We are at a point in our evolution as a species where we’ve become not quite living not quite dead. With the advent of virtual bodies (in video games, chat rooms, online profiles, etc.), cloning, cyborg technology, and even the cell phone, we are seeing ourselves become more and more disembodied. This feeling of disembodiment is why we’ve become so obsessed in our entertainment media with bodies, dead and otherwise--with cadavers, crime scenes, bodily mutilation, and torture. We crave a truly visceral experience of the body--of bodies torn apart and reassembled, bodies breathing and stopped of breath, bodies scrutinized post-mortem, and bodies (no matter how gruesome) as aesthetically viable objects. The zombie is part and parcel of this cultural obsession, but it is also the antidote. The zombie threatens to deconstruct us (to eat us), but in an altogether different way from the machine. Whereas machines devour our flesh, the zombie just chews, turning us into zombies, which are the epitome of flesh. Machines take our flesh away. Zombies proffer it back.
In this course, we will examine a multimedia array of texts that explore the zombie and its literary and figurative precursors, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. We will also ask larger philosophical questions about what it is to be “human,” what it is to be “living,” and what it is to be “dead.” In addition to working on a multimodal research-intensive project over the course of the semester, students will engage in activities/assignments that consider the material and immaterial nature of composition itself. What constitutes the flesh of an essay? Does a word have flesh? And, similarly, the zombie demands that we consider the flesh of media: Does film have flesh? Do interactive texts have flesh? And to what extent do they engage us at the level of flesh?
Please Note: The subject will lead us through difficult terrain (topics like death, corpses, embalming, rotting flesh, cannibalism, etc.), and we will have to sludge through some gore along the way. If you are squeamish you would likely prefer another section of this course.
Outcomes: The expected Outcomes For First-Year Composition in the Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program can be found here. Specific aspects of this document will be referred to in the instructions for each of the assignments you complete this semester.
Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead (First 12 Issues) [ISBN: 1-58240-619-7] or [978-1-582-40672-5 and 978-1-582-40775-3]
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein [ISBN: 978-0-14310-503-9]
Ben Harvey, BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead [ISBN: 978-1-84457-174-1]
Cormac McCarthy, The Road [ISBN: 978-0-307-38789-9]
Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s custom-designed E-text
Online PDFs (Note that these readings are password-protected.)
Required Films: (While you are not required to purchase all the films, I am including links here in case you want to work more closely with any of these films on the assignments you complete this semester. You may also want to consider investing in a Netflix membership for this course. You can get a free trial by clicking here.)
Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland (2009)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Body” (2001) [Season 5, Episode 16]
George Romero, Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Zach Snyder, Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead (2010)
Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later (2002)
Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Required Materials: There will be various costs for the materials and incidentals you’ll need to complete major projects (see below). Estimate an additional $30 - $40 beyond the cost of required texts.
Attendance and Class Participation: Since this is a collaborative course, focusing heavily on discussion and work in groups, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class on time and prepared. The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community. And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course. Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade. More than three absences during the semester will lower your final grade for participation by one full letter grade. More than six absences may result in automatic failure of the course. Also, in order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work before each class session. If you are going to miss class or can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, your best strategy is to discuss this with me in advance either in person or via e-mail.
Office Hours: I have scheduled regular office hours and I’m also available by appointment. If you’d like to meet in person, I’d recommend setting up a time in advance. I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat). This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better. I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail. In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me. You can send an e-mail with questions or comments to me at Jesse.Stommel@lcc.gatech.edu.
E-mail: E-mail is an important component of this course. I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss crucial information.
Online Content: There are numerous links on this webpage that will take you to various assignments and readings that we will be doing throughout the semester. You can access e-texts of some of the readings via this web page--just click on the title in the schedule. My advice: if you make this web site your friend, you’ll have no trouble completing all the reading and assignments for the course. As we proceed, I will be uploading additional content, including more course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.
Collaboration: Collaboration will be a major component of this course. You will collaborate with your classmates on nearly every assignment you complete. While I will work closely with you to help you navigate these collaborations, if you are entirely uncomfortable working with a group, you would likely prefer another section of this course.
The Work of the Course: More specific details for the major assignments will be forthcoming as the semester proceeds.
• Class Participation. This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work. As I mentioned, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.
• Blog. This is an offshoot of class participation. For this course you will be required to contribute to a blog where you will discuss your work and respond to issues that are raised in our reading and in class discussion. Unlike journaling or response papers you’d submit only to me, this will give you a chance to practice your writing in a more social forum.
