Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing about Whedon as a Director

I thought that readers of the blog might like to see some of the assignments that go along with the Buffy seminar at Emerson College. The first assignment is designed to encourage students to look at the series not only as a narrative with a novel's narrative complexity, but also as a visual art form with a corresponding artistic complexity as well. In addition, this assignment should help students to look at Joss Whedon as a director, rather than an auteur, a producer/creator, or a writer.
Students write a 3-5 page paper comparing Whedon's choices as a director in his very first attempt, the unaired production pilot whose link is in the syllabus, with another episode that he has directed, either in this series, another of the series that he produced or as a guest director. (In the latter case, please provide a link to the episode, as I may need to refresh my memory of it.) Students may NOT compare the aired “Welcome to the Hellmouth” to the unaired pilot, as Whedon did not direct the aired pilot. (IMDB’s designation of him as an uncredited director of the aired pilot references the production pilot.) Students should not feel the need to do research for this assignment although they may, of course.
Questions to consider for this assignment: What virtues and flaws do you see in the unaired production pilot? What remains the same in his approach and what changes? What techniques does he turn to in each case and why? How does genre impact his choices? Budget and available resources? Medium? How does he position his viewers? What is the impact of these choices?
Papers are evaluated based on the following criteria:
· Title: Does the title prepare the reader for the argument to come? Does it describe the paper? Is it catchy? Or is it a simple statement of the topic question answered?
· Quality of Introduction: Does it have an introduction that directly declares the thesis, briefly states 2-4 premises that the paper will use to support its point, and indicates the impact of the argument (i.e. why the topic matters)? Does the reader know what to look for in the body of the paper or are they uncertain what the author is trying to prove?
· Writing and Rhetoric: Does the paper undermine the author’s authority by having basic writing errors in spelling, word choice, paragraph transitions and grammar? Does the author craft an argument that demonstrates their insight into the question posed or do they simply provide a summary? Does the author anticipate reasonable counter-arguments, summarize them fairly, and refute them?
· Evidence: Does the paper use concrete examples or does it simply refer to the episodes in question? Does the paper precisely describe how various techniques in framing, composition, color, set and costume design, editing, sound design, lighting design or does it use empty adjectives like “beautiful” or “striking”? Does the paper describe what the actors physically do to create meaning or does it describe the 2D patterns of light and shadow we call characters as feeling or thinking certain things? Does it use quotes from the script or does it paraphrase? 
· Impact: Does the author impact their analysis or are they trapped on the screen? Media is one of the more social human endeavors, made and consumed by a great number of people. The media arts are social and thus political. What is the social result of encouraging these ways of seeing, listening, feeling and thinking? 
· Variety: Does the paper understand the entire work or do they understand only a part of it? Each media product works on several levels at once:
o text (narrative, character, form)
o viewer (individual perception, audience, social use of the product, author’s construction of preferred readings and viewers)
o author(s) (intention, previous works, influences)
o genre (patterns of pleasure, narrative and formal expectations)
o art history (genre across media)
o economic (placement within industrial, national, and global economic structures of production, distribution and exhibition)
o medium (means of communication)
o culture (ideology, myth)
One goal of this course is to foster the student's ability to discern the entire meaning of a media product.
· Mastery of Course Content: Does it demonstrate fluent understanding of the theories, evidence and arguments raised in class and the readings, or does it ignore them?
· Citations: Do the citations follow the MLA format such that readers can verify claims made by the paper? 
· Quality of Conclusion: Does the paper have a conclusion that briefly restates the main points and best evidence to leave the reader with the best understanding of the argument? Or does the paper just end when it reaches the page minimum?
Some of the more interesting comparisons used Prophecy Girl (the first season finale was Whedon's first aired effort), The Freshman (Buffy's season four re-boot), and Serenity (the original pilot for Firefly).
What do you think? Which would you choose?


  1. there's a Buffy seminar at Emerson? I go to Emerson and I love Buffy! Will this be taught next semester as well?

  2. Sorry, it's a once a year thing! Take a look for a VM400ish class called "Deconstructing TV's Buffy." There will, however, be a fandom seminar next semester that will touch on the Whedonites.