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How Do They Do That? Understanding Film Techniques

Course Times & Enrolment

Tuesdays from 26th September 2023 (Code FM047-101) Tuesdays from
26th September 2023 6:30pm - 8:20pm • (10 classes)
LG47 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: Rolland Man BA MA MSc
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

When and how did the camera start to move? Why are some films in lurid colour while others are more muted? How has the screen changed shape over the decades? How and why did special effects evolve? If you have ever asked any of these questions, this is the course for you. We will explore film as the supreme marriage of art and technology.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge required.

Content of Course

1. The Birth of Cinema – Narration and Reportage through Technology.

2. Shadows and Lights: Lighting and Early Colour.

3. They Come in Colour Everywhere: The Evolution of Colour Technology.

4. Playing with Time and Space: Principles of Editing Techniques.

5. That Moving Feeling: When, Why and How the Camera Started to Move.

6. The Sound of Silence: The Constant Presence of Music and Sound Effects.

7. How We See What We See: Cameras, Lenses, Editing within the Frame.

8. Is Bigger Better? : Screen Ratio, Scope, Widescreen.

9. She’s Got the Look: Set Design, Costumes and Makeup in Black and White and Colour Films.

10. And How Do They Do That? : Special Effects and Animation.

Teaching method(s)

This is a lecture-based course with film excerpts, analysis and extensive group discussion, in 2-hour meetings over 10 weeks.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the student should be able to:

  • Learn about, describe and explain camera work;

  • Identify film techniques and evaluate them in the context of their time;

  • Identify similarities and divergences between different periods and regions;

  • Discuss technical continuity and disjunctions in the evolution of cinema as an art form;

  • Evaluate the impact of the new art form and the relationship between technical development and artistic achievements.


Core Readings

  • Phillips, W.H. (2009) Film: An Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

  • Dick, B.F. (2002) Anatomy of Film. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

  • Monaco, J. (2009) How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History and Theory of Film and Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Salt, B. (2009) Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis. London: Starword.

  • Winston, B. (2019) Technologies of Seeing: Photography, Cinematography and Television. London: British Film Institute.

  • Sikov, E. (2009) Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press. Kegan Paul.
  • Fawell, J. (2008) The Hidden Art of Hollywood: In Defense of the Studio Era Film. Westport and London: Praeger.

  • Langford, B. (2005) Film Genre: Hollywood and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Neale, S. (ed.) (2012) The Classical Hollywood Reader. London: Routledge.

  • Williams, M. (2013) Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism: The Rise of Hollywood's Gods. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

Class Handouts

The tutor will provide photocopies and other notes for students.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.