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.  

Without a strong vision behind a story, a film will lose its focus. A film director needs to have an understanding of how each department contributes to the making of a film and how to best utilize the talents of all team members. 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 actor-director relationship.

The dizzyingly increasing pace of the development of digital post-production tools for the modern filmmaker has brought incredible power to their fingertips, enabling them to combine and manipulate filmic elements into finished audiovisual material of amazing quality and impact. However, the easy accessibility of these powerful tools have now heightened the need to understand how to utilize them most effectively and also to understand the important creative processes behind the workflow. In this class, students will be introduced to the incredible creative power that post-production provides the filmmaker in the following areas: Picture editing, sound editing, sound mixing, music, colour correction, and visual effects. Emphasis will be on the overall post-production process and the larger decisions necessary in these areas but also on the importance of knowing your post-production direction well before filming takes place.

A film and television producer in the 21st century needs the ability to champion a project at all levels, from big budgets to low-to-no budgets and through all stages of production, from development through distribution. Producing 1 will take students through their first journey in independent film production by providing them with the initial knowledge, skills, and experience to produce a “zero” budget short film. By the end of Term 1, students will have taken a film from the initial concept through the script stage (through the Script Development 1 course) and be ready to take it into the next stage of production (T2), post-production (T3) and distribution.

Major topics in this course will include the roles of different types of producers, the five major stages of film production, the elements of pitching, issues and problems a producer may face when making their film, and how even a low-to-no budget film can make an impact through post-supervisory producing choices.

The Production Designer’s role is to explore, define, create and build the visual world of the Story. Working closely and creatively with the Director and Cinematographer, the Production Designer combines creative exploration, thinking, research, creating compelling visual concepts with the practical knowledge of illustrating, planning, building, budgeting, and overseeing the realization of their designs. In Production Design 1, students will develop an understanding of each department that falls under and is associated with Production Design and the Art Department. Students will also learn how to create and pitch a design as part of the competition for the Term 2 Set Builds and Filming while learning to make effective design decisions for zero-budget shows to be filmed in Term 2. This course includes a combination of lectures, in-class exercises and workshops; all of which lead to applying the key principles in their Term 1 Short Story projects and their pitch for the Term 2 Studio Intensive.

One of the main differences between a professional and an amateur production is how it is prepped and executed. Having an Assistant Director who knows how a film is prepped and how to run a set safely and effectively is critical to the level of professionalism and success of a production. Assistant Directing 1 will give students a hands-on approach in applying the responsibilities and duties of the Assistant Director during pre-production, by showing them how to properly breakdown a script to create an accurate shooting schedule and teaching them proper set etiquette and protocol so they are ready for the week 5 Production Exercise. Major topics in this course will include the business and politics of the Film & TV industry, the First AD’s duties in pre-production, basic script breakdown and film scheduling procedures, and an application of proper set protocol and etiquette.

Script Development 1 introduces students to the basic concepts of screenwriting and script development, with an emphasis on understanding story structure. Students will be required to write a short 3-4 page story that will elicit an emotional response from the audience. Through a series of lectures and in-class exercises, students learn how to recognize viable cinematic ideas, pitch proposals and offer feedback, create and develop characters, generate conflict, and write original dialogue. This course is delivered through lectures, in-class exercises, screenings and small group discussions.

While the leadership positions of director, producer, cinematographer, and production designer are the keystones of a film production, there are several crew positions behind-the-scenes that are imperative to running and facilitating the project through production and post-production. Production Techniques 1 offers students an introduction to camera fundamentals, production sound, lighting and gripping to prepare them to enter these roles during the Studio Projects. This course will be delivered through lectures, workshops, and lab seminars.

No part of the entertainment world is more dependent on collaboration than the film industry. The Team Building course provides a set of processes and practices which allow individuals to form synergistic groups – one which amounts to more than the sum of its parts. This course provides students with tools to work as effective members of project teams, focusing on four key areas: self-awareness/management as a team member, managing conflicts/differences effectively, leadership/team styles, and building effective teams. This course will make use of lectures, group discussions, personal inventories, team theory and individual/group exercises to build the key skills identified above. Team and individual assignments will allow students to explore different aspects of the course and apply them to their term projects, culminating in a final assessment.

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 to add 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.

