Students in our Remix Culture class are currently honing their research questions – next week they’ll have 250 word project descriptions and a video trailer posted to their blogs. Almost all the students are well on their way, but it’s not always easy finding the way from that first intuitive fascination with a topic or an artefact to defining a research question and planning a course of action. This part of the process can be hard work – often it’s far easier to think of six other possible topics than to commit to one!

So let’s look at one way in which that initial fascination might be focused. To our group’s great amusement, last week Kurdin showed us the fake trailer for the second Titantic movie – the one where they find out that Jack is still alive and fish him up from the depths of the ocean, frozen into a block of ice but still alive. But how on earth will he adapt to the 21st century – and the realisation that Rose is dead?

OK, so you have the fascination with this artefact – where could you go from here?

First, find some context. When you google the title of the video you’ll see that the fourth or fifth hit is to the blog The Trailer Mash: Movie Trailers, Recut. Titanic Two the Surface is clearly not an isolated phenomenon. OK, so a research project could examine the whole genre, which the blog tells us is called trailer mashups – what characterises trailer mashups? Do they tend to be critical of the movie, to parody the movie or pure appreciations of the movie? What’s the history of this genre? Did it exist before internet sharing and video editing became easy?

Next step: what’s been done on this topic academically? Google Scholar is a very easy place to start hunting. Try searching for “trailer remix” or “trailer mashup” or if the results aren’t great, add movie to the search terms. Perhaps try searching for the title of Titanic Two the Surface, just in case someone actually wrote about it. You’ll see that there is some mention of this genre in scholarly articles, but not a lot – which actually means it’s a promising field to explore.

What might adjacent scholarly fields be? Well, we talked about fan fiction in an earlier class – and this could certainly be seen in the light of fan fiction. So search for scholarly articles and books about fan fiction, maybe adding in the search term “movie”. Henry Jenkins’ book Textual Poachers is a classic in this field – unfortunately it’s currently on loan from the University of Bergen library, but you could reserve it if you’re quick. Another field that would be interesting is movie mashups in general. You could simply start with the Wikipedia article (though for a research article you need to go further than Wikipedia! Encyclopedias are starting points for research, and not OK as sole references.) and follow references and ideas from there. Googling “movie mashup” you’ll see one of the first hits is a Wired article on how Hollywood is actually starting to commission mashups – which might lead you to thinking about the relationship between the movie industry and fans.

I still haven’t suggested a specific research question – that would be up to you, if this were your topic. But hopefully you’ll see ways in which you can flesh out a fairly vague idea and figure out which direction you would like to explore further. You’ll need to read more (and look at more trailer mashups) to finalise your research question, but just from this much, you might have an idea already of which aspects would interest you most.

4 thoughts on “how to get from a cool but vague idea to a 250 word research project description

  1. Omer Rosenbaum

    I must say that I follow your course’s description and I am totally envy of your students. While I am struggling here with the philosophy of social science you touch the hardcore stuff.

  2. […] Talk a bit about how to get from idea to research proposal […]

  3. Matt Whyndham

    This is useful guidance for any discipline. The fuzzy front end needs a lot of processing, and experts forget how to articulate the techniques. I sometimes employ a funnel or filtration analogy, and recommend that it be implemented through a process involving brainstorming, then lists, each iteration having fewer items of greater depth, until there’s a choice of two or three. Thanks for illustrating how to work sideways within the funnel.

  4. Sigrid

    I love movie trailer remixes, and I have been wanting use them in a class sometime. Again you are ahead of the game! Great stuff! I agree tha your students are lucky!

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