I feel like “workshop” is one of those college-y buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot; it’s the kind of thing you see on some vaguely academic flyer. It was pretty meaningless to me as a high schooler, but it’s come to be a defining word for my college experience.

So what is a workshop?

A workshop is essentially a place/time where you show your creative work to a group and they provide constructive criticism. It’s a safe space where you can expect to get real, honest, productive feedback. Everyone is looking to better their own work, and everyone is excited to speak up about each others’.

I’ve taken a ton of workshop classes: Fiction/Poetry Writing I, Fiction/Poetry Writing II, Visual Rhetoric, Visual Language, Intro to Fiction, Intro to Poetry, Professional Writing and Communication, Media Workshop, Deep Listening: Sound Studies in Film and Media, Oral Presentations.

Just to name a few.

As you can probably glean from the class names, workshop classes can be in an array of different departments, but they are all united by the fact that it’s some kind of creative, expressive work that’s being critiqued. You can expect a lot of constructive criticism and productive feedback on your work. It’s an invaluable opportunity to get new opinions on something you’ve made.

So what does this look like?

Usually, classes will have a workshop day. In Writing Sems, we had workshops every class period, but in my film classes, the pace is a bit slower. For my Media Workshop class, we study theories for three weeks, then workshop the fourth.

This past Tuesday, I brought a flash drive with the file of my film on it to class. When it was my turn to go (which is just us volunteering; with some other classes, professors choose who goes next), I copied my file over and booted it up. My professors asked if I wanted to say anything about the film. I said that I had a lot of fun making it, but I wanted it to speak for itself.

I screened this:

After it concluded, the lights came on, and my professors (it’s a co-taught class!), said a few words to start the discussion. Meredith applauded my use of color, and Matt asked how I created the various light leaks. I told him that I filmed glitter in water up close with a super soft focus, and Meredith admired the handmade, crafty techniques I used. She brought up a quote from Bresson: “Your film should have a heart and a soul, and look as if it were made by hand.” I wrote it down in my notebook.

Then, they turned the discussion over to my classmates. People piped up and said that they liked my photography, and the overall mood it achieved. Someone said they wished it could play on repeat during Midterms. Someone even asked what camera I used—which is high praise in a film workshop. Someone provided a piece of constructive feedback: to eliminate any shots that erred on cliches. Meredith reaffirmed this, saying that if there’s a shot that didn’t feel totally me, it had to go.

Meredith then asked me about my soundtrack, since, as you’ve noticed, it’s a silent piece. This is what stumped me, and what I was hoping to take away from the workshop; I really wasn’t sure. And that’s the best part of a workshop: people are there to problem solve, with objective, fresh eyes and ears. People had great suggestions, from spoken word to ambient sounds. Meredith assured me that we’d keep thinking about it and revisit the topic for my final revision.

The workshop, in total, took about 15 minutes. In these 15 minutes, I saw my film in a million new ways, and was challenged with new perspectives. Media Workshop’s final project is a hefty revision of a previous project, and with the feedback I gained from this workshop, Slow Burn is gonna see some improvement. Stay tuned.