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HS Video Cinema Arts: Syllabus 2019-2020

Amy McGrath, David Higgins, Torrance Maurer

The mission of the Video Cinema Arts Department is to educate our students in the art, craft, and technology of film and video. The program offers intensive hands-on production experience. We nurture individual talent and skills, and encourage students to become creative and thoughtful practitioners in the world of media.

Nature of VCA 

Film is both a powerful communication medium and an art form. The VCA aims to develop students’ skills so they become adept in both interpreting and making films. 

VCA has three instructors, Ms. McGrath and Mr. Higgins and Mr. Maurer. The students rotate between two classrooms.  Ms. McGrath will cover pre-production that includes: screenwriting and other writing exercises, casting, location scouting, film theory and history, and other tasks in the pre-production aspect of filmmaking. Mr. Higgins and Mr. Maurer will continue the process with production and post-production to complete the filmmaking process. That will include shooting, video and audio editing and other aspects of post-production.

Pre-Production: Developing writing skills and an understanding of the art and history of film is essential to any filmmaker. The Pre-production aspect of the course will develop students’ critical abilities, enabling them to appreciate the many complexities of the film medium. To achieve an understanding of the world of film, students are taught to consider films, theories and ideas from the points of view of different individuals and cultures. Students will also participate in writing exercises and develop their own screenplays. Students will be expected to have a fully developed screenplay, along with locations, cast, and pre-production notes in their production notebook by the end of the quarter in Pre-Production.

Production and Post Production:  This aspect of the course emphasizes the importance of collaboration in the filmmaking process.  Students are encouraged to develop the organizational and technical skills needed to express themselves creatively in filmmaking. A challenge for students is to become aware of their own perspectives and biases and learn to respect those of others. This requires willingness to attempt to understand alternative views, to respect and appreciate cultural diversity, and to have an open and critical mind. Thus VCA can become a way for the student to celebrate the intercultural dynamic that inspires artists and filmmakers. The students will shoot, edit and evaluate their work as part of the course. The students will then have the opportunity to send films to student film festivals. Students are expected to turn in their production notebooks at the completion of their film.

College and Career Preparation: High School students will work with our Goodwill/CTE specialist Jen Kubick on a variety of college and career readiness activities including:

  • resume writing, online portfolio development
  • community service projects
  • college and career research, preparation and planning
  • facilitation of Senior Professional Internships

VCA Core Values

The Video Cinema Arts Department is committed to helping students acquire a “TASTE” for filmmaking, the intersection of Teamwork, Artistry, Storytelling, Technology, Enthusiasm.

To accomplish this mission, we embrace these values:

Collaboration– It takes teamwork to make the dream work

Responsibility– Care, Be Aware, Do Your Share

Respect– Each other, the medium, the process, the tools

Creativity– Be curious, ask questions, innovate, have a vision

Love– Yourself, each other, the art

Goals and Objectives of the VCA Program

-To develop individual talent and skills within a collaborative working environment. 

-To provide professional level on-set experiences and practices which translate into post-high school success. 

-To encourage artistic, social, and cultural diversity.

-To offer support for an internship program offering a pre-professional experience.

-To provide venues for the presentation and promotion of student work.

-To support student participation in local and national festivals and opportunities.

Contact Information

Ms. Amy McGrath Mr. David Higgins Mr. Torrance Maurer

Video Cinema Arts Co-Director Video Cinema Arts Co-Director Video Cinema Arts Instructor

Phone: 720-424-1800 Phone: 720-424-1773 Torrance_Maurer@dpsk12.org

cinemamcgrath@dpsk12.net David_Higgins@dpsk12.org


What’s Expected?

Students must be willing to learn, be a team player, work well in groups, and show respect for you and your peers, and school equipment. You must be available to help your group shoot projects that take place outside of the school day.

School Supplies

High School: All students should have their own headphones for use in class daily. 

*** All HS VCA students must have a 16 GB SD card and 250GB external hard drive (minimum) by Friday, August 30th. It’s a good idea to get a case for your SD card. Keeping track of your card and insuring it is available to you daily is your responsibility. If this is a financial hardship, please see us individually.

Windows (Microsoft) computers are not supported. We run the industry standard Macintosh (Apple) machines. If you decide to use Windows outside of class, it is your responsibility to ensure compatibility with your hard drive when you are in class editing! 

Assessment objectives:

 VCA students will be expected to demonstrate:

1.an understanding of the variety of ways in which film creates meaning

2. an understanding of the critical elements of story, including structure, character development, dialogue, archetype, etc.

3. an understanding and effective use of appropriate film language

4. originality and creativity in developing an idea through the various stages from conception to

finished production

5. technical skills and an appropriate use of available technology

6. the ability to draw together their knowledge, skills, research and experience, and apply them

analytically to evaluate films

7. a critical understanding of the historical, theoretical, cultural, economic or institutional

contexts of film.

8. the ability to plan and organize working processes

9. the ability to reflect upon and evaluate film production processes and completed films.

10. the ability to complete every aspect of a short film on schedule.

Please show respect to the class and remove your headphones and put your phone away! One warning, then you will lose it for the class period!


