Professor Kallas is one of the most unique and interesting film professors in the department. Her lectures resist simplification and do not always follow a predictable structure however this complexity provides a refreshing contrast to the rest of the department. Students who prefer a clear and direct teaching style may not get the most out of this course. The course examines traditional cinematic structure in practice and history but more interestingly examines structures outside of this model. She has written extensively on nontraditional screenwriting structures in multiprotagonist film and lectures extensively on emotional structure theory (an incredibly interesting and complex screenwriting theory). The screenings, assigned readings and analysis are very engaging and current. The course may be an interesting and beneficial option for non majors and anyone interested in screenwriting.
I was nervous about this class having read some of the reviews here, but this is easily the most fun class I've taken at Columbia. McKenna's strength is not the information he presents (Vogler's 12 Steps are pretty basic and you could teach yourself by reading the book), but damn, is he entertaining. McKenna is funny and lively, and provides a refreshing break from other classes in the department taught by professors who tend to take themselves too seriously. Yes, he is crazy and often offensive, but if you can laugh it off and appreciate his twisted sense of humor, you will find that there is also a lot to be gained from this class. Most of what I learned in Script Analysis came from the work we were asked to do. It's surprising how much you learn from doing coverage once a week. The scripts chosen were fun (Erin Brockovich, Unforgiven, The Bourne Identity, etc.) and as usual in film classes, the TAs are awesome and an invaluable resource. Someone on here said that participation is vital to receiving a good grade, and while McKenna loves hearing students talk whether he agrees with them or not, I don't think participating is the only way to succeed in this class. I got an A and never spoke in lecture and not often in discussion. Yes, the class is a major requirement, but it is a fun one.
If you are a film major, you -have- to take David McKenna's Script Analysis class. Fortunately for you, it is one of the best courses in film major requirements. Previous reviews are more/less correct regarding the style of the course, insofar as McKenna basically spends the entire semester on one twelve-step process. The process is so intricate, though, that it actually does seem to warrant the amount of time he spends on it. McKenna is extremely engaging and tries to bring out the best in his students. He is loud, inappropriate, and occasionally misanthropic/racist/misogynistic (which, personally, I found to be totally awesome, but it's admittedly not everybody's style). A typical lecture goes like this: - Outline of the day's "12 Step" element - Rocky/Romancing the Stone/Henry V relationship to this element. - Clips demonstrating the step - Cigarette Break - Loglines of previous week's screenplay - Discussion of previous week's screenplay The course is three hours long, and you will not watch full length movies -- which ostensibly means three hours of lecturing. This would be tedious were McKenna not such a wonderful lecturer and performer/entertainer. I challenge you to fall asleep in his class; I don't think it's possible. A word on grading: It's pretty mystical. You will get "check plus," "check," and "check minus" grades as opposed to conventional letter grades. Attendance counts, but there is absolutely no way of knowing how your grade will work out. I assume that the director's prep (a massive assignment) constitutes a large part of it, but there was no grade distribution disseminated. David McKenna considers a "B" a good grade, and makes a point of stating how difficult it will be to earn an "A." I -did- earn an "A," and can share with you the ultimate three-step process on how to do likewise: 1.) Do your coverages/read the screenplays. These are daunting and will take you several hours per week. But if you do them, and you write them intelligently on a consistent basis, it will not only make you a better analyst but also more competent in class participation. 2.) Show up and don't be late. He counts attendance. If you are late, you are marked down for half an absence. I recommend going to every class early so as to be sure you will make roll call. 3.) PLAY. Play with him. Banter. Contribute. Talk. Don't just be another "seat" in the Lifetime Screening Room. If you do not want to participate, you will have no chance of standing out. McKenna is not a bad guy and will not make you feel like a moron if you come up with a wrong answer, and he will appreciate your attempt. I am convinced that this is the secret to success in this class. I base this on nothing, however, as I still don't know how the assignment grades were apportioned/evaluated. Bottom line: Great class. If you are a film major, you have to take it. Don't fret. If you are not a film major and want to take the class anyway, you'll learn a lot.
This class was so disappointing. For the entire semester, McKenna did nothing but outline and explain Vogler's 12-act structure for writing. Though this structure is interesting for as long as it takes to read the book we had to buy, McKenna stretched this out over months of class time by talking about the most random things, or by recounting the opening to Rocky in a rich, totally unnecessarily theatrical way, or by just cursing a lot. Sure, he is enthusiastic, but I literally learned almost nothing from his lectures. He kept repeating that though this method of writing wasn't the only effective way to write a screenplay, we should value it as a tool that we could play around with later. True as that may be, it certainly didn't take a semester to understand it. Fortunately, the TAs were much better, and discussion sections were filled with a variety of different exercises that, unlike the lectures, genuinely helped me improve my analysis of scripts. Thankfully, McKenna would occasionally allow one of the TAs to give a short guest lecture on a topic unrelated to the 12-act structure. The assignments were all pretty interesting, too, since they mostly consisted of reading a script and then addressing a specific scene or character.
