UGA MFA Film program gains momentum in year three

Like any good script, the plot of the UGA MFA Film program is continuously adding developments and enriching its story.

The Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media is accepting applications for its fourth cohort with some exciting plot developments including a partnership with the new Athena Studios, less than five miles from the UGA campus; growth of the Distinguished Industry Mentor program that includes professionals like Chuck Hayward (“WandaVision”), Davita Scarlett (“The Good Fight”) and Damon Lindelof (“Watchmen”); and the ongoing partnership with Georgia Film Academy at the program’s second-year homebase, Trilith Studios.

January 15, 2023 is the deadline to apply for the Fall 2023 MFA Film cohort, educating students in skills to become above-the line writers, directors and producers in Georgia’s burgeoning film industry. The UGA MFA program remains rich in resources and one of the most affordable of its kind.

“We are on the cusp of our program blossoming into a world-class film school, blazing a trail with our exceptionally dedicated faculty, customized curriculum, and setting up the infrastructure to operate our program on a studio pipeline model,” said Neil Landau, executive director for the UGA MFA Film program.

Landau, an award-winning screenwriter, creative producer, author, and professor, was named executive director of the program in September, but has been directing its screenwriting classes since the inaugural classes in 2020.

Landau continued: “From development to green light, we’re ready to serve the needs of uniquely talented, diverse, emerging filmmakers and storytellers not only from the South, but also from the greater U.S. and around the world.”

Athena Studios

Joel Harber (third from left) cuts the ribbon at the new space at Athena Studios dedicated to use by EMST and MFA Film students for five years. The studios will help students forge a “path to create and work in Athens and Georgia,” Harber said.

The MFA Film program is rich in studio space and technology resources, including the new addition of a learning center and studio space at Athena Studios in Athens. The MFA’s two-year curriculum also allows students to take advantage of renovated studio space and state-of-the-art camera equipment at Grady College during the first year of the program, and Georgia Film Academy space at Trilith Studios during the second year.

“When we designed our state-of-the-art production space, it was important to include a dedicated soundstage to educate and train the next generation of TV and film production professionals,” said Joel Harber, CEO of Athena Studios. “Studio space minutes from UGA’s campus is a powerful combination that will help power the Georgia film industry’s pool of talent and resources in the years to come.”

Ribbon cutting ceremonies for the 14,600-square-foot student studio space were held Nov. 4, 2022. Undergraduate and MFA Film production classes will begin there in January. Additionally, the Athena Studios space includes offices, room to build multiple sets and a learning center to conduct classes.

Athena Studios is a massive complex currently committed to build 350,000 square feet of space to serve what is now a $4.4 billion film industry in Georgia, according to latest reports from the Georgia Film Industry. The first phase of nearly 200,000 square feet of studio space will be complete by January.

Distinguished Industry Mentors

Also key to the UGA MFA Film program is the impressive roster of industry professionals connected through the Distinguished Industry Mentor experience, including Chuck Hayward who will serve as the program’s artist-in-residence in Spring 2023.

The Distinguished Industry Mentor program enlists more than 40 of the industry’s most prominent screenwriters, directors, and TV showrunners — including David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”), Allison Liddi-Brown (“Friday Night Lights”), and Peabody Award-winner Steven Canals (“Pose”) — to share their expertise with students via master classes, mentoring sessions, and networking.

Hayward is a screenwriter and producer earning two Emmy nominations for “WandaVision” and “Ted Lasso.” Hayward is currently writer-producer on “Life and Beth” starring Amy Schumer. As an artist-in-residence, Hayward will lend his insights and expertise to the MFA students, as well as providing personalized mentorship. Hayward was introduced to the program by Landau, and went on to mentor recent MFA Film graduate Kelvin Summerhill (MFA ’22) providing direction and generous funding for Summerhill’s thesis project.

UGA MFA program

The UGA MFA program taps into faculty members experienced in the industry of film production from Grady College of Journalism Mass Communication and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Landau describes the MFA Film program as interdisciplinary, providing students with the opportunity to find and hone their unique voices as visual storytellers. They not only write original, feature-length screenplays and TV pilots, but also direct at least three short films. Landau continues, “We’re training them to be hyphenates in the industry; whether that’s as writer/director or writer/producer, we’re preparing them to be innovators and trailblazers.”

