Instructions and Grading Rubric for Filmmaker Analysis
• Basic instructions: Closely examine one of the four filmmakers on the course syllabus by analyzing and comparing that director’s treatment of a specific theme, issue, topic, motif, or stylistic technique within their cultural, historical, and/or sociopolitical context. Refer to specific scenes and, where relevant, address such aspects as style, generic convention, cinematography, and/or soundtrack in addition to narrative and plot. Sample student papers from previous courses are available for your reference on Blackboard and will be discussed in sections during Week 8.
• File type: Word document (do not submit as PDF or Google doc)
• Length: 4-6 pages
• Formatting: Double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font
• Minimum citations: 2 course readings (at least 1 from the Supplementary Readings List)
• Citation format: if you use outside sources as references (this is optional), you must properly cite them using MLA format and include a Bibliography/Works Cited list at the end (be careful to avoid plagiarism by properly citing all outside work)
• Include a title.
This is intended as an informative guide as to the types of topics and questions your filmmaker analysis might address. The suggested topics and questions are for your reference, so that you have a sense of the expected level of intellectual rigor: it is not mandatory that you choose one. If you have already conceptualized your own paper topic from a discussion board post, a presentation in your discussion section, a conversation with your TA, or otherwise, that is wonderful. The following prompts are merely to help you get started if you are having trouble choosing a paper topic:
1) How does your chosen filmmaker use tropes or conventions common to a particular genre to imagine or construct Chinese identities, or a sense of “Chineseness” for different audiences? Does the genre allow for the flexibility, progression, and evolution of these identities, or does it restrict them to certain values, morals, images, and standards? How might the filmmaker also attempt to disengage, or “dis-identify,” with Chineseness? Why would they do so?
2) Explore the gender politics in the works of your chosen filmmaker. How does this filmmaker imagine and construct manhood or womanhood? What stereotypes of men or women are reinforced and/or challenged? How does the construction of gender and gender-laden themes (such as romance and sexual tension) relate to or assume particular tastes and desires among various audience demographics?
3) Explore how your chosen filmmaker treats issues of globalization, transnationalism, multiculturalism, interethnic relations, or migration throughout their films. How does the
filmmaker attempt to embed this theme in their visual design, cinematography, casting, soundtrack, or generic convention? What roles do language, politics, art (such as literature), or popular culture play in their treatment of this theme?
4) What aspects of style and technique, such as visual design, music (diegetic and extra- diegetic soundtrack), landscape, dialogue, genre or generic convention, cutting and editing, shot composition and camerawork, special effects, and montage typify your chosen filmmaker and mark their recognizable stylistic “signature”? How do these elements relate both to the particular types of stories that filmmaker tells, and how have these elements evolved alongside the new narratives that filmmaker has adapted for the screen? This topic is especially designed for students interested in film and filmmaking.
5) Choose a filmmaker to frame a discussion of the importance of audience reception. How does the filmmaker construct certain meanings and ideas for a specific audience demographic based on location (such as Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, or elsewhere), gender, ethnicity, or a niche market? Discuss why the filmmaker succeeds or fails in their attempt to cross borders and reach different audiences.
6) Discuss the relationship between your chosen filmmaker and one of their “muses” (such as an actor, author, or screenwriter): examples might include director Ann Hui and celebrity actor Andy Lau or the late modern Chinese author Xiao Hong; director Zhang Yang and actor Joan Chen or Sino-Tibetan author Tashi Dawa; or director/producer Wei Te-sheng and aboriginal Taiwanese actor/director Umin Boya or Japanese actor Nagase Masatoshi. What is unique about this creative partnership? What issues does it bring to life onscreen?
7) Discuss how and why your chosen filmmaker has taken a fascination in telling stories related to “neighboring” cultures, societies, and languages in Asia, such as Vietnam (Ann Hui), Tibet (Zhang Yang), Japan (Wei Te-sheng), or, in the case of Jack Neo, languages like Hokkien or Singlish (or non-Singaporean figures). What do these cultures, societies, and languages offer this filmmaker in terms of creative storytelling or social and political critique?
I. The Central Argument
1) Identifying a Problem.
• The most important aspect of writing an interpretive essay is to first identify a problem or key issue at stake in the narrative. The problem often falls under the heading of a particular topic or subject (see suggested topics above). Identify the problem or crisis with this general issue or topic. This problem will provide the lens through which you will interpret the filmmaker’s work and prevent you from simply writing a plot summary of their films.
2) Answering a Central Question.
• The next step is to think about how you will approach this problem once you have identified it. This approach is your central argument. Often, the way to come up with a central argument is to construct it as an answer to a question about the problem or issue you have identified (see questions in suggested topics above).
II. Organizing Your Analysis and Developing Your Central Argument
1) Imposing a Structure.
• Outlines. Some students like to create an outline before they start writing. This can be helpful, but if you rigidly adhere to the outline and do not give yourself permission to deviate, it can be detrimental. The purpose of an outline should be to help you get started, but not necessarily to bind you to following the same roadmap. The outline can change as you write, because new – often better – ideas may come to you while writing, causing you to want to follow another map. Oftentimes, outlines end up with too many topics or sections, especially for a short paper, and one does not have enough space to develop a point. Again, outlines provide a place from which to start: they are like a rough draft.
• Introductions and Conclusions. The best introductions are written last, not first. When you start writing, you often introduce your topic and argument, which is great. But sometimes you find that your paper changed as you wrote it, so when finishing, you need to go back and rewrite the introduction to match the new structure and development of your paper. An introduction can either begin with a hook (an interesting idea that grabs the reader’s attention and leads him or her into the essay) or it can begin by simply getting to the point → telling the reader what your paper is about. The introduction should identify the problem or question, give a condensed answer to that question (this is your central argument), and outline how you will develop, or support, your main argument in the body of the paper. In many ways, the conclusion is simply a reiteration of the introduction, but it can also leave the reader with some “food for thought” → that is, it can identify that the issue is not entirely resolved, but that there may be more questions to answer on this topic.
