett, R., 2009, “The American City as Non-Place: Architecture and Narrative in the Crime Films of Michael Mann”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 44-53

Collateral, 2004, motion picture, Paramount Pictures, Hollywood, California

Heat, 1995, motion picture, Warner Bros., Hollywood, California

Manhunter, 1986, motion picture, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Hollywood, California

Miami Vice, 2006, motion picture, Universal Pictures, Hollywood, California

Thief, 1981, motion picture, United Artists, Hollywood, California

The Fall and Rise of Podcasting


This research looks at podcasting; the practice of creating, producing and distributing, in the most, audio content in the form of programs. Programs include but aren’t limited to news, sport, documentary, education, dramatization, review, preview and comedy. The goal is to show how important podcasting has become in relation to mainstream media and its impact on audiences as an alternative to, or enhancement of, contemporary radio broadcasting. This has been done by examining research from the Pew Research Centre for Journalism, Edison Research and others. Through analysing, interpreting and reviewing existing material this research highlights how podcasting has moved from a perceived threat to radio to the greatest supporter of modern radio medium.

The Briefest of Histories

Born ostensibly in 2005, podcasting (US Oxford Dictionary ‘Word of the Year’ for that year) promised to give a voice to anyone with an opinion and an internet connection as blogging had done for anyone with the ability to type, and an internet connection. The primary output to begin with was confusion; podcasters didn’t know what they were doing, audiences couldn’t find what they wanted and radio stations were scared their business model was under attack.

However, in most countries the airwaves were and still are administered by governments. Many of which issued, for large fees and with heavy regulation, licences for radio broadcasters to use a specific band of the radio spectrum. Radio stations believed podcasters would steal their audiences and associated advertising revenue. Podcasters believed they were offering audiences unbiased, niche content without the intrusion of advertising in its many forms. Neither saw the benefits of the other until the BBC started offering the majority of their programs as podcasts. ‘Timeshifting’ as it became know was the ability for an audience to listen to a program when they wanted instead of being locked into having to listen when the program was broadcast. From a radio audience’s perspective, timeshifting became the single most important feature of podcasting; being able to listen to their favourite programs when and where they wanted.

The BBC is widely acknowledged as being at the forefront of the podcasting revolution insofar as seeing the advantages it offered its audiences. Rather than being a threat to their terrestrial programming, Simon Nelson, Controller of BBC Radio and Music Interactive said, “These technologies can transform the value we deliver to audiences and make our programmes more accessible for both new and existing audiences.” (Nelson, 2005, Speaking at Music Radio 2005).

While the mighty and great producers were either decrying podcasting as a fad or embarking on experiments on how to use this new tech to bolster their existing audiences, individuals were revelling in the inexpensive startup costs. As Ben Hammersley explains, “…the low cost of producing audio for the internet means more interesting stuff can be done., for example, is a beautiful collection of sound recordings made while travelling around south-east Asia. Too short and context-free for broadcast, they’re perfect for downloading or listening to online.” (Hammersley, 2004, ‘The’, Audible Revolution, para. 20).

The Big Spike

Screenshot 2015-11-08 14.29.50

As with may technologies the fanfare around the launch often outshines the actual promise. This is true too of podcasting. In 2005 it seemed everyone wanted to be a podcaster and know more about podcasting. The graph above is a Google Trend of the word podcasting over the past ten years. The most interesting element of this graph is not the sudden rise or steady decline after the initial excitement but the ‘long tail’ that continues to now. This long tail of steady interest indicates the ongoing support of podcasting. In comparison, if Google data was available for radio in Marconi’s time we would see a similar shaped graph with interest peaking around launch but being more modest over the past ten (or even 100) years.

While this graph represents Google search requests, Eddison Research analysed the various audio based channels available to audiences and which ones are being listened to the most. They discovered that on average individual users listen to content for 6 hours and 8 minutes per day. Of this, 30% was dedicated to listening to podcasts, 21% to AM/FM broadcast radio, 23% to the user’s own library of music, 12% to the new streaming audio providers, 9% to TV music channels and 5% to satellite radio. To be clear this research was based on surveys of podcast listeners defined by anyone who had listened to a podcast within 24 hours prior to being surveyed. The immediate highlight of this research is the passion of podcast listeners for podcasts; “if you listen to podcasts, you listen to a lot of podcasts.” (Webster, 2015, Share of Ear, para. 1).

