For the first assign­ment of his screen­writing course this semester, accom­plished writer and director Noah Stern had stu­dents write their life sto­ries as screen­plays. The assign­ment helped Stern learn about his stu­dents and their writing styles, and it also intro­duced a major theme for the course.

I’m teaching them about them­selves. It’s truly a mis­sion of the human­i­ties,” said Stern, whose films “The Invis­i­bles” and “Seven Songs” have earned film fes­tival awards. “I’m teaching them that to write and create some­thing is to look at your­self and learn about who you are and what your limits are, what your dreams are, what your aspi­ra­tions are, and what your anx­i­eties are.”

The dynamic screen­writing course is offered through North­eastern University’s cinema studies pro­gram and spon­sored by the Home Box Office Artist-​​in-​​Residence Pro­gram, estab­lished last year through a gen­erous gift from HBO. Ear­lier this month, the pro­gram also brought director Claudia Weill to campus for an engaging two-​​day visit, cospon­sored by cinema studies and women’s, gender and sex­u­ality studies.

Inez Hedges, director of the cinema studies pro­gram, said: “It’s truly won­derful that, thanks to the HBO grant, cinema studies could begin its life in the new Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design with this oppor­tu­nity to expand our offer­ings in the cre­ative area.”

The course exem­pli­fies Northeastern’s lead­er­ship in the inte­gra­tion of study with experience.

Throughout the semester, Stern has chal­lenged stu­dents with a host of stim­u­lating assign­ments. Stu­dents have written screen­plays based on music videos, with lyrics serving as dia­logue, which Stern said helped stu­dents think visu­ally. They have also written fresh scripts for existing sit­coms, which were later acted out. Stu­dents also watched the opening scene of the Oscar-​​winning film “The Social Net­work” to ana­lyze char­ac­ters and see how the scene mas­ter­fully sets up the rest of the film.

The course is struc­tured like a work­shop; par­tic­i­pants dis­cuss their work and receive feed­back from Stern and their peers. But the course’s focus on char­acter devel­op­ment has been most enlight­ening, said students.

That’s been one of the best parts of the class,” said Joel Marsh, a third-​​year stu­dent and com­bined major in cinema studies and com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies. Marsh has been making short films for five years, but said the class has boosted his con­fi­dence and made him strive to improve his writing.

Through char­acter comes dia­logue,” added Tesla Car­iani, a third-​​year stu­dent majoring in cinema studies and Eng­lish. “If you have a really solid char­acter, you can write dia­logue and it will be more natural.”

Stern described the art of screen­writing in archi­tec­ture terms: It’s not about designing a great house, but rather devel­oping char­ac­ters and dis­cov­ering what kind of house they should live in.

If they can under­stand those char­ac­ters, and can walk them around and take them on a little vir­tual reality ride, then they can answer the one ques­tion I get asked most often: ‘Pro­fessor, what hap­pens next in my story?’ If you know your char­ac­ters and you know what they’re going to do, then you know what will happen next.”