Writing for Film, Television + Games Curriculum

Specializations

In the final half of the year, students choose to focus one of the two specialized streams below for their final project.

  • Writing for Feature Films
  • Writing for Television
  • Writing for Games

N.B. Students also have the option of taking electives as well as certain classes from the other stream. 

Term 1 Course Descriptions

The concept of story is as old as human experience, language, and the desire to make sense of existence. In this course we will explore the origins of story and its archetypal structure in myth, and examine the evolution of structure in a variety of forms, and focus on how that structure ultimately lends itself to providing the template for screenwriting.

One only has to try and imagine a story without characters to realize there can’t be one without the other. The more engaging the characters, the more interesting and compelling the story.  Through lectures, discussions, screenings, and individual and collaborative in-class assignments, students will come away with an arsenal of techniques useful for creating well-developed characters whose motives and actions are organic to the plot, relevant to the story’s thematic intentions, and a delight for actors and audiences alike. Students will apply these techniques and explore their created characters further within a specific dramatic context.

One only has to try and imagine a story without characters to realize there can’t be one without the other. The more engaging the characters, the more interesting and compelling the story.  Through lectures, discussions, screenings, and individual and collaborative in-class assignments, students will come away with an arsenal of techniques useful for creating well-developed characters whose motives and actions are organic to the plot, relevant to the story’s thematic intentions, and a delight for actors and audiences alike. Students will apply these techniques and explore their created characters further within a specific dramatic context.

Students are guided through basic story principles and encouraged to develop three feature script pitches that they then present to a story board which will give them feedback and let them know which story to proceed with. Emphasis is on viability of projects and on choosing stories that are the best learning tools.  This course extends through Term 2.

In this hands-on course, students will become completely comfortable with screenwriting software and learn to write screenplays in the correct, up-to-date, industry standard format. The focus here is on writer’s drafts, not on shooting scripts, but students will also learn the differences between them, as well as both feature film and television formats.

The best idea is nothing without the right pitch. This course focuses on the content and style of pitching, moving from the various forms of pitching, to how to structure ideas and present them most dramatically and effectively, to critiquing and improving the style of the student’s presentation.

The structures and conventions of television shows can vary widely depending on the genre of the program. Before students begin writing their TV Spec scripts in Term 2, they’ll first study different genres of television: from police procedurals to three-camera comedies to family dramas to science fiction.

This course explores the concepts writers need to be aware of and understand to make the choices that best tell their story.  Whether directing a documentary or fiction film, VFS students will produce more interesting, complex films when they are aware of, understand or practice the following concepts: the evolution of cinema historically and globally, the significance and characteristics of film form, style, folklore and journey patterns, ideology, anti-narrative film and marginalized voices.

In this course, students will learn the different structures and storytelling techniques in writing for video games.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

In this follow up course to Story and Character, students will concentrate on further developing their characters and plotting arcs to fulfill expectations of the low budget feature script assignment from term one. Through lectures, screenings, discussions and workshops, students will explore possibilities and potential and address problem issues within their own feature stories. 

Focus will be on ensuring plot lines are causally progressive and work to resolve conflict, that characters operate with clear motives and are defined by distinct personality traits, and that the controlling idea, i.e., the thematic intention, is clear and instrumental in shaping character and action.

How do I get my words to sound the way people talk? Through lectures, exercises, and film clips, writers learn to create believable dialogue and complex characters. We will even explore how to speak volumes without saying a word.

In this genre studies course we will engage in close textual study of seminal crime dramas, traversing the latitudes and limitations of the genre through a variety of its subgenres, noting how each fulfills specific conventions while generally conforming to the three act structure and the hero’s journey.  Studies will also concentrate on writing style, character function and arc, dialogue, setting, premise, scene design and management.  Focus will also be placed on exploring in detail the elements of the first act, appropriately a.k.a. – the set-up.

Various television-writing techniques are explored to ignite the creative spark and encourage that screen muse. Students create a fresh concept for an existing TV series of their choice, go to first draft and develop skills in pitching, writing and selling their work. The course extends to Term 3.

Sketch comedy writing is one of the most popular forms of comedic writing and can lead to a successful career in television, radio or on stage. In this class students will learn how to create original ideas and concepts for sketches. They will learn how to kick-start their imaginations, identify their own style of humour and expand their comedic tools. In Part Two of Sketch Comedy students will see their sketches performed and produced by actors and witness the production aspect of writing for sketch comedy. This course extends to Term 3.