Screenshot 2015-11-08 19.00.14

 From Little Things Big Things Grow

The most recent data from The World Bank suggests that in 2006, 17.6% of the world’s population had internet access (2014,, Internet Users/100 People). Fast forward to 2014 and that number has  more than doubled to 40.6%. With regard to the growth in podcasting, Nancy Vogt of the Pew Research Center for Journalism states, “The percentage of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month has almost doubled since 2008, from 9% to 17% by January of 2015. The percentage listening in 2015 was up two points over 2014 levels (15%).” (Vogt, 2015, Podcasting: Fact Sheet, para. 3). When taken into consideration with the vast increase people with access to the internet as TWB data shows, these small increases in podcast listening percentage points equates to massive real increase in actual audience numbers. As Andy Bowers, executive producer of podcasting for, put it; “A big reason for all the attention, of course, is the wild success of ‘Serial’…” (Bowers, 2014, Podcasting at 10). Created by the producers of This American Life, ‘Serial’ is a true crime, 12-episode audio play, set pre-9/11 about the murder of a young Asian-American school girl and the cold-case investigation into her Arab-American boyfriend. For podcasting ‘Serial’ is considered a game changer although others contend it to be a heart starter or maybe just a return to the halcyon days of the radio play; without the ads. Caroline O’Donovan contends ; ‘…we’re in the midst of a podcast renaissance.’ (O’Donovan, 2014, ‘’).  ‘Serial’ was also broadcast as regular programming on This American Life and will be available from Nov 24th, 2015 on the Pandora streaming service.

Making Cents

Behind the hype and buzz of podcasting, with the cries of free media and a voice for the people, were the money men. However, the digital economy has always struggled to get consumers to pay for digital content; ones and zeroes. Even the largest traditional news publishers who have millions of loyal buyers of their printed daily newspapers find it difficult to get consumers to pay for the same news delivered on their digital devices. As Michael Rosenwald of the Columbia Journalism Review puts it; “The takeaway from Reuters’ vast new study of the world’s digital news consumers is that the disruptive trends publishers have been grappling with the last few years have crystallized into something more lasting, not just in the United States but around the world.” (Rosenwald, 2015, Digital News Consumers Unlikely to Pay for Content and Increasingly Block Ads). These trends include users deploring online ads and payment gateways. Additionally, ad blocking has gone from being a dark art of geeks and hackers to dinner party conversation for mums and dads.

This is where podcast producers went back to the early days of radio and started acquiring sponsors to support their podcasts. Producers who wanted to move from being hobbyists to professionals needed to create cash flow to support themselves in their new full time podcast producing jobs.

Audiences are more comfortable with sponsorships than traditional advertising because of the personal endorsement and thereby trust that was being built by the producer, who was in most cases the host of the podcast. Sponsorship differs to advertising because it is produced by the host and typically in the style of the program at the most appropriate time. A typical sponsorship agreement will include the host reading a prepared and agreed script or mentioning the sponsors product or service during their show. If you can remember the Kellogs Comedy Hour on 2KY you’ll understand the power of sponsorship. Advertising however is externally produced content and typically an interruption to the program. Sponsorship is more targeted to the audience of the podcast than advertising can be. Rebecca Greenfield says, “… listeners like and trust hosts. Their [sponsorship] messages sound more like a friend’s recommendation than [advertising]. (Greenfield, 2014, ‘’)

In addition to individual program or even episode sponsorship networks started to evolve. Originally these were loose collectives of producers who pooled their marketing resources, hosting costs and cross promoted each other shows. Today, that scene is vastly different as the money men start three new podcast networks operations in the past six months; Infinite Guest from American Public Media, SoundWorks from PRI, and Radiotopia from PRX. (2014, ‘’

The End of the Beginning

While in the early days of podcasting the hype and buzz were so loud, so focussed and so threatening, it would have been supremely ignorant of radio industry to see the technology as anything but threatening. However, after the shouting and noise gave way to rational thought those who had kept their heads could see the synergistic opportunities that podcasting offered radio. As the table below shows, the various channels offer both pros and cons to producers and users. When a program is made available across more than one channel then a win/win situation is created and more listeners are created for better content.

