Film Language Essentials

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Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
304MFLE credit 1 2 hours (45 min) of instruction per week, 4 to 9 hours of self-study English summer

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Learning outcomes of the course unit

In a series of seminars the students will get familiar with the building blocks of film language focusing on the cinematographer’s role in the process of creating audiovisual content.

The students will become conscious of what tools they have available, how to use them and how they can offer them to director in close cooperation on a film and/or use them for authoring thier own content.

Mode of study

Individual elements of film language such as framing, composition, action, movement within the frame and camera movement , continuity (just to name the few) will be discussed in detail and categorized. Film excerpts will be analyzed and discussed. These discussions will include interpretation of a script excerpt followed by an analysis of that same scene in the finished film with regard to the staging techniques and cinematographer’s choices of composition and spatial relationships.

The students will be assigned a series of practical exercises in which they will prove their understanding of the film language vocabulary and grammar.

Prerequisites and co-requisites

The students will watch the films in their entirety selected for this seminar prior to the analysis sessions in order to formulate their opinion on the narrative and camera style.

Course contents

In the introductory sessions the structure of basic cinematic forms will be discussed covering the whole process from conception, script writing, staging, picture and sound acquisition all the way through the editing. The students will learn how the whole process is interwoven and how the creative decision taken during the writing and preproduction impact on the camera work just as the camera work impacts the editing.

The importance of visual and narrative unity of any given film form will be explained and the fundaments of cinematic continuity will be demonstrated.

As the students become familiar with the basic composition and framing techniques the course will explore how to work with time and movement.

In a series of excerpts from films we will look at how using of different film elements and their combination affect the viewer through editing and how they impact on their psychological perception – creating the feel of expectation, suspense, romance, relaxation.

The students will bring their own examples.

Finally we touch on cinematographer’s tools of expression and the strictly visual aspects of film language – lighting and the mood, color and texture. The use of film optics will be discussed and how different lens types render reality in different ways. The reason for leaving this important aspects of the cinematic language at the end is the fact that lighting and understanding of film optics will be subject to specialized lectures and seminars throughout the year.

Seminars’ Framework:

  1. If cinema is a language, then we must ask: what is the structure of that language? What is the vocabulary, what are the rules of grammar, the structure of this cinematic language?

2.Literary design. Film script structure. Dramatic arch.

3.Analysing a film with classic three act structure ( Three Days of the Condor) vs films with more complex structure (Parasite)

4.Visual design – understanding the script, DOP’s analysis of the script.

5.Basic construction pieces of a scene

6.Set design (scenography) creating visual world for the characters

7.Building the character – costume, make up, pacing in the set context, framing

8.Types of shots by function vs types of shots by size


10.Camera movement

11.Color !

12.Color in postproduction.

13.Black and White

14.Mis en scene, staging, blocking




18.Showing vs Obscuring and revealing

19.Broader perspective – DOP and knowing the film language, learning how to communicate

20.Films with strong visual style

21.Lenses and optical devices

22.Special effects and recent technological shifts .

Two exercises will form an indispensable part of this seminar:

1.Creating a storyboard, moodboard and choosing locations.

The students will deal with the task of how to conveying a simple narrative situation, spatial relationships of the actors and objects as well as using his/her imagination to estimate the timing of each scene and shot. This process will also help the student to understand the storyboarded scenes and prepare their own storyboards for their future projects.

In this assignment we will deliberately exclude the technical and creative tools such as tonality, use of different lenses and rather let the students concentrate on spatial and dramatic aspects and the mis en scene.

2.The next assignment will concentrate on transforming this storyboard/stills sequence into a motion picture sequence.

Recommended or required reading

Blain Brown : Cinematograohy Theory and Practice (chapters: Visual Language, Language of the Lens, Visual Storytelling)

Syd Field : Screenplay

Steven D.Katz : Shot by Shot

Assessment methods and criteria

85% attendance in seminars

Participation in discussion

Finished assignments in due time:

Exercise 1 deadline November 15

Exercise 2 deadline January 10



Further information

No schedule has been prepared for this course

The subject is a part of the following study plans