Author:
Joel Bakker
Subject:
Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Film and Music Production
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Homework/Assignment
Level:
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division, Career / Technical
Tags:
License:
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
Language:
English

Chapter Assignments for Moving Pictures

Chapter Assignments for Moving Pictures

Overview

A free, open-source collection of discussion prompts and assignments intended to pair with Part I of Russell Sharman's textbook Moving Pictures: An Introduction to Cinema.

 

Attributions: Moving Pictures: An Introduction to Cinema by Russell Sharman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Assignments for Chapter One: A Brief History of Cinema

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. How did vertical integration, block booking, blind bidding, and iron-clad contracts with talent aid the major movie studios in surviving the Great Depression and creating the "Golden Age" of Hollywood? What three events brought these business practices to an end?
  2. What is the first "blockbuster" movie that you remember seeing? Did you go to see it with friends, family, or both? Did you talk about it at school or with friends and family afterwards? Did you own toys, t-shirts, or other memorabilia related to the movie? Have you re-watched it recently, and if so, what did you think?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Many contemporary cameras, including phone cameras, allow th user to take a "burst" of multiple photos, meaning you can create something like Muybridge's "series photography" on your own. Create a short series of photographs documenting a simple action in the style of "series photography" and submit either as a video or paste the pictures (in order) in a Word or PDF document.

Assignments for Chapter Two: How to Watch A Movie

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Pick a short scene from one of your favorite movies. Write a brief description, noting the following: Number of cuts, number of transitions (if any), and types of shots (close-up, medium shot, long shot, low-angle shot, high-angle shot). Why do you think the filmmakers chose these particular shots for this scene? Does the number of cuts, pace of the scene, or types of shots used suggest anything to you about the nature of the scene or the character or characters involved? 
  2. Find four to five still images online of shots from movies that stick in your memory. Create a Word or PDF doc including these images, listing what movie each image is from, why the shot is memorable to you, and anything else noteworthy about the shot (i.e. is it characteristic of a director's particular style, if it reveals something noteworthy about plot or character, etc.) Try to write 25-50 words about each shot.

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Pick a short scene from a book that you like. Draw a one-page storyboard of how you would film that scene. The storyboard does not need to use overly technical language, but designate what kind of shots should be used: close-up, medium shot, etc. If you don't want to draw, you can use still images you find online to create a storyboard, but make sure it's something someone who hasn't read the book can follow. Here are some example storyboards to help you get started.

 

Assignments for Chapter Three: Mise-en-Scene

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Describe a scene from one of your favorite movies, paying close attention to the mise-en-scene. Does the scene look like it was filmed in a real location or a soundstage? Is in indoors or outdoors? During the day or at night? Does the scene use high-key or low-key lighting? Are there aspects of the production design that stand out? Is there any obviously computer generated imagery (CGI)? Why do you think the filmmakers made these particular staging decisions?
  2. Think of one of your favorite characters. What is noteworthy about their character design? What kinds of clothes do they wear? How do they wear their hair, if they have hair? Do they have any props or accessories that they regularly carry? Do any of these things change throughout the movie (or book, or game, or graphic novel, etc.)? What do these aspects of character design tell you about this particular character?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Pick a scene from one of your favorite books. If you wanted to film this scene, what would you need? Make a list of the sets/settings, props, actors, special effects, and anything else you think would be required (don't worry about camera, lights, or sound equipment.) Then draw a picture of what the set would look like, with the different elements from your list labelled. 

Assignments for Chapter Four: Narrative

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Think about one of your favorite movies. Do you think the plot follows the three-act structure as defined in this chapter? If so, write a short description of the plot and how the different sections of the story fit into the act structure. Is there an antagonist? What are the stakes, and do they raise as the story goes along? Is there an identifiable midpoint? If the movie you are thinking of does not follow a traditional three-act structure, write a short description identifying the ways in which it deviates from that structure. Is the story still satisfying if it does not follow the three-act structure? Why or why not?
  2. Think about one of your favorite characters in fiction. Are they a round or flat character? If they are a round character, write a brief description of the different aspects of their personality and describe how they add up to a complex and interesting character. If they are a flat character, describe why you still find them interesting and what role they play in the story. Are they the main character, or a side character? Hero or anti-hero? Protagonist or antagonist? 

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Think of one of your favorite movies that seems to you to follow a three-act structure. Either draw or find images online that can be used to illustrate these points in the film: the protagonist(s), the antagonist (if there is one), inciting incident, beginning the journey, rising stakes, point of no return, all hope is lost, climax. Write a short sentence for each image explaining how it illustrates the plot point and arrange in order in a PDF or Word doc.

