Diploma - Part 1

Subjects Semester One

Weeks 1 to 8

Drama Production 

These subjects teach the practical aspects of single camera drama production using film technology including:

•    producing: structure of film crews and the associated tasks

•    breaking down a script and production planning

•    the role of the design department, the production designer and the art director

•    cinematography and the camera department

•    cinematography and lighting

•    the role of the continuity/script supervisor

•    first assistant directors, shooting schedules and call sheets

•    the role of the sound recordist


These Subjects are delivered in weekly, three-hour lecturers, with supporting tutorials each week where the subject of each class is elaborated.

In the sixth week of classes, students film scenes from a classic film (e.g. Chinatown, Vertigo, Citizen Kane) in a fullday practical master-class shoot to experience the practical workings of a Drama crew in a supervised scenario.

It is also expected that students will use supervised workshop time and downtime to borrow equipment to practice their skills and complete set exercises.


Drama Projects

The Drama film projects are produced by student crews of twelve, using a cash budget allocated for the purpose. Each student fulfils a key crew role on a film project, and has the option of undertaking more roles. Three weeks are set aside mid semester for the final preparation and shooting of these films.


The Selection of Drama Projects

On Orientation Day, at the commencement of the course all students will be given a selection of short film scripts. These scripts were considered to be the best written by the students of the previous semester. From this group of scripts every student must choose one to interpret and to pitch.

In week 3 every student will pitch to their peers their vision for one of these scripts. A panel of staff will independently assess each pitch and will then create a shortlist of potential directors to go for a second round of interviews.

One of these projects will be chosen for every twelve students. Selection is based on the project’s clarity, feasibility, creative potential, and apparent capacity of the potential director to lead a team.

After the directors of projects have been selected, they are teamed up with producers and production managers selected from the students that have attended the Producing specialisation.

Around this core team a crew of twelve students is assembled. The twelve key roles include: camera operator, clapper loader/camera assistant, director, director of photography, editor, first assistant director, focus puller, producer, production designer, art director, production manager, and a sound team of two-recorders/designers. Creative contributions from all crewmembers are necessary if the project is to reach its full potential.

Over and above these roles there are extra opportunities for second roles such as composer, design assistant, gaffer, grip, location manager, makeup, standby props and more.

Students get to witness the complete production process from the vantage point of their particular role. Through production meetings, casting sessions, rehearsals, location scouting, the shoot itself, through watching the editing, production reports (presented in class) and finally the public screening of the final film students gain valuable insights into all aspects of production that cannot be achieved in any other way.

Story Through Sound & Image 

(first eight weeks)

Sydney Film School’s course addresses the importance of learning practical skills in context. To perform filmmaking tasks well, we believe students need to understand the reasoning behind effective practices. Good camera operating is to a purpose, good lighting is to a purpose and good sound etc. In this Subject we teach from historical examples and through practical exercises how films are pieced together through:

•    film styles, genres and the ways we watch films

•    shot design and mise en scene (from the point of view of design and camera)

•    understanding qualities of editing and movement

•    the value and uses of sound and forms of music

Students will produce and present pieces of work that explore the power of these elements of screen language, including the ‘Sense of Place’ exercise.


Directing Actors 

(first eight weeks)

Students will study the varied work of several important directors, teachers and performers before embarking on class workshops to explore techniques of directing and acting in video recorded scenes.

The course covers:

•    ethical issues of working with actors

•    different approaches to ‘acting’ and proven processes

•    creating scenes through actions and subtext

•    the nature of characters and story

•    casting and rehearsing

•    acting and directing for the screen

Students will produce and present pieces of work that will test these ideas throughout the course.


Digital Editing   

(from weeks two to seven, and weeks twelve to sixteen)

Sydney Film School students are trained in Avid Media Composer. Students will learn the foundation principles of digital editing (image and sound) including:

  • How to set up a project
  • Avid Elements
  • Importing media, video, picture and audio files
  • Synching audio and importing sound effects and music
  • Three point editing
  • Basic video effects and transitions
  • Compositing and nesting effects
  • Timewarp and motion effects
  • Basic colour correction
  • Basic sound editing
  • Audio mixing and panning
  • Exporting sequences for Sound Mix, Composer and Colour Grading

It is expected that students will use supervised workshop time and downtime in the editing suites to practice their skills and complete set exercises.

Note: While the School teaches and formally supports editing in Avid, all computers have Adobe Premiere installed and the School maintains documentation around key workflow issues to support students who choose to edit their projects in Premiere.


Camera & Lighting Workshop

(weeks one to seven)

Students will learn the following components of film camera operation:

  • Setting up a camera and accessories
  • Mounting a camera on a tripod
  • Load cameras with photographic and motion picture film
  • Mount lenses
  • Take focus measurements and mark focal points
  • Adjust exposure
  • Integrate camera operation with lighting and gripping

Students will use 35mm SLR Cameras.


Sound, Safety and Studio Workshop

(weeks one to seven)

Students will learn the following components of digital camera operation:

  • Sound recording
  • Lighting safety
  • Set building – basic studio induction, safety principles and etiquette
  • Practical WHS assessment for film sets


Pitch Preparation

(weeks one to two)

Students will learn how to make presentations for pitching a major project and learn how to prepare, deliver and review a presentation to a targeted audience. Students will study the following components:

  • Gain an understanding and techniques of pitching
  • Plan and document the presentation approach for a pitch
  • Choose strategies for pitching, delivery methods and the targeted audience
  • Select presentation aides, materials and techniques
  • Learn how to deliver a presentation
  • Explain desired outcomes of a presentation
  • Use persuasive communication techniques to gain audience interest
  • Summarise key concepts and ideas strategically
  • Review the presentation
  • Utilise feedback from the audience/panel in your presentation  


Weeks 9 to 10

Classes are suspended for weeks 9 and 10 so that the drama projects have the flexibility to find the 3 days over which their shooting will take place. The days of shooting and the lead-up to them can be quite intensive.


