Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

Comm 299 Themes in Film & Digital Media

Spring 2014

COMM 299

Themes in Film and Intermediate Digital Media

Spring 2014

Prof. Brian Thomson


Course Description

COM 299 "Themes in Film and Intermediate Digital Media" is a hands-on introduction to writing, directing and editing the short film.  Students participate in the development, production, direction and post-production of a short subject up to ten minutes in length. 

The class has no pre-requisites.

This course introduces students to the technical, conceptual, and aesthetic skills involved in video production through the single camera mode of production. Still the most dominant mode of film and video production, the single camera mode places an emphasis on using the camera to fullest capacity of artistic expression. In addition to the multiple skills and concepts involved with the camera, the course also introduces students to the principles and technologies of lighting, audio recording and mixing, and non-linear digital video editing. Special focus is given to producing content for successful web distribution.


This course will answer some of the most pressing questions repeatedly asked by first-time and amateur filmmakers:

  • How do you effectively and efficiently transform an idea first into a story, then into a screenplay, next into a production schedule, and finally into moving images and sound that emotionally transport an audience?
  • How do you operate a camera, record clean audio, and generally make your actors look like they’re in a Hollywood film?
  • What can I do with Final Cut Studio that I can’t do with iMovie?
  • Gee, I saw this great shot/camera move/effect in [The Godfather, Bowling for Columbine, The Matrix, etc.]—how’d they do that?
  • What exactly does a [key grip, best boy, gaffer, etc.] do?
  • I saw an awesome video on youTube.  Why don’t my videos ever go viral and get a billion hits?


In short, this course will provide you with an intensive overview of the entire filmmaking process, from soup to nuts, as you work with a production unit to produce a short narrative or documentary film for DVD and web distribution. 


If this sounds appealing to you, then I’d urge you to start work on your first assignment NOW!  Watch the video below for more details...




By the end of this class, you will understand how a film is made from conception through distribution, and you will know how to develop a story for maximum audio-visual impact.  You will gain hands-on experience of all stages of film production: from producing storyboards, operating a professional camera, and setting lights through designing a web site, crafting special effects (CGI and sound), and producing a polished DVD that will help your film reach as wide an audience as possible.  In short, you should have all of the skills necessary to begin producing professional-level work for the media industry as well as a polished piece of work for your demo reel.



15%- Screenplay

15%- Midterm exam

15%- Preproduction Package

10%- Final Exam

30%- Short film project

15%- Participation: Participation is not simply a question of attendance and raising your hand in class. In order to receive your fifteen points, you must attend class and ask questions AND you must work for at least three days on group members' productions. To get credit, the director/producer of the project must turn in a call sheet with your signature.


Tentative Schedule:

Week 1 – Introduction. General discussion of student projects. Assignment of short films (via the net, or DVD) to be watched and critiqued. Getting familiar with scriptwriting. Brainstorming of story ideas.  Marketing and distribution of the short film, via the marketplace, or online DIY distribution. Viewing previous student pieces for evaluation. Students will learn to write the short script (bringing a script and/or short story in public domain that can be adapted is advisable) and direct actors, which will either be other students or actors from Rome, depending on availability. We will discuss visual style, using locations and elements that are easily accessible.  Students will pair up into teams.

Week 2-3-4 – From the idea to the final script. Students will work in group on the storyline and script. Student presentations of their projects/works in progress/treatments or outlines of individual projects due. Each student will make a presentation, and via review, films will be chosen from those treatments/scripts.

Week 5-6 Script breakdown and analysis. All final scripts will be analyzed to create a production schedule.  Review documentation; talent releases, insurance, safety, etc. Possible script breakdown or lighting and camera class. Class presentations – pre-production (screenplay, storyboards, production schedule, budgets due)  Shooting period begins.

Week 7-8-9 Shooting period - screen dailies in class. Rough cuts in process – Class discussion about rough cuts. Every film team is required to show 3-5 minutes of edited footage in class. Each student is required to present some of the work they’ve done, whether directing, shooting, or editing.

Week 10-13. Editing. Shooting period, and then individual rough cut sessions with students or teams. Sign up for one hour individual evaluations of your progress. Important to add music and work on your sound mix during this period, as your sound work will be included in your final grade.

Fine cuts due – no picture changes without permission from instructor

Final project with final sound mix due. Minor tweaking allowed until the final day to turn in projects. Final edits will require a finished picture and mixed sound track.   

Week 14

Final screening date TBD.


Students should prepare a checklist before coming, and the following items should be considered: 

A laptop with editing software loaded.  Macs are preferred. Preferable if you’ve practiced on editing some footage before you begin your work using iMovie. If you have no laptop, then computer time will be provided, when available.

A digital camera, it’s up to you which format you prefer, the US standard is NTSC, and the European standard is PAL.  DSLR’s (Canon T2i/550D, Panasonic GH2, etc.) are preferred but not required.  Our cameras and equipment are PAL, however if you bring your own equipment, it’s preferable to bring your own editing equipment to support that equipment.  If you have no camera, you’ll be required to work in teams, and schedule time for camera use.

The final video will be graded on technical achievement, communication, creativity and overall effort per person. Consistency in attendance and assistance on other projects constitutes the second area of evaluation. Note: it is mandatory you turn in all the paperwork, attend classes regularly and turn in a finished film.  This will result in an average grade.  In order to get an above average grade, students are required to stretch their talents as filmmakers, to present their idea in a fresh, new perspective, putting their hearts and soul into the project, and doing their best to make a compelling film about a subject matter that is equally compelling, comedic or sheds new light on a subject.  The final screening, and the audience’s response to it, will weigh heavily on the final grade.



The submission of material authored by another person but represented as the student’s own  work, whether that material is paraphrased or copied in verbatim or near-verbatim form.  Improper acknowledgment of sources in essays, papers or audiovisual projects.  Acquisition of term papers, audiovisual projects or other assignments from another source and the subsequent presentation of those materials as the student’s own work, or providing term papers or assignments that another student submits as his/her own work. DO NOT DOWNLOAD VIDEO CLIPS OR PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE INTERNET UNLESS YOU HAVE WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM THE CREATOR OF THE WORK OR PROOF IT IS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.


Loyola is fully committed to safety and sensible risk management; every student will be required to adhere to all safety and risk management policies. Any footage that violates safety policies, or local rules and regulations, will be disallowed from final projects and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.  Any footage acquired or produced during a violation of these policies will not be accepted for, and is ineligible for, a grade.