You are required to contribute at least 2 entries to the blog over the course of the semester, one focused on the production of the final project and the other offering an analysis of one of the films/texts we’re discussing. You must also comment on one of the blogs of your peers at least once per week. These comments should be as collaborative as possible. In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum. Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other comments as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. A blog entry can be collaboratively written (in a group of 2-3) and should be 500 - 750 words. A comment (written individually) should be 100 - 200 words.
• Leading Class Discussion. See sign-up sheet for more details here. You will be asked to help lead discussion at least one time throughout the semester. This is, by no means, a formal presentation. Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the reading/film for that day, and bring at least one or two passages/clips which you’d like the group to look at in detail. You are also encouraged to engage your group in writing or other activities related to the text you’re discussing. As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc. This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.
• Worksheets. As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the semester (two of these are already on the syllabus, although more may be added). These will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing. Please refer to the schedule for due dates.
• Multimodal Final Project. Click here for more details. As a class, we will be producing a short (20 min) film. Throughout the semester, you will work in teams of 5 on various aspects of the film (production, screenwriting, filmmaking, post-production, and marketing). Since research is one of the major components of the course, you will be required to research your role carefully. Throughout the semester, you will also be researching thematic and historical topics related to the theme of the film. All of the other assignments you complete for the class will serve as ancillaries for the finished film. Within the first few weeks of the semester, you will begin work on the final film as part of one of five departments (each with a department head):
Production: The production department will be in charge of legal, financing, casting, and location scouting. They will produce a production schedule for the film in the first half of the semester and will work on coordinating a mini-film festival at the end of the semester.
Screenwriting: The screenwriting department will create a screenplay and storyboards for the film in the first half of the semester and will work on a published shooting script (a polished and formatted version with images, etc.) in the second half of the semester. They will also send members to the set to advise and re-write as the film is being shot.
Filmmaking: The filmmaking department will be in charge of shooting, lighting, directing, sound, etc. The film will be shot about halfway through the semester. The filmmakers will spend the first half of the semester acquiring equipment, building sets (if necessary), assembling costumes/props, etc. Once the film is shot, the filmmakers will work on a short (3 min) behind-the-scenes documentary.
Post-production: The post-production department will be in charge of editing, music, sound-effects, titles and credits, visual effects, etc. They will spend the first half of the semester preparing music, sound effects, and visual effects. The bulk of their work will be done in the second half of the semester, editing the film once it has been shot.
Marketing: The marketing department will produce a teaser trailer in the first half of the semester. In the second half of the semester, they will work on a full preview, a press-release, a DVD w/ insert, a web-site, and a film festival program.
• Treatment. Click here for more details. A treatment is a short synopsis used to pitch an idea for a film. At the start of the semester, before you’ve broken into departments, you will work on this project in groups of 2-3. Your treatment should be around 750 words and will include a logline (a 1-2 sentence summary of your idea), market research, a description of the major scenes/characters, and a discussion of themes the film would explore. You should also include sketches or other visual aids to support your proposal and a bibliography. I will choose 3-5 of the best treatments, which you will vote on as a class to determine what film will be made.
• Poster. Halfway through the semester, everyone will create a poster that engages in an analytic or argumentative way with themes we’ve been discussing in the course. These could be posters that directly advertise the specific film we are making as a class, or they could be more tangentially related, such as a map of the historical/cultural progression of the zombie or a mash-up of significant moments in zombie cinema. You will have the option of completing a poster on your own or with a group of 2-3.
• Portfolio. At the end of the semester, you will select examples of and write reflections about the written, visual, and electronic artifacts you have created in this class. You will also write a reflection on your experience leading class discussion and a final self-evaluation of your work throughout the semester. Additional information about requirements for the portfolio can be found here.
Grading: While I will be assigning final grades, you will also be evaluating your own work and the work of your team. At the middle of the semester, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course. You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the semester. Having your account of your process is a very big part of how I assign grades. I will be giving evaluative feedback on major assignments, and you will definitely hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to. If this process causes you anxiety, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date.
Participation (including worksheets, leading class discussion, individual conferences, etc.) -- 30%
Blog -- 10%
Treatment -- 10%
Poster -- 10%
Multimodal Final Project -- 20%
Midterm and Final Self-evaluations -- 10%
Portfolio -- 10%
Assignments Rubric: As you work on your self-evaluations, please see the Writing and Communication Program’s rubric.
Plagiarism: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me. Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy. At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create? Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged). So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class? Let me go out on a limb and say: in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates). However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head. In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others. It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image. This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it. That’s just stealing. Instead, think very consciously about how you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance. And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.
Laptop Computer Use: This course requires you to bring your laptop computer to all class meetings.
Academic Conduct: You are responsible for knowing and abiding by GT’s policy for academic integrity. Consult the Honor Code online at http://www.honor.gatech.edu. Work that violates the Honor Code will not be accepted and may result in failure of the entire course. I will also report any serious misconduct to the Office of Student Integrity.
