Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

Sarah Lawrence College’s undergraduate filmmaking and moving image arts program (FMIA) offers a vibrant, dynamic, creative incubator to ignite the imagination of the next generation of media makers. The program seeks to help students navigate the intersection of art and technology, as they acquire the tools and skills of the discipline and develop their critical and creative voices.

Cognizant that not every student will graduate to be a writer, director, producer, or game developer, the program believes that—with the enduring power and influence of cinema, television, the Web, and social media—students in all fields of study benefit from media literacy and theory and an enduring understanding of the ways and means of media development and production. The program explores a broad scope of media making, including narrative fiction, documentary/nonfiction, experimental film, animation, cinematography, storyboarding, and directing actors, as well as producing, screenwriting, writing for television, writing and producing for the Web, writing for games, and game development.

Interdisciplinary work across the liberal arts is encouraged, and formal and informal collaboration among the music, dance, theatre and other disciplines continue to emerge and flourish. In a creative alliance with the theatre program, FMIA has begun the third year of its interdisciplinary, team-taught project in developing and producing Web series.

Our faculty and staff are all accomplished, working filmmakers, screenwriters, and media artists. We have an exchange program in animation with CalArts and study-abroad opportunities in film in Paris, Cuba, and at the world-famous FAMU film school in Prague. Our ever-expanding network of alums working in the field help provide internship opportunities, as well.

Recent graduates routinely have their work represented at some of the world’s most prestigious film and media festivals, and graduates who chose to pursue advanced degrees are finding traction at the top film schools in the United States and abroad.

2017-2018 Courses

Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

The Writer and the Director: Translating the Scene

Open , Seminar—Fall

Writers and directors are often considered to be of two different camps or, at the very least, wearing different creative hats, depending upon what part of the process they find themselves within. And indeed, how does a director take the words on the screenplay page and realize them in a film scene? And coming from the writer's angle, how does one create useful words on the screenplay page that evoke what is intended to end up on the screen? Every screenwriter needs to think like a director. Every director needs to be skilled at translating the text of the screenplay into the film that is intended. This class will provide an in-depth exploration into processes that a director may utilize in order to develop and actualize his/her vision of a scene as written on the pages of the screenplay. In kind, we will also study the elements that can inform the process of the writer, eager to understand how his/her pages can create the intended result on the screen. In some cases, we’ll see that the text can be clean and useful; in others, the text may be too rich or too spare or, in any case, somehow lacking. The real work of the writer and of the director is to understand the intent of the action in a scene’s text and to strategize how to realize the scene for maximum impact. Of course, particularly in today’s landscape, the writer and director can often be the same person. In any event, a filmmaker (writer and/or director) can enhance his/her overall skills by looking at the process through both lenses. In this class, we’ll view films, organize in-class exercises, and use published screenplays to immerse ourselves in the process of interpreting the text and preparing it for the screen. This will include the crucial work required of any writer and/or director: screenplay scene analysis, interpretation and breakdown, character development, and how to access and communicate visual ideas for the look of the film. We’ll study camera styles and movement in order to decide how best to visually realize the screenplay through your shot selection. We’ll also consider staging, casting, and other elements that create your film’s mise en scene. Each student will pursue a series of exercises, culminating in the preparation, directing, shooting, and editing of two scenes using published screenplays: For the first exercise, you’ll take a simple scene from a published script (a private moment, without dialogue) and develop characters through cinematic storytelling. For your second exercise, you will take another simple scene, with dialogue, from the same screenplay in order to experiment with all of the ideas developed throughout the class. As a writing and directing “methods” class, the aim is not to make a short film but rather to translate scene work from an existent published screenplay and determine how to articulate the dramatic action of the characters in the context of an overall sequence—or several connected scenes. The screen material generated will have less emphasis on production design, wardrobe, props, and locations. Instead, students will focus on the dramatic and emotional action of the characters within a scene. In conference, students may pursue the writing of original scene work, the writing of a short script, or the expansion of a screenplay in development. With the permission of the professor, students may seek to shoot a scene from their original material to be delivered as part of their final conference work. Once again, the focus of the class is on the realization of scene work through process and methodology rather than the creation of a short film. Technical labs will be included for those who require instruction in the basic use of camera equipment, lighting, sound and editing. No previous experience in writing or directing is required.

