Film Production Curriculum


Students explore the five key disciplines of filmmaking during their year VFS. As the year progresses, students choose to specialize in two of the following disciplines, giving their portfolio the kind of focus necessary to launch a career as a professional filmmaker.

  • Directing
  • Cinematography
  • Producing
  • Production Design
  • Post-Production

Term 1 Course Descriptions

Cinematography is the art and technique of camera and lighting in the making of a motion picture film. It involves technical concerns such as camera, lens, format, and lighting instruments just to name a few, as well as various methods related to composition and subject modelling in order to tell the story. Sony HD motion picture cameras are used in Term 1, both for training and production, and Arri lighting makes up the initial tungsten package.  

This course covers the role and responsibilities of a director in script development, pre-production, production, and post-production. Students learn to tell a story cinematically, use the camera as a tool, prepare a script analysis and engage in the casting and rehearsal process with actors.

In this introductory class, students learn the incredible creative power that post-production provides the filmmaker in the following areas: picture editing, sound editing, sound mixing, music, and colour correction. Emphasis is on the overall post-production process and the larger decisions necessary in these areas, and the importance of knowing your post-production direction well before filming takes place. Hands-on learning with non-linear editing software will introduce the students to creating a project and properly organizing and naming files for the purposes of picture editorial.

Producing 1 takes students through their first journey in independent film production by providing them with the knowledge, skills, and experience to produce a zero-budget short film. By the end of the term, students have taken a film from the initial concept through the script stage all the way to production and be ready to take it into the next stage of post-production and distribution.

In Production Design 1, students learn how to create and pitch a design as part of the competition for the Term 2 show, while also learning to make effective set decoration decisions for zero-budget productions this term.

Assistant Directing 1 gives students an in-depth understanding of the roles and duties of the Assistant Director during pre-production; shows them how to properly breakdown a script to create an accurate shooting schedule; and teaches them proper set etiquette and protocol so they are ready for the location exercise in week five.

Script Development 1 introduces students to the basic concepts of screenwriting and script development, with an emphasis on understanding story structure. Students are required to write a 2-3 page scene/sequence that elicits an emotional response. Through a series of lectures and in-class exercises, students learn to recognize viable cinematic ideas, pitch proposals, and offer feedback, create and develop characters, generate conflict and write original dialogue.

This seven-week course explores the following concepts: ideology, semiotics and signification, mise-en-scene, Hollywood film style, the significance and characteristics of film form, narrative structure and POV, introduction to genre.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

In Cinematography 2, the art of camera and lighting goes further to the very core of this subject matter - visual storytelling. Students learn and apply fundamental techniques of exposure, subject modelling, set lighting, and the basic methods for moving the camera. This course helps students understand the role of the Director of Photography and how he or she adds emotion and visual style to the look of a scene. A variety of concepts, techniques, and hands-on training are combined to further essential skills on camera, lighting and gripping.

Students explore further aspects of directing technique and collaboration. The actor's approach, character analysis, advanced blocking, image systems and rehearsal styles form the foundation of the course. Students present their Term One films for in-class discussion and critique. Workshops in blocking and rehearsal emphasize the prep duties of the director and culminate in the "Studio Practicum" shoot.

This course covers procedures and techniques for picture and audio editing using non-linear editing software. Students create their own projects and begin an exploration of editing theory and aesthetics. Using footage from the short story project, students apply editing concepts in a valuable hands-on introduction to the art of constructing a dramatic scene. Students learn the basics of visual effects editing, colour correction and titling, and examine the concepts and possibilities related to sound design for drama. Finally, they properly finish, deliver, and present their final output.

Working in conjunction with the Script Development 2 course, the Producing 2 course provides students with a real world experience of helping to develop a concept and then select material and negotiate for the rights to that content. Students learn the importance of networking and pitching, and pitch a project to the class for production selection. The importance of the collaborative process with writers is the main focus, as well as the marketing, distribution and packaging of a film.

Production Design 2 teaches students the basic principles of how to develop a visual concept, design the set, create the budget, and work together in a team to build the finished set. Major topics include drafting, set design, budgeting, construction, painting, and aging. Students pitch design proposals and work together on the selected design to complete the finished set which is used in a production at the end of term. The emphasis is on applying the techniques in a workshop environment and students should expect to perform a variety of artistic and practical tasks.

Assistant Directing 2 provides students with the fundamentals of production management practices including call sheets, set etiquette, working with actors, and location management. These techniques form the basis both of managing small zero-budget films and are the foundation for developing more sophisticated skills later in the program in order to enable students to manage much larger productions.

This course enables film students to contribute creatively towards the core concept of a film without needing to write or control every part of the script. Students engage in a professional working process with students from the VFS Writing program to generate concepts of viable cinematic material, provide one-page treatments for individual stories, and participate in the writing and ultimate selection of six short scripts for production in the next term.