2) Identifying Target Audience & Providing Supporting Evidence.
• Considering Your Reader. Many students assume their only reader is their instructor, who is obviously familiar with the narrative and ideas they are presenting. Do not assume this! You should be able to present this paper as a model essay for any academic reader who might want to review your work. Therefore, assume that your reader has no knowledge of the film you are discussing, and that you need to sufficiently introduce it to them so that they can understand the connection between the theme and the narrative. This will only make your paper and your main argument stronger!
• Organizing Paragraphs. The paragraphs in the body of your paper should be topic-oriented, with each topic arranged to build support for your main argument. The body of the paper should not just be a
chronological summary of events in the director’s various films: summary provides necessary supporting evidence (see below), but is not a structure. The development of your central argument may take us through the narrative chronologically if that is how you plan to support your argument. Sometimes, supporting evidence can take necessary detours, in which you explore a related subject, or tackle a potential counterargument. The more specific you can be in your analysis, the better you can support your case. You simply need logical transition statements to help your reader follow your line of thinking, especially when you change subjects.
• Summarizing Narrative. Do not assume knowledge on the part of your reader. Rather, assume that your reader has never come to our class and has never seen the films of this director. What relevant information from the film (and background on its context of production) does the reader need in order to be able to follow and understand your argument? This will determine the relevant amount of summary that is necessary at different moments in your paper.
• Analyzing Form & Technique. Try to think not only about what happens in the film, but how the filmmaker conveys it: what cinematic devices does the director use to convey information and how are they effective (or not)? Analyzing form and technique shows your ability to think beyond content to explore the power of the medium to influence or manipulate the views and reactions of the target audience.
94-100 (outstanding, superior, exceptional):
o Central argument is thoughtful, clear, and creative, incorporating bold and unique insights on the film. Arguments are specific (not vague, presumptive, or overly general), well-constructed, and substantiated with ample, relevant, and properly cited supporting textual evidence (including specific scenes from films and passages from relevant readings). Logic of argument is refined and bolstered through the consideration of exceptions or counterarguments.
o Paper is well-developed with a clear sense of direction outlined in the introduction. Conclusion reiterates or rephrases main points. Paragraphs are strongly and logically organized, with excellent transitions. Paper has an imaginative title that also gives the reader a sufficient sense of the essay’s main subject of analysis. Works cited page follows conventional MLA format, accurately listing appropriate bibliographical information for films and readings cited in the body of the paper.
o Writing is engaging, vivid, and compelling. The paper demonstrates a sophisticated command of language, grammar, and vocabulary (it is free of careless mistakes), exhibiting noticeable variety (language is generally free of redundancies).
o Essay is rich in relevant detail with exemplary rhetorical control and stylistic fluency, exhibiting an exceptional degree of critical thinking, insight, and careful analysis.
90-93: paper is excellent, but does not quite attain the standards of one or two of the above categories.
83-89 (commendable, proficient, satisfactory):
o Central argument is thoughtful, clear, sufficiently specific and well-supported with properly cited filmic and textual evidence.
o Paper is well-developed, organized effectively, and clearly focused. Paragraphs represent complete, interconnected units of thought with solid transitions. Title is strong and works cited page is present and free of errors.
o Writing is free of major grammatical errors, with a strong command of language and vocabulary, and demonstrates sufficient variety (generally free of redundancies).
o Essay shows noticeable detail, satisfactory rhetorical control, and substantial evidence of critical thinking and careful analysis.
80-82: paper is commendable, but does not sufficiently fulfill the standards of one or two of the above categories.
72-79 (passable, adequate, acceptable):
o Thesis is clearly present, but possibly inadequate due to faulty logic or overgeneralization (lack of specificity), containing insufficient and/or improperly cited supporting textual evidence. Argument and interpretation is clear, but is tenuous due to failure to identify exceptions and relevant counterarguments.
o Paper is adequately organized, with relatively clear direction, but exhibits only modest levels of interpretation and analysis. Much of paper gets bogged down in summary of film/text or frequently lapses into irrelevant narrative detail. Paragraphs are connected but inadequately constructed, missing or straying from the main points of analysis. Title is too vague or confusing to the general reader. Works cited page is present but contains errors.
o Writing conveys central meaning adequately, but language is redundant (lacks variety) or vague, and there are enough careless errors in grammar or vocabulary to mildly inhibit the readability of the essay.
o Essay contains a minimally acceptable level of detail, rhetorical control, and critical thinking.
69-71: paper is passable, but fails to meet one or two of the minimum standards outlined above.
61-68 (ineffective, insufficient):
o Thesis is unclear, poorly conceived, or largely unsubstantiated with textual evidence. Narrative summary is irrelevant to argument and interpretive analysis, which is largely missing from the majority of the essay.
o Paper lacks overall organization, structure, and direction. Paragraphs lack coherence. Title is inappropriate or missing.
o Writing is ineffective or overly redundant, demonstrating insufficient variety. Language errors abound, hindering readability.
o Essay contains inadequate or irrelevant detail and fails to demonstrate sufficient critical thinking.
60: paper was late, further compounding issues outlined above.
59 and below (unacceptable):
o Thesis is entirely absent or completely unacceptable. No supporting evidence to speak of.
o Paper has no identifiable organization or coherence.
o Writing is confusing and misunderstands the objective of the assignment. Language errors abound.
o Essay lacks critical thinking and relevant detail.
o Paper was never turned in or was turned in too late.