Integrating Production in Film and Media Courses
Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol 4 (1)
Edited by Chera Kee and Maurizio Viano
Table of Contents
- On The Importance of Being Two Faced: Production in the Classroom by Irene Gustafson
- The Paradox of Ubiquitous Production by Lauren S. Berliner
- The Enemy of Art is the Absence of Limitations: Integrating Film History, Theory, and Production by Drew Morton
- Paper Production: Using Preparation and DIY Strategies to Integrate Production on a Shoestring by Anne Gilbert
- Culture Jamming as Critical Pedagogy: A Case Study in Remix Media Studies by Allison de Fren
- On Developing a Teaching Module on Arab Social Media by Kimberly Katz and Laila Shereen Sakr
By Chera Kee and Maurizio Viano
The notion that academic courses in film and media studies ought to explore a pedagogy mixing digital production with ‘traditional learning’ is ubiquitous nowadays. This tendency is often a pressure for courses in the Humanities to search for that extra enrollment to survive—as production is thought of as being more cool or fun than media histories and theory. It also stems from assumptions that most of our undergraduate students these days are “digital natives,” not only widely familiar with myriad forms of media content but producing it as well. Of course, the pressure of integrating theory/history with production becomes even more topical, indeed a must, in courses offered within departments or programs that are expected to teach all things media, from film to video games, both theory and production.
Therefore, the time has come to pool our pedagogic energies—collect our thoughts and share our experiences—on the integration of production with theory/history in our syllabi. How does adding production elements to more traditional theory/history courses deepen our students’ understanding of film and media histories and theories? What sorts of questions should we be asking ourselves when we design production based assignments, and what kinds of things are our colleagues doing in their classrooms? This teaching dossier attempts to answer these questions by offering a panoramic view of approaches to a ‘blended’ pedagogy.
We start with Irene Gustafson’s essay “On The Importance of Being Two Faced: Production in the Classroom,” which acknowledges that the question of whether or not to include production assignments in media studies classes may have already been answered for some of us. She thus proceeds to confront the “subsequent and, possibly, more interesting questions: How do we assess imagistic/aural research? How do we critique it? What is its relationship to other modes of research?” Gustafson suggests that introducing production elements in the classroom forces us to confront the relationships between our objects of study and our research. She thus implicitly puts on the map the concept of ‘practice based research’ as perhaps the best way to categorize the “imagistic or material thinking” encouraged by production assignments. In so doing, she fruitfully examines the potential pedagogical interest that even failure in “imagistic/sound research” may have: as she notes, “a ‘failed’ creative project can be successful if it opens up a rich set of dialogues or creates a situation of citation or intertext.”
Continuing in this vein, Lauren S. Berliner’s essay “The Paradox of Ubiquitous Production,” asks us to consider the pedagogical reasoning behind integrating production into non-production courses. Challenging educators to think about not only why they are using production elements but how these fit into the larger goals of a course, Berliner outlines the specific principles that have guided her in crafting production-based assignments for her course, “Participatory Media Culture.” She believes that courses introducing production must make sure that production-based assignments are clearly linked to desired learning outcomes, educators must give students “the instructional handles and technological access to fully participate” in assignments, and they must make sure that students are able to reflect adequately on both the form and content of their production work. In this way, “students and teachers alike utilize media production to prompt critical thinking without the burden of teaching and evaluating production values.”
Turning the tables somewhat, Drew Morton writes mostly from the perspective of an instructor in a film production class who has to answer questions such as “why is our midterm on film terms and old movies when this is a Video Production class?” Morton’s essay, “The Enemy of Art is the Absence of Limitations: Integrating Film History, Theory, and Production,” illustrates some of the assignments he has designed in two courses, namely “Introduction to Video Production” and “Advanced Video Production.” Full of practical examples and ‘down to earth’ advice, this essay “argues that the best approach is the highly adaptable approach,” and concludes that “bringing history and theory into a production course (or vice versa) ultimately involves a degree of horse trading.”
In her piece, “Paper Production: Using Preparation and DIY Strategies to Integrate Production on a Shoestring,” Anne Gilbert acknowledges the very real limits some of us might face in trying to integrate production elements into media courses: namely, the lack of access to technology and/or students without adequate production training. Rather than writing production off as too expensive or not practical, Gilbert instead offers up examples of paper-based “production” assignments that she has used in her course “Film & Media Aesthetics.” She thus shows that our understanding of production does not have to be limited to what can be done with traditional audio-visual equipment.
