EDITED BY LISA PATTI
Image: "Better than Ever" (detail), Nicholas H. Ruth, 2017
Part I. New Frameworks for Writing about Screen Media
This chapter provides an overview of the book and presents a series of modules that readers can use to organize the book’s chapters: formal analysis and design, ethnography, history, access, authorship, media industries, digital media, representation, exhibition, transnational media, comparative case studies, research, and writing style.
2. The Big Picture: Strategies for Writing about Screen Media
This chapter presents four strategies for analyzing screen media. First, collaborate with other writers, approaching writing as a critical conversation between you and your writing partners. Second, frame your analysis, using different frames to define the scope of your work and the critical methodologies it deploys. Third, curate media objects into sets or series that facilitate comparisons and provoke questions. Finally, follow the critical conversations that your work enters, soliciting and engaging feedback and seeking out new work that other scholars and artists produce.
3. From Screen Aesthetics to Site Design: Analyzing Form Across Screen Media
This chapter focuses on formal analysis – approaching screen media through careful attention to cinematography, sound, editing, and mise-en-scène. The chapter opens by discussing screening notes, offering guidelines for preparation before screenings, recording important details during screenings, and reviewing your notes after screenings. The chapter then presents case studies of formal analysis, modeling close readings of visual style across a range of screen media objects. The case studies include multiple screen shots to illustrate key terms central to formal analysis.
4. Entering the Conversation: How and Where to Develop a Critical Argument
This chapter explores the construction of critical arguments across writing formats and platforms. The first section focuses on drafting thesis statements and developing digital arguments in video essays and other digital formats. The subsequent sections – on free writing, outlines, introductions, evidence, and conclusions – review the phases of the writing process and the key components of a writing project. This chapter presents writing guidelines that may apply to a range of writing formats, explaining the ways that traditional writing practices such as writing outlines may be applied to video essays, podcasts, and other projects.
5. From Notebook to Network: When and How to Use Digital Tools
This chapter offers guidelines for using digital tools to conduct research and to compose and share writing in different formats. Providing an overview of popular digital tools, their utility, and their limitations, this chapter updates well-established writing practices for the digital age. The chapter also presents the current rules from the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guide for in-text citations, notes, and bibliographies, offering sample citations for new media sources such as a Tweet and a YouTube video and providing suggestions for citing sources when working in new media formats such as video essays and podcasts. The chapter concludes by considering fair use policies as they relate to media studies publications.
Part II. Writers on Writing about Screen Media
OBJECTS AND EVENTS
6. Writing about Transnational Cinema: Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is a landmark film, both in terms of its representation (as the first U.S. studio-released film with an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993)), and in terms of its popularity (as the highest grossing romantic comedy in a decade). This transnational
film – shot in Malaysia, set in Singapore, with a cast and crew from around the world – has been met with divergent responses since its release. How do we write about a film as symbolically significant as Crazy Rich Asians? How can we approach the question of ethnic stereotyping in transnational screen media without succumbing to descriptions of racial purity or attempting to avoid stereotypes altogether?
7. Capturing Moments: Writing about Film Festivals as Events
This chapter offers up strategies for students and researchers new to the topic to write about film festivals as events. It highlights the challenges that the temporary, experiential and multifaceted nature of festival events pose for approaches to research and writing. In response, it offers strategies connected to ethnography and participant research, archival research and contextual analysis to aid writers in capturing festival moments. While writing about film festivals can take many forms, this chapter presents avenues to begin the process of writing about festival events.
8. Writing about Experimental Cinema: Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964)
How do you watch, and then write about, a film that tests your patience and endurance? Andy Warhol’ s Empire (1964) is eight hours long and central to the canon of experimental cinema, but it is not easy to source or sit through. When writing about experimental film, this chapter argues, it is not only acceptable but useful to discuss accessing a film, and the physical conditions of watching. The value of sitting diligently all the way through a conceptual piece of cinema is explored, including whether this is necessary in order to be able to write about it.
Finally, the chapter asks whether experimental forms of writing are more appropriate to adopt when writing about experimental film.
9. From Meaning to Effect: Writing about Archival Footage
This chapter explores the difference between trying to write about the “effect” as opposed to the “meaning” of a text. I argue that we cannot talk about a text as if it were isolated from the viewing experience because the text is co-constituted in the viewing experience. Ignoring
our own bodily sensations, our own emotional reactions, and our own intellectual activities in our encounter with a film or video in favor of some abstract “meaning” we are supposed to deduce is nonsensical. Looking at “archival footage” as footage producing an “archive effect”
for the viewer frees us from thinking primarily about filmmakers’ intentions or a film’s “meaning” in favor of thinking about archival footage as an experience, which opens up many new avenues of thought.