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First-Year Studies: Respect for Screen Acting—Performance and Film

Open , FYS—Year

This yearlong First-Year Studies course will focus on both the organic and technical aspects of the craft of camera performance. The student will learn how to create three-dimensional characters constructed with a deeply detailed, emotional inner life that is supported through analytical comprehension of text. Through specific exercises, students will learn to heighten and expand their awareness of the physical and emotional senses and how to read, decipher, and support emotional and physical subtext. During the first semester, the primary focus will be performance work. Students will work on emotional substitution, conflict, obstacles, inner struggles, duplicity, and character journey. They will work on published scenes, group exercises, and application of improvisation to expand the inner life and backstory of the character. Using scenes from both contemporary and historical films, they will observe, write about, and discuss the political, historical, and cultural evolution of contemporary directing and acting styles. The second semester will offer the interested student the opportunity to learn, through hands-on application, the technical side, as well. Through workshops featuring editing, sound, camera, and lighting, the student will explore the various aspects of production. During the second semester, the students will apply these skills to rendering both written and original work in class. They will be assigned production roles, whether operating cameras or doing sound, lighting, or editing. Conference work will include the viewing, analyzing, and discussion of classic and contemporary films and related texts and, in the second semester, the completion of a finished, edited, and workshopped scene.

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First-Year Studies: Fundamentals of Nonfiction Animation

Open , FYS—Year

In this yearlong First-Year Studies beginning production course, students learn the basic principles of animation, develop an understanding of visual language, and attain skills in constructing short nonfiction narratives. Using a mixture of classical animation and 2D digital tools, students will complete practical exercises intended to familiarize themselves with basic animation skills and language. Animation will be treated as an approach that embraces documentary and other nonfiction media as an art practice. Screenings and discussions will help develop the specialized thinking needed to understand the discipline. Practice in this course is integrated with theory so that production is held within the context of critical thinking about the possibilities for nonfiction storytelling. In the first semester, we will undertake a series of short individual and group exercises in response to technical labs. Spring semester, each student will spend the majority of the term making a single nonfiction animated short on a subject of his or her choosing. With the recent explosion of interest in documentary film production, this course offers first-year students the chance to discover their own unique style for the telling of real stories with animated images. Technical instruction includes workshops in concept development, rotoscope drawing, cutout animation, miniature puppetry, lighting, cameras, and the software AfterEffects, Toon Boom Harmony, and Dragonframe. Prior drawing experience is not necessary.

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Related Disciplines

Documentary Filmmaking: Truth, Freedom, and Bearing Witness

Open , Seminar—Year

Nonfiction is our search for the truth; it is an exploration in humanity—our beauty, complexities, and the often unimaginable. This class is designed for students who, through filmmaking, hope to move humanity one step closer to understanding who we are and how connected our life experiences may be. In this yearlong course, students produce one 15- to 30-minute documentary on the subject of their own choosing. Students will develop treatments, pitch their projects, create production schedules, and work in small teams to create their films. Each week, students must demonstrate clear progress on their projects, including outlined shoot dates, updates on production needs, screening of unedited material, assembly cuts, rough cuts, and the eventual final delivery of their conference films. During class, we will screen short- and long-form documentary films from around the world, complemented by hands-on production techniques and experience. Although this is an open class, students must be prepared to learn camera operation, sound recording, and lighting with diligence and professionalism. Each student will direct his/her own project; however, the crew will be made up of their peers, who will be trusted with delivering strong technical material. This course will challenge students to think beyond the beautiful gates of Sarah Lawrence and take on subjects and opportunities that are new spaces both emotionally and physically. Nonfiction requires passion for storytelling and, ultimately, a passion for people. We hope to finish the year with a lens on the world that’s evolved to new heights of understanding and compassion.

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Hand-Drawn Animation

Open , Seminar—Year

This course focuses on the fundamentals of drawing as they pertain to two-dimensional, hand-drawn animation. Students will gain an understanding of value, motion, and light logic and learn to establish form and structure utilizing concepts in perspective. The course will introduce students to traditional techniques of hand-drawn, frame-by-frame animation, where movement is created through successive, sequential drawings. Students will learn about body mechanics and motion flow in the development of animated characters through techniques that include walk cycles, turning of forms, transformations, holds, squash and stretch, weight, and resistance. Students will design and create pencil test projects using Dragon Frame and Final Cut Pro software. Examples of animations illustrating hand-drawn techniques will be screened regularly. The course will conclude with a final project, for which students develop, conceptualize, and produce a fully animated, hand-drawn short film. Information and skills established in this class can be used to improve basic drawing proficiency, establish fundamentals for later digital animation production, create and enhance an animation portfolio, and/or develop tangible skills for producing graphic novels.​

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Storyboarding for Film and Animation

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course focuses on the art of storyboard construction as the preproduction stage for film and animation. Students will be introduced to storyboard strategies, exploring visual concepts such as shot types, continuity, pacing, transitions, and sequencing. Both classical and experimental techniques for creating storyboards will be covered. Emphasis will be placed on the production of storyboard drawings, both by hand and digitally, to negotiate sequential image development and to establish shot-by-shot progression, staging, frame composition, editing, and continuity. Instruction will concentrate primarily on drawing, from thumbnail sketches through final presentation storyboards and animatics. The final project for this class will be the production by each student of a full presentation storyboard and a hi-res animatic in a combined visual, audio, and text presentation format. Knowledge of storyboards and animatics from this class can be used later for idea development and presentation of your project to collaborators, for pitching projects, for professional agencies, and—most importantly—for you, the maker.