Weeks 11 to 17

Screenwriting: Story for Screen 

(weeks eleven to sixteen)

We hold off screenwriting as a subject until after students have undertaken their first film shoot, based on the philosophy that an experience in live production will strongly inform screenwriters as to how words on the page inspire action.

This course teaches and tests important principles of writing for the screen through each student writing a 5-7 minute screenplay. The scripts are shared and edited within and beyond these classes. Classes will cover:

•    the special nature of a screenplay

    •    formatting a screenplay

    •    finding ideas

    •    creating characters

•    structuring and story

•    script editing and re-writing

The best screenplays from this class that are perceived as feasible for production will be passed on to the next group of students for pitching in Drama Production. (Note: this in no way prevents the writer from also adapting the screenplay, either as a thesis film, or subsequent to graduation.)


Documentary Production 

(weeks eleven to sixteen)

These Subjects teach the practical skills of digital video production in the documentary context including:

•    forms and styles of documentary films

•    interviewing skills and techniques

•    researching, planning and pitching a documentary proposal

•    location sound recording, camera operation and coverage

•    digital video sound and picture editing with Avid Media Composer


To reinforce the skills and knowledge under industry conditions, each student will work as part of a crew of four on a documentary project over the term of this Subject. These documentaries are given a small budget for expenses and film from weeks 17 to 19 of the course. (They are subsequently edited in semester 2.)


The Selection of Documentary Projects

In week 14 of the course, after further instruction all students will pitch a documentary project that they have researched to their class and teacher/s. These projects are discussed and then voted on in order to select the projects with the most promise for production. One of these projects will be chosen for every four students. Selection is based on the project’s clarity, feasibility and creative potential.

Once the projects and directors have been selected they are teamed up with a camera operator, sound recordist and editor/producer. Although each has separate responsibilities, the group is encouraged to work closely together through all aspects of the production so that each has the opportunity to experience the complete production process from the vantage point of their particular role. Creative contributions from all crewmembers are necessary if the project is to reach its full potential.

In production meetings, filming on location, and rushes screenings, students will gain valuable insights into all aspects of documentary that can only be learned by the doing.


Documentary Camera Workshop

(weeks thirteen to sixteen)

Students will learn the following components of practical documentary production:

  • Setting up a camera and accessories
  • Mounting a camera on a tripod
  • Filming and lighting for interviews
  • Observational camera techniques


Drama Post-Production

(weeks eleven to eighteen)

Students observe the progress of the drama projects from their starting point as rushes through editing process to their final form as mixed, graded short films. Over the course of this class the following topics are covered:

  • Reflection on the results of production, both strengths and deficiencies
  • The history of editing approaches and philosophies
  • Logging rushes and identifying the strengths and limitations of material
  • Creating assemblies and diagnosing a film’s structural issues from the early form
  • Testing the strength of a film through a series of rough cuts, and refining the film against test audience feedback
  • Fine cutting a film once its structural form is optimal
  • Spotting the film for sound and music
  • Sound design workflows
  • What can be achieved in grading?

At the end of the semester, the drama projects will be screened at the Sydney Film School Festival.


Screen Careers

(weeks twelve to fourteen)

Students are instructed in the industry context around their studies, likely areas of employment and strategies for cultivating networks and presenting themselves.


Screen Legals and Ethics

Students will gain a general understanding of the application of the law and ethical principles on film and television productions across different aspects of the production process. Students will learn the general legal principles relating to filmmaking and the resources that can be used to assist in understanding and working through legal and ethical issues in filmmaking as they relate to Australian Law.


Specialisation Workshops Part 1

Each student is given the opportunity to explore in greater detail two aspects of filmmaking through the specialisations. These workshops are of great assistance in preparing students for their key roles on the film productions.


Note: Not all specialisations are run every semester, depending on student numbers.


These Specialisation are offered over two full days on selected weekends:

•    Production Management – getting the most out of your budget and team. Students will break down a short script for the purpose of budgeting, scheduling, and managing a film project. They will explore crew structures and the creative dynamics across all stages of the production process.

•    Cinematography – the art and responsibilities of the cinematography department. Students will light and film a variety of interior and exterior set ups, testing film stocks, exposures, filters and shutter speeds to achieve a range of moods and cinematic effects. The 16mm film rushes of the test shooting are then processed, screened and reviewed.

  • Production Design – story telling through film design. Students will explore the scope and potential of the many facets of design in filmmaking, break down scripts into the design elements of the story and character, learn the management of an art department, and be mentored on the design of a major project.

•  Documentary – deciding, researching, developing and directing. Students will develop an understanding of directing techniques for documentary filmmaking.  A professional documentary director will present one of their own films and then tease out your ideas through practical workshops for directing documentary - research, finding the story thread, constructing the story for written and pitching presentation.

•    Music for Film – film music and how to talk to composers. Students will be shown clear examples of different types and uses of music in films, work with a student composer to add meaning through music to their set of images, meet with a prominent Australian composer to view / listen and discuss their work and career.  

Students choose any two of these specialisations, but they may purchase additional workshops if interest and time allows.



 Semester Two

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