A still from their adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country / Eli + Bria (click for trailer)

Many of our most famous films are adaptations from literature: A Clockwork Orange, Brokeback Mountain, Apocalypse Now and Jaws were all novels – or short stories – before they were adapted for screens. What is the difference between print and pixels? How does the medium influence the way artists tell stories? Film adaptations are not just strict retellings of a short story or novel; filmmakers must make their own decisions about how to render setting, tone, character development and narrative arc in their own medium. This class challenges students to reimagine a classic novel by visualizing it in film.

This class is co-taught by Katy Benedetto and Christina Jenkins. The schedule below is for film side of the course.

Syllabus – Q1, 2010-11 / Lessons + additional materials

Zero week | Getting started

What’s the difference between storytelling in print and storytelling in film? We’ll read and watch, and discuss the character of Sherlock Holmes in both mediums.

We’ll also read (Act 1, Scene V from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) and watch the ball scene from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968) and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) by way of comparison. The Luhrmann screenplay is at (section 1) and (section 2). We’ll collaboratively write a screenplay for the Zeffirelli, and do individual storyboards for the Luhrmann.

Week one

The 60-second film festival: In order to practice using iMovie ’09 and the flip cameras, we’re going to go through a brief tutorial on those and you’ll have 60 minutes to put together a 60 second short film. The theme of these films is A Day in My Life. If you’d like to shoot your own footage, you can use the built-in iSight or you can borrow a flip. If you don’t want to shoot your own footage, you can manipulate this clip from Stanford’s design school about Rich’s commute. It’s the .m4v download at the top of that page.

After producing the 60-second films, we’ll do a film festival and give feedback on each other’s work. Our videos can be found on Vimeo at

Week two

We’ll begin to develop a vocabulary about film by talking about cinematography. We’ll discuss different camera shots and camera angles, and will produce an in-class video on Friday that demonstrates these techniques. That presentation is here.

For the storyboard activity, you can watch the trailers from True Grit (, House of Flying Daggers ( or Zeviathan ( The first two were nominated for Academy Awards in cinematography, and the last was made by a friend.

Week three

Screenplays! In class on Tuesday, we’ll take a look at this presentation to get a sense for how screenplays work, and you’ll continue the story about the bar in class, collaboratively, to get some practice with writing them.

On Thursday, we’re going to read the beginning of the screenplays for Letters from Iwo Jima and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (both were nominated for Academy Awards in best screenwriting; Eternal Sunshine won the year it was nominated). We’ll take a look at these two different styles, and you’ll begin to adapt a section of the book (the introduction of Leopard, pages 101-120) as a screenplay.

The winter break assignment is here – you can choose one of the three options.

1. You can create a new Google Earth tour of historical events in China’s history. (Use your PowerPoint + notes from Ms. Benedetto’s class to help.)

2. You can make a screenplay out of pages 101-120. This involves retelling the meeting with Leopard by writing a screenplay in the way that we practiced in class. The screenplay should be about 3 pages long, and should use dialogue (which you can make up or use from the book) to help tell the story. Imagine what it would look like if a filmmaker were to do this scene, and write a screenplay for him/her.

3. You can make a short film that adapts a scene from the book.

Week four

Who knew you could tell the history of China in the 20th century in a minute? See this presentation for details + instructions.

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