The many fields of Cinema, Video and Communications make direct and practical use of writing as a form of communication, but also as a means of creative processing and critical thinking. Teaching in these disciplines involves exercises that practice a number of writing genres and involve both closed and alternative forms.
The standard academic essay is especially important for Cinema Studies students because it requires that they communicate their knowledge of films, movements, theories, etc., in an informed and organized fashion. Young students tend to resort to taste-based opinions when responding to film. Because the formal, essay assignment necessitates research, the positions students adopt in argumentation have to be based on theoretical discourse and other evidence uncovered in this activity. These types of closed assignments are complemented by more expressive journaling exercises that occasion more personal reflection. Typically, these two types of assignments are conceived as interdependent: the journaling providing ideas to be explored in more depth and with more rigors in the formal paper.
Cinema Production also uses closed formal modes of writing in proposal writing and for film treatments, and more open or alternative ‘sketch’ exercises to develop ideas, dialogue and narrative elements for presentation in the highly structured/closed form of a ‘speculation script’. Likewise, various Communication Practices require the use of closed and open forms: the pyramid structure used in traditional news writing is highly structured, where blogging and multi-media production is a more open and expressive approach to writing.
Discussion of genre conventions is an important part of the teaching of these skills, especially in Communication Practice where constant innovation in the tools and technologies for production and distribution require the ongoing rethinking of communications techniques.
When the subject of genre arises explicitly in Cinema Studies, it is usually addressed from the perspective of film form. Like literary genres, film genres adopt typical narrative structures and semantic elements that change over time; different film genres also anticipate differently situated perspectives in spectatorship and so the study of changing generic conventions and spectatorship provides the context to explore the historical and social aspects of generic forms.
The study of Communication Practices allows us to address issues of writing genres directly. We ask students to consider how the conventions of their own, personal communication practices shape social conventions and conversation more generally. How are social relations shaped by social networking practices? By cell phones or text messaging? An exercise that I’ve given to student to test the limits and possibilities of the communication forms they use most often is to write a love letter and a more formal cover letter for a job application using the standards of language and expression used on Facebook, Twitter or in texting. In this instance, the alternative approach is much more effective a teaching tool than the ‘five paragraph essay’.