On the last day of this class, our TA asked the discussion section what we thought were the best and worst parts of the class. We proceeded to spend the next hour listing all the problems we had with McKenna and the structure of the class. It simply was not a good course. Of course, it's a requirement for the major, so it will continue to fill up no matter what, but if you're not a film major and therefore don't need this class, it's sort of a waste of time. Just look up Vogler's "12 Steps" and read some screenplays on your own time, and you've basically taken the class. The entire course is spent learning an extremely simple concept that McKenna somehow manages to stretch over 12 weeks, 3 hours a week. There was no reason for this. Sure, it was somewhat interesting, but it could easily have been taught within the first couple of weeks of the class, and then we could have gone on to learn more interesting methods of script analysis. The one nice thing about the course were the TAs. First of all, they definitely realized how crazy McKenna was, so they took that into consideration when assigning and grading work. They also gave little mini-lectures throughout the semester, in which they taught about specific aspects of script analysis or screenwriting. It was a nice break from McKenna, and we actually learned more from these than we did from him. All in all, the workload is pretty light and it's all interesting. This is the one class that I've ever actually enjoyed doing my homework for, because it's just reading and talking about screenplays. McKenna tries unbelievably hard to make himself seem cool. He'll curse and talk about smoking and sex and drugs to the point where you wish he would just stop. I would have much preferred a professor who was actually teaching us useful information and making the most of the time we had in the class. This has the potential to be a really great class, but McKenna just does not take advantage of it. Also, if you do decide to take it, watch Rocky and Romancing the Stone before the first day. And maybe even read Henry V. He references these constantly, and it's pretty pointless if you've never seen them.
I have no idea why this course hasn't been reviewed yet, it is easily the best course I have taken at Columbia, and expect to take, and McKenna is one of the best professors I've ever had. He knows his subject to near perfection and is a true orator. He's entertaining and intelligent, basically all that can be asked for in a teacher. His presentation of the material is nearly perfect. There was a point when he read monologue from Henry V and I was moved to tears by the off-hand performance. He's really a one-of-a-kind professor, and an inspiration, no matter how humble he tries to play himself off as. Lots of students won't like his unorthodox and disorganized approach, and everyone's going to say this: McKenna is terrible at planning assignments. He's not in the room to be a conventional professor, and he knows it. He has no rubric of how assignments are graded (leaving it up to TAs), and he really just doesn't care about deadlines. However, his Director's Prep and Script Synopsis assignments are perfect for the course and incredibly enlightening, and while I had to rely a lot on my TA to make these assignments clear, he was honest in letting us know how important they were to understanding the essence of understanding a script. It's true (at least this semester) that the TAs have to pick up a lot of slack, but they did it REALLY well, aside from sorting out the deadlines effectively. In the end, everything worked out, and though McKenna is a character, he gets the point across and addresses student questions intelligently, and his TAs will pick it up if he doesn't know how to answer. Sure, McKenna has an opinion and an approach, but he admits this dozens and dozens of times, professing that his way of structuring a script isn't the only tool to use, and he challenges students to go out and take what he's taught them to entirely new levels. I can figure that not everyone is going to think he was so great, he's definitely got his weaknesses, but the beauty is that he's become very aware of these weaknesses and will admit to them outright. He's a very self-aware human being, and however vulgar he might be, he has an excellent comprehension of human psychology and just listening to his dozens of anecdotes is inspiring to anyone who wants to write or direct films or theater. When he had Chrisopher Vogler (the writer of his course book, who he's good friends with) come in, their discussion immediately inspired me and made me realize what I needed to do to make a script idea work. Overall, amazing class for me.
This is the worst class I have had to take as a film major and it is required. I learned nothing I couldn't teach myself from skimming McKee's Story. And it made me hate cinema. Sorry.
I regret not having written a review earlier, since I would like to help keep as many people as possible from taking this class. Fortunately some of my peers have done an excellent job in reviewing what surely is the worst class in the film department and possibly in the entire undergrad directory. The irony: this highly unstructured class is supposedly about story structure. Keep away from this course at all cost. Sadly for film majors, this is required and you cannot escape Jelinek's arrogant and empty lectures. Hang in there, and do not expect to learn the basics of screenwriting here.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. It is quite possibly the worst class offered at Columbia.
There really aren't enough bad things you can say about this class--it is easily the worst class in the film dept. and an embarassment to Columbia in general. You will learn absolutely nothing about writing scripts that you couldn't have learned from any cheesy "how to write a film in x days" book. It's made all the more disappointing by the fact that Jelinek is supposedly an actual screenwriter. However, she touches on nothing practical--the physical format of a script, directing your own script, how to know what ideas to pursue, how to sell a script, how to make a script marketable, etc. Instead, she rehashes three-act structure (again and again and again), and ends each film by asking who the protagonist and antagonist are. Even more unfortunately, the class takes roll, and the idiot film dept. TA's grade the papers.
Everyone wants to write a successful screenplay, right? Well, don't be looking to Jelinek for any real insight. She basically outlines the same structural guidelines repeated and modified in all the classic books. If you want to experiment with the standard spiel, look into taking a grad class on screenwriting. If you're a major, you have to take this anyway, so sit back and enjoy her lovely accent and eclectic screening choices. All others, just buy a Syd Field book or something. Hell, buy the syllabus and take something else.
Jelinek has perfected boredom. Her delivery is rote. One is better off reading the required texts. It is imcomprehensible that our parents pay so much money for an Ivy League education, and instead get an Ivy League bill and a boring intsructor. One can find more interesting teachers in the local learning annex. It is absolutely mind boggling to have to sit in front of someone who merely repeats the bold lines of the text that is issued. One is better off paying the twenty bucks for the text and not taking the course.