Corrigan, Timothy.  A Short Guide to Writing About Film.
9th. ed. New York: Pearson, 2015. ISBN: 0-321-96524-8.
[these are merely notes; please read the text first]
Adapted and modified by A. Robert Lauer <>
Last updated on 5 Sept. 2016.

Back to SPAN 4503

Spanish director Carlos Saura


We write better about subjects we know and like, especially film which is a universal cultural and aeshtetic medium. When we write about film, we move from note taking, to first drafts, to polished essays, and to research projects.

An essay on film induces a student to use the following skills: 1) to focus on certain images; 2) to generate original ideas based on them, 3) to organize those ideas in a fully developed written form. 

Chapter 1: "Writing About the Movies":

We go to the movies for many reasons: 1) to think, 2) not to think, 3) to stare at them, or 4) to write about them.

Film can help one 1) to understand one's own response to a movie better, 2) to convince others why one likes or dislikes a film, 3) to explain or introduce something about a movie, a filmmaker, or a group of movies, 4) to make comparisons and contrasts between one movie and others as a way of understanding them better, and 5) to make connections between a movie and other areas of culture.

When writing about film, it is essential to keep one's audience in mind at all times.

The Screening Report: This is a brief piece of writing that serves to prepare its author for a class discussion. It avoids strong personal opinions. It is objective and concrete ("just the facts, ma'm"). 

The Movie Review: The film review is a type of film analysis which aims at the broadest possible audience (the general public with no special knowledge of film). Its function is to introduce unknown films and to recommend or not recommend them. Much of the essay is descriptive and, at most, it places the film in another context (e.g., the director’s other works or films of the same genre).

The Theoretical Essay: The theoretical essay aims to explain some of the larger and more complex structures of cinema. Its target audience consists often of advanced students or people who teach film studies.

The Critical Essay: The critical essay falls between the theoretical essay and the movie review. The writer of this kind of essay presumes that his reader has seen or is at least familiar with the film under discussion, although that reader may not have thought extensively about it. The writer may remind the reader of key themes and elements of the plot, but a lengthy retelling of the story of the film is neither needed nor acceptable (hence, this kind of essay is less descriptive and more analytical). The purpose of this essay is not so much to convince his readers to like or dislike the film but to add to their understanding of it. The writer uses technical cinema terms, camera angles that become associated with oen character, etc., and chooses very specific parts of the film for analysis. The writer also places the film in the context of other critical and scholarly views, announces her/his aims, and then moves from an analysis of, e.g., character and acting style to some general conclusions about how to understand this style. The audience for this type of writing is one's fellow students, individuals who have seen the movie and may know something about it, but who have not studied it closely.

Opinion and Evaluation: When one writes about film, personal opinion and taste will necessarily become part of one's argument.  However, let us not linger there. Let us use our opinions or tastes to provide a solid critical position based on an objective observation.  Let us use rigorous reflection. What is interesting is not pronouncing a film good or bad, but explaining it. 

Letr us remember there is pleasure in analysis, in unraveling, in thinking. 

Critical Thinking Activity:
Take opposite sides in a debate about a single film. Write one paragraph criticizing the film and then one paragraph defending it. In both cases, focus on a single scene to make your point.

Chapter 2.  "Beginning to Think, Preparing to Watch, and Starting to Write." .

There are many things to write about when dealing with film: the story, the acting, the editing, even the music.  One only has to watch a film very attentively.  After all, as an art form, the movies involve literature (The Passion of Christ), the pictorial and plastic arts (Goya in Bordeaux), dance (Tango, Moulin Rouge), theater (Hamlet, The House of Bernarda Alba), music (Evita, Saudade do futuro), and architecture (any Sergei Eisenstein or Peter Greenaway film).

Also, remember that film technology, production, and distribution are commercial and economic enterprises.  Hence, no film is intrinsically good or bad because of its commercial or economic constraints and freedoms.  For some African and Latin-American films, the rough and unpolished look of a film may be a byproduct of financial constraints, but also a conscious political choice to distinguish it from the glossy products of Hollywood.  On the other hand, commercial Hollywood films may have gargantuan budgets that prevent them from taking too many risks that might alienate their audiences.  In both cases, one has to be open-minded and flexible.  One question worth posing might be: who is the film’s intended audience?  Teenagers, the middle class, the working class, intellectuals, men, women?  Etc.