Students shape their stories to pre-existing set designs (as developed in Production Design 1 in Term One), and partner with a fellow student to co-write two separate—yet “twinned”—scripts that will provide the foundation for their Studio Intensive productions later in Term Two. Participants engage in concept generation of viable cinematic material, provide multiple drafts of their two scripts, and offer constructive criticism to their fellow students through workshop discussion and delivery of notes.

This seven-week course provides emerging filmmakers the opportunity to follow these styles through their inception to contemporary innovative incarnations. Following the spectrum of formalist styles to realist styles we discuss cinematic masterpieces from around the world.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

In Cinematography 3, there is a greater emphasis in the creative role of the Director of Photography in crafting the final look of the film and a deeper understanding on the power of visual storytelling. Also, the four key creative roles of the cinematography department – Camera Operator, Gaffer, Key Grip, and Dolly Grip are examined more in-depth. Through a series of lectures and workshops the students learn many of the dynamics between these roles, as well as the collaboration and interaction of the Director of Photography with other key departments – from Production Design to Visual FXs.

Directing 3 provides students with the knowledge and practical experience to work with Production Designers, Cinematographers, Post-Production and Visual Effects Supervisors, Producers, and Assistant Directors in a collaborative and effective manner that supports the film and the creative process. Major topics include casting techniques, staging scenes, and all aspects of pre-production.

In this course, students move beyond the introductory technical aspects of post-production techniques and into editorial styles and techniques that can be applied to the Term 2 Studio Projects. Students will augment the editing knowledge and experience gained from the previous term as it applies to the industry standard Avid non-linear editing software. Once again, students will properly finish, deliver and present their final output.

Producing 3 provides students with the knowledge and skills to negotiate with locations and vendors, manage relationships with the director and the crew, find solutions to budgeting and scheduling concerns, and develop the marketing strategy to create buzz for the film. Major topics in this course include Leadership & Communications, Negotiations & Fundraising, Budgeting Film Projects, Managing Production & Post-Production, and Publicity & Marketing. Major term projects include the Production Plan for the film and the Marketing & Distribution Strategy.

This hands-on course builds on the knowledge and experience the students have gained to date. Students with the highest grades from the previous term have the right of first refusal to assume the role of Production Designer or Costume Designer on six productions during the term. All students participate in the design process, from conceptualization to completion.

This three-class course presents an overview of specializations that create the magic of the movies. Each class presents a two-part lecture, and each focuses on the specialization choices selected by VFS students in Term 3. The specialization (Directing, Producing, Cinematography, Production Design, Post-Production) is described and defined, including a short history and a variety of film clips that explore the depth and breadth of each.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

In the Advanced Cine course, students go in-depth technically and creatively in many of the positions that comprise the cinematography department. For the camera portion of this term, a new digital camera is introduced along with an array of top of the line prime lenses. For the lighting and gripping portion, the students have the chance to practice new ways of moving the camera and lighting the set in different ways from realism to stylized photography. 

Advanced Directing 1 provides students with the necessary knowledge and tools for developing and refining their professional voice as Directors. Major course topics cover the study, design and direction of specific scenes such as openings, endings, and obligatory scenes in genre films. The course also provides students with the necessary observation, evaluation, exploration and thinking tools required to ensure that optimal direction and best performances are realized on set. Both creative and fiscal management techniques from a directorial perspective are covered so that directors fully comprehend the opportunities to effectively use pre-production, production, and post-production as distinct stages in bringing their vision to life.

Advanced Directing 2 provides students with a number of practical, in-depth tools and strategies to be able to deliver strong, compelling performances from the actors which are consistent with the director’s vision. Major course topics include experiencing performance from the actor’s point of view, improvisation for directors, and advanced rehearsal techniques. By the end of the course, students are able to rehearse with actors effectively, and to plan, and shoot, a three-hander scene successfully, choreographing camera movement with the performance, staging and blocking of the actors.

This course allows students to gain knowledge and experience in post workflow using the Term 3 Episodic Project footage. Students study and practise third-party integration of visual effects, sound, and colour correction in order to achieve proper deliverables. This course elevates and expands students’ imaginations towards telling a story using all the resources available in post-production. Success hinges on the ability to engage with an open mind and respond positively to the question that begins with the simple words “What if…?”

Students enter into the world of finance, negotiations, mediating, creative problem solving and the rush of producing something fantastic. The course focuses on producing in the three areas where the Line Producer plays the biggest roles: pre-production, production, and post-production. By the end of the course students are able to confidently produce and budget shows on a shoestring budget and beyond.

Advanced Producing 2 provides students with the tools and strategies required to package and pitch a feature film project. Major course topics include writing coverage and breaking down the script, raising funding and securing financing, designing pitches, and setting up test screenings. By the end of the course, students are able to put together a complete package for pitching a feature-length project.

