ENGL 381 A: Advanced Expository Writing

21st Century Film Writing: The New Auteur as Master Collaborator

Meeting Time: 
MW 2:30pm - 4:20pm
LOW 220
Gibran Escalera

Syllabus Description:

21st Century Film Writing: The New Auteur as Master Collaborator

Gibran Escalera

MW 2:30-4:20 LOW 220

PDL A505 Fri. 8-10 and by appointment


During a scene from Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015), the young computer programmer Caleb asks the captive AI being Ava where she would go if allowed outside, to which she replies, “Maybe a busy pedestrian and traffic intersection in a city.” Slightly puzzled, Caleb repeats, “A traffic intersection?,” to which she responds, “A traffic intersection would provide a concentrated but shifting view of human life.” “People watching,” says Caleb knowingly. At the center of the Ava-Caleb exchange is the primacy of language—Caleb only understands the significance of Ava’s choice after putting it in his own words—and how seemingly ordinary objects can be complex and insightful. In fact, Ava’s account of the intersection can also be productively applied to films. They offer concentrated but shifting patterns, disclosing multiple narrative threads via dialogue, score, setting, and of course cinematography. And it is the viewer’s task to both assemble and interpret these elements as a way of understanding the worlds represented in them.

Films and the figure of the auteur provide an entry-point into both questions of language generally and the craft of writing, specifically. Despite the fact that filmmaking is inarguably a collaborative process, auteur theory holds that film is the byproduct of a singular and overriding voice. This idea of unique creative genius and aesthetic production also pervades written composition. Often the most remarkable writing never sees a public audience for fear of not being good enough, or worse yet, is contorted into some imagined audience’s hazy conception of what “good” is. The truth is that there is more than one voice behind each work; but the problem is the myth of the artist working in isolation. We know D.H. Lawrence but not Edward Garnett; Hemingway and Fitzgerald but not Max Perkins. Each film we view offers unique themes; offers (perhaps) only tangentially related storylines; and, thank goodness, presents a distinct set of compositional voices. Our goal is to develop clear, insightful, and remarkable prose. We will do this by becoming astute readers of complex visual narratives.


An Education (2009) Lone Scherfig

Crimson Peak (2015) by Guillermo del Toro

The Hurt Locker (2008) by Kathryn Bigelow

In the Mood for Love (2000) Wong Kar-wai

Lost in Translation (2003) by Sophia Coppola

The Martian (2015) by Ridley Scott

Nymphomaniac, vol. 1 & 2 (2013) by Lars von Trier

Reservoir Dogs (1992) by Quentin Tarantino

The Revenant (2015) by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Volver (2006) by Pedro Almodóvar

*** A Short Guide to Writing About Film (2015) by Timothy Corrigan***

Secondary Texts:

“The Nymph Shoots Back: Agamben, Nymphomaniac, and the Feel of the Agon” by Lynne Huffer

“Beware of Strangers Bearing Champagne” by A.O. Scott

“In Love with Monsters” by Jenelle Riley

“Memory, Nostalgia, and the Feminine: In the Mood for Love and Those Qipaos” by Lynda Chapple

“Much More than a Pretty Woman” by Katherine Monk

“Narrative Complexity” by Christian Bolles

"The Revenant" by Jonathan Romney

"Call of the Wild" by Edward Lawrenson

"Miming Blackness" by Paul Gormley


  • Develop the ability to discern and interpret the formal and thematic features of visual narratives
  • Understand and potentially apply the value of aesthetic objects within particular social contexts
  • Develop proficiency in self- and peer-editing through honest and sustained engagement with writing-in-process

Viewing Calendar

            *Subject to change


Introduction; Corrigan 1-8; Nymphomaniac, vols. 1 & 2; “The Nymph Shoots Back”


An Education; Corrigan 9-23; “Beware”; “Much More”


Crimson Peak; Corrigan 23-37; “In Love with Monsters”; “Narrative Complexity”