The images one sees on film are the product of certain influences and conditions.  Also, since images are constantly moving, one has to determine which images are special or worth noting.  Notice camera angles, repetitions, unusual images and framing techniques. Images that are perplexing or unfamiliar, as well as images that are repeated for emphasis probably fit into this category.

Elementary questions to ask when watching a film are:

  • What does the title mean in relation to the story?
  • Why does the movie start the way it does (it can start ab ovo [from the beginning], in medias res [in the middle], or in extremas res [at the end of a story]).
  • When was the film made?
  • Why are the opening credits presented in such a manner against this particular background?
  • Why does the film conclude on this image? (e.g., the ending of Buñuel's Tristana).
  • How is an independent or international ("foreign") auteur film (in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture) similar to or different from a commercial Hollywood (US), Bollywood (Hindu) or Nollywood  (Nigerian) production? 
  • Is there a pattern of striking camera movement, perhaps long shots or dissolves or abrupt transitions?
  • Which 3 or 4 sequences are the most striking?
Also, learn to jot down information about props, costumes, and camera positions.


It is important to take notes of some kind during the first and only showing.  Recognize key sequences, shots, or narrative facts.  Look at the figures and objects in the frame (the content), as well as the frame itself and its photographic qualities (the form).  Some abbreviation of key technical terms in film follow:

Technical Film Terms:

 point of view shot (subjective camera): what a character or, in its absence, what the camera is looking at directly.

Spanish: plano desde el punto de vista.


Spanish: esfumado.


Spanish: zoom; efecto vértigo; travelling compensado; retroceder; alejarse; centrarse en; concentrarse en; cerrar el foco.

close-up (e.g., a character’s head)

Spanish: [toma] de primer plano, detallada, de cerca.

Doña Letizia, reina de España
extreme close-up (e.g., a detail of the head, like an eye)

Spanish: primer plano extremo, primerísimo primer plano.

medium shot (e.g., showing most, but not all of a figure)

Spanish: plano medio.

Penélope Cruz
Full or long shot (e.g., showing the entire body in a frame)

Spanish: plano general / plano figura.

A three-quarter shot (e.g., showing 3/4s of a body)

Spanish: plano americano.

pan[orama] shot (e.g., when the point of view of the camera pivots from left to right or vice versa, but without changing its vertical axis). A (static) panning shot (also called Dutch, oblique, canted, or German shot) tilts vertically and produces high tension in the viewer.

Spanish: movimiento panorámico, de barrido;

Spanish: plano holandés, ángulo oblicuo, ángulo aberrante..

Movimiento panorámico o de barrido

Plano holandés
shot/reverse shot pattern (shot/countershot): when a person looks at someone and then the camera shows the individual being looked at)

Spanish: toma/contratoma.

cut (e.g., when the film changes from one image to another)

Spanish: corte, cambio de plano.

Long take (e.g., when the film does not cut to another image for a long time)

Spanish: plano panorámico, gran plano general.

crane shot (e.g., an outdoor scene viewed from high above)

Spanish: toma panorámica de grúa, grúa de grabación.

a tracking shot (e.g., when the camera follows a walking figure, either on tracks or on a dolly, either in a straight fashion [  ], from left to right 
[ --->  ], or in a zig-zag fashion [ Z ].

Spanish: travelling (avance, retroceso, ascendente, descendente, lateral, circular), desplazamiento.

low angle (e.g., the camera is positioned below the object being filmed [camera tilted upward])

Spanish: ángulo contrapicado.

high angle (e.g., the camera is positioned above the object being filmed [camera tilted downward])

Spanish: ángulo picado.

Iris shot.

Spanish: Iris shot.

Chapter 3: “Film Terms and Topics for Film Analysis and Writing.” Pp. 35-78.

