Spring 2021 Dr. Alexandra Hidalgo, Associate Professor Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures firstname.lastname@example.org alexandrahidalgo.com
In this course you will be introduced to the art of documentary filmmaking by being part of a supportive and generative environment in which you can analyze documentary films and apply what you learn from that conversation to your own short personal documentary project. Throughout this course, you will do the following:
Develop an understanding of what constitutes a personal documentary by watching, analyzing, and discussing feature and short documentaries that explore personal topics.
Become familiar with the preproduction, production, and postproduction stages for films and what they each entail as you take a film project from idea to distribution.
Learn to record effective images and sound without using professional lighting or shooting in a studio setting.
Work through various drafts of your own personal documentary by taking into account feedback and providing feedback to others on their work.
A Note About Filming During the COVID19 pandemic: As you craft your projects, we will work together to ensure that you don’t put yourself or others at risk. The nature of the personal documentary (in which you tell a story that focuses on your own experiences) invites you to film your own life without risking contact with those you don’t regularly have contact with.
Accessing The Course
Our class materials are available on our Microsoft Teams course space and we will meet every class time through my zoom meeting room.
Due to our current need for social distancing, I will hold office hours over Microsoft Teams every Tuesday from 4-5 pm. You can message me there and we can either address the issue via chat or hop into zoom. At any time during the semester, you can request a zoom appointment with me and we’ll find a time that works for us to meet. I’m also fast at replying to emails, so that’s another good way to reach me.
You will need regular access to a computer with an internet connection, access to our Microsoft Teams course, and to film editing software of your choosing.
You will need to purchase this text:
Shoot from the Heart: Successful Filmmaking from a Sundance Rebel by Diane Bell. 2018.
In our course calendar, you will find links to the films and videos that are freely available. There are also a few films that are available to rent on various platforms. The platform we will use consistently is Netflix. If you don’t already have an account, it would be advisable to get one from 3/15 to 4/12, which is when we’ll be consistently watching Netflix films.
Footage tends to take up a lot of memory, so having a hard drive where you can store what you film will be very helpful. One-Terabyte external hard drives cost around $50 and are a great investment for filmmakers. The bigger (and admittedly clumsier to carry) version of the hard drives are faster than the small, portable ones. You should consider those advantages and drawbacks as you choose which hard drive to purchase.
Accessing Filmmaking Equipment
There are a number of possibilities for filming equipment in this class.
1. Use your own equipment. If you already own a DSLR camera, a cellphone with a good camera, or any other camera that you’re familiar with and enjoy, that is the best option for you. It would be good to have a mic and tripod as well. If you don’t have any, see borrowing possibilities below.
2. The Film Production Lab, located in Wells C642, has a variety of filming and sound equipment that you can check out. Due to COVID19, they have extended the time you can check out the equipment to a week. You have three options for equipment available to you:
You can rent DSLR cameras, Taskam portable recorders, and lavalier/shotgun mics.
You can rent a set that includes camera holders and mics designed for using with cellphones.
You can do a blend of both.
You can find the available equipment and request it here. In order to protect students and staff, the way the rental process works is that you indicate what you need and book a 30-minute window to pick it up. The lab assistant will get your gear ready and will put it on a cart out in the hallway so that you don’t need to enter the Lab as you pick it up. To return equipment, you sign up for a specific time on the website and leave it on the cart in the hallway.
If you have other questions about equipment, please let me know.
Reading and Watching Assignments
For almost every class period I will assign readings or videos. You will not succeed in this course if you don’t keep up with the readings and watch the documentaries and videos we’ll be discussing in class.
Reading and Watching Quizzes (10 points) Quizzes will take place through email at the beginning of each class for which readings, films, and videos have been assigned. I will post the question on our Zoom chat and you will send the answer to email@example.com at the beginning of class. The questions will be easy to answer if you read/view the assignment and pay attention. Quizzes are worth one point each. You will start the semester with 10 points. If you don’t miss any quizzes, you will have 10 points at the end. If you miss half a quiz, you’ll have 9.5 points, if you miss a whole quiz, you will have 9 points, and so on. The quizzes’ role is to give you an incentive to engage with the texts we discuss in class, since without understanding the assigned texts, you will not profit from this course.