Advanced Production Design 1 takes students beyond the boundaries of interpreting the Director’s vision and into the realm of enhancing it. By adding their own voice, vision, and brainstorming abilities to the process, they help bring the story into a unique and cohesive world. To achieve this successfully, the Production Designer must also be able to use the tools necessary to articulate the vision to Directors, Producers, and Directors of Photography.

Planning a professional film set is no less complicated than any other professional construction project. The Designer needs to be able to render accurate floor plans, elevations, and design details. Major topics in this course include using software drafting tools to translate initial design concepts into finished plans and elevations for the Term 4 design project.

This seven-week course provides emerging filmmakers with the tools to understand the various dynamics that combine within a genre such as character, theme, setting and point of view. We explore myriad artistic influences on contemporary movies, as well as the various genre styles within linear and non-linear storytelling, and, finally, the important social functions that pertain to genre filmmaking.

The Project Development course guides students through the process of defining personal and career goals, identifying potential projects that align with those goals, and developing production plans and pitches that can be used to garner investment and other collaborative partnerships. Major topics include goal setting, advanced pitching, estimating project resources, negotiating with prospective investors and crew, workshopping story and production solutions for scripts, and building production plans.

This course is the “third” stage of Final Projects. All post elements of a student’s final project need to be completed. The elements consist of picture editing, visual effects, title sequence, credit roll, post-sound editing and mix, music composition and/or needle drops and colour correction. Students are expected to hit the deliverables and deadlines set out by the Final Projects Post-Production schedule. Budgeting finance, time, and resources is a key learning component depending on the complexity of each post element.

Term 5 Course Descriptions

Employment prep has many outcomes: career pathway development (now, mid-term, long term) initial résumé and cover letter development, personal brand development, delivering the perfect pitch, and concepts of Marketing 101 for the filmmaker (understanding the needs of the market and how to satisfy them). Several components of the Portfolio Development course are developed here, including the elevator pitch and bio. This course continues to Term 6.

Global Cinema examines the powerful contributions to film history from film communities around the world. Moving past the iconoclastic Hollywood film, the course examines nationalistic and regional trends in filmmaking that present the social and political realities of these cultures as well as the genres that have entertained their native audiences. The films presented and discussed cover a range of cinematic styles and content.

In Term 6, Special Topics courses in the Film Production program give students the opportunity to refine skills and key industry knowledge while also exposing them to additional areas of their discipline that they may encounter in their future careers. Students should be aware that professionalism in Term 6 specialization courses counts for 25% of the grade and, therefore, they should use this opportunity to demonstrate both their professional demeanour and their passion for their chosen discipline.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

This seven-week course explores the concepts filmmakers need to understand to make the choices that best tell their story. Whether directing a documentary or fiction film, VFS students produce more interesting, complex films when they are aware of, understand, or practise the following concepts: anti-narrative, experimental, animation, archetypal endings and subtext.

This course is the finishing stage of Final Projects. All post elements of a student’s final project should be completed. The elements consist of picture editing, visual effects, titles and credits, post-sound editing and mix, music composition and/or needle drops and colour correction. Students are expected to hit the deliverables and deadlines set out by the Final Projects Post-Production schedule.

Special Topics

Students expand their knowledge of the creative and technical aspects of their craft with additional advanced workshops. Students are challenged to deepen their understanding of the roles of HD and film, maintain their creative centre as cinematographers, and refine their lighting technique in both platforms. The major assignment for this course is a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their résumé) for pursuing a career in cinematography.

Students enhance their knowledge and appreciation for directing in post-production while also using the conceptual tools to envision and plan their future career. Students learn about directing in the editing process, working with music and sound design, launching a career in feature film, and building, maintaining, and protecting their creative space. The major assignment for this course is a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their résumé) for pursuing a career in directing.

Students develop a deeper knowledge of the specific work done in post-production houses while also refining creative perspective of the editing process. Students learn about the role of the Assistant Editor, cutting trailers, prepping for a colour timing session, and how genre influences the editing process. The major assignment for this course is a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their network plan) for pursuing a career in post-production.

Students expand their knowledge of the business side of producing in the film and television industry, as well as how graduates should approach their own entry into the business. Students learn about specific tactical approaches to producing, including discussions of advanced negotiations, understanding the relationship between the Producer and various production roles, and recognizing the changing nature of how money flows in the business. The major assignment for this course is a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their résumé) for pursuing a career in producing.

Students learn different ways that they may enter the industry, from traditional film and television routes to scenarios such as music video and reality television. Students learn about specific production design scenarios, such as designing creatures and monsters, how prop workshops operate, and how the art department supports stunt scenes. The major assignment for this course is a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their résumé) for pursuing a career in production design.