In this course, students will be introduced to the design document, the primary creative document used in the video game industry. Students will learn what goes into a design document, its role within the industry, and how to best use the format as a storyteller. By the end of the course, students will have a completed design document for a game of their own devising.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

This course provides an overview of the narrative elements that define film genre and applies it to comedies by examining specific sub-genres such as Romantic, Teen, Gross-out, Dark, Family and Buddy/Road comedies. Students will study comedy screenplays to gain an understanding of how narrative elements combine to tell a story, make a screenplay readable, what creates laughter/and impact on the page and what inspires the reader.  

Once students have been given permission from the story board (as early as week 5 of the previous term) to move to feature pages, they will write their entire script.  It is then workshopped in its entirety with notes given by an instructor and their fellow students.

The best idea is nothing without the right pitch. This course is designed around structure and content.  It is the “what” – the content – of the pitch.  Using industry standard methods and practices, students will learn to actively pitch ideas with an eye to concept, theme and genre. This course will consist of lectures, discussions, in-class exercises and out of class prep assignments.

A look at the beginnings of television: the move from radio, the pioneers, how networks were formed, and how television in the 1950s formed the business that exists today.

A look at the beginnings of television: the move from radio, the pioneers, how networks were formed, and how television in the 1950s formed the business that exists today.

The sketches written in the second term are rehearsed by a sketch comedy troupe culminating in a cabaret night where the sketches are performed in front of a live audience.

Character choices, dialogue trees and multiple endings all play into the value of both unique player experiences and the replayability of a game. Similar to a “choose your own adventure” novel, choice-driven plot points allow a player to change the fate of a character’s story arc.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

This course is designed to familiarize students with the breakdown and analysis of feature screenplays. These analytical skills will be applied in the assessment of other students’ scripts, and will inform the writing process itself, for the students’ own screenplays. (All Students)

In this course students will pitch three ideas for a five page webisode or short film script conforming to the production parameters set out in Producing for Writing. One of those ideas will then be developed through first and second draft workshops. A third draft will then be submitted to the class and after students read all of the scripts, they will vote on their six favourite scripts in order of preference. The voting preferences will also serve as the basis for the selection and formation of the six production teams. 

In this course students will function as producers instead of writers. Working in teams of 5, the student producers will oversee the entire production process of the stories selected from (Producing for Writers: Story Development). They will be charged with hiring crew, disbursing budget funds, scheduling production, securing locations, casting actors, supervising post production and assessing the marketability of their properties. Through learning basic management strategies as well as leadership skills, the students will be placed at the forefront of the projects. During this micro-production, the students will also be instructed in the high-level concepts of each stage as it relates to larger, big-budget productions.

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

An examination of the history, conventions, and styles of storytelling that make up the scientific and fantastical genres of film writing.  Course will consist of reading six major screenplays that best integrate the major aspects of the genres, followed by lectures, film clips, student presentations and written assignments. (Required for Film Stream; Optional for TV and Games Streams)

In this course students will work on the treatment of their second feature script or two TV spec scripts independently with the assistance of a faculty advisor, thus giving them a taste of what the writing process will be like primarily under their own guidance.  Extends through Term 6. (Film Stream only)

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

This course supports students in the creation of an original, sustainable premise for a television series. Using examples from existing TV series, students learn how to pitch, create series bibles and write outlines for original pilot episodes and a second episode of their pilot concept. Students study pilot scripts and watch TV pilot screenings in order to identify key concepts and techniques that will assist them in the development of pilot episodes for their original TV series. (TV Stream only)

Electives

In this elective course, students learn the fundamentals of writing for animation projects by preparing and pitching episode springboards, and writing beat-sheets, outlines and an original screenplay for an animated television series..  Students gain a fundamental understanding of the principles of animation writing including genre, format, structure, character, story and humour. (Elective)

Required Courses for Games Stream

As the industry moves away from cinematics in games, much of the experience happens while players are in control. One of the techniques used to by narrative designers is to rely more and more on environmental storytelling. This means working intimately with the artists, game play and level designers to ensure each department has the same goals for the story. (Games stream only)

An introduction to the unique challenges in writing for games and an overview of the narrative techniques being used in the industry. This course will teach students how to shift their thinking away from traditional linear narratives and into the interactive storytelling techniques of game narrative.  (Games stream only)

Term 5 Course Descriptions

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

In the fourth course of this series, students will study scripts of the action, western and blockbuster genres. (Required for Film Stream; Optional for TV Stream)

