The SCA Film program combines rigorous technical training and skills development with extensive instruction in cinema studies and history. Students draw on courses throughout the School to deepen their understanding of other artistic disciplines – an understanding we consider essential to the creative life of every successful film and media artist. Please read the Film FAQs for more information about the film program at SCA.
For information about applying to the program, please follow the links at the Future Students section of our site.
BFA students learn by making their own films and videos in each year of their program starting in the first semester. Students work closely with instructors in small classes. Our program is collaborative and cohort-based, and this is one of our greatest strengths. Students’ success comes from working together with their peers and faculty in the School and with professionals in the wider world. This leads to long-term peer support and partnership after school, a strategy that has produced a large number of prize-winning films by our grads. For example, in 2012, SFU films made up a remarkable 35% of the program for the Canadian Student Film Festival. In 2017, SFU alumna Kathleen Hepburn’s feature film Never Steady, Never Still premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and, amongst numerous other accolades, was named by TIFF as one of the year’s 10 Best Canadian Films.
We maintain a close relationship with national and regional festivals, federal and provincial media agencies, broadcasters, labs, post-houses, sound houses, and industry professionals. Students develop expertise and contacts through visiting artists and sessional instructors who teach advanced professional skills.
The program in Film offers three possible options for study:
- Major in Film (BFA)
- Extended Minor in Film
- Minor in Film and Video Studies
MFA students can also focus on film production in their program.
To see detailed descriptions of the program options in the Film area, please see the Academic Calendar.
Students are uniquely positioned in the Film program to take advantage of the interdisciplinary offerings of the School for the Contemporary Arts as a whole. The programs in Dance, Visual Art, Theatre, Music, and Art, Performance & Cinema Studies provide exciting opportunities for inter and cross-disciplinary exploration and cooperation.
What's distinctive about your program?
- We are a cohort-based program. Students enter the program as a group of usually 24 students and move through the program together year by year. This means you get to know your fellow students very well. You develop close working relationships with each other. You find friends and collaborators who will stay with you for a very long time after you graduate. You develop relationships with people you can trust and by fourth year you will have deeply trusted people working with you on your film productions. That said, you also get to know all the other students in the program – as well as in the School – and there are numerous opportunities to work on films being made by students in other years as well as to work on artistic projects with students in Performance, Dance, Production & Design, Music & Sound, and Visual Art.
- We are small, but we are big. The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU offers every advantage of a small art school and all the advantages of a large, comprehensive university. You get to know your professors and work with them very closely. The campus at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts feels like a small town; it is comfortable yet exciting; it is knowable but very diverse. But you also have access to the dozens of nationally and internationally recognized departments schools and programs at all three of SFU's campuses. You can take classes in the sciences, in interactive technologies, in the arts and humanities, in business and economics, and more, and you can put together an individualized program that is rich and exciting. When you come to the SCA at SFU, you can get a fantastic art education at the same time that you can get a rewarding and challenging comprehensive university education. Many other film schools simply cannot offer this.
- You work on your own films or on films made by very small groups every year. In every year of the program you will be making your own films and videos, often in direct collaboration with other students, and sometimes on your own. In addition, you have opportunities to work on other students' films in a variety of roles. Though you work extensively on other productions, where you will gain invaluable experience, in all of the main production courses you will be making your own work, either as an individual (with help from others, of course) or as small, cooperative groups (as you do in the second year).
- We still teach film. We believe in analogue film as a pedagogical tool to learn about filmmaking. Thus, we offer opportunities to work with 16mm film with both Bolex and Arriflex Cameras throughout the program. Often, students choose to shoot their final films in celluloid, either using our cameras or even renting larger 35mm cameras.
- We teach film production and we teach film studies. Requirements for our BFA major include a significant number of academic film studies courses. We firmly feel that students should know film history and know the workings of cinema as an art form and as an industry. This makes our students stronger, more knowledgeable, and more creative filmmakers. The program offers a broad set of classes – from a year-long introduction to film history, covering the development of cinema from its earliest days to the present, including national traditions from around the globe, to specialized courses in film theory, different national traditions, directors, and genres.
