Teaching the History of Film Craft (pt. 7)

Teaching the History of Film Craft:


Last in a series of posts about teaching the history of below-the-line film artists (cinematographers, sound designers, etc.) and of screenwriting.

Part 1 introductory post
Part 2 scholarly books 
Part 3 video resources
Part 4 student research projects
Part 5 the theory of craft
Part 6 limtations

I have not been able to find any syllabi online that do the kind of course I'm describing - a history of editing or screenwriting or some other craft. I do know colleagues elsewhere teach courses along these lines, and some programs like NYU have them listed in their catalog.

I am sharing syllabi of the three courses I've taught: History of Cinematography, History of Sound Design, and History of Screenwriting. Of these, I've taught only the cinematography course more than once, so these syllabi can definitely use refinement. But perhaps they can provide a model for what's possible in this kind of course.

In addition to the issues I raised in my previous post, I've wondered how much emphasis I should put on theory. I do think some is useful - for instance, Chion in a sound class, narrative theory in a screenwriting class, or color theory in a cinematography class. Relatedly, I face the issue of how much to organize the syllabus conceptually. So far, I organize the classes historically, in chronological order, but one could also conceive of a cinematography course with each unit corresponding to an aesthetic/technological problem in the craft: movement, color, grayscale, etc.

Forgive the long post, but I thought it would be helpful to include the syllabi here rather than to link to a document elsewhere.


This course will study the history of cinematography from the 1930s to present, exploring the connections between the technologies and the artistic practices of cinematography. Looking at Hollywood and international art cinema, as well as alternative practices of independent cinema and documentary, we will examine how cinematographers embraced or adapted to new changes (talking pictures, deep focus, color, widescreen, and digital) and how aesthetic norms evolved. Students will use case studies of film industry history and of the careers of directors of photography to improve researching and writing skills.

Patrick Keating, ed., Cinematography
Patrick Keating, ed., Hollywood Lighting from the Silent Era to Film Noir

Silent Cinema
The Last Laugh (F. W. Murnau, 1924, 90m, d.p. Karl Freund)
Patrick Keating, “A Homeless Ghost: The Moving Camera and its Analogies”

Classical Hollywood Lighting
It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934, 105m, d.p. Joseph Walker)
Reading: Patrick Keating, “Conventions and Functions,” and “The Art of Balance” (HL)
David Bordwell, “Daisies in the Crevices”
“Aces of the Camera: Joseph Walker”

Film Noir and Postwar Realism
He Walked By Night (Alfred Werker/Anthony Mann, 1948, 79m, d.p. John Alton)
Reading: Patrick Keating, "Film Noir and the Limits of Classicism" (HL)
Lisa Dombrowski, “Postwar Hollywood, 1947–1967” [in Cinematography]

Cinematographer as Auteur
Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962, 94m, d.p. Gabriel Figueroa)
The Fugitive (John Ford, 1947, 104m, d.p. Gabriel Figueroa)
Reading: Evan Lieberman and Kerry Hegarty, “Authors of the Image: Cinematographers Gabriel Figueroa and Gregg Toland”

Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948, 80m, d.p. Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall)
Reading: Scott Higgins, “Order and Plenitude: Technicolor Aesthetics in the Classical Era”

Postwar Art Cinema
Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964, 120m, d.p. Carlo Di Palma)
Reading: Richard Misek, “Surface Color”

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960, 111m, d.p. Masao Tamai)
David Bordwell, “CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses”
Reading: Lisa Dombrowski, “Postwar Hollywood, 1947–1967” [in Cinematography]
Eric Crosby, “Widescreen Composition and Transnational Influence: Early
Anamorphic Filmmaking in Japan”

Documentary, 16mm, and Handheld
Lights (dir. and d.p. Marie Menken, 1966, 6m)
Happy Mother’s Day (dir. and d.p. Richard Leacock and Joyce Chopra, 1963, 26m)
Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982, 94m, d.p. Chirine El Khadem)
Reading: Robert Allen and Douglas Gomery, “The Beginnings of American Cinema Verité”
Susan Seidelman, “Sets and the City: On the History of Smithereens

Hollywood Renaissance
All the President's Men (Alan Pakula, 1976, 138m, d.p. Gordon Willis)
Reading: Bradley Schauer, “The Auteur Renaissance, 1968–1980” [in Cinematography]

