Friday, January 26, 2007

Academic Boxing Match

I have just barely reached the end of my latest fight with Academia. It was bloody, I received many blows, but I apparently survived.

Round One involved a 3000 word essay I had to write on a course that went by the name of Representation and Identity, i.e. how minorities of all sorts are allowed, and expected, to use the fact that they belong to a specific minority, and not, in fact, to another one, to read films in the ways they choose to. It dealt with the ways in which they can be happy, sad, relieved or offended by ways in which people whom they consider to belong to a similar social group are seen - as understood by them - to be portrayed in specific films.

This course content itself was strike one. How do you study the self-evident? How can you avoid just writing stuff that would 'please the teacher' enough to get you a grade, without filling the essay with cliches that have been in people's minds since they had such?

So my counter-blow was to select a topic myself - we were allowed, nay, suggested to do so - and started by selecting films I had actually watched and enjoyed, ones which were recent and which actually could be found offensive to a social group, yet could easily be seen as important for the group, sociologically, in a good way. Specifically, I selected Heavenly Creatures (1994) and Chasing Amy (1997), directed by Peter Jackson and Kevin Smith respectively, dealing, of course, with the lesbian social group, just because the first sees the fantasy side behind an actual, real life murder and the other realistically deals with the fallacies and complex-driven beliefs of the allegedly open-minded.

So I managed to feel some nominal passion about the two-sidedness of the subject, which could be read in totally opposite ways, and to make it relevant to me because I actually liked the films I was writing about.

Round Two was a 6000 word essay, accompanied by a 2000 word study log, for a course called Special Study: Blockbusters. What scared me here was not the required length of it - I write about all sorts of Blockbusters in forums and such all the time - but the amount of research involved.

This was a course where we were required to select our own subject within the general topic, so it was, at least, an interesting fight. The lectures - which only 15 people that really proved they wanted to do the course were allowed to sign up fo and whose lecturer treated with extraordinary care and affection - were typical of the 'cool and fun' image I would have of film school before I actually started, talking about subjects that interest me in an interactive way. So during the second lecture I was handed a list of highest grossing films, out of which Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002) caught my attention and allowed me to finally write about how he would manage to still be Raimi within the production givens of the Blockbuster world. Fun.

But the blow was the amount of work that I realised would be necessary, in order to write something about what you 'thought you knew' in a way that proves that you actually know, and don't just think or assume so. Back-referencing and learning about other people's views on sub-subjects I would deal with, from the auteur theory itself to how it relates to Raimi, from the idea of the Blockbuster director being treated as a star to how this doesn't necessarily mean that he was 'used and abused' but actually allowed him to make it, partly, an actual Raimi film. Reading books that belonged to me and I could underline, and others that belonged to the library and I had to fill with post-it bookmarks. Finding websites that could actually be referenced and sorting through them in a way that could relate to what I was to write. And then sorting it all and fitting it into a general outline of the point I was to discuss, the order I would mention them in, and how much space within the 6000 words this would allow me for each.

So again, I did it, and lived with the constraints of time and space - not generally and philosophically, this time, but with regard to the hand-in date and the length that was allowed. I officially went on to state, in my research log, that, yeah, since you made me read all this and churn it in my mind for a couple of months, there was so much more I had to say and so many questions I hadn't been able to answer. I outlined all the aforementioned process and its details - with all the minor problems I faced along the way and how I dealt with them, and ended on the note - with all the 'non-offensiveness' I could gather - that the essay answers nothing, really.

Round Three was the screenplay, or, actually, a course in Pre-Production. One where we were supposed to hand in a script for a short film which we would write, as well as a log of how we did it, a Shooting Script and a Post-Production Outline for it.

The problem here was, well, mainly me and the fact that I didn't feel I really had a story to tell at that point. That, and the fact that I seemingly happened to only attend the annoying workshops that I felt taught me nothing and didn't help me at all. We sat there watching other people's short films, as if we hadn't done so before, probably to get us inspired, and writing details about the film we were supposed to write whether it had anything to do with the story at all. And being constantly reminded, by the head of the course, that most people wouldn't manage to do much by the end of it anyway.

So I didn't have a story to tell. Right. I had started working on a short script during the summer, which I thought was crap - mainly because Than highlighted the multitude of its faults for me to see, mini-draft upon partial draft, and I eventually gave up on the idea altogether, at least for the course's requirements. That took all of three weeks. Since I gave up on that one, I had to write something in order to get some idea of a passing grade. And I felt like I had nothing to write, not wanting to share my misery with an audience since I'd been through all that during my goth phase's writings and it really didn't get me anywhere. I really felt I was to treat this with some matter-of-factness.

So I sat down and wrote a story that had a plot just to have some plot, with the point of it, for me, being the last time I felt I could actually write, namely this summer, and the things that made me happy then, being the injokes we shared with my friends when we went out. There were references to Than's addiction to flashy lighters, to the image of Lost's Mr. Eko shouting out 'Charlie!' in a stupid voice, the cliche of the main character dying at the end of the film, and, of course, the common misconceptions among our friends that good writing is about good dialogue, which I treated by using as little dialogue as possible, not having one of the main characters talk at all because this way he would ruin the end's twist. In short, I just sat down and wrote what came to my mind.

The fault of this was that I had nothing to say, really, so I had a really short script, at first, with no moral or point to it. I tried, during numerous drafts, to deal with concepts like friendship, the pessimistic view of the world, or chasing ideals. But no. My point popped with every draft. Until I just made it about style, when Than read the script and decided he would actually consider filming it, because he found it to have interesting visuals, I think. So I just went on and produced a workable draft, the point of which was merely to deliver the story with a twist that friends found shallow, and so did I. I had a story to tell, albeit a pointless one that didn't really need to be told, so the only thing left to do in order for my script to be marked was to tell it well, while following all the teacher saw as the conventions of screenwriting.

So at some point, I was done with all three. Yay. Neither of them was as good as I would want it to be, ideally, but I felt I'd done what I could with the prerequisites and time-limits I was given. So, by the book, I had won for now. And what did I learn from this, you ask? To care less, really.

No comments: