FILM 281 The Art of Screen Acting (Formerly DC 250)

JoAnne Zielinski

Fall 2020-2021
Class number: 16399
Section number: 420
OLASY NCH00 Online Campus


Course Catalogue Description

This course will examine the role of acting, actors, and actor-director collaboration in the development of narrative cinema. The screen demanded a new approach to acting that differed markedly from the theatrical traditions that preceded it. Seminal practitioners of actor training such as Constantin Stanislavski and his American interpreters Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, and Stella Adler and their students (such as Brando, Pacino, DeNiro, Hoffman, and Duvall) have had an incalculable influence on how screen actors prepare for a role and work with directors. This course will survey the major acting techniques and approaches, examine major films as case studies, and explore contemporary approaches to screen acting and actor-director collaboration in the cinema. This course carries Liberal Studies Arts and Literature Domain Credit.


Arts and Literature Domain Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to explain, in well-written prose, variations in acting technique and the influence the form has on the art of narrative cinema. Students will understand the psychological, physical, social factors that influence the practice of acting. Writing in the class focuses on students’ understanding of Acting Technique, Key Practitioners, and On-screen Performance. 


Students will be able to comment directly on how the acting form relates to the content that appears on screen. They will learn the expectations of acting in film, explore what makes a “good or bad” acting performance, and examine how the acting choices influence audience interpretation of character and the character’s intent. This framework will allow them to delve deeper into nuanced impact on character, tension, story, and theme.


We will examine these relationships through in-class discussions, short writing assignments, and a longer final paper. To truly understand the craft, students will learn the techniques of global practitioners and utilize them during lab sessions. Students will prepare their own theatrical scenes which they will present to the class as actors. They will also direct scenes and craft a short film utilizing the knowledge they’ve gained to create a permanent record of their work. 


Students will be able to assess the formal aspects of their subject and put these qualities into words, using, when appropriate, specialized vocabulary employed in class and readings. To better equip them in their analysis of Acting on Screen students will learn a mix of common cinematic and literary language in addition to specialized filmmaking and acting vernacular. This language will be employed in class discussions, exams, and papers. 


Where appropriate, students will be able to consider the original audience to witness a work of art and consider how their expectations differ from our own. This examination may include the elements of form, rhythm, and style as well as the visual materials and aesthetics of its time. Students will be able to articulate a subject as well as write about it, explaining how narrative and aesthetic elements comprise a particular style of acting. Students will learn about the context in which each performance was crafted and how this context affected its original reception. Students will also learn about the craft of acting, and how it has evolved over time and the influences shaping the art form today. 


Arts and Literature Learning Domain Objectives

Students who successfully complete the Arts and Literature requirement will be able to:


  • Explain, in well-written prose, what a work of art is about and/or how it was produced
  • Articulate and explain the “content” of that work and/or its methodology of production.
  • Comment on the relationship between form and content in a work.
  • How does the 14-line sonnet both enable and inhibit its practitioner, for example?
  • What are the generic expectations of a particular form?
  • How does an artist complicate, enrich, or subvert such expectations?
  • Assess the formal aspects of their subject and put those qualities into words, using, when appropriate, specialized vocabulary employed in class and readings.
  • Contextualize a work of art.
  • Do so with respect to other works of art in terms of defining its place within a broader style or genre.
  • Contextualize a work of art in terms of contemporaneous aesthetic, social, or political concerns, discussing how these might shape the work’s reception and how that reception might differ amongst various peoples and historical periods. ?



Recommended Texts

Bruder, M. Cohn, L.M.,  Olnek, M., Pollak, N., Previto, R.,  Zigler, S., (1986) A Practical Handbook for the Actor, New York: Vintage.

Caine, M., (1990) Acting in Film: An Actor’s Take on Movie Making, New York: Applause.

Esper, W., & Dimarco, D., (2008) The Actor’s Art and Craft:  William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique, Anchor.

Linklater, K. (2006) Freeing the Natural Voice, London: Nick Hern Books.
Shurtleff, M. (1978) Audition, Walker Publishing Company.

Weston, J., (2003) The Film Director’s Intuition, Studio City: Michael Weise Productions.

Weston, J., (1999) Directing Actors, Studio City: Michael Weise Productions.


Course Assessment

The course is divided into ten (10) modules. Assignments are assigned an individual point value totaling 1,000 points for the quarter. By completing different activities in each module, students earn points.

Learning activities for the entire quarter include the following:






   Engagement Activities



  Percentage of your Grade


Discussion Board Posts check points (4 check points @ 100 points each in modules 1, 4, 7, and 9)





Case Study Assignment
















   Everyday Action Exercise






   Waiting for an Uber










   Monologue Analysis/Performance





   Actor/Director Technique Research Paper




Grade Scale                                                                                                    


A = 100-93, A- = 92-90, B+ = 89-88, B = 87-83, B- = 82-80, C+ = 79-78, C = 77-73, C- = 72-70, D+ = 69-68, D = 67-63, D- = 62-60, F = 59-0.  A indicates excellence, B indicates good work, C indicates satisfactory work, D indicates unsatisfactory work, and F is a failure to demonstrate an understanding of course concepts.



Course Prerequisites

There are no prerequisites for this course, however, this is an online course. You will need at minimum:


  • frequent access to a computer that connects to the Internet;
  • a working e-mail account that you check regularly (and that is updated in Campus Connection);
  • an understanding of basic computer functions such as email, word processing, and general web usage. Students will be required to capture video of themselves via computer, camera, or cell phone and upload this video to the web via YouTube or another video hosting client;
  • access to a software suite such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Power Point). If you do not have access to Office, you can download a free, open source alternative such as Open Office ( that will give you the same basic functionality;
  • and, the ability to view video files, either in a streaming (Flash) or downloadable (mp4, mov.) format.

School policies:

Changes to Syllabus

This syllabus is subject to change as necessary during the quarter. If a change occurs, it will be thoroughly addressed during class, posted under Announcements in D2L and sent via email.

Online Course Evaluations

Evaluations are a way for students to provide valuable feedback regarding their instructor and the course. Detailed feedback will enable the instructor to continuously tailor teaching methods and course content to meet the learning goals of the course and the academic needs of the students. They are a requirement of the course and are key to continue to provide you with the highest quality of teaching. The evaluations are anonymous; the instructor and administration do not track who entered what responses. A program is used to check if the student completed the evaluations, but the evaluation is completely separate from the student’s identity. Since 100% participation is our goal, students are sent periodic reminders over three weeks. Students do not receive reminders once they complete the evaluation. Students complete the evaluation online in CampusConnect.

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

This course will be subject to the university's academic integrity policy. More information can be found at If you have any questions be sure to consult with your professor.

Academic Policies

All students are required to manage their class schedules each term in accordance with the deadlines for enrolling and withdrawing as indicated in the University Academic Calendar. Information on enrollment, withdrawal, grading and incompletes can be found at

Students with Disabilities

Students who feel they may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the instructor privately to discuss their specific needs. All discussions will remain confidential.
To ensure that you receive the most appropriate accommodation based on your needs, contact the instructor as early as possible in the quarter (preferably within the first week of class), and make sure that you have contacted the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) at:
Lewis Center 1420, 25 East Jackson Blvd.
Phone number: (312)362-8002
Fax: (312)362-6544
TTY: (773)325.7296