Writing Center Logo Title, Writing in the Disciplines: Film Studies
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Writing for Film Studies: Advice from ProfessorsWriter's Web
Content by Carter Staub and Savannah Gillespie, Site by Megan Venable

(printable version here)

Below are interviews with two professors, Abagail Cheever, Ph.D., and Joe Essid, Ph.D. They offer insight about what to expect from a film studies paper, how an essay for film studies may differ from an essay for a literature class, and how film can be incorporated into the study of literature. Key points from the interviews follow the videos.

Abagail Cheever, Ph.D. :

Key Points:

Students "write as if it were a novel... never thinking about how the visual elements of the frame also work to tell that story"

  • College students are used to sitting down and deeply analyzing a poem or piece of literature. Film is similar to that, but it must involve the visual aspects of the piece.
  • Essays must address the visual aspect of the film.

"Where has the director placed the camera, and how does that affect what I see in front of me?"

  • Writing for literature, students look at the language, and use quotations to provide evidence for their thesis. Film is similar, but to drive to the point, students must look to the visual aspect as a kind of text; listen to the dialogue and follow the narrative, but also look to how that story is conveyed.
  • Film tells its story through pictures.

"A discussion of both the narrative and the plot, but also a discussion of how the visuals are being used in conjunction to that"

  • In an analytical paper, one must talk about the film's meaning. What is the film trying to communicate through both the visuals and narrative? It is important to note that the visual and the narrative components are directly linked and therefore, what you see on screen is almost always a reflection of whatever part of the story the director chose to emphasize during that time.
  • Two ways to accomplish this: by either explaining the narrative aspects and then going back to explain the visual pieces in conjunction, or by doing the two simultaneously.

Joe Essid, Ph.D. :

Key Points:

"Film provides different types of techniques that are related to motion"

  • Film contains a few differences in comparison to literary critiques, such as vocabulary, authorial techniques, and camera motion.

"Novices... will tend to review the film instead of getting into the technical details"

  • Changing the minds of students who do not want to deeply analyze, and believe that by deeply analyzing, it will ruin the movie going experience.
  • Ridding of the confusion of vocabulary and difference in ideas such as shot, scene, and sequence, will help allow viewers better understand and interpret film.
  • Knowing the language, and going under the surface of the film to understand more than just the plot.

"Go beyond plot into film-making"

  • A writer must be aware that words alone sometimes cannot capture what occurs on screen. There must be an interplay between image and word; employ effective adjectives and adverbs.
  • Must use action verbs in writing about film.

"Students need to learn to communicate in multiple genres"

  • Must stress the visual aspect of learning.

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