Course Projects and Grading
There are two projects for the course. Please see the full assignment descriptions for an in-depth discussion of what they entail:
Documentary Scene Presentation (10 points) For this 8-10 minute Powerpoint/Prezi presentation, you will screen a 3-5 minute scene from a documentary we are not watching in class and analyze how it succeeds at one of three purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to emotionally move the audience. In order to make your points about that scene, you will discuss three of its filmmaking elements (cinematography, sound, soundtrack, editing, character development, and graphics and titles).
Due: You will sign up to present throughout the semester.
Short Documentary (70 points) You will work with a classmate on a 7-12 minute personal documentary featuring yourself, your family, your pets, and/or your roommates. In order for the documentary to work well, you’ll want to focus on one aspect/theme within your main character’s life/journey. You will also craft a distribution plan for your film in terms of the film festivals you aim to submit it to.
These are the assignment components and due dates:
Initial Ideas on Short Documentary Presentation (5 points) Due: You will sign up to present on 2/3, 2/8 or 2/10.
Revised Ideas on Short Documentary Presentation (5 points) Due: You will sign up to present on 2/15, 2/17 or 2/22.
Draft 1 (15 points) Due: You will sign up to screen your draft on 3/3, 3/8 or 3/10.
Draft 2 (15 points) Due: You will sign up to screen your draft on 3/29, 3/31 or 4/5.
Final Draft (25 points) Due: You will sign up to screen your draft on 4/14, 4/19 or 4/21.
Distribution Plan (5 points) Due: 4/23 by 11:59pm.
I will use the following scale to determine your grades: 94-100 = 4.0 87-93 = 3.5 80-86 = 3.0 75-79 = 2.5 70-74 = 2.0 65-69 = 1.5 60-64 = 1.0 < 59 = 0
Zoom Meeting Etiquette
We will meet on my Zoom room. Because so much of the class depends on our ability to connect to each other, I would really appreciate it if you would leave your zoom video on. I realize that sometimes you may be unable to have your camera on for a variety of reasons, but if we could all make an effort to do our best to be on camera for as long as we can during our class, it will be a lot easier for us to have the conversations we need to have and to connect in the ways I hope we can connect with each other through this learning experience.
If you feel more comfortable using an image background, please do so. We don’t need to see your space, just you. And, of course, if you need to turn off your video for a while, it’s OK to do so, but please do your best to keep it on for most (or all) of the class.
Although I know that many of you probably enjoy Zoom’s chat function, I struggle to both teach a class and pay attention to the chat, especially when the chat becomes very active. By all means use it, but know that I won’t be checking it all the time and other students may not be checking it either, as they try to also pay attention to the ongoing conversation. Let’s also do our best to keep the chat focused on the discussions we’re having, so as to not overwhelm those who are paying attention to both the chat and the video with too much information.
We will be doing things during every class meeting that cannot be replicated outside the classroom, and as a result I would like you to be there for every session. I’ll do my best to make you want to come to class and make class worth your while. In exchange, I expect you to come to class prepared and to contribute to our activities and discussions.
I realize that during a pandemic things may come up to prevent you from attending that don’t usually come up during a regular semester. Issues with internet connectivity or with your physical and mental health, as well as looking after children, relatives, and/or partners at home play a much larger role in our lives in times like the one we’re undergoing right now.
Traditionally for my undergraduate courses, students may miss three classes without penalty. After that, two percentage points are deducted for every unexcused absence. If you miss more than six classes, whether your absences are excused or not, you receive a failing grade. Given the way COVID19 is affecting our lives, however, I’m trying to make room for some situations that prevent you from attending without affecting your grade. Ideally you will let me know in advance if you’re missing class, but if you can’t, please contact me as soon as possible so we can figure out a way to make up for what you missed.
If you regularly miss class, however, it will be hard for you to pass this course. This is a class that features conversations, group work, and guests coming to share their experiences with us. It will be hard to replicate that experience if you miss our time together with regularity. I’ll do my best to help you make up for lost experiences but please do your best to come to class when we meet.
Tardiness disrupts the class and everyone’s learning experience, so every tardy equals half an absence. The same applies for anyone who leaves class early.