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Less is More: On-Camera Performance

Open , Seminar—Year

This course will focus on both the natural and technical aspects of camera performance. The student will learn how to create living, breathing characters constructed and crafted with an emotional inner life that is supported through organic impulses and analytical comprehension of text. The student will learn to create characters drawn from one’s own life experience, emotional substitution, and the limitless possibility of the imagination. The work will require a concentrated attention and expansion of emotional perceptions. The student will develop the ability to actively listen and see and not to anticipate or expect. The scene work will be taken from published screenplays, both contemporary and historical. Period work will require a richly detailed and historically accurate character study, paying attention to both the social and historical demands and the language. The scenes will be memorized, rehearsed, further explored with improvisational exercises, and reviewed with monitor playback. The scenes will then be camera blocked and shot in a workshop atmosphere that concentrates on performance rather than production value. Students will learn how much physicality is required for the master shot and for the two shot and how to harness the physical and emotional focus for extreme close-up work. There is the required movement aspect to this workshop, as well. Each session will begin with physical and emotional exercises that will allow the performers to move, to breathe, and to play. The student will be offered the opportunity to step behind the camera and observe what the DP sees in order to better comprehend the framing of a shoot. They will learn how to maintain and match continuity while using props and physical movement. Voice-over and ADR skills will also be explored. In the spring semester, the students will work on final scenes that will be either original or published. Those scenes will be costumed, with props and production value. Conference work will be discussed with each student individually. The course will include short writing assignments, weekly performance journals, short reactions to the required texts, and perhaps writing original monologues to be performed. This course of study is equally valuable to the emerging performer, director, and screenwriter seeking to understand the alchemy of performance for the camera.

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The Last Picture Show: Advanced Writer/Director’s Workshop

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Experience and permission of the instructor are required. Though not exclusive, preference will be given to third- and fourth-year students.

This workshop is geared toward the student who has taken several narrative filmmaking classes and would like to work on a capstone project. In the first semester, we will develop ideas into screenplays and get them ready for production. Students may work with outside producers but will be responsible for some preliminary breakdown work in the service of producing their films. Directing exercises will focus on working with actors and creating sketches from the student’s final work. Labs will be chosen by the class members to develop certain technical skills that they may need to execute their projects. The class will include periodic film screenings to analyze the work of other established directors. Students will produce their projects early in the second semester, leaving the last portion of the term to edit and refine their films. We will workshop rough and fine cuts of their films so that the students might finish their films with a high degree of polish.

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Script to Screen

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will introduce students to all aspects of filmmaking, from conceiving of a script through exhibition of the final work. The first semester will focus on screenwriting, and the students will write short scripts that they will then produce and direct in the second semester. Simultaneously, students will learn to use the school’s filmmaking equipment and editing software and utilize those skills in a series of short, targeted video exercises. These exercises will not only familiarize the students with the gear at their disposal but also introduce them to concepts of visual storytelling (i.e., where to put the camera to tell the story). The second semester will focus on preproduction and previsualization of the student’s conference film. Students will learn how to craft shot lists, floor plans, look books, and other tools to help them organize their film shoots. Students will also practice directing actors and finding a method for effective communication with their cast. They will also learn some basic production management skills, such as breaking down scripts for production and scheduling. After shooting their conference films, students will workshop their rough cuts in the classroom and fine-tune their edits in preparation for the final class—THE SCREENING!

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DIY: Do-It-Yourself Filmmaking: No-Budget Solutions to “Getting It Done”

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

A basic knowledge of screenwriting, camera operation, and nonlinear editing is required.

Has there ever been a better time to be a no-budget filmmaker? Recent technological advancements in camera and editing equipment have made it possible for just about anyone to create slick, high-resolution images for very little money. As films get easier to produce, however, good films become harder to find. So how does the nascent filmmaker distinguish his/her work from the crowd? With a great script, sure-footed direction, and a smart allocation of available resources. In this immersive filmmaking workshop, students will be introduced to the great, self-reliant world of DIY filmmaking. Want a smoke machine? We’ll make one! Need a portable jib arm? We’ll make one! Students will undertake several DIY builds—such as fig rigs, snorricams, panel lights, and air-pump squibs—and then work those projects into several shooting assignments. For conference, students will develop and shoot a short film over the course of the semester. We will discuss scripts not only in terms of their story but also in terms of their scope and their producability. Our next step will be to previsualize the student’s conference film by making shot lists, floor plans, and look books. Students will then go out and shoot their films and bring back the footage for editing. We’ll review basic postproduction procedures and introduce software effects that can add polish to a project without adding cost. The goal of the course is to push the student creatively without multiplying costs beyond what is necessary. With the school’s equipment and other resources at your disposal, the only limitation to you as a filmmaker is your imagination and resourcefulness.