10. Making the Absent Present: Writing about Nonextant Media
Allyson Nadia Field
How do scholars write about films and media artifacts that they cannot see? With large percentages of our audio-visual heritage lost or in states of decay, it is incumbent on scholars to find strategies for accounting for these missing pieces of media history. This chapter addresses the reasons for the low survival rates for media objects, reasons for looking past archival absence, and approaches for finding presence in the absence of viewable materials.
11. Expressing Race in Brazilian Telenovelas
Brazilian telenovelas, serial melodramatic narratives, have functioned as a central foundation of Brazilian identity in both national and global imaginations. TV Globo, the leading Brazilian network and producer of telenovelas, captures audiences and reinforces racial myths. With
millions of viewers across the globe, Brazilian telenovelas function to disseminate racial ideologies that privilege whiteness and negate racial inequalities. From industry structures to racial representations, this analysis covers some key components and questions to consider when writing about race in telenovelas based on my own experiences and subject position as a U.S. researcher of mixed black ancestry.
12. Writing about Music Video: Tracing the Ephemeral
Remarkably little has been written about the genre of music videos. The paucity of music video scholarship is due in part to the fact that the analyst must feel comfortable with addressing the music, the image (including the moving bodies, cinematography, and editing), the lyrics, and the relation among them. This chapter explains how writers can approach music videos, offering practical strategies for analyzing the formal and narrative elements of music videos and emphasizing the value of collaborative approaches to music video analysis.
13. Writing Across Divides: Locating Power in K-pop Music Videos
S. Heijin Lee
Using South Korean rapper PSY’ s 2012 viral hit, “Gangnam Style” as a case study, this chapter argues that an analysis of the uneven power dynamics and historical relationship between the US and South Korea and how these have shaped South Korea’ s music industry offers a rich methodology for thinking and writing about the transnational music videos K-pop produces. Devoid of an analysis that tracks the genealogies of power that shape cultural forms, analyses of music videos, and the stars that produce them, fall flat, often relying on stereotypes or generalized assumptions without centering the music itself and how imperial histories have produced hybridized global forms of music.
14. Playing to Write: Analyzing Video Games
TreaAndrea M. Russworm and Jennifer Malkowski
This chapter prompts readers to consider the unique opportunities and challenges of writing about video games, from the conceptual recognition of medium specificity and how analyzing video games is different from, say, analyzing films or novels to logistical challenges like
accessing playable versions of the games one is writing about. The authors also reflect on the importance of situating oneself as a writer in relation to the game (integrating the human with the computational) and on how one’s personal relationship with the medium changes
when it becomes a topic of scholarly examination. The chapter also points readers to additional resources for learning game studies terminology and for accessing older video games.
15. When It All Clicks: Writing about Participatory Media
Lauren S. Berliner
This chapter shares critical insights gleaned from researching and writing about queer youth media producers and the media they’ve created. The chapter provides advice for pre-writing considerations, such as ethical frameworks and project scope, as well as suggestions for creating clear and convincing analysis.
16. Feeling Out Social Media
Julie Wilson and Emily Chivers Yochim
This chapter suggests that exploring and understanding the powers of social media and digital culture more broadly require “feeling out” what’s actually happening in everyday lives. It argues that digital media are largely affective phenomena and offers an approach for studying
them as such. More specifically, drawing heavily on their own research and writing about mothers’ everyday lives with digital media, the authors reflect on how traditional ethnographic methods, including long interviews and participant observation, coupled with engagement
with emerging theories of affect, can help media scholars and makers better understand the complex and often highly mundane ways that digital media are shaping everyday experiences and sensibilities and thus our broader social worlds.
17. "A Very Black Project": A Method for Digital Visual Culture
Lauren McLeod Cramer
Regular social media users are familiar with the ways image and video sharing platforms like Instagram allow users to curate dynamic online identities and how social media has dramatically changed the culture of commerce and information sharing. Our familiarity with these digital spaces can make it difficult to identify knowledge gaps and articulate new research questions that enrich our understanding of the images we make, view, and share daily. Through an analysis of the Instagram account “The Very Black Project,” (@theveryblackproject), this chapter offers strategies for writing about online image repositories like Instagram and focuses specifically on the work of developing research
questions and methods that not only reveal new information about contemporary screen media, but also reflect our ethical and ideological investments as writers.