PRODUCERS PROS Low entry $ point No extra cost when audience grows Potentially lucrative business
CONS Gaining market share Competition High marketing costs
USERS PROS Timeshifting & program choice Familiarity Niche choice
CONS Download expenses Broad (un)appeal Expensive

As the ‘Serial’ distribution model demonstrates, multiple delivery channels could well be the future model for radio programming which indeed some of the more forward thinking television networks have recently engaged; terrestrial, on demand, download, mobile, streaming and partnerships with other distribution channels. Rather than fighting each other for audience ear or eye time, modern programming looks to engage with consumers and deliver the content they want in the mode they need at the time they desire.

So it seems Gil Scott-Heron was only partly correct when he sang, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’; it will most likely be streamed, downloaded, shared and podcast.



Allison, 2015, ‘’, Advertising, Podcasting and Public Radio

Greenfield, 2014, ‘’, The (Surprisingly Profitable) Rise of Podcast Networks

Hammersley, 2004, ‘The’, Audible Revolution, para. 20

O’Donovan, 2014, Harvard Nieman Lab, This American Life Tries to Turn its Radio Audience onto Podcasting with its New Show Serial

Pike, 2013, ‘’, The Fall and Rise of Podcasting

Rosenwald, 2015, ‘Columbia Journalism Review’, Digital news consumers unlikely to pay for content and increasingly block ads

Stevenson, 2014, ‘’, Don’t Count AM/FM Radio Out Just Yet

Thompson, 2005, ‘’, Podcasting Could Be a Revolution

Valance, 2005, ‘’, Podcasts Send Mixed Signals to Radio

Vogt, 2015, Pew Research Center, ‘State of the News Media’, Podcasting: Fact Sheet

Webster, 2015, ‘’, Share of Ear Study Shows Dramatic Increase in Podcasting Consumption

Weiner, 2014, ‘’, The Voices: Towards a Critical Theory of Podcasting

Beyond Cops and Robbers: An Analysis of “HEAT” (1995) Written & Directed by Michael Mann


“A guy told me one time: don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”

(Mann, M., ‘Heat’ 1995)


Beyond the dollars and guns and women and violence and double crossing and heists is a complex and much analysed story of two men; Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro). On a first viewing these two men are protagonists in one of the oldest of story genres, ‘cops and robbers’. As Ari Mattes notes, “…both know, and admire and respect, the other as their nemesis, nullifying, in Mann’s film, any reading in terms of a Manichean structure (that is, good hero versus evil villain).” (Mattes, 2014, Issue 4)

However, while they might cancel each other out Michael Mann has crafted a narrative around the similarities that Hanna and McCauley share while at the same time being on opposite sides of the law; one could easily swap the two characters and they would be equally at home in their opposing roles. Both are perfectionists, both are ruthless, both are professionals. These character traits portray both men as dedicated loners but beyond that, existing in a crowded world yet suffering loneliness.

In this essay I will illustrate how the mise-en-scene techniques and tradecraft employed by Mann and his team to highlight the similarities of these two men who are so identical they even experience the same loneliness.

As Rybin writes, “Heat is a monumental crime film… This monumental style, however, is not magic; it is a product of Mann’s meticulously expressive mise-en-scene and ongoing commitment to sensitive sound-image construction.” (Rybin, 2013, p 129)

Sanders et al note, “Mann’s filmic style coordinates the camera elements (composition, lighting, colour saturation) and built environs and uses them to frame the viewer’s position on the characters and events.” (Sanders, Skoble, Barton Palmer, 2014, p 87).