In writing about film frame refers to the rectangle that contains the image.  The camera frame changes regularly.  The camera frame includes certain actions and excludes others.  It also views things from a certain angle and at a distance.

Themes point to the main ideas in a movie.  Some questions one can ask about a film’s main (or minor) ideas are:

  • Who are the central characters of the action.
  • Is there a coherent message or story?  Why or why not?
  • How does the movie make you feel at the end?  Happy? Depressed? Confused?  Why?
  • Does the movie lead you to new knowledge?
There are also at least 4 dimensions to film:
  • The connections between the movies and other artistic traditions, such as literature and painting.
  • The theatrical dimension of the film image, or of its mise-en scène.
  • The composition of the movie, achieved through camera positions and editing.
  • The use of sound in the film.

Film is similar to literature.  Hence, we use literary vocabulary to refer to film, e.g., we talk about plot (the narrative), characters, point of view.


  • The story (fabula) is all the events that are presented to us or that we infer have happened.
  • The plot (sjuzet) is the arrangement or construction of those events in a certain order or structure.
Morever, a narrative can be presented in a chronological (“historical”) fashion (ab ovo [from the beginning]) or by means of flashbacks (in medias res [in the middle] or in extremas res [at the end]), in which case the temporal order of events is re-arranged in an unusual (“poetic”) temporal order.  When narrating, be aware of what is included and, also, of what is excluded and why.  In film if there is a voice-over, the narrator is describing events and thus makes it clear s/he is organizing the plot.  Be aware, also, of what propels a story (a quest, a goal, a mystery). 

A classical narrative has the following components:

  • A plot development in which there is a logical relation between one event and another.
  • A sense of closure at the end (happy or tragic).
  • Stories that are focused on characters.
  • A narrative style that attempts to be more or less objective.
A chronological or historical (film or literature) narrative may have a prologue to the action, a conflict or collision of two entities, a development of the conflict and the characters in collision, and a conclusion or resolution of the conflict.  However, a film may be non-narrative and not tell stories but show merely abstract patterns of lights and shadows.  A narrative may be illogical, as in a surrealist film, in which events follow the logic of a dream.  A narrative may also be telling two or more stories that are difficult to connect. 

Character:  A movie may focus mainly on one or two characters (any biofilm, like Napoleon or The Motorcycle Diaries), or on many (Battleship Potemkin, Das Boot, Stalingrad, Rodrigo D: No Future, Winged Migration), in which case there is no central character.

Point of View:  The point of view (in film) refers to the position from which something is seen, and, by implication, the way that point of view determines what you see.  Usually, movies have an “objective” point of view, so that most of what is shown is not confined to any one person’s perspective.  This is particularly notable in bioepics like Troy, where the point of view shifts from the Greek [Achilles, Agamemnon, Helen] to the Trojan [Hector, Priam, Paris] perspective.  But some scenes may be viewed only from a character’s point of view (e.g., the camera in Tango) and, hence, are “subjective.” Hence, films are about seeing the world in a certain way.  In a film, observe how and when the camera creates the point of view of a character.  Notice also if the story is told mostly from an objective point of view or from the subjective perspective of one person.  Some films have a “roving point of view,” as in any story that re-creates a situation from multiple perspectives (Kurosawa’s Rashomon). 


The mise-en-scène (“What is put before the scene or before the camera”) includes lighting, costumes, sets, the quality of the acting, and other shapes and characters in the scene.  In a film, nothing is placed accidentally before the camera, even if the film is a documentary and, hence, more “realistic.”  If a phone is placed on a stage, it is meant to ring at a certain point in time.  Nothing forming part of the mise-en-scène is selected casually or accidentally.

The elements of the mise-en-scène are as follows:

Werner Herzog's Nosferatu
  • Settings and sets:  These refer to the location of the construction of a location where a scene is filmed (e.g., the expressionist sets of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, or of Nosferatu).
  • Costumes:  The clothes the characters wear provide a writer with the key to a character’s identity (Benny Hill).
  • Lighting: Lighting is used to illuminate an object or a character using either natural sunlight or artificial sources like lamps.  Lighting can create a feeling of clarity and optimism or a feeling of oppression and gloom. 

