Film studies

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The Independent Online

What is it? "It's an opportunity to study the major artform of the 20th century," says Patrick Phillips, chief examiner in film studies at WJEC. The course allows teachers and students to pick which films they view, so you could be writing essays on anything from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to Italian neo-Realist classics. And it's not simply English A-level with videos instead of books: film studies also gives you the opportunity to make your own short films and investigate what makes the movie industry tick.

Why do it? Because you love watching films and fancy getting an A-level while you're at it. It's one of the few subjects where the line between leisure and studying may sometimes blur.

What skills do you need? As with all humanities subjects, you must be able to write coherent essays. But one of the most important skills is bringing your own experience and knowledge of films to the classroom. You are part of the society that created these works of art – your opinion matters

How much practical work is there? Twenty per cent of the course is practical. At AS-level, you will be asked to submit a storyboard or screenplay of a short film. If you do the whole A-level, you will have the chance to make a short film informed by what you have learnt on the course.

Ratio of coursework to exams: 1:2.

Is it hard? "It's very accessible at AS-level, because it draws heavily on the student's cinematic experiences," says Patrick Phillips. "But at A2, you move into uncharted territory. You have to be prepared to watch foreign-language films and less mainstream works."

Who takes it? Until recently, film studies was the preserve of further-education colleges and evening classes. But it has now moved into the mainstream, and is popular with 17-year-olds in schools.

How cool is it? Depends on the college. If your teacher balks at the tamest sex scene, you may be in for a boring time. It's worth shopping around between colleges and checking out which films they have on offer.

Added value: Having an excuse when your parents complain that you're watching too many videos.

What subjects go with it? English, art history – and it also makes a great contrast to science subjects.

What degrees does it lead to? Media, communications and film, or any number of humanities degrees.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? It may get you a fashionable one. The personal skills and confidence that the course fosters mean that many former students go on to jobs in advertising, PR and the media, says Mr Phillips. But it won't help you become the next Hollywood hot-shot. "It's not a vocational course," he says. "But we don't discourage wild ambition. We just hope that you'll want to be the next Pedro Almodóvar – not the new Steven Spielberg."

What do the students say? "It's a brilliant course," says Wesley Dight, 17, who is also studying A-levels in English language and media studies at East Surrey College. "We make a decision with our teacher about which films we study, and you get to understand how films are put together. Recently we analysed how Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was made. At the moment, I'm writing a script and doing an in-depth study on the actor Chow Yun-Fat, who was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Which awarding bodies offer it? Only the Welsh examining board, the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

How widely available is it around the country? Two years ago, only around 2,000 people took the subject. By next year that figure will have grown to some 9,000. More and more colleges are beginning to offer itall the time, although it's still currently more likely to be available in the South than the North.