Jesse Hassenger

Making a Film Textbook: The Frame-Finding Experience

Blog Post created by Jesse Hassenger Employee on Mar 23, 2017

A while ago, I wrote a bit on COMMblog about the idea of "one perfect shot" that encapsulates a movie perfectly (or just looks really, really nice). That's been on my mind again as I finish up helping the authors of The Film Experience with the visual program for our new fifth edition of the book, which is coming out this fall. Editing lots of different types of books is fun, but I can say confidently that the visual side of editorial work is most fun with film books. The authors and I are constantly looking for examples to illustrate technical concepts (related to editing, cinematography, and, trickiest of all, sound!) as well as broader categories (like genre or narrative).

 

We want some examples that students will know immediately -- often this involves looking at a list of the highest-grossing movies of the last year or two, and then trying to figure out which of those are most likely appeal to a wide-ranging "college student" demographic that can include teenagers, adult learners, and plenty of people in between (it helps if they're good movies, too). But we also want examples that come from classic movies, or obscure titles that students may not know right away, but should. We've heard from film instructors that they have similar struggles in the classroom: Trying to teach concepts through instantly recognizable movies but also trying to expand students' horizons and include movies from -- get this -- before they were born! 


Here's a little preview of just a few of the images we're going to include in the fifth edition:

 

Ghostbusters wasn't a huge hit last summer, but it's a good go-to example because it includes comedy (including good examples of comic framing, as in the frame below), special effects, four excellent female leads, and "intellectual property" from the past that so many studios are desperate to mine.

 

 

Of course, there are always superhero movies. No matter how you feel about them, at least a couple images from them will make their way into an intro to film book these days. The first frame below is from X-Men: Apocalypse, which I admit wasn't the biggest hit in terms of recent superhero movies, but on the other hand, has this really cool shade of purple in this scene. Contrast with Captain America: Civil War, a very entertaining movie that, as you can see, has far less purple. I may sound flip, but that's also part of our consideration: How these images will look and catch students' eye on the page, be it in print or on an ebook reader.

 

 

 

Not everything has to be super-current, either. In the Cinematography chapter, the authors use a series of images from Carrie (1976) to show different points of view within the same sequence. This overhead shot is one of my favorites.

 

A box in the book's final chapter on writing about film discusses the creation of a video essay on Touch of Evil, which has similarly striking images to choose from. A lot of students supposedly don't watch black-and-white movies so it's especially important to choose memorable images to get them interested in the form.

 

 

Finally, sometimes when a movie is being used for an example that's not 100% shot-specific, you can suggest particular shots that you just love. These images from God Help the Girl (2014) and It Follows (2015) perfectly convey aspects of their genres (musical and horror, respectively); it doesn't hurt that they're two of my favorite recent films.

 

 

Don't you want to see those movies now, if you haven't?!

The Film Experience will be out in the fall with literally dozens more new shots like this. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from any film or media instructors who have favorite frames or other visual cues they use for teaching!

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