Mann duplicates two scenarios in Heat with both groups having a night out on the town. Firstly, we see McCauley’s crew of master thieves, each with own special talent, celebrating the success of their recent heist, in one of LA’s finer restaurants; white linen, suited waiters, table flowers, silverware and valet parking give an impression of refinement yet it is a lifestyle stolen, not earned in the traditional manner. Neil’s crew each have their wives or long time girlfriends with them and in the case of two have their children along as well. As we cut from vignette to vignette of each couple, one wife receiving an extraordinarily large diamond from her husband, another couple sharing a very public yet intimate moment, Mann intercuts a medium close-up shot of Neil, framed all by himself, alone, with eye line off to a character from the preceding vignette. Now we start to see that while his other gang members have taken the time to start lives and create families, Neil is the only one still alone. The cuts back to Neil after and during each vignette are shorter and shorter, building tension which is relieved when finally, we see Neil excuse himself from the table and make a phone call to Eady, his one-night stand from the previous evening. As is noted by Sanders et al, “Until McCauley meets Eady, he is isolated from the feelings of ambivalence that would affect any normal person who must be prepared in thirty seconds flat to walk away from any attachments he may have…”, (Sanders, Skoble, Barton Palmer, 2014, p 45). The pain of loneliness in which Neil has isolated himself is now able to be relaxed to some extent but he concurrently has his ‘code’ to live by.

In the opposing scene we are at a dinner in a similar yet different restaurant. The room is darker and the tone a little more raucous. Through a window we can look down on the city. This venue is almost the mirror opposite the one in which McCauley and crew dine. Low lighting instead of bright lighting, dancing instead of subdued conversation, elevated position as opposed to street level. Around the table are Vincent and his wife with his ‘crew’ of detectives and their partners. While they number more in quantity there are no children and we know less about any of them than the members of Neil’s crew. In this scene the focus is on Vincent and his wife, Justine. Just when they start to have fun Vincent receives a page then makes a phone call.  As Vincent listens to the police dispatcher he has been instructed to call describe the details of yet another homicide, his gaze tells us that he has already left the party. At the same instant Justine exits the frame leaving Vincent all alone in the shot. He then departs into the loneliness of Los Angeles’ crime filled darkness.

Throughout the film Mann uses a palette of blue from electric in neon lighting to icy over the ocean. Even the black of the night sky we see from McCauley’s home in the hills over looking the city and his beach house is actually blue-black. The colour blue is most recognised as reflective of a psychological disorder of depression and more generally of melancholia or sadness. Both attributes of humans longing for connection or who are otherwise alone. Contemporary colour theory also tells us that blue is the most oft used colour of corporations; emotionless entities devoid of human interaction. These traits are most evident in both Hanna and McCauley and is representative of their perfectionism, professionalism and cold blooded ruthlessness. And in one of the most densely populated cities in the world the stillness and quiet of the shot from McCauley’s hill top post-modern neo-minimalistic house forces the audience to think how possible it is to live in a city of millions but be alone. With regard to Vincent his loneliness stems from his deteriorating relationship with his wife. We learn that their house is really her home and Vincent’s only worldly possession is a small portable TV.

Interestingly, with regard to costume, Mann flips the stereotypical notion of good guys wear white and bad guys wear black by costuming detective Hanna in black shirts throughout the film and master criminal McCauley in white shirts. This change of form from the ordinary and obvious gives hint to the audience of the underlying machinations that prevail, albeit unseen and most likely not even admitted to, by each protagonist. Hanna in his role of professional policeman and all the significance and preconceived connotations that come with that role, exists in a world far closer to that of which he is trying to prevail over. He deals with on a frequent basis the very people that should not be able to walk the streets. He is far nearer to more criminals than McCauley is for the majority of screen time. His uniform of black shirts helps him blend in with this assortment of criminal element like camouflage. Conversely, McCauley in his designer grey suite and white shirts blends into the world he wants to assimilate with. In his desire to blend in with the masses he has lost himself and succumbed to loneliness. During the restaurant scene Neil was not out of place at all. None of his crew were suspected of being anything other than good friends out for a good time, celebrating a business victory or family occasion.

