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Reading the screen: an introduction to the art of film

Produced collaboratively with the British Film Institute, this Open University online short course will introduce you to the art of film and filmmaking.

Reading the screen: an introduction to the art of film examines how film stimulates and mobilises the senses and sensations associated with them; how filmmakers use ‘offscreen’ space, shadows and light, the role that the ‘real’ plays in film, such as physical activity and location. By studying a range of films – short, global, experimental and animated – you will learn about the various techniques and choices made by filmmakers to create their characters, narratives and ‘story-worlds’. You'll consider different representations of time in film from early pioneers, such as the Lumière brothers, to contemporary independent filmmakers, such as Lynne Ramsay, as we ask questions such as 'Why move the camera?', 'How are people and places shot, lit, and framed in order to produce particular effects?' and 'What choices are made in the creation of places through soundscapes?'.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

The course is structured along key themes:

Week 1: Introduction and origins of film
Introduces what early pioneers, in UK and France, discovered about the potentialities of time, space, and the frame in very short films. Key texts are from the French Lumière brothers’ collection and British filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon. You'll look at people, faces and places, money and business and the conservation of film.

Week 2: Time in Cinema
From early pioneers and the single 1-minute take, to longer experiments with duration, the use of temporal markers, the different ways of manipulating film story-time against the ‘time of the viewer’, you'll explore Sarah Kozloff 's ‘Five Types of Story Time’. Time is the fundamental building block of film, its primary material, and this week’s study will illustrate its significance in relation to the key techniques of film: editing, mise-en-scène and sound etc, with examples from the early pioneers of film, and some key examples from the short film set texts.

Week 3: Reality and fiction
You'll examine how film mobilises the real in its stories; how fictional characters are represented, but from within the real world. You'll ask questions such as: ‘How do we know or how can we infer that a person is a character, and not a passer-by? How do characters engage with the world – by looking at it, conversing with it and moving through it?

Week 4: Showing and Hiding: secrets and surprises in filmmaking
This week looks closer at the ways in which stories withhold and reveal information. You will explore how filmmakers frame information in or out of view; how they use ‘offscreen’ space; mobilise the camera and lighting around ‘hiding’ and ‘revealing’, and how these relate to the role of sound.

Week 5: Places and Stories
You'll consider the relationship of specific places to certain types of story and story situation; how places are shot, lit, framed in order to produce particular effects, the creation of place through soundscapes, the filming of real places/ the recreation of same.

Week 6: Widening the focus
You'll conclude the course by opening out the study of the set films to consider them in their social and cultural production context.

The key film texts you'll study in this course are:

  • Boys Scrambling for Pennies (Esme Collings, 1896)
  • Two films by the Lumière Brothers (France, 1895–1896)
  • A short film by early British filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon (UK, 1897–1901)
  • 10 Bob in Winter (Lloyd Reckord, 1963)
  • Le Pain et la Rue (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1970)
  • The Sandman (Paul Berry, UK, 1992)
  • Gasman (Lynne Ramsay, UK, 1998)
  • Fry-up (Charlotte Regan, 2017)

You will learn

After completing this course you will have gained:

Knowledge and understanding:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the relationship between cinema and society.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the four principal areas of: framing; genre and mise-en-scène; the relationship between sound and image and word and image; editing, and their associated technical vocabularies.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the main approaches from film studies.

Cognitive skills:

  • An ability to understand and use key concepts and critical vocabulary from film and cinematic studies when engaging with a visual medium.
  • An ability to use examples, illustrations and case studies when assessing an argument.
  • An ability to reflect on your standpoint and the standpoint of others with respect to the content discussed in the course.

Key skills:

  • An ability to effectively communicate information accurately and appropriately to the subject, purpose and context.
  • An ability to communicate with and learn from others in an online environment.
  • An ability to use feedback and self-reflection to improve own learning.

Practical and professional skills:

  • An ability to plan, study and manage a sequence of work that meets a deadline.
  • Understanding of future study opportunities.

Vocational relevance

This course has relevance for those interested in working in film and the media. It teaches skills of visual and critical analysis, self-reflection, time management, and engaging in forums.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The module is delivered online/onscreen and the material is visually rich, using video and audio. Descriptions of visual elements (including transcripts) will be provided where appropriate. Visually impaired students may therefore find an external study helper useful in order to achieve some learning outcomes.

Outside the UK

There are no restrictions to studying this course. While you will not be able to access the BFI Player if you are studying outside of the UK, all videos and other assets are embedded in the module materials with full access to all registered students.

Course length

You’ll study for around 8 hours per week for 6 weeks. In total, this course will require around 50 hours to complete.

Teaching and assessment


There's no formal assessment, although there will be three ‘review and reflect’ points built into the course which you'll use to reflect on your understanding.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    There are no entry requirements for this course.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

    Course length

    You’ll study for around 8 hours per week for 6 weeks. In total this course will require around 50 hours to complete.


    Start End England fee Register
    05 Feb 2022 Mar 2022 £99.00

    Registration closes 20/01/22 (places subject to availability)

    07 May 2022 Jun 2022 £99.00

    Registration opens on 18/11/21

    This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2026.

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2021/22 academic year. Fees for short courses starting in the 2022/23 academic year or later may increase in line with the University’s strategic approach to fees.

    What's included

    All learning materials are delivered entirely online. You’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific materials and activities
    • audio and video content
    • discussion forums
    • free access to BFI Player (not available to international students)

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.