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.

 

Neil Landau named executive director of MFA Film Program

Neil Landau (MFA ’18), an award-winning screenwriter, creative producer, author, and educator has been named Executive Director of the University of Georgia Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media.

“Professor Landau brings a vast amount of experience not only in the film industry, but in the MFA space, as well,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College of Mass Communication and Journalism, which co-sponsors the MFA Film program along with Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “He’s been an amazing addition to the Entertainment & Media Studies department, and he has vision and energy commensurate to the task. Our MFA program in Film, TV and Digital Media truly is one-of-a-kind, and he’s the leader it needs.”

Landau addresses the third cohort of the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program during orientation at Grady College on Aug. 12, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

Prior to assuming the Executive Director title, Landau served as Director of UGA’s screenwriting curriculum, where he created the Distinguished Industry Mentor program. The Distinguished Industry Mentor program enlists some 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.

Of his new role, Landau says “I’m genuinely excited to be part of building and leading our MFA film, television, and digital media program, based on a production company/active studio model, to meet the rapidly expanding Georgia film and TV production ecosystem.”

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.”

“Neil Landau is instrumental to this program and for its success going forward,” said Nalani Dowling (MFA ’22), a recent graduate. “He makes each student feel like he really cares about our success and genuinely wants to understand our work and where we are coming from.”

Mr. Landau is a graduate of the UGA Narrative Nonfiction Media Writing program in Screenwriting and brings years of academic experience to the job, including more than two decades as a screenwriting instructor at University of California, Los Angeles School of Theater, Film & Television, and several years as Assistant Dean of Special Projects and co-Director of the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program.  He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film/Television from UCLA.

As a screenwriter, his credits include feature films “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” and the global animated blockbuster “The Adventures of Tadeo Jones” (for which he won a Spanish Academy “Goya” Award), and the television series “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” Upcoming projects include the worldwide release of the animated feature film “Mummies” from Warner Bros. in late February, and “Little Big Boy,” an animated western, currently in production. His latest original, live-action screenplay, “Flinch,” is currently being produced by Teri Schwartz (“Sister Act,” “Beaches”), in partnership with WME Independent.

Landau is also author of six books including the 2022 second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: Creating Great Television in an On Demand World,” featuring interviews with 19 of the most respected showrunners in television, such as Issa Rae of “Insecure,” Chris Mundy of “Ozark,” Sam Levisnon of “Euphoria,” and Jesse Armstrong of “Succession.”

The MFA Film program is a two-year intensive program teaching students directing, screenwriting, producing and other skills needed for creative careers in Georgia’s film industry, which brought $4.4 billion to the state in fiscal year 2022.

Jeff Springston, who previously directed the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program, continues directing the MFA Narrative Media Writing program.

Photo of MFA graduate with MFA faculty members
Landau (second from left) poses for a picture with MFA Film graduate Nalani Dowling (MFA ’22) and MFA Film faculty members Sanghoon Lee and Shandra McDonald after graduation ceremonies at Studio A of Georgia Film Academy on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

 

Harika Bommana finalist for screenwriting award

Harika Bommana, a second year MFA Film, Television and Digital Media student, was selected as one of five finalists for the prestigious 2022 Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Award.

Bommana wrote the script, “When Mangoes Start to Turn Yellow,” as a love letter to her family back home in India. The storyline takes place in the 1980s focusing on four sisters and how they navigate a patriarchal society. Bommana said she is passionate about telling stories set in South Asia that focus on self and cultural identity.

“Writing this reminds me of my mom and sisters and aunt,” Bommana said. “Writing is like reconnecting with them.”

Two women in a workout facility film a scene
Harika Bommana (left) films a scene for one of her UGA MFA Film classes.

Bommana wrote the script during her Writing for Screen class taught by Neil Landau, who was recently named director of the MFA Film program. Each student was assigned to write a complete script during the semester. Each class, the students submitted 10 more pages of their script, and the time in class was spent providing feedback.

The feedback was valuable to Bommana.