Disability Notice: If you need accommodations for a disability, please contact me at the beginning of the semester so that we can discuss them. You should also contact Access Disabled Assistance Program for Tech Students (ADAPTS) within the first two weeks of the semester so that they can help us to develop reasonable accommodations. For an appointment with a counselor call (404) 894-2564 (voice) / (404) 894-1664 (voice/TDD) or visit 220 Student Services Building. For more information visit http://www.adapts.gatech.edu.
Jan. 10: Campus Closed
Jan. 12: Campus Closed
Jan. 14: Mark Jancovich, “Horror, The Film Reader: General Introduction”
Jan. 17: NO CLASS
Jan. 19: Film: Zombieland (2009)
Peter Dendle, “Introduction to The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia”
Worksheet #1 Due
Jan. 21: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (pp. ix-xviii and pp. 15-64)
Jan. 24: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (pp. 65-124)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses”
Worksheet #2 Due
Jan. 26: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (pp. 125-178)
Jan. 28: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (pp. 179-225)
Jan. 30: Treatment Due (finalize on Google Docs by midnight)
Jan. 31: Mary Roach, “Excerpt from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”
Emily Dickinson, “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died”
Feb. 2: Jessica Mitford, “Excerpt from The American Way of Death”
Feb. 4: Treatment Workshop
Feb. 7: Film: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Body” (2001)
Feb. 9: Film: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Body” (2001)
Feb. 11: Final Project Work Day
Feb. 14: Film: Night of the Living Dead (1968) (Click here to watch)
Ben Hervey, BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead (read first half)
Feb. 16: Film: Night of the Living Dead (1968) (Click here to watch)
Ben Hervey, BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead (read second half)
Feb. 18: Screenplay/Storyboard Workshop
Feb. 21: Production Schedule/Teaser Workshop
Feb. 23: Film: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Feb. 25: Film: Dawn of the Dead (2004) (Leading Class Discussion)
Feb. 28: Film: Dawn of the Dead, cont.
Mar. 2: Max Brooks, “Excerpt from World War Z” (Leading Class Discussion)
Mar. 4: Poster Due (bring to class and submit digitally)
Midterm Self-evaluation Due (e-mail to me by midnight)
Mar. 7: Conferences
Mar. 9: Conferences
Mar. 11: Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Mar. 14: Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Leading Class Discussion)
Mar. 16: Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Mar. 18: Final Project Work Day
Mar. 21: NO CLASS
Mar. 23: NO CLASS
Mar. 25: NO CLASS
Mar. 28: Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead
Mar. 30: Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead (Leading Class Discussion)
Apr. 1: Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead
Apr. 4: Film: The Walking Dead
Apr. 6: Film: The Walking Dead
Apr. 8: Rough Cut Workshop
Apr. 11: Marketing Workshop
Apr. 13: Zombie Video Games (TBA)
Apr. 15: Zombie Video Games (TBA)
Apr. 18: Rough Cut Workshop
Apr. 20: Film: 28 Days Later (2002) (Leading Class Discussion)
Apr. 22: Final Project Work Day
Apr. 25: Final Cut Workshop
Apr. 27: Film: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Apr. 29: Conclusion
Apr. 30: Final Project Screening (plan to be available from 8:00pm - midnight)
May 1: Final Self-evaluation Due (e-mail to me by midnight)
May 6: WOVEN Portfolio Due (upload artifacts and form by 5:00pm)
Multimodal Final Project
As a class, we will be producing a short (20 min) film. Throughout the semester, you will work in teams of 5 on various aspects of the film (production, screenwriting, filmmaking, post-production, and marketing). Since research is one of the major components of the course, you will be required to research your role carefully. Throughout the semester, you will also be researching thematic and historical topics related to the theme of the film. All of the other assignments you complete for the class will serve as ancillaries for the finished film. Within the first few weeks of the semester, you will begin work on the final film as part of one of five departments (each with a department head).
Once in your department, you will need to work together to delegate the various duties. I have offered a sense of the various things each group might accomplish; however, I encourage individual departments to also consider other ways that they might fulfill their role. Read or review these sections of the e-text for suggestions on how to help foster good collaboration in your department this semester: chapter 2, sections 13 and 14.
Department Heads and Conferences: Each group will self-nominate a department head. All the department heads will meet several times throughout the semester to discuss and coordinate the interactions between the various departments. On Feb. 28 and Mar. 2, I will have individual conferences with each department and with the department heads. This will give us a chance to confer about our progress and to consider next steps for our project.