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Working With Light and Shadow

Open , Seminar—Year

This introductory-level, yearlong course will present students with the basics of cinematography and film production. Students will explore cinematography as an art of visual storytelling. The cinematographer plays a critical role in shaping the light and composition of an image and capturing that image for the screen. Students will investigate the theory and practice of this unique visual language and its power as a narrative element in cinema. In addition to covering camera operation, students will explore composition, visual style, and the overall operation of lighting and grip equipment. In the first semester, students will work together on scenes that are directed and produced in class and geared toward the training of set etiquette, production language, and workflow. Work will include the re-creation of classic film scenes, with an emphasis on visual style. Students will discuss their work and give feedback that will be incorporated into the next project. For conference, students will be required to produce a second scene re-creation, incorporating elements discussed throughout the term. The second semester will focus on developing and shooting original work written and directed for in-class production. Students will outline projects, draw floor plans, edit, and screen the final project for the class. This is an intensive, hands-on workshop that immerses the student in all aspects of film production. By the end of the course, students should feel confident to approach a film production project with enough experience to take on introductory positions, with the potential for growth.

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Fundamentals of Camera and Lighting

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this introductory-level production course, students will explore the art of cinematography by producing weekly exercises designed to create and break down visual styles. Student will select and re-create a scene from a motion-picture film, television series, or music video. The goal of each class will be to work with available resources to replicate the selected scene to the smallest detail, focusing on composition, color, framing, camera movement, costume, and set design. Each student will come prepared with key elements, including talent, props, and set design needs to set up, shoot, and break down each assignment by the end of each session. Throughout the semester, students will alternate crew positions, allowing the opportunity to experience everything from directing and working with the camera to lighting and gripping. Conference work will consist of an additional re-creation or original scene produced outside of class.

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Cinematography: Color, Composition, and Style

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

This course will explore the roles associated with film production, focusing on cinematography and lighting for the screen. In addition to covering camera operation and basic lighting techniques, students will explore composition, color palettes, and application of a visual style to enhance the story. Coursework will revolve around scene re-creations. Students will produce scenes in class on a weekly basis. Work will be discussed and notes incorporated into the next project. As part of conference work, students will be required to produce a short project in addition to the work completed during class time, incorporating elements discussed throughout the semester. Students will develop, write, draw floor plans, shoot, edit, and screen a final project by the end of the term. This is an intensive, hands-on workshop that immerses the student in all aspects of film production. By the end of the course, students should feel confident enough to approach a film production project with the experience to take on introductory and assistant positions, with the potential for growth.

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Media Sketchbooks

Open , Seminar—Fall

This one-semester production course is for adventurers, artists, and budding filmmakers interested in exploring the media of video for artistic expression and social inquiry. The images and experiences developed through experimental film and video are as varied as the artists who make them. There is, by definition, no formula for this kind of work. Like paintings or poems, each film reflects the artist as much as the content driving the work. This course is designed to introduce the language of experimental film and strategies for the use of video/film and audio design as an expressive tool. We will investigate the idea of radical content and experimental form by establishing the normative models and procedures of cinema and video and then exploring ways to challenge these conventions. Through a series of video and animation assignments, the class will consider moving-image forms and styles that blur the boundaries between and among narrative, documentary, and abstract filmmaking. Projects will be furthered by screenings, readings, seminar discussions, and field trips. Topics will include, but not be limited to, issues of identity, the performative body, border crossings, cultural equivocation and mannerisms, blemished topographies, ritual and transformation. Labs are designed to help students develop proficiency with film equipment and editing systems, including AfterEffects.

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Related Disciplines

Advanced Projects in Writing for the Screen

Advanced , Seminar—Year

The candidate’s writer’s statement, list of courses taken, and experience, as well as the five-page screenwriting sample, must be emailed in advance of any interview to fstrype@sarahlawrence.edu, at which point an interview will be scheduled between instructor and student.