“I would much rather people tell me what’s wrong with the script than what’s right,” Bommana admits. “I always value honesty.”

Bommana and others in the class were encouraged by Landau who provided encouragement to submit scripts to screenwriting festivals.

While Bommana said being named a finalist provides her a lot of encouragement, Landau sees this as special recognition.

“This is an extraordinary honor — and well deserved,” Landau said.  “Humanitas has thousands of submissions each year.”

Bommana looks forward to working on her thesis film project in the semesters remaining and graduating at the end of next summer.

The Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Award recognizes the talents of young writers with financial support, empowering them to write impactful dramas. It is presented by Humanitas, a non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing writers who explore the human experience.

Inaugural class of MFA Film students graduates

They are trailblazers and creatives…and now they are graduates of the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program at the University of Georgia.

Elise Nation carries a large production camera.
Elise Nation shows off one the hand-held production cameras at the beginning of the MFA Film program. Nation, who appreicates a variety of film genres including animated movies like “Mulan” says, “I want to be part of making those films that inspire little girls and boys of the next generation to be able to do anything.” (Photo: courtesy of Elise Nation)

The program, which was approved in Spring 2020 and met for the first time behind masks that fall, held graduation ceremonies August 13, 2022.

“There are so many learning experiences,” said Nalani Dowling (MFA ’22), a member of the inaugural class. “There were really good mentorships, and having the time and resources to explore what it means to be a filmmaker was invaluable.”

Another graduate, Elise Nation (AB ’18, MFA ’22), was attracted to the program because it built on her undergraduate degrees in entertainment and media studies and film. She also liked the idea of having a terminal degree if she wanted to teach one day. In addition to the education, it was the connections that proved most memorable for her.

From the Halloween bonfire the group enjoyed their first year in Athens, to the Friendsgiving celebration they bonded over when they were living in the town of Trilith, Nation admitted it is the friendships that develop over shared experiences that will be lasting.

“It was the summer films that we made in Athens right before we moved to Trilith that I will remember,” Nation recalls. “It was the first time doing our own work, all crewing for each other, that sticks in my mind. They were crazy and long hours, but a wonderful experience. You wanted to be the best you can be for their projects, because you wanted them to be the best they can be for your own project.”

MFA Film Foundations
Two ladies at a table and four students standing around with light in the corner, ready to film a scene.
The inaugural class started the program in fall 2020, amid masks. Their first production classes took place at the OTS film studios in Atlanta. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

The MFA Film program is a two-year intensive program teaching students directing, screenwriting, producing and other skills related to move into creative careers in Georgia’s lucrative film business, a $4.4 billion industry in fiscal year 2022.

While the focus is on above-the-line industry positions, each student is educated in a variety of fundamentals, from sound design and lighting, to acting and camera work.

“If the students learn how to do these things and learn the language, they will understand the process better and have greater insight and empathy in the long run,” said Jeff Springston, former director of the MFA programs at Grady College.

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, telling a story in roughly four minutes, using only natural sound or music and no dialogue.

Neil Landau, who is current director of screenwriting and the new director of the MFA Film program, notes that in two years, the students create at least one TV pilot, one feature film and three films.

“It’s extremely rigorous,” Landau admits, “but that’s what works really well — students are trained to be writers and directors, or writers and producers and not trained to do just one thing — they are learning a combination of skills.”

The MFA Film program is led by faculty from both Grady College and Franklin College and blends the curriculum to benefit the students.

One of Nation’s favorite courses for instance, Art Direction for Film and Television, was taught by Julie Ray and included discussions about art in film, color theory and how to merge roles through color and costuming.

“She taught me that film is not just about shots and story, but about color and music, too,” Nation said.

The second year is spent living 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, sophisticated 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.


Applications for the MFA Film cohort beginning Fall 2023 will be late November/early December 2022. Visit MFAFilm@uga.edu/apply for more details.

