Whenever you approach an essay topic you need to work out how you can answer it and show that you’ve got an individual interpretation of the film. So, what does this actually mean? Can you answer this question: what is the film On the Waterfront about? Standing up for one’s rights? Making good in an environment that offers no hope? Little guy against big guy? Good versus evil? Loyalty? Looking after oneself in order to survive? Ultimately, you can only answer this question if you know the film, and if you are willing to think about the message(s) it’s trying to convey.
Next, have you done any extra reading to help establish what the film might be trying to do/achieve? On one of the page tabs above I have a list of extra reading (not that I ever expected you to read it all – but some might help). Here is the link: https://makingsenseforachange.wordpress.com/reading-for-on-the-waterfront/
Third, keep in mind that you’re writing about a film. You can’t just write about characters and themes and events and actions. You must write about how the film is constructed – you must show that you understand how the characters, themes, events, and actions are constructed by the director and why. In this way, analysing a film can be like analysing an opinion piece for the Language Analysis essay. It can be useful to remember the What, How, Why? of language analysis when writing about On the Waterfront. What does Kazan do? How does he do it? And why does he do it?
Fourth, practise taking apart essay topics – really consider the ins and outs of what you’re being asked to write about. And above all else, have something to say. Not what you think we want you say, but what you truly believe about the topic and the film. If you feel you can’t do this, then I would suggest you don’t know the film well enough.
Quotes. Go through the script (here it is: https://makingsenseforachange.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/on-the-waterfront-script/) and highlight key quotes. What are key quotes? Those that are good enough to be used over a number of different essay topics. They are generally about themes, characters, ideologies, symbols, etc. This means that in order to be able to pick out key quotes you need to establish what the themes, ideologies and symbols of the film are. I would aim to get a list of about 25-30 quotes. Yes, really.
And practise. I’ve been told that one Old Haileyburian wrote an essay a day in the lead up to the exam. That would certainly make a difference!