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

 Some Conventions and Mechanics for 
Writing about Films

 When you are writing about movies, you sometimes encounter concerns that emerge less frequently in other subjects.  This handout alerts you to some of these concerns and how to handle them, as well as to my preferences for mechanics in your papers. 

Film Titles

 Titles of films should always be underlined or italicized (consistently one way or the other) and properly capitalized, whether they are included in your paperís title or referred to in your text.

 in a paperís title*:

             The Subservient Woman in Shane  

   or      The Subservient Woman in Shane

[* note that the title of the paper itself is not underlined or placed in quotation marks; do not use the title of a movie alone as the title for a paper.]

 within the text of the paper:

Although the female roles in Being John Malkovich are strong ones, the movie still focuses primarily on male fantasies and needs.

or  Although the female roles in Being John Malkovich are strong ones, the movie still focuses primarily on male fantasies and needs.


Characters and Actors

 In writing about characters within a movie, you should always identify the actor as well (usually the first time the character is named).  The most convenient technique is to follow the characterís name with the actorís name in parentheses.

    The valley seems peaceful and idyllic when Shane (Alan Ladd) first appears.

In writing about actors rather than characters, you might use the opposite approach. 

    Alan Ladd (Shane) is really too short and clean-cut to embody the mythic force of his character, and his performance seems too soft and mild to make later bursts of violence believable.

 As an alternative, you can include the name of actor or character without the parentheses, as in these examples:

    The valley seems peaceful and idyllic when Shane, played by Alan Ladd, first appears.

    As Shane, Alan Ladd is really too short and clean-cut to embody the mythic force of his character, and his performance seems too soft and mild to make later bursts of violence believable.

 Do not confuse the character with the actor or the actor with the character.

             incorrect:       Shane is not as tall as he appears on screen.

            correct:           Alan Ladd is not as tall as he appears on screen.

incorrect:        Robert De Niro is a crazed Vietnam veteran responsible for several grisly killings.

correct:           Travis Bickle is a crazed Vietnam veteran 

responsible for several grisly killings. 


Note: An easy and (usually) accurate way to find the correct spellings of character names and actor names is to check online at <>, the Internet Movie Database.  Once you reach the site, enter the movieís title in the search box and click GO, then select the accurate title or date if more than one movie option is returned.  The first page for the movie will include the main characters and cast; more minor characters and cast members are available on a separate screen linked to the first one.  This source will also provide the name of the director, writer, cinematographer, and other important crew members, as well as the release date of the movie.

Use of Tenses

In describing actions in a movie, usually use present tense.  It may seem natural to use past tense when you are writing about a movie you watched a day or a week ago, but the conventional practice in writing about movies (and novels, short stories, and plays) is to stick to present tense most of the time.  You may have seen Star Wars weeks or months ago, so the actions are in the past for you, but for anyone watching the film right now, the action is happening in the present.  As we see movies again and again, the actions take place in the present again and again, so when we write about them, we write as if the movies are playing in front of us right now.

incorrect:         . . . then Luke Skywalker turned off his computer and

relied on the guidance of the Force.

            correct:            . . . then Luke Skywalker turns off his computer and

relies on the guidance of the Force.

 Although you will usually use present tense to summarize events in a movie, you will occasionally need other tenses to show different time relationships within the movie, like this:

In the desert Luke meets (present tense) Obi Wan Kenobi, a strange man who had been (past perfect tense) a Jedi knight and a friend of Lukeís father and will later become (future tense) Lukeís teacher.  Luke is (present tense) suspicious, though, because his uncle has described (present perfect tense) the man as crazy and unreliable. 


Manuscript Mechanics

I have a few preferences for the way you prepare papers for this course.

        Please leave at least a one-inch margin at the top, bottom and sides of each page (in handwritten work, that means not writing on the last two lines of any page).

        Please use the standard assignment heading for each assignment you submit.  In the upper left corner write/type

Your Name
Assignment Label
                  (Journal 3, Hollywood Style, for example, or
                                                Reaction Paper, or Analytical Review)

        Please double space (in handwritten work, that means write on every other line).

        Please indent to begin paragraphs, either five spaces, a standard tab, or about half an inch.

        Please number your pages in the upper right-hand corner, beginning with the first page of the assignment, and including your last name (Smith 1, Smith 2, etc.).

        Please write only on the front of each sheet.

 If you are using a word processor* for an assignment,

        Please use a seriffed font style (such as Times New Roman, Bookman, Charter, Garamond, or Goudy), not a sans-serif font (such as Arial, Futura, Tahoma, or Verdana).

        (The small horizontal lines at the base of seriffed letters guide the readerís eye across the line and 
        make reading of long text passages easier.  The sans-serif fonts are fine for titles, but harder to 
        read for text.)

        Please use a font size of at least 12 points.

        (My eyes are old.)

        Please use left justification, not full justification.

(The uneven word spacing required for full justificationómaking both the left and right margins straightómakes reading more difficult.)

 *A special note for telecourse students: if you plan to submit a formal paper via e-mail, you must prepare the paper using Microsoft Word (not WordPerfect, not Microsoft Works, nor any other word processing software).  E-mailed papers submitted from other word processing software regularly emerge with weird symbols and spacing when (and if) I finally get them open on my computer.

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