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Film Studies

Course Description

Film Studies is a year-long elective which meets the A-G Fine Arts requirement for UC approval. Storytelling is the most common way that we communicate to one another. Stories told with film have a tremendous influence on our attitudes and perceptions of the world around us.  In fact, films may be one of the most powerful tools in modern culture for shaping values and conveying information.  By viewing, studying, discussing and writing about film, students develop and demonstrate skills in technological, cultural, and media literacy, as well as critical thinking and problem solving - skills that will serve them well in the real world.  

Film Studies Syllabus

UNIT 1: The Birth of Cinema/ Silent Film    

Key Concepts: Precursors, early photography, persistence of vision, critical inventions, Thomas Edison’s role, public reaction, inter-titles, continuity, Charlie Chaplin, landmark silent films, actors and directors.

Film Examples: Lumiere Brothers’ First Films, A Trip to the Moon, The Gold Rush, The Kid, City Lights, Steamboat Bill, Jr., Nosferatu.

Time Frame:  Weeks 1-3

UNIT 2: The Introduction of Sound / The Musical  

Key Concepts: Important inventions, competing formats, public acceptance, newsreels, Broadway’s influence, changes in the musical genre over the years, landmark musical films, actors, and directors. 

Film Examples:  Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, The Beatles: Help!.                                        

Time Frame:  Weeks 4-7

UNIT 3: Censorship/ The Comedy  

Key Concepts: Public concerns, MPPDA, The Production Code, The Hays Commission, the rating system, landmark comedies, societal influences, effects of constraints on art, landmark comedy films, actors, writers and directors. 

Film Examples:  Duck Soup, Bringing Up Baby, Some Like It Hot,

Dr. Strangelove, What’s Up, Doc?

Time Frame:  Weeks 8-11

UNIT 4: The Studio System/ The Western        

Key Concepts: The Big Eight Studios, vertical integration, art as a business, landmark westerns, landscapes as characters, mythological heroes, landmark western films, actors, writers and directors. 

Film Examples:  Stagecoach, True Grit, The Searchers, Shane, High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma.

Time Frame:  Weeks 12-14

UNIT 5: Cinema and Patriotism/ The Combat Film 

Key Concepts: McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklist, House on Un-American Activities, First Amendment, Hollywood’s role in the war, war bonds, propaganda vs. patriotism, landmark war films, actors and directors.

Film Examples: Bataan, Sergeant York, Sands of Iwo Jima, Stalag 17, Paths of Glory, The Great Escape.

Time Frame:  Weeks 15-18 (End of Semester One)

UNIT 6:  Documentaries and Bias in Cinema

(Beginning of Semester Two)     

Key Concepts: Bias, first person accounts, journalistic versus editorial, history films, Cinema Verite, docudramas, biopics, re-enactments, propaganda, objectivity, landmark documentary films, artists, studios and directors. 

Film Examples:  Endless Summer, On Any Sunday, Encounters at the End of the World

Time Frame: Weeks 1-4

UNIT 7:  The Art of Cinematography/ Film Noir       

Key Concepts: The cinematographer as an artist, the rule of thirds, lighting concepts and terminology, techniques of focusing, negative space, shadowing, landmark noir films, actors, writers and directors.

Film Examples:  Sunset Boulevard, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, The Third Man, The Big Sleep, The Big Heat, Detour, Citizen Kane.

Time Frame: Weeks 5-8

UNIT 8: The Art of Editing/ Suspense Films

Key Concepts: The grammar of film editing, editing terminology, montage, cross-cutting, landmark suspense films, Alfred Hitchcock, other suspense actors and directors.

Film Examples:  Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, Wait Until Dark, Duel.

Time Frame: Weeks 9-11

UNIT 9: The Art of Director/ The Drama

Key Concepts: The evolution of the director’s job, the role of the director, producer vs. director, the auteur theory, the final cut, Orson Welles, David Lean, John Huston, landmark drama films and directors.

Film Examples:  On the Waterfront, Seven Samurai, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 12 Angry Men.

Time Frame: Weeks 12-15

UNIT 10: The Film School Generation/ The Blockbuster

Key Concepts: Low-budget filmmaking, B-movies, location shooting, product tie-ins, conglomerate takeovers, landmark 1970s films, artists, and directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg.

Film Examples:  American Graffiti, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.

Time Frame: Weeks 15-18


  1. Attending class and showing up to class on time.
  2. Keeping track of all notes and assignments.
  3. Participating in class discussions (online and in class).
  4. Keeping up with assigned reading.
  5. Preparing and studying for papers, quizzes, tests, and final exams.
  6. Getting help when having difficulty with a topic.


The course is based on a Total Point System. Students will earn points based on attendance, class participation, unit exams, quizzes, papers, and contributions to the class web page. There will be weekly film viewings, readings, online discussion questions with exams and papers due at the end of each unit of study. To view detailed grades you will need to log-in to the ANHS website with your Student’s Name and ID #.

MAKE UP WORK: Late assignments are accepted following an excused absence. In the case of an extended illness, assignments are obtained by calling the guidance office. To receive full credit, all assignments, tests, and quizzes must be made up within two weeks of returning from an excused absence.


  1. Be at your assigned seat ready to participate before the bell rings.
  2. Be an active listener and participant in class discussions.
  3. To help foster a distraction-free environment, please leave your food, gum, drink, hats, and electronic devices out of the classroom. iPods and cellphones will be confiscated.
  4. Be respectful of others at all times. Do not talk when the teacher or another student is addressing the class. Do not talk while films are playing.


About Mr. Ohnstad

  • BFA in Media Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design
  • MA in Telecommunications, Film and New Media Production from San Diego State University
  • Teaching Credential in English with CLAD Emphasis from San Diego State University
  • Teaching Credential in Multimedia from Cal State Long Beach
  • 18th year teaching in Capistrano Unified District
  • 12th year teaching at Aliso Niguel High School
  • 5th year as Fine and Practical Arts department chair