Building on the principles learned in Directing 1, students will 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 will also present their Term One films for in-class discussion and critique. Workshops in blocking and rehearsal will demonstrate and emphasize the prep duties of the director and culminate in the Term 2 Projects.

This course covers procedures and techniques for picture and audio editing using non-linear editing software. Using supplied materials, students create their own projects, customize the application’s settings and interface, and import and organize files for editing. In addition, students begin an exploration of editing theory and aesthetics. Students will have an opportunity to apply editing concepts in a valuable hands-on introduction to the art of constructing a dramatic scene. As well as file management, they will learn the basics of video effects, colour correction, and titling. They will also begin to examine the concepts and possibilities related to sound design for drama. Finally, they will learn how to export their sequence. These skills prepare the students for the post-production of their subsequent projects. This course will consist of lectures followed by supervised labs, quizzes, and assignments with feedback throughout.

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.

One of the most visible differentiations between an amateur effort and a truly professional film is the quality of the sets. Production Design 2 will teach students the basic principles of how to develop a visual concept, design the set, create presentations and pitch their designs, create the budget, make a model of their set and work together as a team to build and dress the finished set. Major topics will include drafting, model making, set design, construction, painting and ageing. Students create and pitch their sets. With the selected design, students will work together in teams to refine the design, build the model and learn to build and complete a finished set, which will be used in the Term 2 Film Production at the end of the term. This term blends theory and practice with emphasis on applying the techniques in a workshop and studio environment where students should expect to perform a variety of artistic and practical tasks.

Assistant Directing 2 provides students with essential knowledge of the industry standard software program Movie Magic Scheduling to create the AD paperwork that is used during pre-production and production of all films, a One Line Schedule, Shooting Schedule and a DOOD’s Report. Students will also learn to direct dynamic and realistic background action to add life to their future productions. In addition, students will enhance their skills to effectively run a production meeting; block a scene; and run a film set using refined AD set protocol and etiquette in preparation for their Term 2 Projects. All of these techniques form the basis 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.

Professional filmmakers need the ability to work collaboratively and respectfully with screenwriters. The purpose of this course is to enable film students to contribute creatively towards the core concept of a film without needing to write or control every part of the script. By engaging in a professional working process with fellow students from the VFS Writing program, participants in this course will engage in concept generation of viable cinematic material, provide one-page treatments for individual stories, and (through workshop discussion and delivery of notes) participate in the writing and ultimate selection of six short scripts for production in the next term. This course is delivered through lectures, in-class exercises, small group discussions, workshops, and pitch sessions. Major deliverables include the story treatments, draft notes and the final pitch.

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.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

In term 3 Cinematography, there is a greater emphasis on the creative role of the Director of Photography in crafting the final look of the film and understanding the power of visual storytelling. The four key creative roles of the cine department – Camera Operator, Gaffer, Key Grip, and Dolly Grip are also 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 of the Director of Photography with other key departments – from Production Design to Visual FXs.

Towards the end of the term, students in the cine department will have the chance to apply this knowledge towards the Term 3 Short Stories – short stories shot on various locations and scenarios over the course of two weeks. Short Stories projects are an excellent opportunity for practicing intermediate skills in cinematography.

This term is focused on advancing the directors tool box. From directing more complicated scenes with more than two characters, to learning how to shoot the edit and work as a director through the post-production process.

Current technological advances have introduced post-production solutions and quality that until quite recently, were far outside the ability of the average independent filmmaker. Today, this explosion of advanced features available through the latest software and hardware allows filmmakers the opportunity for endless creative potential. By utilizing techniques such as advanced sound & picture editorial, mixing, and even simple visual effects, the knowledgeable filmmaker has the potential to create amazing creative experiences for audiences. In this course, we move students beyond the introductory technical aspects of post-production techniques and introduce editorial styles and techniques that can be applied to both documentary and dramatic forms. Topics will include: the basic workflow of 2D visual effects in Adobe After Effects, intermediate sound editorial techniques in Adobe Sound Booth, as well as virtual mixing and how this technique can be applied to documentary and dramatic sound mixing.

Once a concept has been developed and a script has been written, the challenge remains to maintain a consistent approach to a story across departments. After pitching for key creative roles on short stories developed in Term 2 Script Collaboration, students who are selected as producers will be charged with preserving the integrity of the show, while overseeing key departments and balancing a budget. Producing 3 focuses on the collaborative effort of film with a focus on the role of the creative producer. Students will learn to negotiate strategizing their position in role playing, find solutions to budgeting and cost reporting concerns, learn to team build and collaborate effectively, incorporate leadership strategies to take charge, and to develop a marketing strategy to create buzz for their Short Stories by understanding distribution.