Benny Hill

A film image may influence the way you see a scene or a character in that scene.  The composition features of film are:

  • The shot.  The shot is the single image you see on the screen before the film cuts to a different image.  Unlike a photograph, a single shot can include a variety of action or movement and the frame that contains the image may even move (by magnifying or minifying).  When the image switches to another position (e.g., a reverse shot) and point of view, the film has cut to a second shot.
  • The photographic properties of film.  These include tone, film speed, and the various perspectives created by the image. Tone refers to the range and texture of the colors in a film image (e.g., the red in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers suggest violence and passion). Film speed is the rate at which the film is shot: slow motion is used to, e.g., indicate that the action is part of a character’s dream; fast motion is a way of commenting comically on a scene.  The modern standard for shooting film is 24 frames per second.  The perspective of the image refers to the spatial relationship an image establishes between different objects being photographed.  This is done with different lenses.  A deep focus shows characters in the background as sharply as characters in the foreground.  A shallow focus shows only one plane clearly, another one blurry.  A rack focus switches the focus quickly from one plane to another. 
Deep Focus  --------->



     <--------- Shallow Focus


Framing refers to how the camera represents (frames) the action. It can do it from a high angle (tilting the camera down at the object of representation), hence giving an impression of superiority of the viewer (who looks down at the observed object); or from a low angle (tilting the camera upward, in the direction of the object of representation), giving the impression of inferiority on the part of the viewer as s/he observes an object positioned in a superior position (with respect to the viewer).

The framing may also seem unbalanced in relation to the space and action (in the case of a canted frame), giving a diagonal instead of a vertical view of things.  This suggests a lack of harmony and balance and may be found psychologically disturbing by the viewer.  It is also called a Dutch frame.

Canted frames or Dutch angles:

The framing shots may use different distances: close-ups (e.g., showing just the character’s face); extreme close-ups (showing, e.g., an eye or a mouth only); medium shots (showing most of a character’s body); long shots (showing a full body), and ¾ shots (showing ¾s of a body).  Obviously, the “closer” the shot the more intimate or “subjective” it is; the “longer” the shot, the more “objective” and “distant.”  Love scenes might require close-ups; while war scenes might require long shots.

A reframing shot may change the tone of a shot if, e.g., it starts with an intimate close-up of a couple and then the camera moves to include a theater full of people viewing the two lovers (a serious intimate moment is reframed into a comic public shot).  This is a shot exploited in comedy.

A crane shot (or aerial shot) looking down on the action creates a perspective of superiority on the part of the viewer by emphasizing the smallness or vulnerability of the object being viewed.  A tracking or dolly shot is not stationary (like a pan shot that follows the action by tilting the camera in its direction, without moving the camera itself) and follows a character e.g., through a crowd.  The same effect is carried out by a hand-held-shot, although the shot may be jerkier on account of the movement of the camera operator (this, however, gives a shot a more realistic look than a dolly shot would).


Editing is linking two different pieces of film (two different shots).  The break between them is called a cut. A shot can be held on the screen for any length of time, the result being a certain editing pace or rhythm.  One expects a chase scene to be rapidly edited (with lots of quick cuts and brief shots).  Shots focusing on a scene or character for a very long time are called long takes.  A series of shots can be carefully joined into a single scene, which is usually an action confined to one place and time.  When these shots describe significantly more action and more time and more than one location, the interwoven and unified group of shots or scenes that results is often called a sequence. Continuity or invisible editing occurs when the “cutting” is done in such a way that we do not notice the editing process. Here there are no sudden cuts or transitions.  Establishing shots are those shots that begin a scene or sequence.  The shot/reverse-shot or shot/countershot is used to give continuity to, e.g., a conversation between two persons (cutting from one to the other and vice versa).  In older movies, continuity editing relies also on fade-in or fade-out (an image is darkened or lightened so that it appears or disappears); iris-in or iris-out (the new image appears as an expanding circle in the middle of the old image or the old image becomes a contracting circle that disappears into the new image); wipe (a line moves across an image to gradually clear one shot and introduce another); dissolve (a new shot is briefly superimposed on the fading old shot).  A fade might be saying, “later that day.” A wipe could suggest, “In another part of town.” A jump cut (e.g., lighting a scene suddenly) may suggest the passage of time.  A match-on-action consists of two images being edited together as parallel actions or motions.