This class is for the serious, advanced screenwriter. Consideration requires a writer’s statement about the project(s) you wish to pursue, a list of courses taken and screenwriting experience, as well as a five-page screenwriting sample. The fall semester will be devoted to conceptualizing/reconceptualizing, developing/redeveloping, and structuring/restructuring your project, naturally depending upon your starting point. By semester’s end, you will be expected to have your project ready to type (there being a distinction in this course between writing and typing—writing is all the work done before typing up the first-draft pages). You will also be expected in the fall to complete a short screenplay of five-to-15 pages that either is representative of the longer piece that you aim to complete in the spring or can be the aim of your fall semester: i.e., to have a production-ready draft of a short-form film piece to be initiated at the end of the fall semester or early in the spring semester in another production class. The spring will be devoted to completing a first draft and polishing the project developed in the fall. For those choosing to focus exclusively on a short-form piece during the fall, the spring will be dedicated to the development and writing of another short-form piece or the initiation of a long-form project from the ground up. The seminar, workshop, and conference structure will be devoted to this overall process.

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BulletProof Screenwriting

Open , Seminar—Fall

Pursuing the fundamentals of developing and writing narrative fiction, motion-picture screenplays, the course starts with a focus on the atomic element of a screenplay: the scene. We’ll explore the nature of writing screen stories for film, television (and its many iterations these days), and the Web. The approach views screenwriting as having less of a connection to literature and playwriting and more of a connection to the oral tradition of storytelling. We will dissect the nature and construct of the screenplay to reveal that the document—the script—is actually the manifestation of the process of “telling your film” (or movie, or Web series, or TV show, et al). In BulletProof Screenwriting, the emerging screenwriter will be encouraged to think of and approach the work as a director; because until someone else appears to take the reins (if it is not the screenwriter), the writer is the director, albeit (for now) on the page. Indeed, the course will explore filmmaking from a director’s point of view, yet in the hands of a screenwriter. With the class structured as a combination of seminar and workshop-style exchanges, students will read selected texts and produced screenplays, write detailed script analyses, view films and clips, and, naturally, write short narrative fiction screenplays. While students will be writing scenes and scripts starting in the first class, they will also be introduced to the concept of “talking their stories,” as well, in order to explore character and plot while gaining a solid foundation in screen storytelling, visual writing, and screenplay evolution. We will migrate from initial ideas through research techniques, character development, story generation, outlining, the rough draft, and rewrites. Students will be immersed in the fundamentals of character, story, universe and setting, dramatic action, tension, conflict, sequence structure, acts, and style. In-class analysis of peer work within the context of a safe and productive environment will help students have a critical eye and develop skills to apply to the troubleshooting of one’s own work. Overall, the student builds a screenwriter’s toolkit to use as various projects emerge in the future. The aim of the class is for students to complete a series of short-form screenplays and a final written project. In conference, students may research and develop a long-form screenplay or teleplay, develop a TV series concept and “bible,” initiate and develop a Web-series concept, craft a series of short screenplays for production courses or independent production, rewrite a previously written script, adapt original material from another form, and so forth. Research and screen storytelling skills developed through the course may be applied to other writing forms.

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Screenwriting: Telling the Truth Through Fiction

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

The landscape for the screenwriter has dramatically changed during the past several years, with new opportunities to write producible short films, YouTube® sketches, and Web series seen by millions of viewers, as well as long-form “films” or “movies” initially conceived for, and destined for, the “silver screen”—a screen that is seemingly changing in color, size, and setting on a daily basis. The disarray of the current film industry has created confusion and opportunity. Nevertheless, the baseline expectation in the contemporary narrative “film form” still remains: It is the expression of a character or characters progressing through a structured journey or series thereof. Elemental to this process is having your audience believe your characters, believe the universe that they inhabit, and find “truth” in the screen story that you’ve created. In life and in film, we laugh, we cry, we cringe, we shield our eyes, and we stare in wonder when we see and feel the truth. It’s ironic that in our quest to create dramatic fiction, we must actually “tell the truth.” There is a writer’s saying, “A writer must lie her way to the truth.” The audience engages with material when they realize: I’ve been there. I know that feeling. I know that person. I am that person. This course supports the process of finding and expressing truth in fiction. Designed for the emerging contemporary screenwriter, the course includes opportunities for those creating a new idea, adapting original material into the screenplay form, rewriting a screenplay or Web to series, or finishing a screenplay-in-progress destined for whatever screen or screens s/he aims to assail. A review of screenwriting fundamentals during the first few weeks, as well as a discussion of the state of each project, will be followed by an intense screenwriting workshop experience. Published screenplays, several useful texts, and clips of films and Web series will form a body of examples to help concretize aspects of the art and craft.

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Writing Moving Pictures

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong course, for the beginning to intermediate screenwriter, is a rigorous yet intimate setting in which to explore and immerse oneself in the screenwriting process. Students may work either on short or feature-length screenplays or on an original television pilot or Web series episode. They will read peer work, with the entire process supported by in-class analysis and critiques thereof. Students are expected to contribute heavily to the class discussion. Fundamentals of character, story, universe and setting, dramatic action, tension, conflict, structure, and style will be explored. In conference, in addition to honing their class screenwriting project, students are also welcome to craft a series of short screenplays for production courses or independent production, rewrite a previously written script, adapt original material from another form, and so forth.

