So your professor has assigned a paper about Tommy Wiseau's masterpiece The Room.  You haven't seen this work of art yet, but you're nervous about getting started.  Sure, it sounds like writing a paper about a book or poem, but you have a lingering doubt that it will actually be quite different.  Well, dear reader, you are right about that.  While writing about film still involves reading
the film as a text, you can ask many different questions about it and approach writing about it in a much different way than you would a novel.

Getting Started—Picking up on Themes

There are as many ways to analyze a film as there are to analyze a book.  The choices that a director uses to create a film are all important and have implications beyond the surface level.  Try thinking about your assigned film with the following questions in mind:

·       What perspectives are presented in the film?  From whose point of view do you experience most of the narrative?  Are there moments in the film where you see through a specific character's eyes?  Why do you think the director chose to film it from that person's perspective?

·       How is music used in this film?

·       How are techniques like lighting, sound, and dialogue used?  These elements that we rarely think about convey an important message about the subject of the film.

·       You can also track images and motifs in a film like you would in a novel.  For instance, what role do spoons play in The Room?  Or how are human relationships portrayed?

How to Get Started Writing

When writing about a film, I often find that watching the movie again with my research question in mind is extremely helpful.  Unlike rereading a  book, a movie takes only about two hours to watch again, and seeing the film again in the context of your question can be a really effective way to brainstorm.  If you watch a DVD version, make notes about specific scenes and note the time so that you can reference the film again later if you wish.  Remember that you still want to have a clear thesis statement and supporting evidence!

Also:  the following website has a great glossary of film terms so that you can feel more comfortable writing about film techniques!
Good luck!  Soon you'll be the next Roger Ebert.
One of the reasons I decided to come to Agnes Scott was because of its emphasis on writing—writing across disciplines, writing as a thought process, writing for pleasure and for communication. Imagine my chagrin, then, when I arrived and was forced to do all of these pre-writing assignments before I could even get into “actually writing.” A writing assignment would be dangled in front of me, and before I could excitedly reach up to grab it, various and sundry other assignments would be handed to me to do before I could begin writing. Most people reading this blog will groan along with me when I throw out the phrases “annotated bibliography,” “working thesis,” and “outline.” Surely no one except lowly undergraduate students can be subjected to such torturous assignments….. right

After I started working as a tutor, these plaguing assignments only seemed to grow worse. Not only was I subjected to my own pre-writing tasks, but other, equally-upset writers kept coming in with questions about Roman numeral-ization for outlines, or stylistic concerns regarding double- or single-spacing in the annotations of annotated bibliographies. Really, what was the point? I mean, I guess it was a good thing that there were more assignments since it meant that my entire grade did not hang in the balance of one paper, but by this point, I was almost willing to risk it. Because I am a good student and fairly grade-oriented, I never kvetched aloud—just quietly to myself. I learned to do these assignments to the professor’s satisfaction and simply decided to cut my losses and get over it. 

Then, in my senior year, a revelation came to me in the form of more academic freedom. Many of my professors decided that I was far enough along in my academic career that these pre-writing assignments were not necessary. If I wanted to hang myself out to dry, that was absolutely fine with them. I rejoiced! Good fortune and happiness abounded! After the celebrations finally subsided, though, I realized that beginning the writing process was actually very difficult without… well, a process. For years, I had relied on the much-hated outlines and annotated bibliographies as a low-stress way for me to begin to write. Without these steps leading up to writing, it was like trying to jump across a vast distance in a single bound. I was suddenly very aware that those pre-writing assignments had been for my benefit, not the benefit of my professors. I could put in or get out of them as much as I wanted. Suddenly, all the stress of stylistics and mechanics of whether an annotated bibliography needed to be in full sentences or could be left in sentence fragments fell away.