Direct sound is recorded when the image is being shot. Postdubbed sound occurs when sound and dialogue are added later in the studio.  Movie sound can take the form of dialogue, music, or noise.  It can be background music.  It can even precede or follow the image to which it is linked (as when a character’s remark forms a bridge into the next image).  A sound-match occurs when a sound is connected to link disparate images.

Questions to ask about sound in film:

  • What is the relation of the sound to the image in specific scenes or sequences?
  • Is the sound used to link images, or does the sound have the conventional role of beginning and terminating with the image?
  • Do the musical numbers in a musical have any special relation to the narrative structure (for instance, do they occur when the characters need to escape into fantasy)?
  • What role does silence play in a movie?
  • Are there sound motifs that identify the characters or actions?
  • Does the rhythm of sound support or serve as counterpoint to the rhythm of the editing?
Interpretation, analysis, and evaluation are, however, the primary goals of most writing about film these days.

Chapter 4: “Six Approaches to Writing About Film.” Pp. 79-105.

There are at least six approaches to writing about film.  These are as follows:

  • Film History:  A historical approach is one of the most widely used methods in film criticism.  History, however, is a delicate instrument.  A film, even if it is a documentary, does not give an unmediated picture of society. 
  • National Cinemas: Ways of seeing the world and ways of portraying the world in the movies differ for each country and culture, and it is necessary to understand the cultural conditions that surround a movie if we are to understand what it is about.  When deciding to discuss a movie or a group of movies from a foreign culture, a writer might begin by questioning, with an open mind, what exactly distinguishes these films from those of the US with which he is familiar.  This implies that, at the same time, the writer will sketch a sense of what is specific US cinema of a given period.
  • Genres (“kinds”): Genre is a category for classifying films in terms of common patterns of form and content, e.g., westerns, musicals, horror, film noir, road movies, melodramas, science fiction, etc. In analytical writing, a discussion of genre is frequently an effective way to begin examining how a film organizes its story and its audience’s expectations.  Film noir, for instance, deals with crime stories and uses dark lighting.  Genres change with the times.  What common structures, themes, and stylistic techniques are associated with a particular genre?
  • Auteurs: Auteur criticism is one of the most widely accepted and often unconsciously practiced film criticisms today.  It identifies and examines a movie by associating it with a director (e.g., Almodóvar) or occasionally with another dominant figure, such as a star (e.g., Marlon Brando). This implies that the unifying vision behind what you see on the screen is the director’s and that there are certain common themes and stylistic traits that link films by the same filmmaker.  Auteur criticism has its historical roots in the claims of literary independence and creativity made by and for certain directors.  What are the most distinctive signs of the filmmaker’s control over the film: editing?  The stories themselves? The themes? The setting? Keep in mind that sophisticated auteur studies are interested in the films, not in the psychology or private life of the filmmaker.
  • Formalism: Formalism is a name given to film criticism concerned with matters of structure and style in a movie.  The chief focus of a formalist essay will be on patterns such as narrative openings and closings, the significant repetition and variation of camera techniques, or the relation of shots and sequences to each other.  Strictly speaking, formalist criticism does not emphasize matters outside the film proper, such as the different effects a movie may have on audiences, the historical conditions of its production, or any other questions that are not immediately apparent on the screen.  Rarely, however, do you find an essay that is purely formalistic.  Usually a formalist analysis becomes part of other arguments about an auteur, film history, a genre, etc.
  • Ideology:  Ideology is a more subtle and expansive way of saying “politics.”  The ideological critic maintains that these movies are never innocent visions of the world and that the social and personal values that seem so natural in them need to be analyzed.  Some of the ideological approaches to film are: A) Studies of Hollywood Hegemony, which focus on how classical film formulas dominate and sometimes distort ways of seeing the world.  B) Feminist Studies, which investigate how women have been both negatively and positively represented through the movies.  C) Race Studies, which concentrate on the depiction of different races in films, such as Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc.  D) Class Studies, which analyze social and economic arrangements shown in a movie to show how social power is distributed in and through certain films.  E) Postcolonial Studies, which examine movies within a global perspective, aiming to reveal the repression of or emergence of indigenous perspectives within formerly marginalized or colonialized cultures (like India or Iran).  F) Queer Theory, which investigates how normative relations can be challenged or disrupted through films, especially through confrontations with heterosexual values. 