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Writing for Television: From Spec Script to Original TV Pilot

Open , Seminar—Year

The fundamental skill of successful television writers is the ability to craft entertaining and compelling stories for characters, worlds, and situations that have been created by others. Though dozens of writers may work on a show over the course of its run, the “voice” of the show is unified and singular. The best way to learn to write for television—and a mandatory component of your portfolio for agents, managers, show runners, and producers—is to draft a sample episode of a pre-existing show, known as a “spec script.” Developing, pitching, writing, and rewriting stories hundreds of times—extremely quickly, in collaboration, and on tight deadlines—is what TV writers on staff do every day, fitting each episode seamlessly into the series as a whole in tone, concept, and execution. This workshop will introduce students to these fundamental skills by taking them, step-by-step, through writing their own spec (sample) script for an ongoing dramatic television series. The fall will take students through the spec-script process, from premise lines through the outline/beat sheet to writing a complete draft of a full, one-hour teleplay for a currently airing show. No original pilots will be pursued in the fall. In conference, students will work, in depth, through additional drafts of their script pages. In this class, there will be heavy TV viewing in the first third of the semester, as students “learn” the shows that are to be spec-ed in this class. In the spring, the class builds on fundamentals learned in the fall, now with the focus on creating an original TV pilot. Students will hone concepts, develop characters, and generate beat sheets and pages to create and write an original one-hour or half-hour show (no three-camera sitcoms). Focusing on engineering story machines, we power characters and situations with enough conflict to generate episodes over many years. In conference, students may wish to craft another spec script, begin to develop characters and a series "bible" for their original show, or work on previously developed material. Prospective students are expected to have an extensive working knowledge across many genres of TV shows that have aired domestically during the past several decades.

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Screenwriting Through the Director’s Lens

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course will focus on the practice of screenwriting from a director’s unique point of view. Even if students never plan to direct, they are indeed writing a script to be directed. Therefore, it’s of significant value for a writer to be thinking like a director, just as a director who never intends to act benefits from taking acting classes. The fact is, until a director shows up, the writer has to fill those directorial shoes in the creation of the screenplay. Effective screenwriting requires an understanding of story structure and an ability to shape character, theme, tone, and incident to dramatic effect. It is said that every film is made (at least) three times—through screenwriting, production, and postproduction. The screenwriting process is a safe and open platform to imagine every detail of the unfolding vision for a film, as characters take on a life of their own and as the story becomes what it is meant to become. The class will include writing exercises, discussions of exemplary scripts circulated for study, screening discussions, and critiques of each other’s work. In conference, students may work on whatever interests them, whether that involves short or feature-length film screenplays, TV pilots, Web series, or something unique. As the semester advances, conference work can naturally merge with the workshopping process, with regular revision of one’s writing for maximum impact. The expectation is that you will come to the class with a piece on which you wish to work.

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Screenwriting Is Rewriting

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

The course title—a ubiquitous adage in the world of screenwriting—says it all. Screenwriting IS rewriting. This course is for the screenwriter specifically involved in the rewriting process. The student is expected to have a previously completed short-form or long-form script, teleplay, original TV pilot episode, Web series writing, et al, which they wish to take to the next level. Through a rigorous yet supportive workshop environment, the goal is to reconsider all aspects of what has been written with the aim of a refined—if not polished—draft by semester’s end. Conference will be devoted to the considerably demanding task of the rewriting process. That being said, conference may also include the initiation of a future project from the concept stage, developing and defining (or redefining) characters, building or restructuring an outline, and so forth. While format, style, and structural strategies will be reviewed and honed in the course, the expectation is that the writer has screenwriting experience.

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Producing for Filmmakers, Screenwriters, and Directors