Production: The production department will be in charge of legal, financing, casting, and location scouting. They will produce a production schedule for the film in the first half of the semester, a legal brief and accounting of incoming and outgoing funds in the second half of the semester, and will work on coordinating the mini-film festival at the end of the semester. The members of this group will be leaders in charge of organizing the end-of-semester event and coordinating the interactions between the rest of the groups. This group’s work will be spread relatively evenly across the semester, and there will be quite a bit of flexibility for due dates for specific components.
Resources: I highly recommend that one or more of the members in your group purchase this book: The Filmmaker's Handbook. It’s very inexpensive given the amount of information it contains. Since you will be interacting with all of the other departments, this book gives a good sense for what everyone will be doing. Also, this book is a good resource for the legal dimensions you’ll be tasked with exploring: The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers. Finally, read or review these sections of the e-text: chapter 2, sections 36, 37 and 43.
Screenwriting: The screenwriting department will create a screenplay and storyboards for the film in the first half of the semester and will work on a published shooting script (a polished and formatted version with images, etc.) in the second half of the semester. They will also send members to the set to advise and re-write as the film is being shot. This group’s work will involve creative writing, document design, photography, drawing, etc. The members of this group will complete be working very quickly to produce a screenplay and storyboards from Feb. 4 - Feb. 25. The rest of their work will be paced relatively slowly over the rest of the semester.
Resources: To help with formatting, I highly recommend using screenplay-writing software instead of trying to compose in a conventional word-processing program. You can use this one for free on the web: http://scripped.com/. And here’s another that you can download free for use on a Mac: http://celtx.com/. I also highly recommend that one or more of the members in your group purchase this book: Cinematic Storytelling.
Filmmaking: The filmmaking department will be in charge of shooting, lighting, directing, sound, etc. The film will be shot about halfway through the semester. The filmmakers will spend the first half of the semester acquiring equipment, building sets (if necessary), assembling costumes/props, etc. Once the film is shot, the filmmakers will work on a short (3 min) behind-the-scenes documentary. The head of this department will be the director, who will also collaborate closely with the heads of the screenwriting and post-production departments. This group’s work will be primarily creative, involving direction, cinematography, make-up, costumes, set-design, etc. The members of this group will complete much of their work from Feb. 25 - Mar. 25.
Resources: I highly recommend that one or more of the members in your group purchase this book: The Filmmaker's Handbook. It’s very inexpensive given the amount of information it contains. Also, this book would be especially useful for the director and cinematographer: Master Shots.
Post-production: The post-production department will be in charge of editing, music, sound-effects, titles and credits, visual effects, etc. They will spend the first half of the semester preparing music, sound effects, and visual effects. The bulk of their work will be done in the second half of the semester, editing the film once it has been shot. This group’s work will be primarily technical, using video and sound editing software to finalize the film. The members of this group will complete much of their work from Mar. 18 - Apr. 22.
Resources: I highly recommend that one or more of the members in your group purchase this book: The Filmmaker's Handbook. It’s very inexpensive given the amount of information it contains. Also, this book would be especially useful for the editors: Film Editing.
Marketing: The marketing department will produce a teaser trailer in the first half of the semester. In the second half of the semester, they will work on a full preview, a press-release, a DVD w/ insert, a website, and a film festival program. This group will be jacks-of-all-trades, given the varied small components they will produce. Members of this group will have the option of working independently on some of these ancillaries, some of which will require technical writing (e.g. the press release), whereas others will offer lots of creative freedom (e.g. the teaser trailer and website). This group’s work will be spread relatively evenly across the semester, and there will be quite a bit of flexibility for due dates for specific components.
Resources: While it may be too expensive for someone in your group to buy, you should consider looking at this book for ideas about how graphic design has been used for film marketing: Art of the Modern Movie Poster. Also, this book is more relevant for professional productions looking for a real distributor, but you might still find some sections useful: The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook.
Outcomes: Each department will work in different ways toward a common goal; however, each group will have tasks that stress the following:
- Research. One of the main goals of this course is to develop your research skills.
- Critical Thinking. In addition to the analytical work we’ll be doing during class, this project will have you engaging with and analyzing your own creative production. You will also be forced to develop new strategies for achieving unfamiliar goals.
- Process. We will be working through the steps of this project carefully over the entire semester. You will be evaluating yourself and the work of your group at various steps along the way. You will also be meeting with me halfway through the semester to discuss and reflect on your work.
- Modes and Media. You will be working in many different media during the semester, including written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal. You will be thinking carefully about the relationship between the various modes we use and media we study. You will be introduced to many new tools (software, electronic, and mechanical) during your work on and with these genres.
- Collaboration: This course requires you to work closely with a community of other thinkers, artists, and communicators. You will be considering both your individual process and reflecting on our process as a collective.