What’s so hard about writing about movies? After all, we all “know” movies. Most of us could recite the plot of Independence Day more easily than we could recite the Declaration of Independence. We know more about the characters who perished on Cameron’s Titanic than we know about many of the people who inhabit our own lives.

It’s precisely our familiarity with film, however, that presents our greatest writing challenge. Film is so familiar and so prevalent in our lives that we are often lulled into passive viewing (at worst) or simple entertainment (at best). As a result, certain aspects of a film are often “invisible.” Caught up in the entertainment, we sometimes don’t “see” the camera work, composition, editing, or lighting. Nor do we “hear” the sound design. Nor do we observe the production struggles that accompany every film—including the script’s many rewrites, the drama of getting the project financed, the casting challenges, and so on.

However, when your film professor asks you to write about film, it’s precisely those “invisible” aspects that you’re expected to see. As Looking at Movies advises, you need to pay attention to the way the camera moves. Observe the composition (the light, shadow, and arrangement) within the frame. Think about how the film was edited. Note the sound design. In short, consider the elements that make up the film. How do they function, separately and together? Also think about the film in the context of when it was made, how, and by whom. In breaking down the film into its constituent parts, you’ll be able to analyze what you see. In short, you’ll be able to write a paper that transforms your thoughts and responses into writing that is appropriately academic.

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