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RHE 330C Environmental Meda

This production course addresses the relationship between rhetoric, digital storytelling, documentary, and environment. The intersection of media and the environment provides a compelling case for rhetorical inquiry and production. Since the early 1970s, scholars in rhetoric studies have examined documentary film from a rhetorical perspective. Richard Maynard’s The Celluloid Curriculum provided space for using film in high school courses. Thomas Hoffer, Richard Nelson, Barry Winters, and Karen Foss applied rhetorical theory to documentary film and in some cases offered insight into how documentary film making might have a place in rhetoric classrooms. More recently, scholars like Alexandra Hidalgo have pushed rhetoric studies to move from a position of analysis to one of production. In Cámara Retórica, Hidalgo asks that we train more of our students in film and video production in order to expand the boundaries of what digital scholarship might look like in our discipline.


This course syllabus provides an overview of the course design with respect to learning goals, expectations, assignments, and readings. Feel free to borrow or modify this design. I only ask that you provide attribution somewhere in your syllabus and encourage others to do the same.

Mobile Filming Kit

I taught a similar course early in the COVID19 pandemic. I wanted students to be able to film safely while whether they were quarantining in Austin or elsewhere. This kit cost $197 to build. It contains a Zhiyun Smooth 4 3-axis handheld gimbal stabilizer, gimbal counterweight, Rode compact on-camera microphone with Rycote Lyre shock mount, AFVO ring clamp with cold Shoe for Zhiyun Smooth 4 applied to microphone LED light. Based on the phone's connection capabilities, you'll need to buy and adaptor. I recommended students purchase either a Bojuren phone headphone adapter or USB-C headphone charger adapter. While it is ok to work with a phone's native video recording application, I recommended students download FiLMiC Pro from either the iTunes or Google Play store. Additionally, students could purchase lenses, CPL, and ND filters, but it was not a requirement. I use mobile recording lens from Moment.  


Activities in this course are really designed to help students consider different elements of their documentary short projects. One activity that I have found beneficial has been focusing on B-roll footage. B-roll is any supplemental video that considered to be secondary to a documentary's primary footage. It purpose is often to provide context and build visual interest. I designed an activity that first introduces students to B-roll. Thereafter, they are asked to film at least 10 different shots across the range of shot types. I didn't require the students to submit their shots. Instead, I checked them in class as each group finished them within a two week time span. The idea behind this activity was to give students the opportunity to collect images that would ultimately make it into their documentaries.

Another really useful activity during the editing process involved having the students construct paper edits. A paper edit is a written version of how a filmmaker might structure their documentary. Think of it as a script or blueprint. Paper edits are an excellent way of getting an overview of the film and seeing how all the scenes and characters interweave with one another. It’s not the final version, but rather offers an easy way to discuss and reorder structure. It also help filmmakers get a sense as to where certain A-roll and B-roll footage should live within the film. Below you can find a short overview slide deck on film editing. Additionally, you'll see a sample paper edit assembled by a group in the class.

Sample Documentary

I am happy to have a discussion and share additional materials that helped to support these projects. Here is one media project that I believe best exemplify the kind of work that students were able to accomplish in this course.

From Pollen to Produce (2023). Tommy Nguyen, Elizabeth Kinerk, Sydney Meier, Ivanna Heigl Maza. Runtime: 10 min

From Pollen to Produce is an expository documentary that focuses on student perspectives on sustainability initiatives at UT Austin. We use interviews and b-roll footage to tell the story of Beevo Beekeeping, Jester/Kinsolving Gardens, and UT Farmstand in an engaging and informative manner. The POV of our documentary is through the eyes of newcomers to the world of sustainability (beekeeping, gardening, or consuming) on college campuses.

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