Honors Thesis

Film Studies majors may work on theses in their senior year if they they have a 3.0 overall GPA, a 3.5 GPA in the major, and adequate background for independent work. To be considered for a degree with honors, the student must present a thesis completed during the year that will be evaluated by the Film Studies Program steering committee to determine whether it will be awarded honors. A senior thesis is a two-semester independent study submitted for honors (students may also embark on an independent project of one semester, and many projects are best suited to this length). Although the Film Studies major stresses film studies rather than film production, honors work in film production is allowed in certain situations. The document below is specific to Film Studies but students should also take a look at the description of the process in Faculty Legislation.

Writing a Senior Thesis

The senior thesis gives you the chance to explore an intellectual question of your own design. This question must be one that has intrigued you for a long time, and one that you have prepared to investigate through previous coursework. During the senior year you will first define and then answer your question.

Working on your thesis will likely be the most challenging experience you have had, and may well be the most rewarding. You will learn what it is to commit yourself to a major project and bring it to completion. Your work will be valuable whatever you do after graduation and it will introduce you to one major aspect of work as a film studies scholar. Lastly, it may help you decide whether you want to continue your study of film in graduate school.

Producing a Senior Thesis Project

If you are creating a moving image project, the process is similar to that described above. Because there are many options for what might be included in the project, you must talk with your adviser in depth and agree upon the supporting material that will be necessary. Generally, in addition to the filmed project, you will be required to turn in your production journal and an approximately 15-page critical essay about the process that led to your project. This essay will most likely refer back to film studies and other courses that you have taken while a major, and link them to the creative work that you have done.


To increase the chance that this experience will be enriching and to reduce the chance that it will be frustrating, the Film Studies Program has prepared a schedule for the process of developing a thesis. Look this schedule over, and if you think you may want to undertake a thesis, please come and talk to a professor in the Film Studies Program as soon as possible in the spring of your junior year.

Junior Year — Fall Semester

During per-registration in the fall of your junior year (or earlier) begin thinking about your topic. Then look at all the film studies courses offered at the Five Colleges and see whether there are any courses offered in the spring and then again the next fall that might prepare you for writing the thesis. The more ways you approach your question, the better your thesis will be.

Junior Year — Spring Semester

  1. Choose a topic. At this point your topic can be quite general. It is assumed that if you want to write/create a thesis, you have become fascinated with some aspect of the study and/or production of film. As you plan for your appointment with a potential adviser, consider the following: 
    • Ask yourself, "What first got me interested in film studies?" "What question do I regularly discuss with my classmates or roommates?" These questions can help you hone your thesis question.
    • Look at all the classes you have taken, including those not in film studies. Is there a theme that ties them together that could help you deepen your thesis question?
    • Look back at projects you have done for other classes in relation to your interest, and consider going back to the pertinent professors for further discussion.
    • It is very important that you pick a good topic. You are going to work on it for a whole year. A question that you really care about will sustain your effort. If your topic does not inspire or consume you, it will be hard to keep yourself working.
  2. Find an advisor. You can ask any member of the Film Studies Program to advise you on your thesis. However, the professor you choose may believe that another member of the program is more qualified to direct your thesis, and may direct you to that person.
  3. If you are interested in doing a thesis, compose a two to three page prospectus for an independent study project that could be of thesis quality and scope. The prospectus should:
    • set forth the question you seek to address,
    • describe how you will explore the question,
    • include a bibliography, filmography, and timeline,
    • be submitted by the end of April. (See Timetable.)

Junior Year — Summer Recess

In the summer before your senior year, you should begin preparation. Hint: write a summary or a reaction paper for each article, book, or film you study while you are thinking about and developing your project. If you are planning to do a production thesis, it is at this point that you should begin researching your topic and securing permissions from subjects (documentary) or drafting the script (narrative).

Senior Year — Fall Semester

In the fall of your senior year you should

  1. Create a syllabus for yourself and begin meeting with your advisor once a week. Keep in mind that this is an independent project. Your advisor's job is to aid you in your study of the question you have chosen. Her/his job is not to teach you about that topic. Thus your advisor will make some recommendations about what you should read and see, but you will have to find many of the texts that are relevant to your topic on your own. Remember that this is your project; have a game plan for your conferences.

    **If you are doing a production thesis, the syllabus you create will include your schedule for finalizing preproduction materials and shooting. You will use the meetings with your advisor to discuss your plan for shoots as well as to review selected footage.

  2. Narrow the focus. The odds are that the topic you began with in the spring of your junior year was too broad. One of your tasks in the fall will be to choose some subset of your interests on which you will concentrate in order to create a question to answer.
  3. Begin actual work on the project. If you are writing, you should aim to complete a chapter draft before the end of the semester. If you are producing a film, you should shoot all of your footage during the fall semester.
  4. By the Monday after Thanksgiving break, submit for program review a self-assessment that covers:
    • the subject you are addressing,
    • the motivation for and importance of your study,
    • a survey of the literature,
    • the status of the project to date and timetable for the spring.

    In turn, the faculty will assess the project and decide whether you may proceed for another semester.

  5. If you are permitted to proceed for the spring semester, you should have completed approximately half of the writing of your project, or a rough edit of the film when you return to school after the winter break.

Senior Year — Spring Semester

In the spring of your senior year, you should:

  1. Complete the project.
  2. Discuss with your advisor whether the project should be considered for Honors. If so, choose the second and third members of your committee by mid-March.
  3. Prepare your final draft, which is due on May 1st.
  4. Defend your thesis. The members of your thesis committee will ask you questions about your thesis. These questions will generate a conversation between you and your committee that will last no more than one hour. Immediately upon completion of the defense, the members of the committee will meet to decide whether to recommend you for graduation with honors. (If they decide that your thesis does not qualify for honors, then it will be an independent study.) If the thesis does qualify for honors, your committee will also decide what level of honors to recommend to the Academic Advisory Board. The full Film Studies Program decides in a later meeting whether to support the recommendation of the committee. In most cases, the program’s recommendation will follow that of your committee. The Academic Advisory Board makes the final decision about what level of honors you will receive at graduation and will let you know just before commencement.


Junior Year:
April: Discuss your ideas with a potential adviser and submit the thesis proposal to the Program for approval. You will be notified before the end of the semester whether or not your proposal has been accepted.

Senior Year:
First day of classes: Submit a draft for a syllabus for the semester’s work to your adviser.

Monday after Thanksgiving Break: Submit all materials to the department, along with a cover letter summarizing your progress. You will be notified before the end of the semester whether you have made sufficient progress to continue.

May 1: Final draft of thesis due. Copies must be given to all three members of your committee and follow the Formatting instructions.

During Exam Period: Defend your thesis. You will be notified immediately following the defense whether you have passed. The level of honors will be relayed at a later date through the Academic Advisory Board. Please see the General guide to Academic Honors for more information.