Bonus points will be awarded to students who miss fewer than their allotted three absences and who participate responsibly in class. You will receive an extra credit percentage point per each class you attend beyond your allotted three absences, i.e. if you miss no classes and have no tardies, you will earn three percentage points of extra credit.
An assignment received after the due date is considered late (unless prior arrangements have been made). Late work is penalized 20% for each day it is late. After five days, including weekends, late projects receive a 0. As with my attendance policy, I am open to discussing options if you don’t have things done on time due to our current global pandemic.
Services and Resources
MSU Writing Center: http://writing.msu.edu. 432-3610. 300 Bessey Hall. The MSU Writing Center is the primary writing resource on campus. You’ll also find satellite centers in several campus locations including the main library.
MSU ESL Lab: http://www.elc.msu.edu. 353-0800. 714 Wells Hall. The ESL Lab assists international students with writing in a second language.
MSU Learning Resource Center: http://lrc.msu.edu. 202 Bessey Hall. This center offers individualized assistance to help students develop successful learning strategies and study habits.
MSU Libraries: http://www.lib.msu.edu.
Purdue OWL: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab provides information about writing, such as how to use MLA and how to plan and structure your texts.
Americans with Disabilities Act
In order to receive any accommodation for any disability, students must first register with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD). The RCPD will request appropriate documentation and make a determination regarding the nature of the accommodation to which a students is entitled. The RCPD will then give the student a “visa” that specifies the kind of accommodation that may be provided. It is then the responsibility of the student seeking accommodation to present the visa to his/her instructor.
Title IX Mandatory Reporting
Michigan State University is committed to fostering a culture of caring and respect that is free of relationship violence and sexual misconduct, and to ensuring that all affected individuals have access to services. For information on reporting options, confidential advocacy and support resources, university policies and procedures, or how to make a difference on campus, visit the Title IX website. As the instructor, I must report the following information to other university offices (including the Department of Police and Public Safety) if you share it with me verbally, in writing, in conversation during or outside class, and/or as part of your course assignments:
Suspected child abuse/neglect, even if this maltreatment happened in the past;
Allegations of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, or sexual harassment; and
Any student in this class who experiences difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in our course, is urged to contact their program advisors in order to learn about available resources. You may also contact the MSU Food Bank (http://foodbank.msu.edu) for help getting access to healthy foods.
In addition to the above steps, the Graduate School at MSU offers a range of resources for graduate students, including support groups for work-life balance, health care, and support for mental health counseling. For more information, please visit: https://grad.msu.edu/partners-in-wellness. If you are caring for children, and need support finding and paying for care, you may seek support from the Student-Parent Resource Center (http://studentparents.msu.edu).
Furthermore, if you are experiencing any other challenges with basic needs, you may also notify me, and I will work to connect you with any resources that I may have access to.
Ethics and Academic Integrity
In order to learn what this course is trying to teach you, you are expected to develop original work for this course. Therefore, you may not submit coursework you completed for another course to satisfy the requirements for this course.
Article 2.3.3 of the Academic Freedom Report states that “The student shares with the faculty the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of scholarship, grades, and professional standards.” In addition, we will adhere to the policies on academic honesty as specified in General Student Regulations 1.0, Protection of Scholarship and Grades; the all-University Policy on Integrity of Scholarship and Grades; and Ordinance 17.00, Examinations. (See Spartan Life: Student Handbook and Resource Guide and/or the MSU website.) Students who violate MSU academic integrity rules may receive a penalty grade, including a failing grade on the assignment or in the course. Make an appointment to speak with me if you are unsure about the appropriateness of your coursework.
Article 2.3.5 of the Academic Freedom Report (AFR) for students at Michigan State University states: “The student's behavior in the classroom shall be conducive to the teaching and learning process for all concerned.” Article 2.3.10 of the AFR states that “[t]he student has a right to scholarly relationships with faculty based on mutual trust and civility.” General Student Regulation 5.02 states: “No student shall . . . interfere with the functions and services of the University (for example, but not limited to, classes . . .) such that the function or service is obstructed or disrupted.” Students whose conduct adversely affects the learning environment in this classroom may be subject to disciplinary action through the Student Faculty Judiciary process.
If you have questions about the assignment, feel free to email me, come to my Teams office hours, or make an appointment.