Open , Seminar—Year

Producers are credited on every film, TV show, and media project. They are crucial—even seminal—to each and every production, no matter how big or small. Yet, even as a pivotal position in the creative and practical process of making a film, TV show, or digital project, the title “producer” is perhaps the least understood of all collaborators involved. What is a producer? This course demystifies and answers this question, examining what a producer actually does in the creation of screen-based media and the many hats one or a small army of producers may wear at any given time. Students will explore the role of the producer in the filmmaking, TV, and digital process from the moment of creative inspiration through project delivery. In the fall semester, students will gain hands-on producing experience through nuts-and-bolts production software exercises, breaking down projects into production elements, script breakdown, crafting schedules and budgets, logline, synopsis and treatment writing, script coverage, and final project presentation. In the spring semester, students delve into the “show business” side of producing and explore the 21st-century producer’s role in the real world. Applying knowledge and skills from the fall semester, students will learn the fundamentals of TV pilot season, entertainment law, optioning material, music licensing, traditional and innovative financing models, daily industry trends, pitching, film marketing and publicity, global film industry trends, the roles that lawyers/agents/managers/sales agents play, and the relationships between and among producers, directors, and writers. This course decodes the intersection of art and commerce as it relates to the business and creative elements of producing. Course work includes written and verbal assignments, in-class presentations, readings, screenings, assignments based on invited industry guests, and in-class final presentations. Conference work may include producing a film or media project by a student in another SLC filmmaking production class, research based or in-depth case studies, and other producer-related work. Designed to provide real-world producing guidance, the course offers filmmakers, screenwriters, and directors a window into the importance of, and mechanics pertaining to, the producing discipline and a practical skill set for creating and seeking work in the filmmaking, TV, and digital content world after SLC.

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The Art and Craft of Development and Pitching for Film and Television

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall and Spring

The first step to getting any project made is having the goods: a screenplay—an original TV pilot, episodes of a Web series, a short film, a documentary treatment or proposal—and then developing a rock-solid pitch. There is, indeed, a right way to pitch your ideas and projects. This course teaches students how to develop a project into a pitch package and how to pitch that project, an essential skill for all writers, filmmakers, directors, and producers. With existing scripts and projects, this class guides students in how to understand studio and network needs, how to ensure your script is ready to pitch, how to establish industry contacts, how to be a good communicator, how to understand and grapple with changing audience tastes, and, overall, how to sell your idea. Every development executive is looking for great stories and screenplays that will make successful films, TV shows, and digital content. This course coaches students to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their scripts, treatments, and projects and explore what platform will best suit their project and why? What kind of viewer will it appeal to? Is it practical? Has it been done before? Answering some of these questions will aid students in understanding the practicalities of development. Through a workshop process of analyzing scripts, creating pitch packages, and verbal pitching, students will learn what makes their particular project marketable, how to make their stories resonate, and how to engage with and pitch to the gatekeepers of the myriad platforms where audiences seek stories on screen. Students should have a completed project for which they wish to develop a pitch.

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Introduction to 3D Animation

Open , Small seminar—Year

In this yearlong class, students will be introduced to the theory and practice of 3D modeling and compositing for animation; 3D animation design and architectural concepts will be explored in the lecture room, on the computer, and in the studio. The purpose of this class is to build the skills necessary to leverage the use of a professional 3D program (Cinema 4D) in storytelling and animation projects. Instructional topics include: primitive objects, transformations, curve creation and manipulation, symmetries, surface creation and modification, rendering, frames, keyframes, hierarchical animation, morphing, expressions, rigging, projection mapping, and compositing. Weekly assignments will provide students with the building blocks necessary to take their projects in individual directions. Cinema 4D is an industry-standard 3D design and animation software package used in a wide range of projects, from motion graphics to full-length feature films.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

1) This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through encoded idioms of orientalism. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter-narration to images previously established during the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. 2) Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent in terms of both degradation and a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. 3) Postcolonial writers and artists, therefore, continue to renegotiate identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of language, ethnicity, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of religious fundamentalisms? This seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture is based on works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Hindu Iconography and Ritual 

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

This seminar focuses on the visual cultures of India and Nepal. Hindu traditions encompass a dramatically diverse range of beliefs and practices. Iconography provides a pathway toward decoding that diversity. How are the proverbial 330,000 gods and goddesses understood to be manifestations of a common unity? How does the Hindu pantheon encode gender with respect to status, functions, and roles? Where are caste hierarchies reflected among the emblems held by multi-armed deities? In what ways does iconography narrate the history of Aryan and Dravidian interactions? Through a study of painting, sculpture, popular lithographs, and multi-media sources, this seminar offers a window into the social histories, cultural practices, and spiritual values of Indian civilization.

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Landscapes in Translation: Cartographies, Visions, and Interventions

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Background in humanities, social sciences or arts preferred. Advanced, open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and analysis of texts.

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. The literatures of critical geography and political ecology provide theory and cases illuminating connections between the position of the cartographer and presuppositions about the nature of the territory being mapped and managed. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape design in colonial New England and Indonesia and on contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Control: Emerging Security-Scapes, investigates the rise of militarized “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. We analyze the visual surround and landscapes seen by remote drone “pilots” scanning Los Angeles and Somalia and surveillance of the occupied Palestinian landscapes; we draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, media studies, and social theory.

