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COURSE NAME: "Foundations of Digital Video Production"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2016

INSTRUCTOR: Brian Thomson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: W3:30 PM 6:15 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment

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. 

As a matter of fact, the course is so intensive that I would 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.

Screenplay 15
Preproduction Package 15
Midterm 15
Final Project 30
ParticipationParticipation 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.15
Final Exam 10

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

This course requires an extraordinary amount of work to be completed outside of class hours.  Students who expect to travel frequently during weekends are strongly advised against registering for this course.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Before the first day of class

Read up on pitching at Wordplayer.com and give us an idea for a 5-10 minute film: any narrative genre (thriller, horror, comedy, etc.- NO documentary), any style, any subject.


Week 1 - Screenwriting

Intro to story structure; scene analysis; screenplay format (and why the screenplay format is the way it is); market research; group formation; pitches; intro to Celtx (open source pre-production software)

Reading: Story, McKee

Homework: Write the script for your group's short


Week 2 - Camera Operation

Fundamentals of camera operation, including frame rate, shutter speed, aperture, ISO (esp. for HDSLRs), white balance, tripod movement, rack focus, etc.

Reading: HMC Book, Green

Shooting exercises (location/school)


Week 3 - Lighting

Electricity 101; using available light, 1,2, 3 and 4-point lighting (key, fill, back, and hair); shaping light with reflectors, flags, and gobos; color temperature

Reading: Film Lighting, Malkiewicz

Shooting exercises (location/school)


Week 4 - Audio

Acquisition strategies; dual system sound; sample/bit rates; using a shotgun; booming techniques; dealing with wind and other environmental variables; using lav mics, plants, etc.

Reading: Producing Great Audio for Digital Video, Rose

Shooting/recording exercises (location/school)


Week 5 - Directing

Shot composition, 180-degree rule, camera movement, storyboarding, pre-viz, casting

Readings: Directing, Rabiger; Setting Up Your Shots, Vineyard

In-class assignment: Direct a short scene from a set script

Screenings: Clips from Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher

Homework: Storyboard the short


Week 6 - Preproduction

On-set division of labor; breaking down the script, preparing a budget/schedule, producing shotlists, prepping for special effects, audio needs, etc.

Screening: Clips from Lost in La Mancha, dir. Fulton and Pepe

Homework: Produce a detailed production board for the short


Week 7 - Web Design Crash Course

WYSIWYG web design with iWeb/Rapidweaver, setting up a filmmaking blog, using the web for publicity/fundraising, case studies

Homework:  Begin principal photography


Weeks 8-9 - Non-linear Editing w/Final Cut Pro

Setting up a project in FCP, importing (log/transfer), organizing footage, metadata, adding clips to the timeline (overlay, insert, etc.), 3/4-point edits, trimming footage, adding transitions and effects

Reading: In the Blink of an Eye, Murch

In-class assignment: Create an animatic from project storyboards

Homework: Continue principal photography


Week 10 - Audio in post-production

Synchronizing dual-system sound and clip management in FCP; cleaning up audio; effects processing (parametric EQ, compression, normalizing, envelopes); sound effects design/recording; ADR; foley; mixing and mastering

Reading: Audio Post-production for Digital Video, Rose

In-class exercise: Create dialogue and effects tracks for the animatic

Homework: Complete principal photography 


Week 11 - Scoring w/Sonicfire

Using Sonicfire to create royalty-free soundtracks for projects, rhythm, melody, tempo, instrumentation, using scoring markers effectively, synchronization, legal issues

Screenings/listening: Waxman, Karas, Hermann, Mancini, Barry, Williams, Rota,  Goldsmith, Zimmerman 

In-class assignment: Score the animatic

Homework: Cut a 30-second trailer for the short


Week 12 - Review of the Dailies

Groups present raw footage from projects, critiques

Homework: Begin editing/shooting pickups (as needed)


Week 13 - Special Effects w/After Effects

Using After Effects for special effects and post-processing/color grading; alpha channels; compositing

In-class assignment: Develop a 'bumper' and credit roll for the short

Homework: Continue editing/shooting pickups (as needed)


Week 14 - DVD authoring w/Encore

Asset management; motion menus; titles; buttons; linking sections; secondary audio tracks (director commentary, etc.); encoding strategies for DVD


Week 15 - Web Distribution

Optimization and encoding for web distribution; codecs;  preparing demo-reels; course wrap-up

Homework: final update of group website

Final screening of finished projects