Chapter 5: “Style and Structure in Writing.” Pp. 106-123.

The “pre-writing” stage consists of taking good notes.  The next most critical element of the essay is a clearly focused topic—a thesis—that will allow you to get at the film or films from a workable angle.  Even if your instructor presents you with a general topic, you will usually have to refocus it so that is more specific and personal.  Another central task of the first stage of writing is outlining your topic. Outlines can provide real assistance with the logic of an argument.  When the paper is written, it will probably depart from the outline and will certainly become more defined and more specific.  Yet, an outline of any kind can be the foundation on which you build more complex ideas. 



Sensitive and accurate use of words is paramount.  Concreteness is the heart of some of the best film writing, largely because the reader depends so much on the visualization of a scene or sequence.  Also, the accuracy with which a writer describes what he or she sees is often the most convincing way to make a point. 


A denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word; thus, “film” and “movie” have the same denotation.  However, “shot” and “sequence” do not.  Be precise.  Say what you mean and avoid words that have little denotative value like “thing” and “aspect.” 

A connotation is any association or implication of the word you use.  “Film” has for many people sophisticated, intellectual connotations, while “movie” has connotations associated with mass entertainment. 


The tone of an essay can vary considerably from the jaunty sarcasm of some newspaper reviewers to the pretentious didacticism of some film theoreticians.  Be conscious of the tone of voice you are adopting in your argument; some tones are less appropriate than others.  Sarcasm, humor, and anger are among the least effective tones to use in formulating an engaging and convincing argument.  A writer needs to find the right compromise between a casual voice and a formal one.  Too much slang won’t work, nor will pretentious words that you normally don’t use.  Finally, beware of using quotation marks around words to try to create an indirect or clever tone or sarcasm.


When you find yourself locked into unnecessary repetitions, vary your descriptions and phrases.  Do not depend on clichés. 



A writer should aim at two key stylistic goals: to be economical and to be interesting.  Being economical means saying precisely all that you need to say and cutting words and expressions that add no information or serve no stylistic purpose.  You can usually eliminate wordiness by watching out for redundancies, wordy constructions, correctable uses of the passive voice, or merely words that could be deleted without changing the sense of a sentence.


Holding a reader’s interest requires sentences that present your analysis in its most effective form. 

  • Parallels draw attention to the relations between, or the equation of two or more facts or ideas.
  • Coordination joins two related sentences with a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.), the result being a compound sentence and a rhythmic variation in your sentence patterns.
  • Subordination combines two or more points or sentences into a single complex sentence that redistributes those ideas to deemphasize some points and emphasize others.

Well-constructed sentences become unified and coherent paragraphs.  A 500-word essay normally has four or five paragraphs, and a developed paragraph usually contains at least four or five sentences.  Regardless of how many sentences it has, a paragraph must contain an idea that clearly unites its sentences.  This unifying idea should be made explicit in the topic sentence of each paragraph, a sentence that pinpoints the guiding concept of the paragraph.  A topic sentence generally anchors the paragraph and announces its central idea, even if that idea is then developed through two or three other related ideas.  Finally, make sure your transitions between sentences and between paragraphs add clarity, coherence, and fluidity to your essay.  Using words or phrases specifically suited for this purpose, like “furthermore” or “in fact,” is one way to increase coherence; a second method is repeating key words from the end of the previous paragraph.  Always make sure that your reader can follow a logical transition from one paragraph to the next.