I am a total convert now. Whenever I have writers come into the Center who have been given free reign with their papers, I encourage them to use forms of pre-writing to get their thoughts collected. It makes writing papers a much more efficient (and possibly) rewarding experience. Cater the pre-writing exercises to fit your needs as a student, not the perceived needs of the professor. Most of the time, professors can tell when you are doing the assignment for the grade, and when you are pre-writing to help yourself, and almost always, they appreciate pre-writing for yourself. If you’ve never done a pre-writing exercise for yourself, I highly recommend trying it. It may not be as constraining as you initially thought.
          Most of the creative writing Scotties that I know on campus are lovers of Fiction. They flock to Dr. Dermont’s workshop courses, and all of them seem to be blessed with the ability to create characters, scenarios, dialogue and other important details, perhaps based on their own lives or real-life situations, but also from their own creative imaginations.  
        For me, the journey of writing
creatively has been quite different: my Fiction writing class in high school proved that this genre is one I should probably stay far away from. My very first short story was essentially a written copy of the 1993 film The Sandlot, following a young boy who moved to a new town and had to bond with new friends in the unfamiliar territory of baseball. No one caught on to my imitation, but I remember a sense of deep let down that I had been so unsuccessful at creating a world and at least somewhat original characters. At this moment, I turned to nonfiction. A year later, my English teacher assigned the task of writing: “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less,” the title of an essay originally written by Nora Ephron. I spent days, followed by weeks, writing, tweaking, changing wording, and bringing my life to life on the page. The assignment was exhilarating to me, because I was finally able to tell the story of someone I actually knew: Myself. Looking back on it, “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” probably isn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, but it put me on a path to learning to invent the story of myself in many different ways, in different voices and different styles. 

My roommate told me that she shares a similar reluctance to delve into creative writing, because she doubts her ability to create believable characters and interesting realities and plots. So I asked her: Who is the character that you know the best? I believe that this is the true beauty of nonfiction, particularly the personal essay. Although the foundation stays the same the whole time you write it, the perspective and approach can evolve to fit the situation.

              For others who may be down on creative writing, I encourage you to explore and experiment with different genres, including creative nonfiction, especially if you haven’t tried it. Agnes Scott offers an Introductory Nonfiction Workshop class in the Spring that allows students to experiment with several different types of nonfiction writing, including journalism, memoir, and personal essay. The key that I have found so far as being successful for the creation of a good piece of nonfiction is in the details. But the best thing of all is that you don’t have to invent them—you just have to write them down!
Ah, graduate school. It’s one of the futures that Agnes Scott College likes to brag about to prospective students. To be fair, ASC has good reason: many Agnes Scott alumnae go on to get higher degrees, and women’s colleges in general inspire proportionally more students to continue their education than co-educational counterparts.

In this economic black hole that recent alumnae, current seniors, and at least juniors are facing, graduate school seems like a tempting alternative to facing a sparse job market. So you know, you are not the only person who has had this seemingly marvelous idea. When I applied to Yale University’s English Ph.D. program, I received a rejection letter letting me know that I had been one of 10,400 applicants. There are a lot of people out there trying to get an advanced degree, and I was one of at least 10,000 people interested in a doctorate in English literature.

Applying to grad school is an incredibly exhausting experience. (For the moment, let’s neglect that grad school itself is even harder.) Applications involve a lot of scrambling for transcripts, recommendations, sample work, resumes, and personal statements. Every element of your application requires you to place your fate in the hands of others, and I thought it was rather frightening!

In many ways, it’s for the best that I wasn’t alone. Many writing center tutors have helped Phoenixes struggling to pitch their inestimable value to their dream program in 1000 words or less. I also came in for tutoring, and talking to someone about my ideas and interests who had nothing to do with them was the most fruitful thing I did for my application. I needed to talk to someone.

Applying to graduate programs was an incredible experience. There are so many “correct” ways to apply, so many mistakes to avoid.* Cashing in on the sheer amount of fellow applicants can be invaluable. There were a lot of people like me, and the more I talked to people, the more practical information I learned and harnessed for my own application. I found communities of applicants on the internet frequented by previously successful applicants who were there to answer questions and review materials.** The networks of students and professionals here at Agnes Scott who will be more than happy to help you with your application are invaluable. Talk to them. Ask many detailed questions. Find answers.

But still, while I was working with all this process, I kept in mind that I was doing this because it was what I wanted. It was important to me that I stay grounded in my goals and interests, and without staying grounded, I don’t think I could have earned my acceptance to Boston College’s M.A. program in English Literature. I am looking forward to the hard but fascinating work that motivated me to apply in the first place.


*Personal lesson: You are supposed to waive your right to see your letter of recommendation.

** http://community.livejournal.com/applyingtograd