Alexander Payne

Assessing this term's films

Feel free to respond to any or all of the following:

  • Which set of films did you enjoy the most: Alexander Payne, Michel Gondry or Sofia Coppola?
  • The least?
  • Which individual film did you enjoy the most?
  • The least?
  • Which set of films did you find the most interesting from an academic perspective, particularly in relation to our discussion of m-e-s?
  • The least?
  • Which individual film did you find the most interesting from an academic perspective?
  • The least?

Rewrite Instructions: First Essay

You may rewrite your first essay after receiving my score and comments. Rewriting is optional.

  1. Your rewrite should follow my suggestions for improvement on your original essay. However, feel free to make additional changes based on your own judgment.
  2. In addition to submitting your revised essay, provide me with an overview of the changes you made.
  3. Rewrites of the first essay are due by 5:00 pm on F 5/23. If you cannot meet this deadline, contact me ASAP regarding an extension. Depending on how long you wait to make this request, I may or may not accept your rewrite for full credit.
  4. Both your revised essay and overview should be submitted as one document following these guidelines for electronic submission. Your assignment name should be "FirstRewrite".
  5. I will add points to your original score based on my assessment of how much the paper has been improved.
  6. Feel free to meet with me to discuss my comments or to get assistance at the Writing Center.

Note that my scoring of the first essay will reflect the fact that you have the option to rewrite. Normally, in making my final assessment of a writing assignment like this, I will make allowances for certain, especially minor, flaws and problems, if the paper as a whole is successful. In this case, because of the rewrite opportunity, I will not be as liberal as normal in making these kinds adjustments to the final scores of the first essays. 

First Essay

Topic and direction:

  • Write a critical analysis of mise-en-scène (m-e-s) in the films of Alexander Payne based on course screenings, readings, and discussions. In particularly, focus on the question of whether you can make the case for Alexander Payne having a distinct visual style as a director and what are the elements of m-e-s and his uses of the camera that define that style.
  • As a way of explaining or illustrating your argument, your analysis should include a close reading of at least two (2) of the frame grabs from each film in the group posted to the blog for the Frame Analysis assignment. You may also use an image, or images, of your choosing.
  • Note that “critical” in this context means to be detailed in your analysis, not judgmental as to quality. Think about what is visually distinctive about Payne's films.
  • As you select elements or points for discussion, consider the contributions of other "authors" to the look and feel of the films. For example, the directors of photography or the production designers and actors.

Additional guidelines and requirements:

  • As a formal academic paper, this essay should have a clear thesis, or central argument, to make. Sample prompts for this essay: “Mise-en-scène (m-e-s) in Alexander Payne's films is defined by …”, or, “In Election, Sideways and The Descendants, you can see Alexander Payne's visual style through the following uses of mise-en-scène (m-e-s)  …”
  • Essays should cite and document sources following these guidelines.
  • Films should be cited as follows. The first reference should provide a complete title and a date of release in parentheses, e.g., Election (1999) (note that the film title is italicized). Subsequent references need only include the title. For films with longer titles, such as The Descendants, subsequent references can use a truncated title, as in Descendants. Film titles do not need to be included in the list of cited works.
  • Initial reference to mise-en-scène should use the full term. For subsequent references, “m-e-s” is acceptable. You can follow this guideline for all specialized terms.
  • There is no page requirement or limit for this paper, but use five to eight (5-8) as a guide.
  • Essays should be double-spaced with reasonably-sized fonts and margins (readability should be your goal). Number your pages.
  • Be specific in referencing names of filmmakers, characters, places, etc. IMDB and Wikipedia are both good sources for basic information about films and film productions.
  • For guidance on writing academic essays, refer to the resources I have on this page, including the WOU Writing Center. You can also consult with me. For longer questions or to have me review drafts, come to office hours. Shorter questions can be handled electronically via e-mail or on IM or over the phone (503-838-8296). You can also ask for advice via the class blog.

Due date and submission:

  • You should schedule a due date with me individually that should fall between M 4/28 and F 5/9.
  • You should schedule your due date for this essay by the end of the day (11:59 pm) on W 4/30.
  • Submit your work electronically by the agreed upon date following these guidelines. For the assignment in the filename, use “Payne."
  • You will have until the end of your due date (11:59 pm) to either submit your paper or arrange an extension for full credit.
  • The Director Essays are worth fifteen (15) points towards your grade.

Use of actors

Actors, of course, are part of mise-en-scène, and Biga points to Alexander Payne's preference not to work with, or at least to not be compelled to work with, "big" stars, preferring actors who may be from TV (e.g., Thomas Haden Church in Sideways), or are not yet established as stars (e.g., Reese Witherspoon at the time of Election), or who typically play character or supporting roles (e.g., Paul Giamatti in Sideways), or even non-professionals (many of the background or minor roles in both Election and Sideways).

Do you think this preference is effective in making Payne's films look and feel more real? How would having George Clooney in the role of Miles instead of Paul Giamatti, as reported by Adam Biga, have affected Sideways?