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CMS 297 A: Special Topics in Cinema and Media Studies

Visual Thinking: An Intro to Making Video Essays

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:50am - 1:00pm
* *
Sarah Ross

Syllabus Description:

Visual Thinking: An Intro to Making Video Essays

How do films and media transform and affect the way we think? How do visual images “speak,” communicate, and even manipulate? This course will be partially an aesthetic history of cinema and film philosophy and partially a practicum in which students are expected to apply their knowledge from the course towards the production of critical video essays.

Through the re-editing and re-mixing of film images and sounds, students will learn how to “write” a critical video essay. This course is designed to teach students to interpret, analyze, and argue using audiovisual materials. In order to do this, students must learn how a film articulates ideas, how to unpack those ideas via critical analysis, and how to articulate their own ideas/criticisms using a film’s raw audiovisual material. Throughout the course, we will examine the formal and rhetorical strategies for effective communication within the medium of videographic criticism, studying the relationship between aesthetics and knowledge production, form and argument. In particular, we will look at the Surrealist beginnings of the video essay, discuss notions of montage/collage within early cinema, explore the avant-garde roots of “found footage,” and examine the emergence of the essay film.

While the major focus will be on producing video essays, assignments may also include research papers, creative essays, fan reviews, photo essays, and short film projects. You may be asked to collaborate in groups, both in online discussion forums and in film production.

This is a hands-on course, in which students will complete a series of exercises using digital video editing software, post their work for the class, and engage in peer-to-peer reviews/discussions. The class will culminate in a series of videographic final projects. Previous editing experience is not required.

Required Materials, Software, Tutorials:

1) Access to the films, readings, and general course materials will be available via Canvas. 

2)  A laptop or computer is required (if you were planning to use a phone or ipad to access the course, contact me immediately: Since we are using editing software, it is recommended that you have updated/installed newer operating systems. 

3) You may need some kind of external storage for saving video editing files. Recommended by end of Week 1.

Recommended Specs for an External Hard drive:

  • Connection: USB 3.0, USB-C, or Thunderbolt
  • Speed: solid state (non-spinning) or 7200 RPM
  • Storage: minimum 1TB
  • Bus Powered: Portable (powered through USB cable)
  • Format: ExFat (if using both Windows and Mac)

4) You will need to acquire film editing software.  Typically for this course, we use Adobe Premiere Pro, and students are granted access to the Odegaard Learning Studio, where we hold class several times. Given the COVID-19 situation, we're going to have to get creative, and you will need to download a film editing software for use at home. Please read the following options carefully:

  • Adobe Premiere Pro (PC & Mac) is available now (free) for a temporary basis. UW's licensing has been granted student access to Adobe's whole Creative Suite via "at home" licensing until July 6th. It will be free for you to download and access the software. I have sent UW IT a request to connect everyone from the course to the license. It will give you a chance to use the software for two weeks only. Please follow instructions to download under "Files."

    *If you go with Adobe, you could use Adobe until July 6th, then use another editing software (like Final Cut Pro) for a week or so, and return to Adobe to download their free 7-day trial for your final project:

    Adobe is also available to buy - there is a reduced one-year subscription rate for students for $19.99/month (You're required to pay for a full year, so $239.88/year + taxes = around $264). Please note that I do not expect you to purchase this software, nor do you have to purchase any editing software for this course. 

  • Final Cut Pro (Mac only) - offers an extended, free 90-day trial due to COVID. This may be the best fit for anyone in the course with a Mac.  Final Cut Pro is a good software system, and there are many tutorials readily available. After 90-days, if you want to continue editing after our class, it is available for one-time purchase for $299.99 (no yearly subscription like Adobe).

  • HITFilm Express  (PC & Mac)free access to editing software. Several of my students, who have become more involved in film production, have used and recommended the free version in the past. A more professional version is available for purchase (not needed for this course). 

  • DaVinci Resolve 16 (PC & Mac) - by Blackmagic - free access to editing software (scroll to bottom of page for download). A more professional version is available for purchase (not needed for this course). 

  • Other Options: 

5) – online tutorials for Adobe Premiere Pro; Final Cut Pro; HitFilm Express, etc.
An EXCELLENT resource for learning film editing. You'll get out what you put in. 

Options for access:
a) Free 30-day trial directly through website; then payment to website (you can cancel before payment, and if you time it right, you can have it for the full duration of our course).

b) Free access through Seattle Public Library (requires registering for a free library card, if you do not already have one. This option gives you unlimited access to Lynda and other resources). 

Recommended on Lynda:

-Learning Premiere Pro - Brief basics (1 min 34 secs) – will give a quick refresher or introduction
-Premiere Pro Essential Training (6 h 52 min) – in depth, slow-paced training. You can use the chapter bar on the right side to navigate through segments, selecting which training you'd like to receive.
-Final Cut Pro Essential Training - (9 h 36 min) - in depth, slow-paced training. You can use the chapter bar on the right side to navigate through segments, selecting which training you'd like to receive.
- HitFilm Express training - (2 h 36min) - great for beginners. 
-DaVinci Resolve 16 training - (4h 33 min) - beginners. 

6) You are responsible for producing media files – i.e. ripping from dvds, downloading, etc. I will give more resources in the "Resources" folder under "Files" -- this, too, will be a little more creative than what we would do on campus. 

7) You are expected to know basic film terms. For reference, please use the Yale Film Studies Analysis Guide. It's a great resource for understanding film terms - and will be more useful than wikipedia, etc.