Term 3 is a practical, hands-on course that will expand the knowledge and experience students have gained to date. With Short Stories, students pitch for key roles and are selected by their performance demonstrated with their pitch. Once roles are assigned, students work on 2 shows in teams to learn the process of making a film, from initial concept through to marketing the production. Students with the highest grades from the previous term will have the right of first refusal to assume the role of Production Designer, Costume Designer and Props Designer on six productions during the term. All students will participate in various roles in the production process. The focus for Production Design with Term 3 Short Stories is scouting, designing, set dressing and filming on locations. This website location will be your central resource for this course; Course Outlines, Class Presentations, Assignments, as well as any handouts or templates you require related to your classes, will be available here.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

In the Advanced Cinematography course, students have the chance to explore creative ways of using the Sony FS-7 camera by accessing various customized looks and pre-sets and a new camera platform will be introduced – Arri’s Alexa Mini LF. In regards to Lighting & Grip, students learn new equipment, refined aesthetics and execution techniques. A variety of concepts, techniques, and hands-on training will further the essential skills anyone specializing in this department must fully understand. Upon completing the course, a proficiency report will be submitted to the staff of the Film Department, stating whether each student is up-to-speed and approved to operate specialized cine equipment during final projects. Some of this equipment includes: the Alexa Mini LF, HMI Lighting, Cam-Lock system, the Varizoom SnapCrane and Cineped Slider. For any student wishing to operate advanced cine gear in the final projects round, they must: have passed the course, have passed the proficiency report, and have specialized in cinematography.

One of the Director’s main responsibilities is to evaluate and adjust performances, yet many Directors lack the confidence to really dig into the Actor / Director relationship. Advanced Directing 1 seeks to strengthen this bond through exposing students to multiple styles of directing performance and most importantly, putting themselves into the proverbial shoes of the Actor.

Advanced Directing 2 is all about adding new tools to your directing tool box and putting them to the test with workshops and weekly film assignments.

Successful post-production in the professional world requires a high level of both creative and technical abilities. In this course, both aspects of post-production are studied in depth, built around the completion of the term 3 short films. Students are taught an advanced level of technical knowledge and experience in order to maintain industry standard practices and deliverables. This course allows students to gain knowledge and experience in post workflow using the industry-standard Avid editing system. In addition, details regarding third-party integration of visual effects, sound and colour correction in order to achieve proper deliverables will be studied and practiced. Students will learn how to raise the creative execution of their work to new heights by finessing their storytelling abilities through more sophisticated editing, sound, colour and music.

Term 4 Producing prepares students for Final Projects and emerging into the film industry. Finding a great script and getting financing is just the first step in producing; getting it in front of an audience, whether on the big screen or online, requires taking charge and making smart and sometimes tough decisions. In this course, students will enter into the world of finance, negotiations, mediation, working with actors, creative problem solving, and the rush of producing something fantastic. The curriculum includes factual entertainment storytelling, guest speakers from industry with online distribution and funding experience, protecting your company development, operations and financials with the bank and distributors, assessing and using good judgement to develop successful stories, and working on a new project development package that will help students succeed post-graduation.

Being a creative Producer is not easy. Taking a feature film through the development phase can be a daunting prospect. The commitment required for feature films from studios, investors, cast, and crew is exponentially high compared to short films. The creative Producer must consider every aspect of the project, from initial script selection and audience identification, to the final pitch for potential financial partners. Major course topics include the role of the creative Producer, how Producers secure funding and financing, designing pitches for financiers, and setting up test screenings. By the end of the course, students will be able to put together a complete package for pitching a feature-length project and pitch it logically for credibility. This course combines lecture and workshop activities. Major deliverables include setting up a test screening for webisodes from the previous term, and designing and delivering a feature film pitch to a panel.

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.