Thesis Film Projects
Two people film a girl in a tent for Elise Nation's thesis film, "Poppy."
One of the thesis films screened at graduation was “Poppy,” the story of a little girl in a pillow fort experiencing adventures in her dreams. (Photo: courtesy of Elise Nation)

Students turn to creating their thesis film projects during the second year as they choose between a writing/producing track writing full scripts and producing films their classmates are directing, or a writing/directing track, where they develop full productions that are 8 to 15 minutes in length. The thesis films were screened at graduation in front of parents bursting with pride and faculty and student colleagues who empathized with the personal investment and creative stamina needed to pull them off.

To further their education in real-world scenarios, students were encouraged to participate in real-world exercises ranging from working the backStory group to partner with composers from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance to produce original scores for their films, to pitching their project to a team of faculty and mentors for additional money to produce their films.

“Once students are in the work world, the whole game is about pitching your product,” Springston explained about the pitch competition.

Nation and Dowling were two of three students awarded additional money for their projects, and agreed that the exercise was about more than just the money.

“Pitching our films was a wonderful experience,” Nation said. “It’s a good lesson in how to pitch your own material and get other people excited about it and try to get your vision of it across.”

Nalana Dowling sits in a corner looking at a camera reviewing production footage.
Nalani Dowling takes a few minutes to review production footage on her camera during filming of her thesis film, “Breach,” about the relationship between two sisters-in-law. (Photo: courtesy of Nalani Dowling)

In a nod to the adage, “write what you know,” both Dowling and Nation directed thesis films that are personal pursuits in several ways. Dowling worked on a project called “Breach,” about the relationship between two sisters-in-law during a stressful pregnancy for one of the characters. Dowling is attracted to themes of female relationships, drawing on the relationship she has with her sister.

Nation directed “Poppy,” a dream sequence following a young girl who pursues adventures like traveling in space and exploring the African wilderness…until the camera comes back to reality and she is in the hospital fighting for her life. This, too, hit close to home as Nation spent time right before the program started caring for her niece who was battling leukemia. Although the short film ends on an uncertain note, Nation’s niece is doing well and attended graduation to cheer on her aunt.

Making Connections

In the end, the film industry is about connections and that is another lesson illustrated many ways throughout the MFA program.

For instance, once the students moved to Trilith, they had to establish a pipeline to accomplish their end goals. These contacts ranged from connecting with the crew from Georgia Film Academy who helped with their thesis films to an impromptu encounter with Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A and a main investor in Trilith Studios. Cathy is also a key financial supporter of the MFA Film program at UGA.

Dowling recalls how Cathy was very helpful. He had talked with the group on a call early in the program, telling them they have been challenged to impact the world and storytelling is the most impactful way to do that. Then, he gave the students his cell number. And, the students used it.

“We were meeting at GFA and one of my classmates just texted him to let him know we were there,” Dowling recalls. “He came right over and we just piled in a van and he showed us the studios. They were filming the most recent Spider Man movie and we hadn’t signed waivers or anything, but he was showing us all around the studios.”

After the tour, he took the group out to dinner, one of a few times he did that.

The moral of the story is clear, said Dowling: “Don’t be afraid to ask, and know who to ask.”

A group of about 16 MFA Film graduates and Chick-fil-A employees gather for a picture around a table in a restaurant.
Dan Cathy (seated in light blue shirt at center of group), was a major financial supporter of the MFA Film program and helped the MFA Film students get acclimated to their second year of the program once they moved to the Town of Trilith. (Photo: courtesy of Elise Nation)

Cathy had periodic interactions with the students, including attending the graduation ceremonies.

“Here at Trilith, we are setting the stage to inspire the next generation of storytellers,” Cathy told the graduates. “It’s incredibly exciting.”

Nalani Dowling holds flowers at graduation and poses for a picture with MFA Film faculty.
Nalani Dowling (left) is congratulated after graduation by MFA Film faculty Neil Landau, Sanghoon Lee and Shandra McDonald. Dowling praised Landau for caring about the success of the students and helping to bring out their identity as filmmakers. “He genuinely wants to understand our work and where we are coming from, but also to give us creative freedom since we all come from different places with our beliefs and experiences,” Dowling said. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

The students also connected with an impressive A-list of industry professionals, serving as Distinguished Industry Mentors. Each student was paired with a mentor who shared ideas, taught lessons and helped students network in the industry.