Welcome to the Class!

Please find the weekly syllabus also posted under "Files"

This course is designed to be hands-on, experimental, and productive: it therefore relies on an open attitude, a willingness to learn and grow, self-discipline, and some courage. Workshops are a fundamental component to the course, and as such, part of your work as a student will be entering into dialogue with each other’s work. This means you are expected to take the work of your colleagues seriously, to reflect meaningfully, and to engage thoughtfully. Work will receive constructive feedback, and each student should take into account this feedback as s/he/they move into subsequent projects. Please remember that feedback is only reflective of the work submitted and not of the person who has submitted it.

It will be a challenge to convert the “workshop” components of this course onto an online forum. I ask for high flexibility and understanding as we move through this new online experience together. The syllabus is subject to change as needed.

How This Will Work:

Parts of this course will be done asynchronously and parts will take place synchronously. This course is meant to be more workshop than lecture, so I have noted when we are doing “Live Workshops” in blue throughout the syllabus. You are expected to attend Workshops. Technical issues should be addressed as soon as possible – and please let me know about them when you experience them. If, for some reason you cannot attend a live workshop, you are expected to record video feedback for your peers.

  1. Lectures will be posted by 10:50 am on days when they occur.
  2. They will be followed by a Post-lecture Quiz. These quizzes are designed to test that you’ve watched the film, and/or done the reading, and watched the lecture. They will be easiest to complete right after a lecture. They are low-stakes. You will have multiple attempts to complete them. Quizzes must be completed by Friday at 5 pm.
  3. There will be a guided “in-class” Activity sometimes. These are designed to replace “class” time, and as such, they are relatively short activities. They will have specific instructions for completion.
  4. Projects are your video essay assignments, and the main bulk of work for the course. These have been designed to increase in difficulty and complexity as we move through the course – ultimately building up to your final projects, which we will screen as a “film festival.” Many projects will have a written accompaniment. Please be prepared to share/discuss your assignments with peers. Upload projects into the shared Google Drive folder. Title each piece with “Last name, First name” (filling in your name) when you put it into the appropriate folder. Link to drive:
  5. Peer Reviews – as we move through the course, there will be a set of written peer reviews that you will be asked to complete. The more you put into these, the more you get out. Learning to critically assess another’s work, to generate constructive and useful feedback, and to specifically identify areas for improvement are skills that are fundamental in your own growth and improvement as an editor. Respect each other’s time – both in terms of the work you submit and in terms of the critiques you make.
  6. You will get out of this course what you put in – that means the time you devote to learning new editing skills, to exploring video essays online (based on the resources provided), to thinking critically about images, etc. will reflect in your pieces.
  7. There are several work days built into the schedule as well as open Zoom hours. These days are days that would have taken place in the computer lab.


Additional Requirements:

Due to the workshop nature of this course, you are expected to get your work in on time. Late assignments will be marked down if not received by the deadline and assignments received after class and up to 3 days afterwards will count as half-complete (60%). Assignments received more than 7 days late will not be accepted.

You are allowed one extension, except for the final project. I can give you up to 48 hours - please email me in advance. 

Academic Integrity
Students belonging to the UW community adhere to the ethical obligations outlined in the student conduct code. A violation of academic integrity is any instance when a student attempts to pass off someone else’s words or ideas as their own, no matter where s/he obtained those words or ideas. If you use another’s words or ideas, you must cite the source. In this course you will be asked to engage with films as audiovisual objects, which necessarily means that you will be remixing those materials. Using video essays, dvd bonus tracks, film trailers, or any other type of pre-edited materials and submitting it as your own constitutes as plagiarism, for that work is not yours.

Additionally, while there is nothing wrong with getting help/input on an assignment, the final product must be predominantly the result of your own work. As a matter of policy, plagiarism, cheating, or other violations of the code of conduct will result in an F on the assignment, and/or, a failing grade in the course, and/or referral to the university administration for appropriate action.


30% Class Participation: Includes all peer reviews (live and written) and discussion boards. “Attendance” to live sessions and earnest efforts to assist others and provide respectful, thoughtful feedback will result in 100%.

5 %  Quizzes:These are to reinforce course thematic comprehension. Easy chance to get 100%.

5%  Activities:The default grade for these will be 95% if completed. Great work will result in 100%. Completed work that does not meet minimum length requirements, or does not convey an understanding of the week’s materials, may earn lower grades.

30 % Weekly Projects:The default grade for these will be 95% if completed. Great work will result in 100%. Completed work that does not meet minimum length requirements, or does not convey an understanding of the week’s materials, may earn lower grades.

25 % Final Projects: More guidelines will be given at a later date. You will be graded on your progress from the trailer to the rough cut to the final. Your grade will also reflect how well you incorporated feedback and comments.


 File Uploads:
Post all Activities to Canvas or Google Drive as per instructions for that assignment. Post all completed film Projects into the shared Google Drive folder. That is also where you will find access to film files for some of the videographic work.

Given the online nature of this course, please do not record or share images of any person without their explicit permission. Due to the openness of the Google Drive for film file uploads, please do not download or share any other students’ work without their explicit permission.

Changes in Syllabus: 
This class, as part-workshop, part-seminar, requires some degree of flexibility, so some changes may be made in assignments and/or other activities during the course of the quarter for a variety of reasons.

Catalog Description: 
Varied topics related to film and/or media. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements Met: 
Cinema & Media Studies Elective
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
September 19, 2020 - 9:12pm