18. Writing about Transnational Media: From Representation to Materiality
This chapter argues that critical screen studies in transnational contexts can benefit from a rethinking of media not just as textual artifacts but also material objects. The implications of this re-conception for writing about transnational screen cultures are three-fold. First, it involves
approaching media as events rather than preformed artifacts. Second, it entails attending to the more explicit roles played by audiences today in shaping the configuration of transnational media objects. Third, it requires recognizing ourselves not only as “writers” who study screen
cultures from a distance but also as participant observers who take part in the production, circulation, and consumption of our objects of analysis. Drawing on my experience of writing about Under the Dome (2015), a transnationally circulated documentary on smog in China, I suggest these ways of probing into the multifaceted processes of mediation can help us better engage the discourse and reality of “rising China.”
19. Writing about Digital and Interactive Media
Dale Hudson and Patricia R. Zimmermann
Digital and interactive media require rethinking the research and analysis process. These new forms open up disruptions in user access and modifications. They transition from linearity to modularity in navigable databases across transmedia platforms. This chapter guides writers through a process of how to think and write about these new forms. It suggests architecture, navigation, interface, automation, design, data, structures, and patterns as key analytical modes. It offers a writing system: use the 90/10 workflow, immerse deeply, handwrite notes, specify, research context and compare, interpret significance, make connections, outline by word count, read out loud, revise, and copyedit.
20. (Un)Limited Mobilities
This chapter reflects on how to write about the imaginaries of freedom and mobility that are enabled by the contemporary mobile phone, which as a medium marked by rapid convergence of technologies has broken all limits to move from basic cellular mobile telephony to become a complex assemblage of a range of mediascapes. Mobile media companies promise frictionless mobility and tout the boundless capabilities of mobile media through faster download speeds,
“seamless” streaming services, and a plethora of apps. However, the use of the word “unlimited” by telecom corporations and app developers to characterize their offered services itself suggests that they brush up against “limits” all the time, whether it is resolving bottlenecks of storage and bandwidth or the challenge of introducing new apps and
technologies on mobile phone networks. Finally, the concept of “(un)limited mobilities” should help us examine how lived experiences of social space and time have changed with mobile media technologies.
21. Context is Key: How (and Why) You Should Write about Outdoor Advertising
Context is important to consider when writing about any medium. But it’s especially important in the case of outdoor advertising because each time we view an outdoor advertisement, we see something different. This chapter lays out three guidelines for taking in the context of
outdoor advertisements: limiting yourself to one specific ad in one specific location, observing and recording objects and images that coexist in the visual field surrounding your advertisement, and considering unintended viewing positions in addition to intended ones.
Additionally, it provides some research tips for accessing images and descriptions of outdoor advertisements in their contexts so you are not limited to writing about those that you can physically access.
METHODS AND LOCATIONS
22. How Sound Helps Tell a Story: Sound, Music, and Narrative in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara
Within many popular Indian films, the narrative is often interrupted by a series of song sequences with varying relationships, if any, to the narrative. During a song sequence, spoken dialogue mostly disappears and gives way to music. Within the 2006 film Omkara, the relationships between the narrative and the film’s music are especially rich because its
director, Vishal Bhardwaj, also composed the film’ s songs. The song, “Nainon Ki Mat Suniyon Re (Do Not Listen To Your Eyes)” reveals how multiple layers of meaning in aural and visual texts interact. The sound of a voiceover and song lyrics interrupt, reorder, and question the visual text’ s depiction of romance and intimacy and also serve to foreshadow the film’s violent conclusion. The tensions between the aural and visual texts lead us to question who the narrators in this sequence are, whether they tell the truth, and whom they intend to address.
23. Writing Outside the Text: A Cultural Approach to Exhibition and Moviegoing
Jasmine Nadua Trice
Grounded in studies of exhibition and moviegoing, this chapter discusses ethnographic approaches to public film consumption. It is drawn from the author’s research on film circulation and consumption in Manila, Philippines. Questions it examines include: How do we define the parameters of an object, when the event of cinema consumption is fleeting?
How do we capture the significance of a particular screening event or venue? What kinds of theoretical frameworks should we draw from, in order to unpack our observations? What can our observations tell us about how cinema – as a text or a social practice – becomes meaningful within particular historical, cultural settings? The chapter examines three,
interrelated objects for writing about exhibition and moviegoing from a cultural perspective: spaces, discourses, and performances.
24. Writing about Streaming Portals: The Drama of Distribution
While the discipline of screen studies has traditionally focused on the analysis of texts, screen distribution can also be a fruitful area for critical writing and analysis. This chapter offers some reflections on how (and why) to write about distribution, using Netflix as an example.