The post modern architecture is a major influence throughout the film and is highly visible in both Vincent’s wife’s house and the police station office from where he works. Neil’s house in the hills and the other by the beach are equally striking and reflective of their owner’s internal loneliness. Vincent is a tourist or accessory in his wife’s house. With nothing more than a portable TV he is as transient as he is committed to her. He has nothing to tie him down; no investment in the space nor in the relationship. Neil’s houses are devoid of substantive furniture; nothing that can make them possibly be called ‘home’. He has these houses possible because he has to do something with the money amassed from his illegal activities. Aside from the barest essentials such a couch, some crockery and a bed, the houses are barren. Neither has anything that can’t be easily be replaced should they have to give it up, “…in thirty seconds flat.” Mann uses these blank canvases to paint a picture of Neil’s emotional void he has created to maintain his strict code of perfect professionalism. With regard to Vincent, the house in which he resides is as empty of his possessions as Neil’s houses are. While Vincent’s house is full of ‘things’ none except for his non-permanent, easily transportable, little TV actually belong to Vincent. Vincent’s life within another’s life again reinforces the concept that many who live in big cities endure on a daily basis; loneliness. And how it is possible to be lonely within a relationship. Mann’s pervasive use of the post-modern architecture extends to the work environment for Vincent. The office from which he works is concrete and grey slabs. It is more reminiscent of a prison than modern police station. For what it supposed to represent to the public it is another concrete coffin for Vincent to endure the pain of his loneliness on a daily basis.

In conclusion, Mann’s portrait of loneliness possessed by men who for the most part exist in their own common worlds is most devastatingly and poetically depicted in the finale of the film. Renowned as one of the great film scenes, Hanna and McCauley come face to face for the second time in the film; McCauley the hunted and Hanna the hunter. However, in the final frames the scales are tipped back slightly to even as Neil orchestrates and leads Vincent towards a ‘kill field’. Once again Mann ensures that they are surrounded by nothing and everything at once; both seemingly at home in the loneliness that their professional, determined ruthlessness has brought them. In a field near a runway of LA International airport these two men stalk each other like hunted prey. Mann uses tight, fast shots to build to crescendo the tension of life and death, love and hate which has been building throughout. However, like the majority of American cinema, the idea of the ‘bad guy winning’ is a distant thought. In this instance Mann’s use of equal screen time editing, replication of shots between actors that are so tight and close the actor’s skin takes on a character all of it’s own, intercut with wider shots illustrating the danger of the area in which the scene takes place, give the audience hope that the resolution may be more balanced than the carnage and violence that has preceded. In the penultimate series of frames, it is the ‘white hat’, black shirted, good guy that prevails — but only just. As Sharrett writes, “At the end, both Neil and Vincent are alone, less, I think, to showcase the “final showdown” to which the drama has been moving than to emphasise their alienation from domesticity and forms of male organisation alike.” (Sharrett, 2007, Issue 43)

These two men who are so similar in so many ways both internally and externally and equal in their respect for each are finally defined to be different by nothing more than the speed of a bullet. The final shot is so beautifully and starkly framed, and darkly lit to capture the entirety of the film’s theme in one single frame. These adversaries and contemporaries, hand in hand, no victory, the end of a life and the end of mutually respectful relationship are highlighted in Mann’s composition giving both characters equal framing even though they are in very different positions. Mann’s use of swelling orchestral overture highlights the majesty in which these two have ‘played their game of death and destruction’. McCauley has lost his life and Hanna has lost a worthy antagonist. The final frame is a portrait and paints both men against the flickering airport runway lights which we saw earlier in the film as the lights of LA from Neil’s hilltop home. Once more and for the final time Mann demonstrates the loneliness that both men exist within.



Arnett, R., 2009, “The American City as Non-Place: Architecture and Narrative in the Crime Films of Michael Mann”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Volume 27, Issue 1

Heat, 1995, motion picture, Warner Bros., Hollywood, California

James, N., Heat, 2002 British Film Institute, London

Mattes, A., 2014, “Action without Regeneration: The Deracination of the American Action Hero in Michael Mann’s Heat” Journal of Popular Film and Television Volume 42Issue 4

Rybin, S., 2013, Michael Mann: Crime Auteur, The Scarecrow Press, London

Sanders, S.M., Skoble, A.J. and Barton Palmer, R., 2014 The Philosophy of Michael Mann The University of Kentucky Press, USA

Sharrett, C., 2007, “Heat” Senses of Cinema, Issue 43, May 2007

“MEMENTO”: A Film Wrapped in a Puzzle, Covered in Hidden Clues Directed by Christopher Nolan


“No. It’s different. I have no short-term memory. I know who I am and all about myself, but since my injury I can’t make any new memories. Everything fades. If we talk for too long, I’ll forget how we started. I don’t know if we’ve ever met before, and the next time I see you I won’t remember this conversation. So if I seem strange or rude, that’s probably...
I’ve told you this before, haven’t I?”