Assignments for Chapter Five: Cinematography

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Find a film made within the last thirty years that was filmed in black and white. (Some examples: Nebraska, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Dead Man.) Clearly, color was an option for these filmmakers and cinematographers, but they made the decision to shoot in black and white. Why do you think this decision was made? What quality or qualities does this film have in black and white that it would not have had in color? On a personal level, do you find the use of black and white distracting? Why or why not?
  2. Pick a shot from a movie you like that includes camera movement. Describe how the camera moves and what the filmmaker and cinematographer are showing us. What kind of movement is it: pan, tilt, handheld, dolly shot, tracking shot, crane shot, steadicam, some combination? (You may not be able to tell exactly what type of movement is used - make an educated guess based on what it looks like.) In your opinion, is this camera movement motivated? Why or why not? If it is not motivated, is it interesting or effective in some other way?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Pick a scene you like from one of your favorite books. Think about how you would film this scene, and draw a diagram of how you might set up one of the shots. Where would the actors stand? How would they move in the scene? Would the camera move? Would it require multiple shots? How would you set up the lights? Label the different elements (actors, camera, lights, props, whatever else is included) in your diagram and write a few sentences about the scene and the decision-making process in building your "shot".

Assignments for Chapter Six: Editing

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Pick a scene from a movie you like. First, count the cuts within the scene. Then, write a description of the scene, describing the different cuts. Does the scene follow the master shot and coverage format? Does it use cutting-on-action or any type of match cut? Are there any transitions? Is there any cross-cutting/parallel editing? Is the any discontinuous editing? Does the scene follow the 180 degree rule, or does it jump the line?
  2. Compare and contrast two different scenes: one that moves at a fast pace with multiple quick edits, the other at a slower pace with longer shots and fewer cuts. (These scenes can be from the same film or different films.) Why do you think the filmmaker and the editor(s) decided to cut these scenes in these ways? What effect does the pace of the editing have on the feel of the scene and what part of the story is being told to the viewer? If the pace of the editing was swapped between these scenes, what effect would it have?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. If you have access to video editing equipment, try creating "Kuleshov Effect" videos of your own: film yourself or a friend looking offscreen with a blank expression, then cut in different things you or your friend might be looking at. Show the videos to friends or family and write down their reactions. Submit the video and a brief write-up of the reactions you received. If you don't have video editing capability, draw some pictures of people looking at different items with the same expression. Show the pictures to different people and ask them what they think the person is thinking. Record their responses and turn in the drawings and a brief write-up of the reactions you received.

Assignments for Chapter Seven: Sound

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Pick a scene without music from a movie you like. Other than dialogue, what sounds do you hear? Are there footsteps, other sound effects, noticable "room tone," or anything else? Are there noticable "sound bridges" from one shot to the next? J-cuts, L-cuts, or both? Is there any use of total silence? Describe the sounds and what kind of ambiance they lend to the scene.
  2. Find a scene in a movie you like that features diegetic music. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to include diegetic music here? What does it lend to the scene? How do the characters interact with the music, if they do at all? What does this suggest about the characters and/or their relationships? Could this scene work with non-diegetic music?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. Watch a silent film. (There are a lot of them available through different streaming services and viewable for free on Open Culture.) Compile a soundtrack for the silent film, either from popular songs, classical music, or soundtrack music from other films. (If you are musically inclined and wish to do so, please feel free to write some music yourself.) Provide a list of the music you've selected with the scenes during which that music would play, and one or two sentences as to why you picked that particular piece of music for that scene. If available, provide YouTube, Spotify, or other links to the different pieces of music; if not, provide enough information (song, performer, writer) for the instructor to find the music you are referencing.

Assignments for Chapter Eight: Acting

Please write 200-300 words on one of the following prompts

  1. Do you have a favorite actor? (If you don't have a "favorite," pick an actor that you like.) What is your favorite movie they've been in? What is your favorite performance of theirs, if it is not in that film? What is it about them that appeals to you? Have you seen them give a performance you didn't like? Would you describe their style as more classical or naturalistic?
  2. Think of a movie you've seen with a major movie star. Now imagine the same role in that film being played by an actor you've never seen before. How is it different? Are there aspects of the star's persona that are reflected in the role that would be lost if it was played by an unknown actor? Would it affect the story in any way? Can you think of a situation in which an unknown actor might actually be a better choice?

Alternative Assignment - Confirm with Instructor

  1. If you have access to recording equipment, get together with some friends and act out a short scene from a play or movie. (Cell phone video is perfectly acceptable.) Texts from plays and screenplays can be found online or borrowed from the local library. You can read from the text as you are acting it out (in other words, you don't have to memorize the lines) but make sure to include some movement and actions into your performances. If someone messes up their line, start again. Once you have a "take" you all like, submit the video along with a few sentences about the process and anything you learned about acting in front of a camera.