- We train complete, well-rounded filmmakers. While students will often specialize during the course of their studies, devoting themselves to a particular aspect of filmmaking, such as cinematography, screenwriting, directing, or editing, etc., our goal is to train students to be capable in all aspects of the art and craft of filmmaking. Though you may choose, for example, to become a cinematographer in the future, you will also learn how to edit and direct. For example, as any great cinematographer will tell you, if you don't know what's going on in a director's mind, if you don't know what will be happening in the editing room, if you don't know how the picture will interact with the sound, then you will not be able to be a truly great cinematographer. The same goes with every other individual skill you may choose in the future to specialize in: a great editor has to know how a film is shot and written; a great director must understand the workings of the editing process. No matter your focus, knowledge of the entire production process is crucial to film, and you will learn it here.
- What kind of camera equipment do you have? This is a very frequently asked question, and for good reason. Cameras are among the most important tools you will use in creating your work, but also a tool that is constantly changing in the current market. Currently, we have three RED Epic and two RED Scarlett cameras, so you will have access to high-end cameras capable of shooting RAW. We also have Panasonic GH5s mirrorless cameras, Sony 4k video camcorders, and an assortment of other DSLR cameras. We also have several options for professional and semi-professional lenses, as well as vintage options to play with for different qualities in the image. We currently have two sets of Canon Cine Primes and two sets of Rokinon super 35mm lenses, as well as a variety of micro-four-thirds lenses and some vintage Nikon full frame options. Additionally, our equipment includes analogue film cameras, including two Arriflex SR2 Super-16mm film cameras and multiple Bolex 16mm cameras.
How is the program structured and how long does it take?
You can complete the degree in 4 years, but many students take longer (some take 4.5 or 5 years) so that they might work or devote more time to particular courses.
For details of the requirements, please visit the Course Calendar, which you can find here. For specifics on each course, please consult the calendar as well.
However, let us describe in general terms how the production part of the program works. Please realize that you will also have to fulfill other major requirements (such as film studies classes) and other university requirements (breadth classes, etc.) alongside these production courses.
In the first year, students take CA 130 (Fundamentals of Film) and CA 131 (Filmmaking I), where they learn the fundamentals of film production. As a student, you will produce short films and complete a number of filmmaking exercises. You get going with filmmaking right from the start. You will be introduced to a number of tools to make your work, including cameras, lights, and sound equipment, and you will work individually and/or collaboratively on several films throughout the year.
In the second year, students take CA 230 (Filmmaking II), CA 231 (Filmmaking III), and CA 233 (Techniques of Film) as their main production course. Historically, we typically structure this year so that students produce a film shot on video in groups of three. This is a full-on production, with full crews and full gear kits. In this course, you really learn to work as a production team and discover the ins and outs of working on a proper film set. In second year, students also begin taking skills classes in sound (CA 232) as well as a course in screenwriting (CA 238).
In third year, students usually take CA 390 (Filmmaking IV) and CA 393 (Filmmaking V). In these classes, students respond to exercises, prompts, and other projects that push them to develop their creative voice further. In addition, they further learn the essentials of the video production process (camera, sound and editing), as well as advanced techniques in video production and post-production. Students also usually take CA 338 (Advanced Screenwriting), where they workshop scripts for the fourth year. In third year, students often also begin pre-production on their fourth year film.
The fourth year is an intense, culminating year. In fourth year, students usually take CA 430 (Filmmaking VI) and CA 432 (Filmmaking VII), where they devote themselves to producing, shooting, and editing their final film, which is a serious and significant project in which students bring together all that they have learned in the previous three years. The year concludes with a screening of all the fourth year films in a big festival-style event that invariably draws a packed house in the spectacular cinema in SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Many of these films go on to vibrant lives in festivals, as well.