(Nolan, C., 2000, ‘Memento)


This movie is often described as confusing the audience but I think Memento more aptly creates within the audience a vivid sense of uncertainty. Based on the short story (by his brother, Jonathan Nolan) ‘Memento Mori’, Christopher Nolan’s film explores the space in and around the human memory while at the same time telling a tale of revenge and its ultimate futility.

While we all trust our own memories police often say the hardest case to prosecute is one with only eye witness testimony because of the ease in which a skilled defence lawyer can destroy a witness’ memory of events. As an aside, this has given rise to the plethora of TV crime shows dependant upon science and scientists to prove or disprove evidence. Furthermore, in Sidney Lumet’s film “12 Angry Men” (1957), Juror #8 is able to persuade another juror to change their guilty vote to not guilty by illustrating the fragility and impermanence of their own memory.

The opening credits of Memento give a hint as to the uncertainty contained within the film. Similarly, the promotional website created to market the film is ‘’; the reverse spelling of memento. The director has gone to extraordinary lengths in making this film to leave clues at various moments throughout; some obvious and some not so. The earlier an audience member is aware of the clues Nolan is leaving through his fastidious approach to Mise-en-scene the sooner the viewer starts delving more deeply into the narrative and ultimately becomes more empathetic with the protagonist. At this point the movie becomes much more than a theatrical presentation but an experiential existential expression.

The opening credits scene occurs in reverse with a man being shot at close range while the sound plays in real time. We learn in the next scene that the protagonist Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers a ‘condition’ known as anterograde amnesia. Pendick stated that “In important ways, Memento depicts amnesia more accurately than any major film release to date.” (Pendick, D., 2002,, “Memory Loss at the Movies”, para 2). He goes on to say that Memento is still not perfect in its depiction. Leonard’s ‘condition’, as he refers to it, prevents him from creating new memories. While we are reassured by Leonard that he is fully cognisant of his permanent past memories Nolan uses a wide range of devices to create uncertainty in everything Leonard tells us. No longer can the audience be sure of anything that Leonard says simply because how can one trust a man that cannot remember if he had a shower that morning, or where he lives, or if he killed his wife or not? Even the ‘facts’ Leonard has tattooed on his body are cast in doubt; while they may be permanent in nature there is no rationale for the audience to be certain of their content. As Rosalind Sibielski writes with regard to Leonard’s picture taking, note taking and tattoos, “The problem with his dependence upon these documents to legitimate the reconstruction of his past, however, is that since they are open to interpretation, they are not grounded in such a way as to fix meanings which comprise ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ knowledge…”. (Sibielski, R., 2004, “Postmodern Narrative or Narrative of the Postmodern? History, Identity, and the Failure of Rationality as an Ordering Principle in Memento”, Literature and Psychology, Volume 49.4, pp 82–100).

Nolan uses this juxtaposition of permanence of the tattoo with the fragility of memory to underscore the element of uncertainty.

Many more of these examples abound throughout the film. At one point we are told, by the unreliable witness, Leonard Shelby, that he is from San Francisco. Not long later we see him driving a car which he says belongs to him yet has Nevada number plates. These subtle jolts to our rational thinking occur almost like subliminal shocks to the psyche and start an internal questioning process; “If he got that wrong, what else is he getting wrong?” The result of this instance where the audience is told one thing and shown another again folds back into the ever present theme of what constitutes reality in the mind of someone suffering a brain injury.

