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ENGL1065 Introduction to Film                                                                                                       John Friedlander
Telecourse Version: American Cinema   
                                                Southwest Tennessee Community College

You can find a downloadable file of these instructions, along with three sample papers, instructions on writing mechanics and conventions, and the reaction paper scoring sheet through your account at My.Southwest.  

After logging into My.Southwest, click on the "Courses" tab, then on "My Courses," then on "Intro Film & Lab," then on "Files"  (which is under "Course Tools"). Under Files for Intro to Film & Lab" you will see the file name, "Reaction Paper packet, 05f, doc." Clicking on that file name will lead you to a download of a Word document which you can either open directly or save and open later.  


            About a third of the way through the term (be sure to check your schedule for exact due dates!), you will be completing a “reaction paper,” which will count for 20% of your course grade.  The paper is basically a more formal and unified version of what most of you will have been writing in your last journal responses to specific films, so the assignment should be no cause for particular anxiety.

             Your Study Guide offers a discussion of “Thinking and Writing about Film” (Supplementary Unit 2, pp. 127-133) which is part of the assignment for the start-up, and again for the week when this paper should be completed.  The accompanying broadcast (shown only in the first week during the summer term, but with repeated broadcasts in the longer spring and fall terms) presents first a video that demonstrates how a critical viewer might analyze a film or scene, and then a video displaying the use or applications of  “Film Language.” I find the 30-minute analysis of Scarlet Street thoughtful and entertaining; it’s especially nice to be able to compare the ideas directly with relevant clips from the film.  In some ways, this video analysis is much more accessible and enjoyable than a written analysis can be.  But a written analysis is easier to review and reflect on (since you read at your own pace, not at the pace of the video), and actually writing either analyses or reaction papers is a way for you to discover and reshape your own appreciation of films.

             A reaction paper is just what its name suggests—a paper explaining your reaction to a film.  It may be like a review, because your reaction may involve judgment or evaluation; it may be like an analysis, because your reaction may focus on a particular character, relationship, scene, or film technique.  It is also like a journal entry, in that it presents a personal reaction rather than an attempt to provide either definitive judgments or detailed analysis.  It differs from a journal entry, though, in that it is a more formal essay, prepared for an audience.  

             Like any good essay, your reaction paper should develop one primary idea or perception, support it with specific evidence (usually references to individual shots or scenes), and present both ideas and evidence in clear language and a logical order.  As a partial example, consider my journal entry on Scarface, in your Course Guide.  That response just wanders through scattered impressions.  If I were writing a reaction paper, I would settle on one or two key points I’d like to develop.  I might say, for instance, that the film develops a blunt and unapologetic view of women; or a blunter and less self-conscious view of women than we are likely to find in contemporary films.  To support this reaction, I would describe the presentation of the main character’s mistress and sister in greater detail, including their costumes and key scenes; I’d probably include his mother in the discussion as well.  I might even offer some contrast with a contemporary female character in a gangster film (perhaps the female lead in Carlito’s Way whose character and depiction seem to me to reflect modern feminism).  Of course my reaction paper could choose any number of other directions instead—it might be that I’d focus on the momentum of Scarface, how it is paced or how it is structured, or something about its visual style, including the use of X’s.  But after viewing the film a couple of times, taking notes, and “trying out” some main ideas, I’d settle on one central concern, explore it in a systematic way, and present it as clearly as I could.


             In preparing your reaction papers, I hope you will focus first on prewriting—note taking, journal writing, rough outlines, and so forth.  Give yourself some time and opportunity to discover what you want to say.  It is unlikely that your central idea or perception will be clear or clearly expressed when you begin; it should emerge from the process of writing.  Certainly you should view the film at least twice—first to gain some general impressions and one or two possible points to develop; then to look for evidence to better support or develop your main interests.  In other words, begin by viewing the movie; then examine your reactions to it.  You can examine your reactions by writing a journal entry as you would for any film in the course, but perhaps a longer version, and later underlining the points you think are most important or interesting among your reactions.  You can also examine your reactions by talking about the movie to a friend or family member—talking, like writing, often leads to useful conclusions.  Write down the key points you have discovered and think about what scenes or images in the film helped create those impressions for you.  Soon you’ll be ready to shape an outline and write a draft, and be well on your way to the finished paper.

To summarize the steps:

 1.      Select and view a feature-length American movie you haven’t seen before.

2.      Write a long journal response in which you record your initial impressions and thoughts. You may want to follow up the journal with conversations with sympathetic listeners, to help yourself discover what really matters to you about the movie.

3.      Write down three or four (or more) key impressions or associations that stick in your mind.

4.      View the movie again, this time taking notes on specific scenes or images that reinforce your key impressions or associations.

5.      Write a scratch outline listing each of the key impressions you think you’ll want to discuss (there may be fewer now than before), each followed with the scenes, images or associations that make those impressions strong for you. [The evidence is important—you’re trying to explain not only your main reactions to the movie, but also what caused those reactions.]