The inaugural class also had a two-hour master class with Stephen Canals, co-creator and executive producer of “Pose.”

Next Steps

Chuck Hayward, acclaimed for his work on “WandaVision” and his co-executive producer role on “Ted Lasso,” mentored new graduate Kelvin Summerhill (MFA ’22) and has already signed on to be an Artist-in-Residence for the new class of MFA Film students. Landau said that Summerhill exceeded his modest goal raising money for his film, “Black Butterfly,” thanks to an attractive contribution by Hayward.

Dowling was paired with Davita Scarlett, writer and co-executive producer of “The Good Fight” and “Evil.”

“Being paired with Davita was awesome,” Dowling said. “Even with her busy schedule, she took the time to read the first TV pilot I wrote in the program. She gave really helpful feedback and notes on how I could improve the episode, as well as my TV writing skills overall.”

With graduation behind them, the students will start using those networks to land jobs.

Nation has taken a job to teach film at Emory, while Dowling has renewed her lease for her apartment in Trilith and will continue working part-time for a small production company she has worked with the past few months.

Most the students will also submit their final projects to film festivals, a popular avenue to garner attention from agents and representation for future projects.

“The success of this program depends 100% on the accomplishments of the students, that they leave happy and are ready to break into a really competitive business,” Landau concluded.

In the meantime, there were a few students from the new cohort of MFA Film students in the graduation audience watching the thesis films, some nervous about their turn but all excited about what’s to come.


For more about the MFA Film program, see the “Lights. Camera. Action!” feature from Georgia Magazine.
To view pictures from the MFA Film graduation, see the UGA Grady Flickr account.

 

First-year MFA Film students premiere short films

Many first semester graduate students spend the end of the semester stressing about finals, but students in the MFA Film program face another type of stress: producing films that will engage audiences.

Imagine the added pressure of creating a full story that is shown in 4 minutes or less, with three characters or less and that has no dialogue.

Such was the final semester assignment for the nineteen MFA Film students in Bryan Cole’s Introduction to Directing class who premiered their films in front of an audience of fellow students, professors, family and friends on Dec. 9.

Story plots introduced the audience to characters who learned lessons about themselves ranging from the agonizing struggle to make a connection at a match-making mixer to the fear of fighting addiction and the pain in losing a loved one.

The trailer above features short clips from each of the films produced by the first-year MFA Film students.
The first-year students spent weeks writing, blocking, recruiting, filming and editing their stories. And, since these projects were produced on very small budgets, the students had to rely on each other to serve as camera operators, sound engineers, editors and other roles required in film production.

Recruiting resources and exploring creative vision are some of the most important lessons of the program.

For Rebecca Myers, getting to know the cohort and learning to lean on each other has been the highlight of the semester.

“Truthfully, to learn to trust each other with tasks in a creative atmosphere that’s so welcoming and assertive and go-getting…I love that,” Myers said.

Albin Pepe, another first-year student, agrees.

“I wanted to avoid the culture of film schools in New York and LA,” Pepe said about his decision to apply to UGA’s MFA Film program. “I don’t see anyone in the program as my competitor. We are all collaborators. We are all like family. We are trailblazers. We are all friends.”

Pepe adds that the growth of the film industry in the state of Georgia is another draw to this program.

“Independent film in Georgia is growing and here to stay,” Pepe said.

The Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program was introduced in 2019 as  joint project between Grady College and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and this class is the second cohort of students. Students spend their first year in Athens, Georgia, learning writing and technique and their second year in Fayetteville, Georgia, at Georgia Film Academy at Trilith working on more involved projects. Instead of a traditional MFA Film program that covers three years, the UGA MFA Film program covers six semesters in two years, including summers.