In the Mood for Love; 38-50; “Memory, Nostalgia and the Feminine”; Essay One (4/30)


Lost in Translation; Corrigan 50-60; “Tokyo Drifters”


The Revenant; Corrigan 60-66; “The Revenant”; “Call of the Wild”


Reservoir Dogs; Corrigan 74-79; “Miming Blackness”; Essay Two (5/18)


The Martian; Corrigan 91-95; “The Martian Review”


The Hurt Locker; “Cinematic Addiction”


Volver; “Missing a Beat”; Essay Three (6/3)


Grading Breakdown:

Reading Responses: 10%

Participation: 10%

Essay 1: 20%

Essay 2: 30%

Essay 3: 30%


Includes submitting all assignments in MLA format and on due date; contributing to discussions and peer review.


At the end of each week, you will turn in at least a one-page, single spaced response to the week’s material (12 pt. Times New Roman Font, 1” margins). You must have ten responses total at the end of the quarter.


You will use Canvas to upload your responses, essays and other course work. Also, throughout the quarter, you may be responding to questions that I pose. Not only does this count towards participation, but it will be a source of discussion in the course (and can help spark your thinking for essay assignments).


Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else’s ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people’s thoughts and writing—as long as you cite them, and as long as their work is relevant to your own. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any writing whatsoever in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Late Policy and Essay Return:

Unless you have an actual doctor’s note (not a generic Hall Health slip)or other valid note of absence, there are no exceptions to the late policy. Every time you fail to turn in an assignment, whether it be a response, a discussion question, or an essay, you incur a .10 deduction to your final class grade. If you show up to class and do not turn in your essay or assignment at the beginning of class, you incur a .10 deduction. If you submit an essay that is not in the appropriate format (which includes font, size, margins, and MLA citations), you incur a .10 deduction. Also, it is your responsibility to pick up essays, questions, and any other assignments when they are handed back to you. If you walk out of class while graded assignments are being returned, any lost work is your responsibility.


If you need accommodations please let me know as soon as possible so that I may contact the UW Disability Services Office (DSO). More information about support may be found on the DSO web site at http://www.washington.edu/admin/dso/.

Writing Centers

The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with your writing. Located on the third floor of the Odegaard Library, the OWRC is open Sunday through Thursday from 12:00 to 9:00 p.m. To make the best use of your time there, please bring a copy of your assignment with you and double-space any drafts you want to bring in. While OWRC writing consultants are eager to help you improve your writing, they will not proofread your paper. To make an appointment or browse the center’s online resources, visit http://www.depts.washington.edu/owrc.

Campus Safety

Preventing violence is everyone’s responsibility. If you’re concerned, tell someone.

  •  Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don’t walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at http://www.washington.edu/alert.

For more information, visit the SafeCampus website at http://www.washington.edu/safecampus/.


If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact Colette Moore, Director of Undergraduate Programs at eungrad@u.washington.edu. If, after speaking with Professor Moore, you are still not satisfied with the response you receive, you may contact Dr. Brian Reed, English Department Chair, Padelford Room A101, 206.543.2690.



Additional Details:

This course uses the figure of the auteur as an access point into the examination, and rigorous development, of writerly style. Great films no doubt bear the signature of their director but as narrative works of composition are impossible without cinematographers, set designers, and of course, screenwriters. Consequently, when directors construct a visual language to re-imagine and possibly change the culture, they are working with both an individual vision and a collective design. Similarly, our own writing in this course emerges from deeply felt and imagined experience, audience awareness, and our ability to trust our peer editors. Among the films viewed are Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love and Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. The course is organized in a workshop format, which means frequent writing and revision, in preparation for film reviews, critiques, and comparative essays.

Because this course fulfills the “C” (composition) requirement, you will produce 25-30 pages of writing, some of which will undergo a revision process. The course grade will be based on writing assignments and in-class participation.

Catalog Description: 
Concentration on the development of prose style for experienced writers.
GE Requirements: 
English Composition (C)
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:14pm