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How to Read a Film

Delve into the devices used to create meaning in film as you gain a deeper understanding of what we see on screen.

366 enrolled on this course

How to Read a Film

366 enrolled on this course

  • 5 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

  • Duration

    5 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
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    $189.99 for one yearLearn more

Master film studies as you learn how films create meaning

When you watch a film there are many elements working together to produce what you see and hear. The different elements, known as devices, have been carefully constructed so that your attention is drawn to certain things at certain times, forming the way in which a film communicates its story.

On this five-week course, you’ll unpack these elements to discover how they work, what they are called, and how they work together.

You’ll watch a range of short extracts from films and hear from filmmakers to understand why different devices have been chosen and the ways in which film creates meaning.

Understand how a filmmaker uses mise-en-scène to create a narrative

To help you gain practical skills in reading a film, you’ll start by exploring the story world.

You’ll unpack elements of mise-en-scène as well as shot choices to understand how a filmmaker creates a narrative.

Explore the importance of continuity editing

Next, you’ll delve into editing devices to understand how films create sequences. Exploring techniques such as continuity editing, you’ll learn how a film ensures consistency in its narrative.

Through different examples, you’ll see how these devices are used in practice to ensure you gain skills you can take outside of this course.

Delve into different film genres

Finally, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how plots are created in film as you explore different genres. You’ll also understand film from an audiences’ perspective as you uncover theories of spectatorship.

Guided by the experts at The Film Distributors’ Association, you’ll finish the course with the knowledge and skills to read a film and its devices.


  • Week 1


    • Welcome and Introduction

      Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the ways in which we understand films.

    • “Reading” and “film”

      What do we mean by the terms “reading” when applied to film and what do we actually mean when we talk about “film”.

    • Asking questions/Making sense

      What questions do we need to ask about a film as we watch it?

    • The development of a filmic language

      How has film language and aesthetics developed since the birth of film?

    • Elements of mise-en-scène

      What do we mean by the term”mise-en-scène” and how are images constructed by filmmakers?

    • Conclusion

      A look back at the week’s learning

  • Week 2


    • Welcome to Week Two

      This week we will look at how different camera shots and angles affect our understanding of what we see on screen

    • Framing the shot

      A focus on how the ways in which different types of shots create different meanings

    • Film Focus

      We focus on one particular film to examine the ways in which a filmmaker can compose shots and convey meanings to the viewer through this composition.

    • Conclusion

      We look back on the week’s learning and initially consider what happens when a variety of shots are put together into a sequence

  • Week 3


    • Welcome to Week Three

      Introducing the week’s focus – sequences and sound

    • Editing

      How does the editing together of a number of shots move a tory forward in a sequence?

    • Film Focus

      We look at one particular scene from a film and investigate the ways in which the filmmaker engages us with the action of a film.

    • Styles of editing

      An exploration of the different styles of editing.

    • Sound

      In any film, how important is sound when it comes to creating moods and emotions? How important is music to film’s narrative?

    • Conclusion

      We look back on the week’s learning.

  • Week 4


    • Welcome to Week Four

      Introducing the week’s focus – film construction

    • Stories and Plots

      What is the difference between story and plot? How many basic plots are there? How are stories constructed?

    • Genre and narratives

      How important is the idea of genre when it comes to our understanding of a film’s story?

    • Characters and conflicts

      How do we understand characters and their motivations? How important are characters when it comes to setting up a conflict within a plot?

    • Filmic Space and Time

      How can a film play with the idea of time and what do we mean by cinematic space?

    • Filmic Moments

      An examination of particular scenes from films which present events in a similar but different way.

    • Narrative Image

      How are we prepared to see a film? What ideas about a film are given to us through posters and trailers?

    • Conclusion

      A summary of what has been learnt during the week.

  • Week 5


    • Welcome to Week Five

      Welcome to the final week of the course.

    • Film/filmmakers/audiences

      How do we know what audiences think about a film? How deos a filmmaker create a film with an audience in mind?

    • Spectatorship theory

      What are the various theories regarding how we watch films?

    • Different “gazes”

      Do different people watch a film in different ways? Do gender and race play a part in the way we understand films?

    • Audience/viewer/spectator

      What do we bring to film viewing? Are we constructed as film “readers”?

    • Conclusion

      A summary of what has been learnt during the week.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Apply your learning to a range of film extracts.
  • Compare the different ways in which filmmakers convey meaning on screen
  • Reflect on the ways in which film stories are constructed.
  • Develop a of critical thinking, aesthetic appreciation and production of knowledge by analysing and interpreting films.
  • Explore, identify and interpret the meaning of camera angles, sound and mise-en-scène using film extracts.
  • Discuss the genre of a film and interpret and evaluate its use.
  • Investigate important elements of the narrative of selected film extracts (e.g. characters, conflict, narrative, story, plot, key scenes
  • Compare the function and effect of different narrative forms and structures.
  • Describe important rules of shot composition and their effects.
  • Evaluate the importance and impact of individual elements of the mise-en-scène, and their interaction in various settings and sequences
  • Identify and interpret the acoustic design of a film
  • Reflect on the particular importance of editing as a fundamental filmmaking element through close-reading of film sequences
  • Debate the various issues surrounding the idea of film viewing and spectatorship.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in films.

It may be particularly useful if you are studying film either at A level or degree level.

Who will you learn with?

Ian is a teacher, author, producer, screenwriter and director and has worked on a number of European projects, including the Framework for Film Education. He has won 2 BAFTA's.

Who developed the course?

Film Distributors' Association

Film Distributors’ Association Ltd. (FDA) is the trade body for theatrical film distributors in the UK - the companies that release films for UK cinema audiences.

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Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$69/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 10 Mar 2023

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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