25. Analyzing and Writing about Credit Sequences
Investigations of histories of cinema largely rely on archival documents and interviews. While these are important sites for documenting and analyzing cinema’s histories, an examination of paratexts such as credit sequences shows that material histories are imprinted on the film. In
this chapter, I show that analyses of credit sequences can provide generative insights into film production. Credit sequences are valuable for exploring: linguistic choices, formal elements (for example, visual design), production aesthetics, industrial practices and hierarchies, shooting locations, audience address, and state-regulations. Using examples culled from Bombay cinema, I demonstrate how credit sequences advance our understanding of authorship, production norms of different industries, and film’s relationship to nation-building.
26. "We Are Not Thinking Frogs": The Archive, the Artifact, and the Task of the Film Historian
This chapter argues that film archives are sites of mediation and interaction. It makes the case for understanding the practice of film history as one necessarily bound to the close analysis and writing of film archives.
27. Show Me the Data!: Uncovering the Evidence in Screen Media Industry Research
Bronwyn Coate and Deb Verhoeven
Data can take many forms, can come from a variety of sources, and can vary in size. In this chapter, we focus on quantitative data and address how “big data” has created a range of new options for evaluating movie and broader industry performance. As a starting point, quantitative data provide the facts or evidence that at a summary level can be used as a
reference to describe the state of the world as it stands. However, the use of data can enable further analysis using a range of techniques (such as data visualization) and quantitative methods (such as econometric modeling) to solve real world problems and address issues with policy relevance such as gender equality in the film industry.
28. Researching and Writing Across Media Industries
The challenges of writing and research across media industries can be overcome by looking not at the sum of these industry relationships, but instead the intersections from which they emerge. By adopting a set of interrelated research and writing strategies, media scholars can
transform lists of media franchises into more critical assessments of the franchising processes through which agency and constraint unfold within and across entertainment industries.
29. The Value of Surprise: Ethnography of Media Industries
This chapter discusses ethnography both as a method of doing research about media industries, as well as a style of writing to present one’s findings. It details how anthropologists use the term ethnography – both as a specific research practice and a representation of that research – and discusses the various insights offered by an ethnographic approach to
the study of media industries. Ethnography grounds the study of media in a specific time and space and offers insights into the processes, possibilities, and constraints of media production that are not apparent from close readings of media texts or analysis of macro-level data about media institutions and commercial outcomes. It also describes the aims of ethnographic
writing, which are to animate and make alive a particular sociocultural world for the reader.
30. Listen Up!: Interviewing as Method
This chapter examines ethnographic interviews as a critical method in production studies. Since writing and analysis from ethnographic interviews is heavily dependent on the research design of the study, the chapter reviews the process for constructing a project based on ethnographic interviews. Once this has been established, the chapter works through writing with other people’ s words and the place for the researcher within that process. To do so the chapter uses examples from an ethnographically-based project in production studies.
31. The Need for Translation: Difference, Footnotes, Hyperlinks
This chapter is built around two closely related and only apparently contradictory observations: one, that translation matters; two, that it should not be trusted. Starting from that dual premise, it asks the question: How can screen media scholarship make more room for linguistic difference both through and within the practice of translation? A notion often voiced in the field of translation studies is that footnotes are the death of a translation. By adding a footnote, you distance the text from its original form, you contaminate it. But doesn’t that contamination need to exist, and to be made explicit? The move to digital publishing is opening countless possibilities for the inclusion of notes, asides and links to all manner of written and audiovisual material, far exceeding the purview of the traditional footnote. Rather than denigrating the footnote as the death of translation, then, this chapter urges the young scholar to embrace the
death of the footnote itself and its rebirth in the form of the hyperlink – where both of these are understood as metaphors for difference.
FORMS AND FORMATS
32. Words and More: Strategies for Writing about and with Media
In this chapter I call for explicit attention to the formal qualities of the critical essay itself, as well as to the form of the media being reviewed. Verbal language remains the main critical mode; as such, I focus on the rhetorical use of text on the page, on screen, and in video. Reviewing and revising our critical structures can push back against some of the
logocentrism and linearity of current institutional modes, encouraging polyvocality and a respect for alternative ways of knowing. Screen literacy requires the ability to both consume and produce meaning; writing with media is key to writing about it.