In this course students will work on the beatsheets of their second feature script with the assistance of a faculty advisor, thus giving them a taste of what the writing process will be like primarily under their own guidance.  Extends through Term 6. (Film Stream only)

The best writers are never satisfied, which is why the rewrite was invented. This rewrite course focuses on Feature Rewriting. Through lectures, discussions, workshops, work groups, and in-class rewriting computer labs, the student will learn a tactical approach to the rewrite process. Inspiration is nothing without craft; learning it is the first step in lifting the story off the page. Extends through Term 6.  (Film Stream only) 

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

The course will develop the students' first draft of a television speculative (spec) script into a second draft, utilizing the process and structure of a real television story department.  In order to become a successful candidate and valuable contributor to a story department, the student will acquire skills in story editing and rewriting their own and other students' television spec scripts. (TV Stream Only)

Students will take the outlines and bibles that were produced in the first and write the first draft of their TV Pilot script. (TV Stream only)

Electives

Students will learn the fundamentals of writing for comics and graphic novels as well as the basics of on-line comic production.  As part of the course, each student will write and produce in conjunction with the VFS Foundation Program, a segment of an on-line comic anthology.  Students will also write an industry-standard script for a mini-series or graphic novel. 

In this course students will learn the fundamentals of writing for commercials, promotions and the 5-second ID.

Required Courses for Games Stream

Using this industry-leading 3D game design software, students will gain an understanding of how to implement scenes, actors and dialogue into the Unreal Engine. This course will cover one of the most essential skill sets of a narrative designer: using a game engine to translate the written word into a 3-D world. Unreal also supplies free introductory software so students can work off of their own computers. (Games stream only)

Using the original narrative content created in Term 4’s courses, students will write a one-minute scene based on that narrative. Students will then cast the actors, create storyboards, rehearse and then shoot the scene on VFS’s MoCap stage. (Games stream only)

Modern game design must serve two masters, story and gameplay.  The relationship between these two elements is not always easy or straightforward. Depending on the specific requirements of a given game, story may have to take a backseat to design, at times being relegated to mere window dressing. At other times, story may be king, the driving factor of the design itself.

In Emergent Narrative students will learn what it is like to work as a narrative designer within an existing ludological system, gaining the basic skills necessary to work in a modern game studio.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

The process of adaptation can be a difficult one. Often the writer cannot see the forest for the trees and, in trying to remain faithful to the specifics of the original work, create a technically proficient but often lifeless imitation. This course is designed to provide the student with the basic understanding of the problems of adaptation and some fundamental tools with which to solve them. (All students)

If you’ve written FADE OUT at the end of a 110-page screenplay but find your mind wandering after the first paragraph of an option agreement, then this is the course for you. Biz Marketing will tell you everything you need to know about the nuts and bolts of the screenwriting business. (All students)

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

This course regards the screenplay as its own literary form and pushes students to study the style of canonical screenplays so they can better understand what makes a screenplay readable, creates impact on the page, and inspires the reader.  Part 6 focuses on scripts from the horror genre, one of the most marketable genres in film today (Required for Film Stream; Optional for TV and Games Streams)

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

Writing is rewriting, and with that in mind, students will take the first draft of the pilot that they wrote in Term 5 and rewrite it in Term 6, getting it a step closer to being ready to send to producers and to contests. (TV Stream only)

To better understand their pilot idea, students write a draft of the second episode of their TV series. This allows students to solidify the themes, structure, and characters of their TV series. (TV Stream only)

In this course, students will break down episodes of an existing television series to understand the structure, plot, characters, tone, and central drive.  The students will then collaboratively pitch, write and re-write an episode in a simulated writers’ room. (Required for TV stream, optional for Film and Games streams.)

Required Courses for Games Stream

In addition to cinematics, game storylines are often expressed in non-interactive sequences using a scripted camera and regular game assets. These NIS sequences are often accompanied with custom animations, locked camera angles or lighting used for dramatic effect. Using the content created on the MoCap stage in Term 5, students will implement these scenes into the Unreal Engine for their final project. (Game stream only)

This course will combine all of the original work that has been created by the students over the six-month process into one master document. All narrative beats, character bios, scripted scenes and environmental story beats will be given a rigorous roundtable stress test and final presentation review. All visual aspects such as art work and mood boards will also be presented. This process will mirror real life scenarios that narrative teams use to review narrative with senior management at game companies. (Game stream only)