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Introduction to Film History, Part I

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course provides an introduction to the study of film from its “prehistory” in phantasmagoria, magic theatre, and chronophotography, through its technological development and institutionalization in the 19th century, to the diverse range of production modes in the mid-20th century. Lectures will explore key developments such as early cinema and the cinema of attractions, documentary and ethnographic cinema, the Hollywood studio system and genre filmmaking, the historical avant-garde such as German Expressionism, Soviet montage, Dada and Surrealism, early American avant-garde, and film noir. Students will acquire fundamental skills in film analysis and interpretation. Weekly screenings will be complemented by lectures devoted to in-depth analyses of films and their historical contexts. Assignments will emphasize close reading and sociocultural inquiry.

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Introduction to Film History, Part II

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course provides an introduction to the study of film and its history from the mid-20th century through contemporary digital technologies of production and circulation. Lectures will explore key developments such as neorealism, La Nouvelle Vague, cinéma vérité and direct cinema, Third Cinema, Yugoslav Black Wave, New German Cinema, postwar American avant-garde, New Hollywood and the blockbuster, Bollywood, video art, the essay film, and multimedia environments. Students will acquire fundamental skills in film and media analysis and interpretation. Weekly screenings will be complemented by lectures on in-depth analyses of films and their historical contexts. Assignments will emphasize close reading and sociocultural inquiry.

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Art and Visual Perception

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how visual neuroscience and art-making can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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3D Modeling

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course introduces students to the process of constructing digital objects and environments in the virtual space of the computer. Emphasis will be on a strong grasp of form, space, and composition. Fundamentals of hard-edge and organic surface modeling will be thoroughly exercised, while further exploration of the digital tools will cover shading and texturing, lighting, and rendering with the virtual camera. Over the course of the semester, students will be challenged to create increasingly complex objects, environments, and imagery. Through readings and discussion, students will also be encouraged to consider the conceptual ramifications of working in computer space. Contemporary examples of computer-generated imagery in art, film, and media—juxtaposed with historical views on visual illusion from art and philosophy—will form a broader context in which to examine the medium.

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No, Really, Where Do Ideas Come From? A Fiction Workshop/Creative Bootcamp

Open , Seminar—Fall

It’s not a stupid question. We’ll seek to answer it by spending the first third of the semester engaging in writing exercises, thought experiments, intelligence gathering, and craft discussions designed to get your own ideas flowing and to provide seeds for the stories that you'll be writing. The rest of the semester will be devoted to workshopping what you’ve written, with the class coming together to create a constructive community of readers with the kindness, toughness, honesty, and sensitivity that can make a workshop a unique and valuable writing tool. Ambition and risk-taking will be encouraged, as we address a slew of other not-stupid questions such as: What makes a plot strong? Does a character have to be likable? And how much truth goes into fiction? Outside reading will be designed to take you in and out of your comfort zones, running the gamut from realism to fabulism and featuring a multitude of rule makers and rule breakers for you to admire and inspire, love and loathe—sometimes simultaneously.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Writing and Producing Audio Fiction

Open , Seminar—Year

The goal of this class is to start a revolution. Over the past few years, we have entered into a time of what is being called “The Second Golden Age of Radio.” But there is a problem. This Golden Age is primarily nonfiction. This class will change that. Students will learn to write and produce groundbreaking contemporary audio dramas for radio and podcast. We will listen to emerging works from podcasts such as Welcome to Night Vale, The Truth, Wiretap, and Lore, as well as by authors who have played in this field: Miranda July, Rick Moody, Gregory Whitehead, Joe Frank, and others. We will also create our own critical discourse for contemporary audio drama—analyzing writings and essays from the fields of screenwriting, sound art, contemporary music, and literature—to help understand and analyze the works that we are creating. The creators of Limetown and The Truth and other audio fiction makers will visit the class to talk about their stories and production processes. The class will also contribute to the newly created Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award (aka, The Sarahs)—the first international audio fiction award in the United States. Students will make works for The Very, Very, Short, Short Stories Contest and help curate works for the award-show podcast. At the end of the year, students will take over WGXC radio station in the Hudson Valley and broadcast their final conference projects.

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Words and Pictures

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a course with writing at its center and other arts—mainly, but not exclusively, visual—around it. We will read and look at all kinds of narratives, children’s books, folk tales, fairy tales, and graphic novels and try our hands at many of them. The reading tends to come from a wide range of times and places and includes everything from ancient Egyptian love poems to contemporary Latin American literature. For conference work, people have done graphic novels, animations, quilts, rock operas, items of clothing with text attached, nonfiction narratives that take a subject and explore it visually and in text, and distopian fictions with pictures. There will be weekly assignments that involve making something. This course is especially suited for students with an interest in some other art or body of knowledge that they would like to make accessible to nonspecialists. The spring semester will be similar in approach but with different assignments and texts. This course may be taken for one semester, either semester, or as a yearlong class.

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