33. Best Practices for Screen Media Podcasting
Christine Becker and Kyle Wrather
This chapter offers a collection of best practices for media scholars and educators who may be considering starting a podcast. Based on a survey of scholars and researchers currently recording and producing their own podcasts, this chapter synthesizes their responses into advice for those interested in participating in this growing medium. These recommendations are organized into six categories: planning ahead for a podcast, gathering the right tools, finding a clear concept, recording, editing, and understanding podcasting as a platform. Together, these best practices offer general guidelines for the kinds of considerations,
challenges, and opportunities that may face individuals or organizations that are considering publishing their own podcast.
34. Confessions of an Academic Blogger
My blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, launched in 2006 and has now hosted more than 2000 posts including interviews with more than 350 media scholars and producers. This chapter adopts a style appropriate for blogging – intimate, personal, concrete, practical – as it offers insights about the value of blogs as a form of public-facing academic writing and offers
some thoughts on what might allow someone to succeed at this practice.
35. The Research and the Remix: Video Essays as Creative Criticism
This chapter explores how crafting video essays can become a way to perform criticism using creative license that is backed up with critical knowledge. By re-examining the processes involved in developing three video projects that play up the interplay between audiovisual texts, the author explores the relationship between video essays and more traditional written
projects. The chapter centers around a case study on auteurism and Alfonso Cuarón which combines images from the 2018 film Roma and sound from the 2001 film Y tu mamá también.
36. Foregrounding the Invisible: Notes on the Video Essay Review
This chapter dwells on the very peculiar process of reviewing video essays. In the first part, it addresses the novelty of the video essay as well as of the process of open peer review. Second, the chapter describes the structure of the video essay review, detailing its different sections – the opening paragraph, the analysis of the argument and of the formal strategies
adopted to convey it, the interpretation – and providing examples and advice on how to write them. Finally, it urges potential reviewers to engage with video essays by losing some critical distance.
37. Review, Edit, Repeat: Writing and Editing Book Reviews
Based on the author’s experience as the book review editor for Film Criticism, this chapter provides an overview of how to write and publish an academic book review. It includes a discussion of what information and assessment a book review needs to include, tips for
approaching and working with book review editors, and ideas for dealing with some of the unique challenges posed by the genre. It also gives a glimpse into the editing process and outlines the importance of book reviews in academia.
38. Extracurricular Scholarship: "Writing" My Audio Commentary of Losing Ground
This chapter discusses the audio commentary as a form of what the author calls “extracurricular scholarship” through the case of the collaborative commentary she recorded with film scholar LaMonda Horton-Stallings for the Milestone Films Release of Losing Ground.
39. The Short, Sweet Art of Blurb Writing
This chapter introduces writers to blurb writing. Blurbs are short, summative, persuasive texts that manufacture condensed copies of other texts. The chapter provides an introduction to the blurb as a purposive text that allows writers to curate, creatively cite, and appropriate the story and style of novels, films, video games, and other media for potential new consumers. Four guiding principles for the writing of blurbs are introduced: citation, context, character, and
convention. Each principle is illustrated with a blurb. Overall, blurbs are described as tools for constructing an elaborate but economical cosmos that reflects and responds to their object of attention.
40. Bridging the Gaps Between Scholarly Essays and Mass-Market Film Writing
This chapter draws on the author’s years of experience as both a university-based professor of cinema studies and a film critic and journalist for popular publications. On these bases, the chapter argues that skills developed in each of these arenas – often presented as irreconcilable in goals, expression, and audience – can enrich one’ s work in the other and create professional opportunities in both. The author gives examples of how scholarly questions, frames of reference, and modes of analysis can elevate popular writing and distinguish a critic’s voice. At the same time, the concision, clarity, and attention to craftsmanship that magazine editors and fan communities value can help to distill and anchor the arguments in academic writing. The chapter includes a handful of sample assignments that can cultivate these abilities in students and help them acquire useful professional
41. Writing Across the Page Without a Line
What does it mean to write across the page without a line? To write beyond the security of a well-honed critical practice? This chapter describes the evolution of my own writing practice and the subsequent creation of a craft-based writing workshop dedicated to the exploration
of techniques for writing about – or alongside, next to, or near – film, video, still images, sound, and other media forms. Moving beyond the conventions of scholarly writing, the course explores forms that have been variously dubbed creative nonfiction, the hybrid essay, memoir,
the fourth genre, the lyric essay, the video essay, and poetic or vernacular criticism; and it considers writers who have contributed often stunning examples to the form. While writing constitutes one of the main activities we engage in as scholars, we devote very little attention
to it as a practice and craft within academia. This chapter describes attempts to redress this gap.