What kind of films do students make?
Students make all kinds of films, ranging from short experimental works to fiction shorts to documentaries. The fourth year films have been remarkably diverse over the past ten years. They have included documentary studies of former miners in the Yukon and grain silos in the Prairies, comedic narrative shorts and science fiction shorts, high dramas and romantic comedies – even a martial arts comedy. The variety is incredible.
How successful are your students?
Very. Here are a few examples: In 2022, SFU Film alumnus Jocelyn Chaput co-edited the feature documentary Fire of Love, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award. It has since won numerous awards and shown to audiences around the world. In 2017, SFU Film alumnus Kathleen Hepburn's Never Steady, Never Still premiered at TIFF and went on to be listed as one of the year's best Canadian films, winning multiple awards in Canada. Her next film, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, made with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019. Kathleen and Elle-Máijá went on to win the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, the richest film prize in Canada. Several years ago, SFU student Joel Salaysay's film Lifers, shot as a fourth-year film, was selected as one of the top ten student shorts at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it went on to win the Leo Award for Best Student Short. Two recent grads, Jessica Johnson and Ryan Ermacora (2016 and 2017), are already successful experimental and documentary filmmakers. In January 2019, they had a retrospective in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is exceedingly rare for such young filmmakers to have a retrospective this early at this level, or any level. In 2022, they premiered their first feature, Anyox, at Cinema du Reél in Paris.
There is no singular path that our students take upon graduating, and we consider this diversity a strength. Our students have shown their films around the world at festivals, and they've also gone on to get commissions from the NFB and Telefilm, and to work for the BBC. Many of our students are actively working in the film industry across the country.
How much does it cost?
Students pay standard SFU tuition and fees and should consult the SFU Calendar for the latest costs. In addition, students have expenses for materials and books. Also, many production classes have lab fees associated with them that range from $25 to $100 per course. Students also pay for the cost of their own film productions, including the price of film and developing, sound mixing, catering costs, etc. These costs can range from relatively minor amounts ($75 or so) in video classes, to significant amounts in the fourth year, when students spend a wide range on their final, graduating film. In the past, costs for the 4th-year films have ranged from negligible, for projects completed on video, to almost $10,000 for ambitious productions with high shooting ratios. Most, however, spend at least several thousand dollars on their fourth year film. The actual cost is, in the end, determined by a student's own plans for their production.
How many people apply?
In the past few years on average, we have received about 200 applications for 24 spots.
How many people get interviews? What are interviews like?
From the pool of applicants we usually select about 75 people to interview. The process of deciding whom to interview takes a few weeks, since two to three faculty read every application and we try to give them a lot of attention each.
The interviews take place a few weeks or a month after the application deadlines. They are about 15 minutes long. We ask you questions about your application questionnaire, about your experience as an artist, and about your life experience. In short, we try to get to know you better. You cannot really prepare for the interview in any way, except to come excited and ready to let us know how interesting you are and how dedicated you are to film as an art. We do not ask "test" questions: that is, we won't ask "Who directed La Dolce Vita and in what year was it released?" But we will ask about your interests, your ambitions, and your passions, and try to get a sense of how you would fit with our program. The only preparation we recommend for the interview is that you reread your application before coming.
What kind of students are you looking for?
We are looking for intelligent, curious, and creative people. You don't need to have experience in filmmaking, but you do need to have an authentic passion for it. We are looking for people who are ambitious and driven, but who are also ready and excited to work with other people. Film is a collective and collaborative art, so we need people who want to really join others in learning and in creating great films. You should also realize that we are a film program in an art school, so we are looking for students who are interested in art beyond cinema – you don't have to be a painter or a dancer, but you should have some real interest and enthusiasm for the arts, culture, and the world around you.
I wasn’t accepted into the Film BFA this year or last year, but I am taking courses at SFU. What can I do to improve my chances if I apply to Film again?
