Writing 109F: Writing About Film

Michael Petracca
Office: Girvetz 1307

Course Description

Writing 109F is an upper-division writing workshop for Film Studies students and/or students entering (or thinking about entering) graduate-level film programs and/or students who like watching films and thinking and talking and writing about them and/or students who need to complete certain university writing requirements and wouldn’t mind spending some time considering movie-related issues in the process.  In other words, all are welcome here, and everybody, one hopes, will find coursework, along with the camaraderie of an actively engaged classroom community, enriching.  

This course will introduce a range of considerations about moviemaking, film theory, textual explication and analysis, along with research writing skills that will carry beyond the scope of film analysis, applying to a wide range of academic disciplines.  Through your own reading, writing, thinking, participating in discussion − and perhaps occasionally taking over the class as a teacher − you’ll begin to develop and refine your own personality as a writer and a critical thinker: a complex set of attitudes, beliefs and methodologies that may inform your life beyond your short time here at the university and within the confines of these neatly mowed tracts of lawn and post-suburban structures of cinder block and faux-Gaucho roofing tile. 

Because being a university-level writer occasionally requires one to be a researcher, this course will also ask you to read examples of film-centered research, and you’ll be responsible for presenting your own research findings in several ways:  a major essay incorporating a range of secondary source material and appropriately formatted citation; perhaps a brief individual presentation to the class; a movie review, a first-person creative-nonfictional rendering of a movie-related experience; a formal prospectus; and an annotated bibliography.  Research strategies will include visiting the UCSB library databases extensively for secondary source materials, using Google or other search engines to supplement those findings, interviewing, surveying, observing, and reviewing professional literature.

Most of you will not end up working as professional film critics, or as Film Studies professors. Some will go on to work in the entertainment industry in some capacity, some will pursue another equally satisfying life path that may include ongoing attention to the arts, including the cinema, and the rest will engage in other worthy disciplines and career pursuits, such as math, biology, Spanish, accounting, auto repair, cooking good food, and raising a passel o’ kids in a loving and mindful way.  Whatever your own areas of interest and professional directions, I encourage you to generalize from the writing- and cinema-specific material we cover in this class, to determine how composition praxis, concepts of diction and argument construction, composition and film theory, and textual/metatextual appreciation and interpretation, might intersect with, and even enrich your life beyond school. In short, I want this writing course to be useful − maybe even inspirational − to you, whatever your intended (or, most likely, unintended) path.

As regards my own teaching style, I’m most comfortable as an elicitor of responses, a conductor of − and participant in − discussion. My job here is to facilitate the exchange of ideas, to offer suggestions for avenues of inquiry, to encourage you, to empathize with your stresses and blocks because I have them too, to model certain writing skills which I’ve practiced and learned over the years, to keep the momentum of the class going. In some ways this course will resemble the traditional British “tutorial model,” in that I will be constantly present as a sounding board throughout your various writing- and analysis-related assignments, offering personal feedback and usually benign guidance throughout a set of activities that will be largely self-paced. At any point, and at many points throughout the quarter, please feel free to contact me for written or verbal response to your writing, career thoughts, life concerns and anything else, via e-mail, office hours, appointments … or just grab me after class, and we’ll talk.

Course Requirements
  • Dialectical Response Journals in which you summarize and respond to certain assigned readings.
  • Movie review project in which you read a review published by a recognized critic and use that document as a model for your own review of a film of your choosing;
  • Major research essay of approximately seven pages about a specific film-related issue of your choosing.  
  • If time permits, an individual oral presentation in which you present your research findings to the class and engaging us in discussion and/or exercises.
  • Final exam in which you present a meta-view of this class as a gestalt … those words again!  Basically, I just want you to write about what happened in this course to you and your peers, what you may have learned and found positive, and what you may have found lacking or downright annoying.

Your final grade in the course will break down approximately as follows:
  • 30% class participation, including regular attendance, engaging in ciass discussion, and oral presentation if time permits. Important note on class participation grade: each day we have discussion, led either by me or by students doing their oral presentations, you start with a B-. You can easily and painlessly raise that grade to an A by volunteering opinions and insights one or several times per class session - nothing excessive; just throw in your "two cents" occasionally. If you say nothing but appear reasonably interested during the session, your grade will remain a B-. If you say nothing and appear unreasonably disinterested during the session (e.g. head on desk, snoring out loud, chatting with neighbors while other folks are talking, talking on celly, reading and highlighting physics notes, listening to iPod, etc.), your grade drops to C or lower. At the end of each class session, I record your participation grade for that day in my little green book, and I average out those grades at the end of the quarter.
  • 30% research paper;
  • 30% journals, including film review;
  • 10% final exam.
Note to disabled students

If you are a student with a documented disability, and you would like to discuss special accommodations or needs, please contact me during office hours or via e-mail.  I'm always happy to help!