The New Hollywood and 1980s Art Cinema
Yeelen (Souleymane Cissé, 1987, 105m, d.p. Jean-Noël Ferragut and Jean-Michel Humeau)
Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988, 116m, d.p. Michael Ballhaus)
Reading: Paul Ramaeker, “The New Hollywood, 1981–1999” [in Cinematography]

Lighting and Race
Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011, 86m, d.p. Bradford Young)
Reading: Richard Dyer, “Lighting for Whiteness”
“The Visual Aesthetic of Pariah – An Interview w/ Cinematographer Bradford Young”

Digital Cinema
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013, 91m, d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki)
Reading: Christopher Lucas, “The Modern Entertainment Marketplace, 2000-Present” [in Cinematography]

Color Correction
Carlos, pt. 1 (Olivier Assayas, 2010, 98m, d.p. Yorick Le Saux)
Reading: Richard Misek, from Chromatic Cinema


This course will explore the history of film sound form the 1920s to present by
examining the connections between the technologies of sound recording and reproduction
and the artistic practices of sound design. Students will learn the process of researching
and writing about the history of the film industry and the about the careers of sound
designers. Topics to include: the emergence of the talkies, the impact of radio, avant-garde
and documentary practices, the “golden age” of sound design, and the impact of
Dolby and digital surround sound.

Kathryn Kalinak, ed. Sound: Dialogue, Music, and Effects (SDME)
Mark Kerins, Beyond Dolby (Stereo): Cinema in the Digital Sound Age

[sound attributed below to supervisor/designer where credited]

The Coming of Talking Pictures/Technology of Analog Sound Reproduction
Their Own Desire (E. Mason Hooper, 1929, 64m, sound: Douglas Shearer)
A Century of Sound: The History of Sound in Motion Pictures, 1876-1932 (Robert Gitt, 1991)
Vitaphone shorts
Reading: Donald Crafton, “Electric Affinities”
Kathryn Kalinak, “Classical Hollywood,” pp. 37-49 (SDME)

The Avant-Garde and the British Documentary Movement
Deserter (Vsevolod Pudovkin, 1933, excerpt)
Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, 1934, 38m)
Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933, 120m, sound: Adolf Jansen)
Reading: Michel Chion, from The Voice in Cinema

Classical Hollywood
I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn Leroy, 1932, 92m)
Barry Salt, from Film Style and TechnologyHelen Hanson and Steve Neale, “Commanding the Sounds of the Universe: Classical
Reading: Hollywood Sound in the 1930s and Early 1940s”

Labor in the Studio System
Kathryn Kalinak, “Classical Hollywood,” pp. 50-58 (SDME)
Laura (Otto Preminger, 1943, 88m, sound: Thomas Moulton)
Reading: Helen Hanson, from Hollywood Soundscapes

Magnetic Tape
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954, 112m)
Reading: Nathan Platte, “Postwar Hollywood” (SDME)

European Art Film
Ikarie XB-1 (Jindřich Polák, 1963, 88m, sound: Bohumír Brunclík)
A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956, 99m)
Reading: David Bordwell, “Functions of Film Sound: A Man Escaped”

Portable Sound Recording: The Case of Direct Cinema
Salesman (Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1968, 85m, sound: Dick Vorisek)
Reading: Robert Allen, Douglas Gomery, “Case Study: The Beginnings of American Cinema Verité”
Jeffrey Ruoff, “Conventions of Sound in Documentary”

The Hollywood Auteur: The Modern Era of Sound Design
The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974, 113m, sound: Walter Murch)
The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, 1979, 118m, sound: Alan Splet)
Reading: Jeff Smith, “The Auteur Renaissance” (SDME)
Eric Dienstfrey, “The Myth of the Speakers: A Critical Reexamination of Dolby History”

Dolby Stereo
The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991, 118m, sound: Skip Lievsay)
Reading: Jay Beck and Vanessa Theme Ament, “The New Hollywood” (SDME)
Jay Beck, “The Sounds of ‘Silence’: Dolby Stereo, Sound Design, and The Silence of the

Digital Surround Sound
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998, excerpt, sound: Gary Rydstrom)
Reading: Mark Kerins, “The Modern Entertainment Marketplace” (SDME)
Mark Kerins, Beyond Dolby, ch. 1, “Cinema’s Hidden Multi-Channel History”

