Emily West & Alex Creighton
Moving-image media are compelling sites of cultural work. Writing about motion pictures poses peculiar challenges – and offers distinct pleasures – for students in disciplines across the university. Yet it is unusual for a course that analyzes the moving image to teach students how to do so with clarity and confidence. What vocabularies do students writing about film, television, YouTube, or TikTok need to know? How do we engage texts in these mediums on their own terms, as visual objects of analysis? How do we do so in a way that is academically rigorous, drawing on scholarly interlocutors to contribute to a broader intellectual conversation?
This writing-intensive course uses weekly writing assignments of 750 to 2000 words as a space to explore and find answers to these questions, each of which corresponds to a type of essay we will read and write together. We start with the basics: examining the attitudes and practices we bring to the process of academic writing, including how we perceive our academic voices, assess the assignments we receive, and plan and complete our writing projects. As a community of practice, we engage in real conversations about the challenges of academic writing, including time management and how to confront writer’s block. From here, the course moves to identify the specific skills and processes that facilitate positive – even pleasurable – academic writing experiences.
As we read and write together, we build the skills and confidence that make writing as a process of intellectual exploration satisfying for its own sake. More specifically, this course focuses on helping students cultivate the skills to write the three types of essay that form the basic unit structure of the semester: sequence analysis, analytical essay, and critical essay. No matter their major, students with an interest in writing about moving-image media will find these essay types familiar, interesting, and relevant to their course of study. A sequence analysis focuses on a single film sequence: presenting and interpreting evidence of this sequence’s cinematography, mise-en-scène, editing, and sound in order to make an argument about what the sequence means or what cultural work it is accomplishing. An analytical essay does the same thing, but at a larger scale: bringing together evidence from different parts of a single film in order to make an argument about what the film is doing formally and culturally. A critical essay also engages the film as a whole, but uses a piece of scholarship as critical framework or lens through which to view the film. In a critical essay, we explain what our critical framework is arguing, apply it to the film as a new object of analysis, and extend the original scholarship’s ideas by identifying what the film can show us about these ideas that we haven’t seen before.
This last essay type, as we explain in the Writing Guide that forms the basis of our work in the final unit of the course, performs the gesture at the heart of academic writing: it engages and refines the work of a scholarly interlocutor, thereby contributing to a broad conversation about shared intellectual concerns. The class structure cultivates students’ sense of sharing in this conversation by fostering collaborations between students and by inviting faculty to share their experiences as writers.
Students join together in writing pods where they share their work and support each other in extending and revising their writing assignments throughout the semester. With the support of their peers and instructors, they workshop their own writing at different stages of the process and engage in multi-stage revision designed to improve clarity, rigor, and persuasiveness rather than simply correct errors.
Faculty visitors share their experience with the types of writing we are working on; students and faculty meet as colleagues who share the pleasures of an intellectual path and the challenges of clear and persuasive expression. Not only do students craft their own sequence analyses, analytical and critical essays; they also author a personal paper development and self-revision guide. In this document, each student identifies their personal areas of challenge and success, notes which parts of the process require significant investment of time and effort, and outlines self-revision strategies that will help the student prepare and submit outstanding essays in future coursework.
Students can take this document into future classes knowing that they have a strong sense of themselves as writers and a roadmap for essay-writing that works for them. At the end of the semester, students walk away with a portfolio of polished work that includes final drafts of their sequence analysis, analytical essay, critical essay, and personal writing guide.
Students must have completed R1A and R1B to enroll in this course. We welcome sophomore, junior, and senior students from any major who have a special interest in writing about the moving image. Students in Film & Media who wish to write an honors thesis should take this course followed by Film & Media 194: Advanced Film Writing. If it is not obvious from all I’ve said below about the types of writing we will develop here, let me say it plainly now: this course is not a screenwriting class. It is an academic writing class.