The most prevalent directorial influence over this element is the unusual editing style employed by Nolan. He draws upon two timelines; one in colour and one in B&W; not an original style in and of itself. However, the colour timeline is not linear. In a recent interview Nolan describes the colour timeline as ‘dis-linear’ (Neff & Argent, 2015,, para. 2). By way of comparison, a linear timeline moves forward in time as per real life. A non-linear timeline as exemplified in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994) where entire story arcs are moved around to aid the director’s telling of the story. On the other hand, the colour scenes of Memento are shown with a slight overlap as Leonard and the audience move backwards and discover a little more about how he got to where he is as each new piece of the puzzle is revealed. Chris Darke writes, “…Memento turns its detective hero Leonard Shelby into a surrogate for the spectator, its backward narrative logic forcing us to embark on the kind of investigative work Shelby is engaged in.” (Darke, C., 2000, “Memento”, Sight & Sound, Volume 10, Issue 11, pp 42–58).

This use of dis-linear editing in storytelling reinforces the uncertainty of Leonard’s memory and thereby every action he proceeds to undertake based upon his systemised manual memory replacement strategy. As each new piece of the puzzle is revealed another contrasting fact is presented to the audience and creates more uncertainty; more questions pile up about Leonard and his cohort.

Contemporary analysis of Memento uses the following naming convention when referring to these scenes, first proposed by Andy Klein (Salon, Jun, 2001). The colour dis-linear scenes are referred to as V-A and the B&W linear scenes are numbered 1-22.


Additionally, the opening credits are referred to as such because it contains important elements of the narrative while at the same, as previously mentioned, indicate a level of confusion which pervades the entire film at differing levels.

The colour timeline reveals a little more of the story as each new, albeit previous scene is introduced. Characters are introduced after they have already made impact into the timeline. Character development is revealed post appearance which adds to the confusion of the audience. This constant illustration and reiteration of uncertainty aids in creating an almost empathetic relationship between the audience and Leonard. Nolan draws upon this empathy as a story telling device to engage the audience deeper and deeper into the delusion that Leonard has created for himself and therefore creates a basis to justify his actions.

The colour timeline (scenes V-A) also includes numerous repetitive shots. However, on closer analysis there are subtle differences in specific frames within the repetitive scenes. In scene U for example one shot is of the hotel’s check-in desk. Leonard is paying his bill and has laid down two twenty dollar notes. When we see this shot again, as it is repeated sequence, the notes are in a slightly different position.

Screenshot 2015-10-20 17.56.33

Screenshot 2015-10-20 17.55.28

At another scene repeat, Leonard is writing on the back of one of his Polaroid photos. When we see the shot for the second time some of the writing has been made with a different pen. Interestingly, when the film was fist released these subtle changes were thought by some viewers to be continuity errors rather than the visual trope the director had wanted them to see.

The tension created by Nolan through his visual tropes builds throughout the film until the two timelines (colour scenes V–A and B&W scenes 1–22) converge and the delivery of a rationale explanation is, albeit fleetingly, presented.

In conclusion, Christopher Nolan has created a film for audiences to not only enjoy but also decipher. By employing a wide range of visual tropes across all element of Mise-en-scene to enhance the audience’s appreciation of both character and story, Nolan simultaneously gives audiences a path to empathise with Leonard by letting them experience the closest of approximations to the circumstances with Leonard has to live, and a starting point to solving the Memento puzzle.



12 Angry Men, 1957, motion picture, Metro Goldwyn Meyer, Hollywood, California

Bianco, J.S., 2004, “Techno-Cinema”, Comparative Literature Studies, Penn State University Press, Volume 41, Number 3, 2004, pp. 377–403

Darke, C., 2000, “Memento”, Sight & Sound, Volume 10, Issue 11, pp 42–58

Klein, A., 2001 “Everything You Wanted to Know About ‘Memento’”, Salon, June 29

Mememto, 2000, motion picture, Newmarket Capital Group, Hollywood, California

Molloy, C., 2010, American Indies: Memento, Edinburgh University Press, United Kingdom

Pendick, D., 2002, “Memory Loss at the Movies”,, para 2

Sibielski, R., 2004, “Postmodern Narrative or Narrative of the Postmodern? History, Identity, and the Failure of Rationality as an Ordering Principle in Memento”, Literature and Psychology, Volume 49.4, pp 82–100