Writing for Film and Television 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

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. Students explore the origins of story and its archetypal structure in myth, while also examining the evolution of structure in a variety of forms and how that structure ultimately lends itself to providing the template for screenwriting.

It's impossible to tell a story without characters, and the more engaging they are, the more compelling a story will be. Through lectures, discussions, screenings, and in-class assignments, students develop an arsenal of techniques useful for creating well-developed characters. The main focus is on creating fully formed people 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 apply these techniques and explore their own characters further within a specific dramatic context.

This course stresses the fundamentals of three-act film structure and how a script is constructed by studying the scripts of well-known, soundly structured films.

Professional screenplay formatting is incredibly important for any aspiring writer to be taken seriously. Students become completely comfortable with leading screenwriting software, and learn to write using current industry-standard formatting. The focus here is on writers' drafts, not on shooting scripts, although students learn the differences between them, as well as feature film and television formats.

Even the best ideas can't be realized 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 dramatically and effectively. Instructors offer constructive critiques to improve each 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 first study different genres of television – from police procedurals to three-camera comedies to family dramas to science fiction.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

In this follow up course to Story and Character, students concentrate on further developing their characters and plotting their arcs to fulfill expectations of the low budget feature script assignment from Term 1. Through lectures, screenings, discussions, and workshops, students explore story possibilities and potential, and address problem issues within their own feature scripts. 

Students are guided through basic story principles and encouraged to develop two feature script pitches which they workshop into one-sheets and beat sheets.  Students present their scripts to a panel of instructors, who offer feedback and recommend which story concept to pursue. The emphasis is on viability of projects and stories that offer the best opportunities to learn the craft of screenwriting.

By concentrating on the art of great dialogue, students improve their writing on the page to make it actually sound the way people speak. Through lectures, exercises, and film clips, writers learn to create believable dialogue and complex characters. There is also an exploration of how to speak volumes without saying a word.

This series of courses in script genres continues with a close textual study of seminal crime dramas, traversing the latitudes and limitations of the genre through a variety of its sub-genres. Instructors help students discover how genres fulfill specific conventions while generally conforming to the three-act structure and the hero’s journey. Writing style, character functions and arcs, dialogue, setting, premise, scene design, and management are also examined but the main focus is on exploring the elements of the first act (also known as “the setup”).

Various TV writing techniques are explored to ignite the creative spark and encourage students to develop stories for the small screen. They craft an original concept for an existing TV series of their choice, take it to the first draft stage, and develop skills in pitching, writing, and selling their work.

Electives

The fundamentals of writing for animation projects make up the core aspect of this course, challenging students to prepare and pitch episode springboards. They also write beat sheets, outlines, and an original script for an animated TV series. Instructors stress the principles of writing for animation, from genre to format, structure, character, story, and humour.

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 romance, teen, gross-out, dark comedy, family, and buddy/road comedies. Students study comedy screenplays to gain an understanding of how narrative elements combine to tell a story. They also learn what makes a screenplay readable, how to create comedy on the page, and what inspires the reader to move forward.

Students write a first draft of their feature script in the first four weeks of this course with meetings with their instructor to help them. After the draft is finished, each student gets a three-hour workshop with their instructor and a small group of their peers to discuss the script.”

Writers explore key film theory concepts and develop an understanding of choices that best tell their story. Whether directing a documentary or fictional drama, students are better prepared to produce more interesting, complex films when they are aware of and understand 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.

Sketch comedy writing is one of the most popular forms of comedic writing, and can open unique career possibilities as a writer. In this class, students learn how to create original ideas and concepts for sketches. They focus on kickstarting their imaginations, identifying their own style of humour, and expanding their comedic tools. In the second part of this course in Term 4, students experience the production aspect of sketch comedy writing and see their sketches performed by actors in a live environment.

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

The second act is a critical part of every feature script, as it's the place that can cause the most trouble in a script. This course challenges students to learn how to construct a strong second act, and prevent common mid-story issues. (Optional for TV Stream.)

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

A look at the origins of television, beginning with the move from radio to the industry pioneers, how networks were formed, and how television in the 1950s determined the business that still exists today. (Optional for Film Stream.)

Term 4 Course Descriptions

This course is designed to familiarize students with the breakdown and analysis of feature screenplays. Students discover how to apply analytical skills in the assessment of other students’ scripts and inform the writing process itself for their own work. (Both Streams.)