The intensive program is designed so that the first year is spent on UGA’s campus in Athens, Georgia, taking core classes and learning production basics including writing, storytelling and filming, among many other skills. The students produce their first film in the Fall semester, telling a story in roughly four minutes, using only natural sound or music and no dialogue, and their second short film (8 minutes, incorporating lighting and sync sound) in the Spring semester.

The second year is devoted to students completing their thesis film projects while residing in the town of Trilith, located next to the studios where Marvel movies are filmed. Classes are conducted in a custom-built suite featuring theater-quality A/V projection and sound system, editing bays and collaboration space. Studio space for additional training and productions is available across the street through another MFA program partner, the Georgia Film Academy.

The MFA Film program will host a virtual open house on Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 7 to 8 p.m. EST.
Register for the virtual Open House here.


Grady lawn to be renovated, renamed ‘Schnitzer Family Media Lawn’

At the start of fall semester, all incoming and returning Grady College students will be welcomed to campus with an improved and expanded lawn upon which to study, socialize and relax. The transformation will take place thanks to a generous donation from the Schnitzer family, celebrating Lauren Schnitzer (AB ’21), who graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in public relations.

The redesign will feature rolling grass hills, a new ADA accessible pathway and an outdoor classroom with seating, which will be accessible by way of a new staircase where the gray wall currently sits.

“We are so excited to transform the exterior of the college in a project designed to improve space for our students and open our college up to the rest of campus,” said Charles Davis, dean of Grady College. “The big gray wall in front is coming down and will be replaced by a landscaped outdoor amphitheater, with increased seating on the Sanford Drive corner of the building.  We’re also thrilled to include hardscape pathways that will ease access to the college for everyone.  It will be an incredible enhancement to our environment.”

Construction is scheduled to start May 16 and finish by the time students return in August.

“We want every student to feel that they can go check out Grady,” said Sara Cook, senior director of development at Grady.  “The Schnitzer Family Media Lawn will serve as a red carpet entrance to all the incredible educational opportunities available at Grady College.”

Even with the renovation, some notable features of the existing lawn will remain the same, including the granite slabs for lounging, engraved granite tiles and bamboo shoots protruding through the table seating area.

“Lauren had a great experience at Grady,” said Ken Schnitzer, the proud father. “Our family is honored to support the College and improve functionality and access to one of the most special places on campus.”

Cox Institute announces new University Certificate in News Literacy starting Fall 2022

The Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the University of Georgia will launch a new academic Certificate in News Literacy during the Fall 2022 semester.

The certificate, which will be open to all majors at the University, will require 12 credit hours to complete. The required courses will explain the functions of the news media, journalistic responsibility and ethics as they prepare students with insights and tools for identifying misinformation and falsehoods increasingly found in our media marketplace.

“Our democratic society needs as many people as possible — citizens as much as journalists, educators, and other professionals — to wade into the digital world equipped with training that will prepare them to recognize the difference between truth and falsehoods,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “This certificate is an important step we are taking to teach university students how to discern credible information through critical examination of the news we all consume.”

The Cox Institute, which has developed plans for the certificate over the past year, is unveiling it as part of National News Literacy Week presented by the News Literacy Project and The E.W. Scripps Company. Dr. Keith Herndon, executive director of the Cox Institute, explained National News Literacy Week is an annual event that focuses attention on why news literacy is vital to a functioning democracy.

“We couldn’t think of a better time than National News Literacy Week to unveil this exciting new certificate and to emphasize the important role we expect it to play in news literacy education,” Herndon said. “We are eager to meet with advisers and faculty across the university in the coming weeks and months to explain what this certificate will mean for our students.”

The Cox Institute intends to use resources and expertise from the News Literacy Project as part of the program’s curriculum.

“Mis- and disinformation are designed to appeal to our innate cognitive biases and vulnerabilities, and young people are often uniquely susceptible to misjudging the credibility of the information and sources they encounter in their daily lives,” said Peter Adams, the New Literacy Project’s senior vice president, education. “This program is an important step in acknowledging the obligation we have to prepare and empower the next generation as they build lifelong information habits and important civic dispositions.”

Students across the university will be able to enroll in the Certificate in News Literacy through the Athena system beginning in the Fall 2022 semester. Once enrolled, students must complete four classes including an introduction course, two intermediate courses and a capstone course. For more information on the specific course requirements and additional background information about the certificate, please visit the Certificate of News Literacy webpage.

Herndon will serve as the certificate’s director and Charlotte Norsworthy, an instructor in the Cox Institute, will serve as the program coordinator. For inquiries, please email her at