6.      Revise your scratch outline to select the most important points and to arrange them in a sensible order.

7.      Write a draft of your paper.

8.      Write or rewrite a firm thesis statement that expresses your key impressions and helps unify the paper.

9.      Revise, edit, and proofread your paper, making sure that you observe all of the technical requirements of the paper, including those described in “Some Mechanics and Conventions for Writing about Films.”



1.                  Please write your reaction to a film other than those you have already responded to.  You may choose a film in current theatrical release, or one available on videotape.  Do not base your paper on a film shown on network television, which is interrupted for commercials, and possibly edited artificially to match a time slot.  

2.                  Your paper should identify the film’s title, director, and date of release, as well as principal actors.  Throughout the paper, the film’s title should be underlined.

3.                  Your reaction paper should total between 800 and 1,000 words. (It’s no big problem if you run a little over that length.)

4.                  Since a reaction paper describes your own reaction to a film, it is appropriate to use first person (I, me, my, mine) occasionally.  But remember that the paper is primarily about the film, not about the writer.

5.                  Avoid the frequent problem of too much plot summary!  Any viewer can get the plot from viewing the movie, so if your paper devotes too many words to plot summary, there’s not much “value added” in the paper.  Neither this reaction paper nor your later analytical paper will offer much to a reader if it mainly retells the story. [THIS IS BY FAR THE MOST COMMON PROBLEM IN INEFFECTIVE PAPERS!  You will find further suggestions about this problem below.]

6.                  To recall some principles of effective writing, please review “Evaluating Your Work” in your Course GuideBe sure, too, to study  Some Mechanics and Conventions for Writing about Films,” which clarifies some specific formal expectations.

7.                  The paper may be typed or handwritten, but must be double spaced in either case.  Use standard loose-leaf notebook paper or typing paper, and write only on the front of each sheet.  Number pages in the upper right-hand corner, including your last name (Smith 1, Smith 2, etc.). All writing must be legible, and must use ink.

8.                  In the upper left-hand corner of your first page, please write or type the following heading.

Your Name
Reaction Paper

9.                  The due date cited in your schedule of assignments is firm.  As specified in your course syllabus, papers are due by 1:00 p.m.* on the due date, and face substantial grade penalties if submitted late.
[*the assigned hour may change from semester to semester, so check your Course Schedule (available via My.Southwest) to confirm it.]


Further thoughts about retelling the story . . . 

Retelling the story is a problem even for skilled and practiced writers.  It's quite natural to want to follow the order of a film's plot, describing events or scenes as they occur, trying to weave your analysis into the film's structure.  What happens too easily, though, is that you just tell the story.  In your head, you're replaying the scenes, and perhaps seeing them very vividly and analytically--on paper, though, there's little more than the original story.  For the most part, any viewer of a film will get the story without help.  Your goal in writing an analytical paper is to help the viewer see or understand or appreciate elements or ideas that are less obvious. 

A few different techniques can help you avoid retelling the story.  

§         One way is to choose a narrow thesis, focusing on a single scene, for example, or perhaps on a secondary character.  If you focus on a central theme or major characters, you're more likely to follow them through the whole film, and tell the whole story again.  

§         Another techniques is to stress topic sentences in your paragraphs—make sure that each paragraph has a point to make, that it's not just advancing the plot.  

§         A more mechanical approach is to arbitrarily limit your plot summary to a single short paragraph.  

§         A more psychological approach--though not always appropriate--is to assume that your reader has already seen the film, and that you don't want to waste the reader's time with what he or she already knows.



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ENGL1065 Introduction to Film                                                                                                               John Friedlander


               Organization (0 to 20 points)

·         Is there a clear-cut thesis statement that controls the direction of the paper and limits the scope of the ideas presented in it? 

·         Are the ideas presented in an orderly sequence that makes sense? 

·         Does the paper have a lively introduction that invites further reading?

·         Does the paper have a definite conclusion that draws the ideas together and leaves the reader satisfied?


              Development  (0 to 60 points)

·         Are the ideas explored adequately within the limits established by the thesis statement?

·         Does the paper avoid excessive plot summary?

·         Does the paper offer sufficient detail or enough examples drawn from the film itself to clarify major points and make them convincing? 

·         Is the paper’s language accurate and effective in making ideas and evidence clear?

·         Does the length of the paper fall within the required range (800 – 1,000 words)?


              Mechanics  (0 to 20 points)

·         Does the paper demonstrate control over the essential elements of grammar? 

·         Are the sentences clear and smooth? 

·         Has the paper avoided major grammatical errors (such as sentence fragments, comma splices, fused or run-together sentences, subject-verb agreement errors, verb form errors)?

·         Does the format of the paper match the instructions for the assignment (proper heading; double spacing; underlining or italicizing of film titles; inclusion of movie’s date, director, and main actors)?


              Total Score 

                Deductions for late submission, if any
                     -  5 points if received within the two calendar days following due date & time;
                                -10 points if received between 2 and 6 calendar days following due date & time;
                                -20 points if received between 7 and 14 calendar days after due date & time;
                                reduction to zero for papers submitted more than 14 calendar days late

               Adjusted Score

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