The first paragraph is very important, since it will serve to catch your reader’s attention immediately.  It is similar to the first 10 minutes of any film.  An essay must hold a reader’s interest if it is to communicate information or make a point, and the introductory paragraph is where that interest should first be piqued.  The first paragraph is the ideal place to give your reader a clear sense of what your topic is and how you intend to develop it: the “thesis statement” that tells exactly and specifically what is the argument of the essay.  Even in long and ambitious essays, the direction is clearly announced as a signpost and provocation for the reader. 

Also, always make a title an informative and enticing entry into your first paragraph.  It should be broad enough to suggest the scope of your topic, but specific enough to get your reader interested.

Introducing a provocative quotation or a specific image is one way to energize a first paragraph.  Whatever method you use, your aim is to convince your reader immediately that you have something worthwhile to say.

Chapter 6: “Researching the Movies.” Pp. 124-153.

Research always improves any piece of writing.  The more you know about a subject and the issues related to it, the more satisfying it will be to write about it.  Research can be used in a number of ways.  It can be integrated into your essay to support your own points with the authority of other writers, or it can be used to introduce a common perception against which you wish to argue.

The critics and reviewers interpret a film through their own analysis and feelings about the value of the movie and, hence, consider research unnecessary.  But scholars and historians are concerned with the history of the movie’s production, critical responses to it, theoretical suppositions, and facts of information that are not at hand when they go to the movies. 


Research should be done with an open and discriminating mind.  A good writer is willing to be redirected down new paths and, if necessary, to change a position.


Research materials have conventionally been divided into primary sources and secondary sources.  Primary sources are the films themselves and materials directly involved in the films (like film scripts).  Secondary sources are the books, essays and reviews you read about the movie. 


Today, videotapes, DVDs, and movies on cable networks substitute for or supplement the films themselves.  But these forms of films must be viewed with caution and skepticism for images or sequences may have been edited out completely.  Also, published scripts are a primary source for studying a film.  However, published screenplays of films may differ significantly from the “shooting script” and from the film itself.


Secondary sources are books, indexes, journals, and electronic sources.  When performing a search, look under “Movies,” “Film,” “Cinema,” and “Motion Pictures.”  Note bibliographical information of your sources like the author, the full title, the publisher, the publication place, the date, and the page numbers.  Consult the MLA International Bibliography and Magill Survey of Cinema.  Other electronic database systems are Academic Index, Nexis/Lexis, and Comindex.  Also, the most important and up-to-date sources for film research, along with scholarly books, are journals and magazines.  Consult the following journals regularly: Cinema Journal, Film Quarterly, International Index to Film Periodicals, Camera Obscura, Cineaste, Cinema Journal, Sight and Sound, and Variety.  For Internet sites, consult the Internet Movie Database <>.  To rent or purchase films, consult Facets Video <>.

Chapter 7: “Manuscript Form.” Pp. 154-170.


  • Print out a clean copy of your paper.  A cleanly printed manuscript simply looks more professional and is usally easier to read. 
  • Use clean 8½ by 11 inch paper, printed on one side, with sharp, easily readable print (New Courier 12). 
  • Do no add a cover sheet.
  • Number every page, including the first page and all subsequent pages in consecutive fashion, including the Works Cited section.
  • Leave a 1½-inch margin on all four sides of the page.
  • Double space the entire typescript, even long quotes, which are indented 10 spaces from the left in block paragraph form.  Nothing in your paper should be single- or triple-spaced.
  • Your title should be centered.  Capitalize the first letter of each word in your title, except prepositions, articles, and conjunctions.  Underline (do not italicize) only the titles of films that appear on your title.  Do not, ever, use bold type anywhere in your paper.
  • Indent each new paragraph 5 spaces from the left margin.
  • Always make a copy of your paper but give the original to the instructor.
  • Staple your paper in the upper-left-hand corner.

• Follow MLA Guidelines.
• Do not use footnotes or endnotes.  Use, instead, parenthetical citation and add a Works Cited section at the end of your paper.