Students pitch three ideas for a five-page webisode or short film script that conforms to the course production parameters. Each student develops their idea through first and second draft workshops. Their third draft is submitted to the class and all students vote on their six favourite projects in order of preference. Voting preferences serve as the basis for the selection and formation of the production teams.

This course immerses students in the real-world challenges of producing. Working in teams of five, each team oversees the entire production process of stories selected from Producing for Writers: Story Development. Major responsibilities include 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, students are placed at the forefront of their projects. They are also instructed in the high-level concepts of each stage as it relates to larger, big-budget productions.

Sketches written in Term 3 are rehearsed by a sketch comedy troupe, culminating in a cabaret night where the sketches are performed in front of a live audience. Students experience the sketch comedy production process.

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

Students examine the history, conventions, and storytelling styles of sci-fi and fantasy genres. They read six major screenplays that best represent the major aspects of the genres, accompanied by lectures, film clips, student presentations, and written assignments. (Optional for TV Stream.)

This course focuses on the development of one treatment for a second feature script or two TV spec scripts with the assistance of a faculty advisor, thus giving students 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

Students create an original premise for a TV series using examples from existing series. They learn how to pitch their idea, create a series bible, and write outlines for original pilot episodes. To help this process along, instructors use produced pilot scripts and screenings to identify key techniques that assist students in writing scripts for their pilot concepts. (TV Stream Only.)

Taking the first draft of a TV spec script into a second draft requires the support and constructive feedback of a real television story department. Students discover that in order to become a valuable contributor to a story department, they need skills in story editing and experience in rewriting their own and other students' work. (TV Stream Only.)

Term 5 Course Descriptions

The adaptation process can be difficult. Often the original writer is quite close to their source material and, in trying to remain faithful to the specifics of their work, he or she creates a technically proficient but often lifeless imitation. This course is designed to provide students with the basic understanding of the problems of adaptation and some fundamental tools with which to solve them. (All students.)

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

The fourth course in this series introduces students to scripts in the action, western, and blockbuster genres. (Optional for TV Stream.)

Students work on beat sheets for their second feature script with the assistance of a faculty advisor, giving them a taste of what the writing process is like after graduation when they'll be under their own guidance. Extends through Term 6. (Film Stream only.)

The best writers are never satisfied, which is why the rewrite is a natural part of the writer's life. This course focuses on rewriting feature screenplays through lectures, discussions, workshops, work groups, and in-class computer labs. Students learn a tactical approach to rewriting, beginning with lifting the story off the page and further developing its potential. Extends through Term 6. (Film Stream only.)

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

Taking the outlines and bibles created earlier, students write the first draft of their TV pilot script with instructor guidance. (TV Stream only.)

Electives

Students learn the fundamentals of writing for comics and graphic novels as well as the basics of online comic production. As part of the course, each student writes, and produces, a segment of an online comic anthology in conjunction with the VFS Foundation Visual Art & Design program. They also write an industry-standard script for a mini-series or graphic novel.

The focus of this course is to introduce students to the unique structures and storytelling techniques in writing for video games.

Students discover, and apply, the fundamentals of writing for commercials, promotions, and the five-second ID.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

Writing “Fade Out” at the end of a feature screenplay isn't the end of a screenwriter's work, but the beginning of a new phase. Students discover how to properly assess an option agreement, why networking is critical, and everything else writers need to know about the nuts and bolts of the industry. (All students.)

Required Courses for Writing for Feature Films Stream

Students examine the history, conventions, and storytelling styles of sci-fi and fantasy, and horror genres. They read six major screenplays that best represent the major aspects of the genres, accompanied by lectures, film clips, student presentations, and written assignments. (Optional for TV Stream.)

Required Courses for Writing for Television Stream

All writing is rewriting. Students take the first draft of the TV pilot they wrote in Term 5 and rewrite it, taking their work one step closer to being ready to send to producers and/or screenwriting contests. (TV Stream only.)

To understand the television of today, it’s important to understand its beginnings. This course focuses on how television has changed in the last three decades. (Optional for Film Stream.)

This course focuses on the tools students learned in Term 2's TV Spec course. Those who have chosen the TV Writing stream write an outline, beat sheet, and first draft of a second television spec script for an existing series. Extends through Term 6. (TV Stream only.)