Summer Program

Thematic Institutes

Wesleyan Summer Session offers students the unique opportunity to concurrently approach disciplines from two avenues, in a concentrated academic environment. We are pleased to announce that we will be able to offer our Thematic Film Institute on Visual Storytelling again in 2013.

Script and Screen: Hollywood’s Master Storytellers and the Art of Screenwriting
Thematic Institute with Professors Scott Higgins and Steve Collins

The Summer Institute in Film is a two-credit Summer Session project that marries film studies and filmmaking to provide an intellectually rigorous understanding of cinema. Wesleyan’s Film Department is founded on the idea that analysis and practice must illuminate one another. Good filmmakers know their medium’s history and forms, and good scholars know the craft of visual storytelling. The Summer Institute offers a unique opportunity to blend study and practice with greater depth by focusing on a group of twenty films from two perspectives, a logistical impossibility during the regular semester. This course pairing affords students a truly integrated approach to cinematic art that is grounded in the films themselves.

Feature films from Hollywood’s studio era present the apex of visual storytelling. At their best, these films engage viewers in a complex and elegant play of emotional alignment, the control of information, omission, subtext, and expectation. The strategies refined between 1920 and 1960 remain relevant and extraordinarily powerful to this day. Yet Hollywood films hide their effort, deflecting viewers from the practices and processes of storytelling at work. This institute makes the craft of Hollywood visible so that students gain access to the tools of cinematic storytelling. Studying four of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers reveals the possibilities of narrative cinema and provides models for new creative work.

The studies course uses auteur studies and historical poetics to capture and analyze the way films build worlds and move audiences. We will explore the conventions and norms that artists inherit, and consider how each filmmaker uses them to define a specific kind of cinematic experience. The production course brings out the formal aspects of screenwriting exemplified by our filmmakers in order to help students create on the page, and eventually on the screen.  We will learn the art of visual storytelling from the historic masters of the form. 

Course 1: Visual Storytelling: Cinema according to Hollywood's Masters 

This class explores the productive interplay of convention and creativity in Hollywood cinema by taking up the work of four distinctive auteurs: Frank Borzage, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Vincente Minnelli. Each director labored within popular genres designed for mass entertainment, but they built unique cinematic worlds. We will trace the specific strategies of film style and narration that defined each filmmaker’s approach to cinema.

Together, these films form the bedrock of a visual language for telling stories, shaping perception and engaging viewers. Students will hone their visual sensitivity and develop their understanding of cinema as an audience-centered artistic practice. By adopting the perspective of filmmakers we can understand the art. 

Course 2: Visual Storytelling: Screenwriting

This is a writing course that will start from ground zero: separating the screenplay from other forms, e.g. the play and the novel, and ground students in visual language as the basis of the medium.  How do we write in pictures?

The goal of the course is two-fold: to introduce students to the medium of screenwriting, and to use the study of screenwriting to illuminate the particular stylistic stamp of the four directors. Without a real understanding of the screenplay’s contribution in the creation of a relationship between audience and character, it’s impossible to fully, deeply appreciate these films. The class will explore the fundamentals of screenwriting: omission, ellipsis, control of information, three-act structure, internal and external action, and the use of subtext.   We will also cover basic screenplay format.  The students build to integrating dialogue into their storytelling while preserving a cinematic foundation.

Full course descriptions will be available on WesMaps soon.


Film Institute Students


Professors Higgins and Collins

Professor Higgins