In “Culture Jamming as Critical Pedagogy: A Case Study in Remix Media Studies,” Allison de Fren notes that she has “found the most success with classes that are developed and presented to students from the outset as hybrid courses, particularly those whose topics lend themselves to a dialectical relationship and dialogical interchange between theory and practice.” In particular, de Fren focuses on assignments for her “Remix Media and Culture Jamming” course, including a subvertising assignment that asks students to create image parody memes and short video remixes. She observes that these assignments not only challenge students to think about the theory they are learning but that her students are applying what they’ve learned outside of the classroom as “students have used our culture jamming assignments to target, analyze, discuss, and respond to the larger social, political, and economic forces” that may underlie racist and sexist structures on campus.
Finally, Kimberly Katz and Laila Shereen Sakr’s “On Developing a Teaching Module on Arab Social Media” provides a topical and informative example of how to incorporate something that many students do on a daily basis—tweet—into pedagogic material that can be used by scholars from a variety of related fields. Closely assessing students’ responses to assignments based on tweets from Arab Spring protesters, Katz and Sakr’s essay investigates the classroom use of the R-Shief media system (r-shief.org) created by Sakr “in 2009 to attend to critical gaps in computational and textual analysis on social media.” This “archival and visualizing media system with a five-year archive of over twenty-six billion social media posts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and sites) in more than seventy languages” provided their students with a starting off point from which not only to engage in production but to think about the contexts in which some media content is received, researched, and ultimately understood.
Lauren S. Berliner is an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies and Cultural Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at University of Washington Bothell, where she teaches courses on media praxis and participatory media culture. She is also a filmmaker and the co-curator of The Festival of (In)Appropriation annual showcase of experimental films. Her research engages ongoing transformations in everyday and amateur media production practice, intervening in academic, intrapersonal, community, commercial, and activist contexts. She is currently working on her first book manuscript which examines how LGBTQ youth media producers negotiate the structural conditions of funding and publicity and incorporate digital self-representations into practices of identity management. Her most recent work has recently appeared in the anthology Documenting Gendered Violence: Representations, Collaborations, and Movements.
Allison de Fren is a media maker/scholar and an Assistant Professor in the Media Arts & Culture (MAC) Department at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Her media research and practice focus on the visual and digital cultures around gendered technologies. She has taught a range of classes that integrate media history, theory, and practice including Remix Media and Culture Jamming, Autobiographical Documentary: The Theory and Practice of First-person Media and Exploring Virtual Reality: From Optical Illusions to Oculus Rift. Her documentary work has been screened at festivals including HotDocs, Doxa, Woodstock Film Festival, Cucalorus, New Orleans Film Festival, Fantasia, and SCI-FI London; her critical media work has been published in [In]Transition Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies and Fandor; and her scholarship published in Science Fiction Studies Journal and Vintage Visions: Essays on Early Science Fiction, edited by Arthur B. Evans (Wesleyan University Press, 2014).
Anne Gilbert is a Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in Film & Media at the University of Kansas. She works with faculty to redesign courses to involve hands-on projects and active learning strategies. She researches media industries, fans and audiences, and digital culture.
Irene Gustafson is a media maker and writer who teaches at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the Film and Digital Media department. Her film/video work has screened nationally and internationally; her writing has appeared in Camera Obscura, Journal of Visual Culture, Spectator, and The Moving Image Journal. Her video essay, Facing the Subject, appeared in [in]Transition in March 2016.
Kimberly Katz is Associate Professor of Middle East History at Towson University in Maryland. She holds a Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University and is the author two books: Jordanian Jerusalem: Holy Places and National Spaces (University Press of Florida, 2005) and A Young Palestinian’s Diary: The Life of Sami ‘Amr (University of Texas Press, 2009).
Chera Kee is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the English Department at Wayne State University where she teaches courses on horror, gender, censorship, and Asian cinema. Her current research focuses on zombie media and its fandoms, with a particular focus on the undead in comics and video games. Her essay on the zombie’s Haitian roots appears in the book Better Off Dead: the Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human (Rutgers, 2011) and her essay on zombies and miscegenation appears in the December 2014 issue of The Journal of Popular Film and Television. She has recently finished a book manuscript about the very un-zombie-like zombies that populate U.S. media.
Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. He the co-editor and co-founder of [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and Cinema Journal). His publications have appeared in animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies. His manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style will be released by the University Press of Mississippi in 2016.
Laila Shereen Sakr is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. She is known for creating and performing the cyborg, VJ Um Amel, and the R-Shief media system. She holds a Ph.D. in Media Arts + Practice from the University of Southern California, an M.F.A. in Digital Arts and New Media from UCSC, and an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University.
Maurizio Viano co-directs the program of Cinema and Media Studies at Wellesley College. Feeling like a dinosaur in the midst of the sweeping changes affecting our discipline, Maurizio has been putting all of his energies into pedagogy, and more specifically the assignment of video essays instead of traditional academic papers. Together with Jordan Tynes, he has published Frames of Mind on the website that he considers one of the best things that happened to Film Studies in this century: [in]Transition.