The Movie Tagger project (a continuation of work described here and here) was initially inspired by a grand vision to parse and richly tag every movie ever made. With an eye toward exploring new models of folksonomic “expert-sourcing”, I set out to interview 12 film different scholars in order to adapt their research to metadata tagging schemas and develop data-visualizations adapted for the unique perspectives of critical inquiry. Previous research has used time-based metadata tagging to help identify formal patterns in film and other linear media (Cutting, Brunick, and Delong 2011; Tsivian 2009; Butler 2009; Manovich and Douglass). By focusing on an entire film, or corpus of films, rather than a sequence, these projects represent a departure from the traditional methodological emphasis on close readings in film and media scholarship. However, more subjective interpretive frameworks can be difficult to apply beyond the scope of a single clip. In an attempt to put these more subjective interpretive strategies in dialogue with macro-scale approaches to tagging, the Movie Tagger research team worked closely with two film scholars, Henry Jenkins and Steve Anderson, who typically use close reading of individual clips as a launch pad for critical analysis.

Jenkins’s research investigates representations of adult-child relationships in media, and so tagging schemas were developed to map the occurrence of affectionate and aggressive touch and language in the films 5000 Fingers of Dr. T and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Network graph illustrating authoritative and permissive language over the entirety of 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. [Datavisualization by Eddie Elliot]

Anderson’s research explores the representation of race, police brutality, and mobbing bodies in films, and so tagging schemas were developed to understand the representation of crowd violence and police in a comparison of Strange Days and West Side Story.

Linear timeline visualisation of tags in West Side Story. [Datavisualization by Eddie Elliot]

In both cases, the metadata collection led to revealing data visualizations and provided a rich resource for revisiting the scholars’ topics of close analysis. Conversely, the lens of close analysis helped us to probe anomalies in the data and productively complicate our tagging framework by pointing outgaps and ontological tensions.

iPad app utilizing circular timeline that visualizes the tags collected for Strange Days and plays clips when the playhead overlaps a tag (for example the two tags in red above). [Datavisualization by Eddie Elliot]


Butler, Jeremy G. 2009. Television Style. Routledge.
Cutting, James E., Kaitlin L. Brunick, and Jordan E. Delong. 2011. “How Act
Structure Sculpts Shot Lengths and Shot Transitions in Hollywood Film.”
Projections 5 (1) (June 15): 1-16.
Manovich, Lev, and Jeremy Douglass. “Visualizing Temporal Patterns in Visual
.” Unpublished Manuscript.
Tsivian, Yuri. 2009. Cinemetrics, Part of the Humanities’ Cyberinfrastructure. In
Digital Tools in Media Studies: Analysis and Research, An Overview, ed.
Michael Ross, Joseph Garncarz, Manfred Grauer, and Bernd Freisleben, 220.
Transcript Verlag.

[Lead PhD researcher: Joshua McVeigh-Schultz; Principle Investigator: Prof. Steve Anderson; MovieTagger Team (USC): Corianda Dimes, Jason Lipshin, Keralyn Kadir; External Advisor: Michael Naimark; Related Content Databases (RCDb) collaborators: Eddie Elliot, Sunny Lee, Darren Lepke, Zane Vella; Programming and datavisualization: Eddie Elliot]