DSS Audio Aesthetics
Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2014, 115m, sound: Mildred Iatrou)
Reading: Mark Kerins, Beyond Dolby, ch. 2, 7

Contemporary Art Cinema
In Bloom (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß, 2013, 102m, sound: Paata Godziashvili)
Reading: Michel Chion, from Audio-Vision


This course will cover the history of screenwriting form the 1930s to present by examining
the connections between the role of the screenwriter in film/television industries and the development of narrative form. Students will learn the process of researching and writing film history through
the careers of screenwriters. Topics to include: the form of the screenplay, gender and
screenwriting labor, the role of story conferences, genre, literary adaptation, screenwriting in
non-US cinema, and conventional and long-form television writing.

Steven Price, A History of the Screenplay
Kristin Thompson, Storytelling in the New Hollywood
Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour
optional: Andrew Horton and Julian Hoxter, eds, Screenwriting (Horton)

20th Century Literary Culture
A Woman in Grey (James Vincent, 1920, screenplay: Walter R. Hall), episodes
reading: Gordon Hutner, from What America Read
Ben Singer, from Melodrama and Modernity

The Screenwriter in the Studio System
Grand Hotel (Edmund Gouldng, 1932, screenplay: Vicki Baum)
reading: Steven Price, ch. 7: “The Hollywood Sound Screenplay to 1948”
Mark Eaton, “Classical Hollywood” (Horton)
Claus Tieber, “Story Conferences and the Classical Studio System”
Erin Hill, “Women's Professions in Media Production”

The Continuity Script
Talk of the Town (George Stevens, 1942, screenplay: Sidney Buchman)
reading: Sidney Buchman, Talk of the Town Script

Labor in the Studio System
reading: Miranda Banks, from The Writers

Now Way Out (Joseph Mankiewicz, 1950, screenplay: Lesser Samuels and Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
reading: Ellen Scott, from Civil Rights Cinema
Production Code Administration files

The Literary Screenplay and Art Cinema
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959, screenplay: Marguerite Duras)
reading: Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima Mon Amour script
Rosamund Davies, “Screenwriting strategies in Marguerite Duras’s script for
Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1960)”

Paisan (Roberto Rossellini, 1946, excerpt)
Il Grido (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1958, screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni,)
reading: Cesare Zavattini, “Some Ideas on the Cinema”
Steven Price, ch. 8: “European Screenwriting, 1948-60”
Il Grido screenplay, excerpt

The Master-Scene Screenplay
The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973, screenplay: David S. Ward)
reading: Steven Price, ch. 9: “Master-Scene Screenplays and the ‘New Hollywood’”
David S. Ward, The Sting screenplay

Three/Four-Act Structure and the Screenplay Curriculum 
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993, screenplay: Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis)
reading: Steven Price, ch. 9, 10: “The Contemporary Screenplay and the Screenwriting Manual”
Syd Field, from Screenplay (1979 edition)
Kristin Thompson, intro, “Groundhog Day,” from Storytelling the New Hollywood

American Indie Scripts
Eve's Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997, screenplay: Kasi Lemmons)
reading: Michael Newman, "Indie Realism"

Television Writing
Hill Street Blues: “Presidential Fever,” and “Politics as Usual” (1981, showrunners/writers: Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll)
reading: Douglas Hell, Prime-Time Authorship, pp. 315-69
Michael Kozoll and Steven Bocho, Hill Street Blues, “Dressed to Kill,” script, Prime-
Time Authorship
Optional: interview with Michael Kozoll, Prime-Time Authorship, pp. 281-309
Michael Kozoll and Steven Bocho, Hill Street Blues, “Presidential Fever,” script

Complex Television: Narrative Complexity and Long-Form Seriality
Atlanta, Season 1, episodes 4-7 (2016, showrunner/writer: Donald Glover)
reading: Jason Mittell, from Complex TV
Miranda Banks, from The Writers
optional: Michael Newman and Elena Levine, “The Showrunner as Auteur”

Narrative Complexity in Contemporary Cinema
Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin, 2007, screenplay: Fatih Akin)
reading: Charles Ramírez Berg, “A Taxonomy of Alternative Plots in Recent Films: Classifying the 'Tarantino Effect'”
Steven Price, ch. 11: “Screenwriting Today and Tomorrow”


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