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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?'.

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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

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

The course is structured along these key themes:

Week 1: Introduction and origins of film
The course begins with looking at what early pioneers in the 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 such as editing, mise-en-scène and sound, 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 of the:

  • relationship between cinema and society.
  • 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.
  • main approaches from film studies.

Cognitive skills with the ability to:

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

Key skills with the ability to:

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

Practical and professional skills with 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 Study 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.

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.

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 Oct 2024 Nov 2024 £125.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

01 Feb 2025 Mar 2025 £125.00

Registration opens on 18/07/24

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 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

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)

You will need

The films in this course are only available to stream online, therefore you will need a good internet connection capable of streaming and watching the film content.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS Ventura or higher.

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

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.