Service to Cinema: 

Each semester, HS VCA students are required to participate in some type of task, chore or activity that offers service to the VCA Department. The Service to Cinema grade will be worth approximately 10% of your final semester grade. 

These activities include but are not limited to: 

Check-out clerk, shooting and directing performances at DSA, editing performances, mentor, cleaning and organizing, assisting in or creating outside or special projects (sometimes non-profits and individuals contact VCA to have projects completed.) 

Each student has to choose one of these assignments per semester. Each student will be responsible to document and reflect on their service on the “Service to Cinema” log that will be included in their Cinema Portfolio. If you are unsure about what activities may qualify, please consult with one of your Cinema teachers.

The Video Cinema Arts Leadership Council is a student leadership group that takes on production of various video projects, produces posters and promotional materials for the department, and advises the department on equipment requests, curriculum decisions, fundraising, etc. The VCA Student Leadership council (VCALC) will meet weekly on Tuesdays in Ms. McGrath’s room. 

Assignments: Movie projects (rotation of director, cinematographer, boom pole operator, lighting grip, continuity director, script writer, video and audio editor, story board artist, location scout, casting director, music composer), movie and peer reviews, journals, writing exercises, drawing and photo exercises, scene analysis, reviews after attending film festivals, reports and labs, and class participation. We utilize Google Drive extensively. Assignment will be posted there as well as links to films screened in class. If you miss a day, please check GDrive before emailing a teacher. 

Cinema Assignments will include:

1. Project & Class participation/work 

a. Quality of project through all phases of production, project timely   completion, participation in class, enthusiasm

b. Labs

c. Periodic preparation checks (pencil, notebook)

d. Punctuality, dependability 

e. Attitude, cooperation 

2. Written work 

a. Script writing

b. Movie reviews

c. Director Reports

d. Cinematographer, genre, historical reports 

e. Project reviews

f. Journals

g. Shot analysis

h. Script writing exercises

i. Scene analysis

3. Career and College Readiness work. (High School only) 

– High school students will be working regularly with Ms. Jenn Kubick, our Career and Technical Education specialist.  They will be designing online work portfolios, resumes, artist statements, and participating in a range of other career and college related activities. Work for this class will be graded, and will be factored in as 10% of each semester’s grade. For grade purposes, this will be figured as your “final” each semester.

4. Final Projects 

You will have multiple projects due each quarter in VCA. Sometimes these final projects will be your final screenplays and pre-production notebooks, sometimes they will be completed film projects, and sometimes they will be “other” projects (photo projects, scene analysis projects, etc.) You will receive more details about this over the course of the semester, but your final film project evaluations will be based on the following criteria:

*   Pre-production organization
*   Camera/Lighting
*   Sound
*   Coverage
*    Blocking
*    Production Design
*    Casting & Performance
*    Production Value

5. Grading Notice

An ‘A’ student consistently makes deadlines on time, demonstrates very good attendance skills, faithfully reads their books and handouts and makes positive contributions to the classroom discussions and exercises. Most importantly, the work reflects a strong grasp of the skills taught in the class with regards to Production and Overall Execution. Emphasis will also be placed on Originality, Entertainment Value, Organization and Production Value.

B’ is Above Average Work. 

–‘C’ is Average Work. If you find yourself saying the words “Good Enough” on a frequent basis, this may well be the grade you are heading for. Absences, tardiness, late and missed assignments also may factor.

–‘D’ is Considerably Less than Average. Absences, tardiness, late and missed assignments also will probably be a factor.

–‘F’ is Failing


Safety is the most important value on any film set. Please no guns, knives, swords, fires, car chases, running through traffic, drug or alcohol use (real), actors on high ledges or bridge railings or any other types of dangerous situations. The mistreatment of animals for the sake of your film is unacceptable. Reckless endangerment of cast and/or crew for the sake of your film is not permissible and grounds for failure of the class.


  • The world of cinema and media requires timeliness and the ability to respond to deadlines, and so does the VCA Department. Get your work turned in, on time. Late work can be turned in for one letter grade down within the first week, and 50% credit thereafter. This will become especially important on your screenplays and final film projects, which are high-points grades. A list of final project deadlines will be given to all students at the beginning of the year. Please make sure that you put these dates on your calendars! Makeup work from excused absences must be completed promptly. It is YOUR responsibility to find out what work you missed if you were absent. If you need help or more time on an assignment or project, it is your responsibility to communicate with your VCA teacher at least 24 hours before the assignment or project is due.

Equipment Responsibility

Each student will have hands on experience with thousands of dollars worth of cameras and computers.

Students will have the opportunity to check out and use camera equipment for departmental approved projects, so long as they treat the equipment with respect. This year we are implementing a new system of equipment management. We’ll be following up with more details soon.  

For students with non-VCA student crews: Your crew needs to meet with us BEFORE you shoot and if you plan on having them use VCA gear, they need to schedule a time to come in and train on the gear. Additionally, all non-VCA students will need to sign a form with their patent/guardian and we will be holding everyone accountable on set. This is especially important regarding safety!

Welcome to the DSA Video Cinema Arts Family! We’re so happy that you’re here. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, and please know that your participation and commitment to excellence will be essential to the success of the program, and your success as a filmmaker!