Take film courses and other courses in Contemporary Arts, English, Philosophy, Archaeology, First Nations Studies, and other challenging, interesting areas. And most of all: do well in those courses. These courses are not only opportunities to learn interesting things, but also to show us you can do well here at SFU. Part of what we look for in applicants is their ability not just to survive, but also to do well in university, while being interested in everything they are studying.
Furthermore, enroll in film classes like CA 136 or CA 137, or 1st year Contemporary Arts courses like CA 186 or CA 149. Don't just work to do well in them, but also introduce yourself to the professors and any Film majors in the class. More, also volunteer on the Film majors' productions, and tell us about that work on your next application. You need to show us that you really want to be a filmmaker, and this is a golden opportunity to do so.
How should I answer the questions on the questionnaire?
We can't tell you what to say, obviously, but follow these principles as you answer the questions:
- Be honest and let us know who you really are and what you really think.
- Make sure that we get a sense of your interest and passion for film and for art. There are many ways to get this across in the answers to the questions you've been given on the questionnaire.
- Take the questions seriously and answer them thoughtfully and concisely. The quality of your writing – its correctness, its style, its fluidity – tells us a lot about you as a student and as a potential artist.
- Do not go over the word limits. Please. It will not reflect well on your application if you cannot follow directions.
- Above all: remember that you are applying to an art school in a university, and that we take the making and study of art seriously. And we take our mission as a university, where you will be a student in a wide variety of courses, very seriously, as well. Impress us with your passion, your ability, your vision, and the degree to which you, too, will take being an artist and a university student seriously.
Some specifics about each question on the questionnaire:
3a) Describe any background in filmmaking, artistic pursuits, academic study or other experiences that you believe have prepared you for a university level filmmaking program. How do you hope to build on this experience at SFU? (250 words)
TIP: Though we are interested in hearing about your experience in media and filmmaking, we are also open to other academic and creative pursuits you feel have prepared you to pursue film.
3b) Please describe any significant life experiences or influences that inform how you see the world and the types of stories you are drawn to. This can relate to culture, identity, memory, family, education, or anything else that has had a strong influence on you. (250 words)
TIP: This is a chance to give us a sense of YOU and your story. There is no right or wrong answer here. Use this space to help us understand how your life experiences have shaped your unique gaze, and how that may potentially inform your approach as a filmmaker and the kind of filmmaking that interests you.
3c) Name a film you wish you had made and describe why. (150 words)
TIP: Be honest. Also, be specific in describing what aspects of the film or approach you find particularly inspiring.
3d) Describe a five-minute film you would want to make during your first year here. The film can have characters, but it may not have dialogue or narration. It cannot have music but it can have any other sound elements. Make your description as visually informative and precise as possible. (300 words)
- The assignment here is for a 5-minute film. No dialogue and no music. That means there can be no conversations amongst characters and it means you should not present an idea that is appropriate for a longer film.
- Though you can use sound in this imaginary film, remember as well that film is a visual medium. Your readers are not inside your mind and they cannot SEE what you are imagining. Make sure that we can visualize what this film will look like.
- As important as it is to describe the film's visual and sonic style, we need to have a sense of the ideas behind the film.
- You can propose any kind of film other than a music video: it can be a documentary, a fiction film, or an experimental film – or perhaps you have discovered yet another new form of film.
4: The Photograph.
TIP: Please read this question carefully and follow the instructions exactly. DO NOT submit more than one photograph, and DO NOT add text other than the title. In addition, while of course we will be impressed by the technical quality of your photo, that is not what is most interesting to us. What is interesting are your ideas, and the ways you have figured out how to convey what you have been asked to convey. This is a place to show us how you think and how you can put ideas into images; it is a place to show us your originality, the character of your thinking, and your aesthetic sense.
APPLY TO: FILM
Visit our Undergraduate information page to find out about the application process and timeline for the SCA Film area.