Understanding the scope of a project and being able to effectively pitch a project’s feasibility in order to obtain approval from investors and/or executives is a vital skill for a filmmaker. The Project Development course will guide students through the process of defining personal and career goals, identifying potential projects that align with these goals, and developing production plans and pitches that can be used to garner investment and other collaborative partnerships. Major topics include goal setting, estimating project resources, negotiating with prospective investors and crew, workshopping story and production solutions for scripts, and building production plans while undergoing evaluation from a board of investors/project mentors. This course is delivered through lecture, verbal and written pitch materials, workshops, and self-directed project work. By the end of term, every student will have been part of a major project pitch, developed a production plan, selected a project for investment, and have been crewed on shows sufficient to satisfy final project requirements for the Film Production program.

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.

Student projects up until this point have been heavily structured and designed to ensure that all necessary skill sets have been learned and applied correctly. Final Projects are designed to give students the opportunity to be the driving force behind a project of their choosing.

Students will develop a project, either written by themselves or in collaboration with an external or internal writer, pitch the project to the ‘studio’ (VFS Film Production Board) and be responsible for all aspects of pre-production, production and post-production. Students take a break from the classroom and dedicate 100% of their time and energy to Final Projects: high-quality films that form the cornerstone of every student's professional reel. Students are mentored by film industry professionals as they manage crews as large as 15 people or more and work with higher-end equipment as they hurtle toward their film's premiere and graduation day.

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.

Special Topics

Term 6 Special Topics courses in the Film Production program give students the opportunity to refine skills and key industry knowledge while exposing them to additional areas of their discipline that they may encounter in their future careers. In Cinematography, this means learning all the different ways students may enter the industry, from traditional film and television routes, to scenarios such as music video and reality television. Students will have the opportunity to shoot additional work to expand and boost their personal reels and resumes with small video productions called “Mini-Shoots”, in which students pitch ideas and concepts for a total of 3 self-contained shoots. The other course assignment will be the Career Roadmap paper, where the student articulates a potential strategy (along with supporting material & documents) for pursuing a career in cinematography.

Term 6 Special Topics is an opportunity for students to prepare for their careers after film school. In Directing, this means taking stock of their credits to date and preparing to arrive on the scene as an independent filmmaker. Lessons on Career Pathways, Building Buzz for Entertainment Properties and Personal Brands, and the Special Topics: Directing Demo Shoots will culminate in the presentation of students’ Directing Reels for a panel of industry decision makers.

Term 6 Special Topics courses in the Film Production program give students the opportunity to refine skills and key industry knowledge while exposing them to additional areas of their discipline that they may encounter in their future careers. In Post-Production, this means developing a deeper knowledge of the specific work done in post-production houses while refining students' creative perspective of the editing process. Students will also learn about the role of the Assistant Editor position, cutting trailers, prepping for a colour timing session, and how genre influences the editing process. The major assignment for this course will be a Career Roadmap assignment in which students articulate a potential strategy (along with supporting materials such as their resume) for pursuing a career in post-production. Students should be aware that professionalism in term 6 specialization courses counts for 25% of their grade and therefore use this opportunity to demonstrate both their professional demeanor and their passion for their chosen discipline.

Special Topics Producing prepares student Producers for their future careers in film by giving them key industry knowledge to succeed beyond film school. Courses in this program give students the opportunity to refine skills while exposing them to advanced areas of their discipline. In Producing, this means expanding student’s knowledge of the practical business side of incorporating and getting projects off the ground. Students will create advanced financing plans for larger-scale projects and be able to identify the process to calculate tax credits for Canadian productions, identify elements of a business plan, recognize the changing nature of how money flows in the business, be familiar with conducting business in international markets, and be taught how to effectively market short films through festivals and distribution. Students will continue the new project development package process to prepare to Produce post-graduation. Assignments focus on future goals and career strategies through one-on-one meetings, creating a feature union budget to know which crew belong to which union and their rates, as well as being versed in strategizing a show’s structure.

In Term 5, all students are filming their Final Film Projects in Production teams as established in Term 4. Once filming is complete, students resume classes. For Production Design students, there are 2-3 classes where students begin to explore career objectives, branding, and developing their portfolios. Term 6 Special Topics courses in the Film Production program give students the opportunity to refine skills and key industry knowledge while exposing them to alternative filmmaking approaches. Production Design specialization students create and design all aspects of the Art Department as well as other roles with their Mini and Director Demo Shoots. In this term, the entire class works as an integrated team with 6 projects to film as a series of one-day short films in a studio. In Term 6, PD students focus on their short film projects, and attend classes and workshops to develop their branding, resumes, media presence and portfolios that showcase the work accomplished during their year at VFS.

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