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Video Cinema Arts: Middle School Syllabus 2019-20

Ms. McGrath, Mr. Higgins and Mr. Maurer

Nature of VCA 

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

VCA has three instructors, Ms. McGrath, Mr. Higgins and Mr. Maurer. The students rotate between the two VCA classrooms, pre-production (upstairs, 217) and Production (downstairs, Room 100B) Ms. McGrath will cover pre-production that includes: screenwriting and other writing exercises, casting, location scouting, film theory and history, drawing, still photography 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 working mostly as a member of a group. 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, record, 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 complete their production notebooks at the completion of their film.

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 the highest standard of education and training as well as a broad spectrum of visiting artists.

-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. Occasionally, MS production teams will need to meet after school or on the weekends to complete a shoot or project. Your participation in these projects is mandatory.

School Supplies

Each student should have their own headphones every day, pens, paper, composition book for journaling

Additionally, please contribute to the VCA Department supply needs if you can. Students should bring their supplies in within the next week, to whichever teacher is their first quarter VCA teacher.

6th graders- Box (or boxes) of tissue, Box of Crayola Markers

7th graders- Clorox disinfecting wipes, Box of Crayola Markers

8th graders- Hand sanitizer and a 16 GB SD card for departmental use

VCA 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.

VCA Evaluation: Grades in Cinema will be based on the following:

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!

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

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. Final projects- You will have a major final project 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.) 


Safety is the most important value on any film set. Please no actual 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 reduced credit the first week, and 50% credit thereafter. This will become especially important on your screenplays and final film projects, which are high-points grades. 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 checkout and use camera equipment, so long as they treat the equipment with respect.

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!