Film and Theatre Journalism

Dr Daniel Rosenthal

See this course profiled on the PKP blog!

Film

Reviewing a new play; interviewing a controversial movie director; investigating a theatre company’s funding crisis; blogging on Hollywood superhero franchises – typical assignments for film and theatre journalists. But what skills do writers and editors need to cover these art forms for newspapers, magazines and websites?

This course provides a practical introduction to film and theatre journalism, in five content areas: news stories, features, interviews, reviews and columns/blogs.

Course Objectives

To provide a practical grounding in film and theatre journalism, especially for students already majoring in film or theatre, or journalism/communications; students considering journalism as a career and/or keen to make progress in college journalism.

Through comparative analysis of exemplary articles in a range of UK and US publications, students will learn about the editorial priorities of trade (e.g. Variety) and consumer titles, including broadsheet newspapers (e.g. The Guardian) and specialist magazines (e.g. Empire). They will learn how to prepare for press conferences and research and conduct interviews with arts practitioners; how to generate and pitch feature ideas. They will write three graded assignments: a film review, a theatre news story and, as their term paper, a profile of a leading practitioner in film, theatre or another art form (e.g. dance, rock music).

There will also be three preparatory, midterm assignments (not counted towards final grade): a theatre review, a theatre news story; a profile of a theatre or film practitioner (based on a round-table interview with the subject).

One former Film and Theatre Journalism student used her PKP assignments to help secure a summer internship at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles; another used his in gaining a place on the M.S. (Magazine) program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; a third became film and TV editor for The Daily Bruin at UCLA and interned for Variety; a fourth works for the As-Safir newspaper in Lebanon; a fifth became an arts and entertainment reporter on The Daily Californian at UC Berkeley immediately after completing this course.

This course is aimed at: Students of Journalism, Communications, Media, Theatre, Film, Film Studies, English Literature. 

Pre-requisite knowledge: A high standard of English composition; a keen interest in film, theatre and media, and, ideally, some previous experience of high school and/or college journalism.

 Teaching Methodology

Teaching is by means of lectures plus tutorial classes (seminars) throughout the course. Lectures will focus on the practice of journalism, covering research, interviewing, writing and editing skills, and will involve group exercises (oral and written).

Seminars involve close analysis and constructive discussion of professional journalists’ articles, and of students’ own written assignments.

Discussion in Seminar 1 will focus on editorial priorities in a weekly, trade newspaper (The Stage) and a monthly consumer film magazine’s website (empireonline.com); seminars 2, 3 and 5 will focus on multiple reviews of the same film and stage production, and profiles of directors and performers.

Students will be required to write bullet-point summaries of specified articles in the Course Reader and be prepared to elaborate on these notes in class.

Written assignments will reflect professional journalists’ tasks and deadlines: writing a news story based on a theatre Press Conference and background News Release; participating in a round-table interview with a professional film or theatre practitioner and writing up this conversation in a feature profile; reviewing a recent West End stage production (via a Digital Theatre recording, viewed on a weekday evening), and a new-release feature film (viewed on a weekday evening, at a Cambridge cinema).

In Seminars 4 and 6–8, these assignments will be discussed by the group in an atmosphere of encouragement and constructive criticism. Prior to each seminar, students will be required to read the assignments written by the rest of their group and prepare bullet-point notes on each story, review or feature. These notes will be used as the basis for detailed feedback in class; students’ contributions to these seminars are central to the Participation element of the final grade.

All readings to be discussed in lectures and seminars will either be found in the course reader distributed at the start of the course, or circulated via email during the course.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills: Editing, interviewing, research and writing skills; media literacy.

Assessment

Assignment 1: Film Review (600 to 1,000 words) [20% of final grade]

Students will watch a new-release feature film in Cambridge in the week beginning 7 August and review it for a publication or website of their choice.

Assignment 2: Term Paper (2,500 to 3,000 words) [45% of final grade]

Critical/biographical profile of a prominent, living practitioner within film, theatre or another art form. Students may choose a writer, actor, director, musician, producer, composer, dancer, choreographer or singer (previous subjects have included James Cameron, Fiona Apple, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sylvie Guillem.)

Deadline: Thursday 24 August.

Final Exam: Timed News Story (400 to 500 words) [25% of final grade] Friday 18 August

The class will attend a simulated, 30-minute Press Conference marking the New Season Launch of a major theatre company, and then have 90 minutes in which to write a News Story, working from their conference notes and the background information in a News Release handout. 

Participation [10% of final grade]

‘Participation’ denotes prompt arrival and attendance at all lectures, seminars and two reviewing trips; delivery of copy to stipulated lengths and deadlines; regular and constructive oral and written contributions to lectures and seminars, including thorough seminar feedback on fellow students’ assignments. Attendance at all classes and reviewing trips is mandatory; late arrival and absences (except through ill health) will be penalized.

Midterm Evaluations These are trial runs for the graded assignments:

  1. Midterm Theatre Review (practice for the Film Review)
  2. Midterm News Story (practice for the Final Exam; see Lecture 5)
  3. Midterm Profile Interview (practice for the Term Paper; see Lecture 6)

(full details in Syllabus)

Student Contact Time

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)

Recommended Pre-Arrival Reading

Abelman, Bob & Kushner, Cheryl – Refereeing the Muses: A Theater Criticism/Arts Journalism Primer (Peter Lang, 2013)

Barker, Dennis – The Craft of the Media Interview (Robert Hale, 1998)

Brayfield, Celia – Arts Reviews and How to Write Them (Kamera Books, 2008)

Fisher, Mark – How to Write About Theatre (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Keeble, Richard – The Newspapers Handbook (Routledge, 2004)

McKay, Jenny – The Magazines Handbook (Routledge, 2006)

Lecture List

[See Syllabus for detailed content]

Lecture 1 – Foundation Knowledge

Lectures 2 & 7 – News Stories and News Features

Lecture 3 – Reviewing Film and Theatre

Lectures 4 & 8 – Interviewing Film and Theatre Practitioners

Lecture 5 – Midterm Evaluation: Theatre News Story Practical

Lecture 6 – Midterm Evaluation: Interviewing Practical for Profile Interview

Lectures 9 & 10 – Genre Features / Generating & Pitching Feature Ideas

Lecture 11 – Columns & Blogs

Lecture 12 – Editing Your Own Writing

Seminar List

[See Syllabus for detailed content]

Seminar 1 – Striking the Balance: Analysis of The Stage and Empire

Seminars 2 & 5 – Reviews Case Studies: A View from the Bridge and Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Seminar 3 – Profiling Film and Theatre Practitioners

Seminar 4 – Midterm Theatre Review: Feedback and Discussion

Seminar 6 – Midterm Profile Interview: Feedback and Discussion

Seminar 7 – Midterm News Story: Feedback and Discussion

Seminar 8 – Assignment 1: Film Review – Feedback and Discussion