“It’s a lot of work,” admitted Bryan Cole, who teaches the directing class to first-year students.  “Balancing the production side with the writing side is work-intensive. As one of the students said, ‘I’ve never worked so hard in my life.’”

 

“AMERICAN Triptych,” a short film from Booker T Mattison premieres December 3

The short film showcases collaboration from EMST students and alumni.

“AMERICAN Triptych,” a new short film from Booker T Mattison, assistant professor of Entertainment and Media Studies, is set to premiere December 3.

This short film is a triptych, meaning it is three separate works of art that are unified by a common theme. The commonality in this triptych is Covid-19.

The film features three narrative chapters. Each highlights a different protagonist — one white American, one Asian-American and one African-American. Through those lenses, the film explores food insecurity, homelessness, xenophobia and police brutality all amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020.

“AMERICAN Tryptych” provides a look at the pandemic through the lenses of different American ethnicities (photo submitted).

“”AMERICAN Triptych” also serves as a veritable showcase of the talent that we have in the department of entertainment and Media studies in Grady College, the Design & Technology MFA in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at Franklin College and our new MFA in Film, TV Production and Digital Media,” said Mattison.

Most of the professionals who worked on the film also teach in the MFA Film, Television, and Digital Media program, an innovative program where students study one year on campus in Athens and one year at Trillith Studios.

Mattison is the film’s writer and director. Shandra McDonald, the film’s producer, is based at Trillith Studios. Bryan Cole is the film’s editor.

Julie Ray and Ivan Ingermann, the production designer and costume designer, teach in the Design & Technology MFA.

Dave Kruetzer, the gaffer, teaches production in the Film Studies department.

The cinematographer is Garland McLaurin, a Peabody Award-winning cinematographer who previously taught EMST students.

“AMERICAN Triptych” is a group effort with faculty, alumni and current students. The film gave UGA students an opportunity to work on a professional production with award-winning filmmakers.

Cyrus Townsend (AB ’19) worked as the assistant editor. Townsend is currently a content operations edit apprentice at WarnerMedia Studios. He is excited about the ever-growing community of filmmakers in Georgia.

“I loved getting back and touch with Mattison and a lot of my peers from UGA,” Townsend said. “I feel as though it’s poetic that after the pandemic, I felt very distant from my peers and this film about people going through the pandemic is what brings us back together!”

The film premieres was created during the pandemic and ensured all cast and crew remained healthy during production.(photo submitted).

Demi Lehman is a double major in EMST and Theatre. She is one of the actors in “AMERICAN Triptych.” She had briefly met Mattison in Dean Charles Davis’ career explorations class designed to introduce pre-Grady students to opportunities within the college. Lehman recognized Mattison’s name on a casting call website for actors. That led to an audition and being cast for the role.

“My favorite part of this project was how kind and collaborative everyone was throughout the entire process,” Lehman said. “It was even cooler for me to see how students and faculty from UGA came together to create a really impressive and efficient set. It was the perfect blend of both of my majors and I got to see the skills I’ve learned in a classroom in action on set.”

Other students involved in the film include Samantha Eubanks, design production assistant, Cash Robinson, key grip, Brandt Tharpe, camera production assistant and second assistant director and Cullen Herter, who shadowed the production.

There is a UGA Spotlight on the Arts virtual event on November 17 where guests can learn about the art of collaboration in filmmaking and ask questions. In addition to Mattison, participants include McDonald, Ray, Ingermann, and Cole, all from Theatre and Film Studies. All five panelists are involved in teaching within UGA’s new MFA program in Film, Television, and Digital Media. Register here.

The film premieres on Friday, December 3 at 6 p.m. in the Balcony Theatre at the Fine Arts Building. Masks are strongly encouraged at the screening.

Neil Landau says movies premiering on streaming services will have lasting business ramifications

Warner Brothers recently announced it will premiere 2021 movies on the HBO Max streaming platform at the same time the films release in theaters.

The groundbreaking business decision affects distribution of many films created here in Georgia. We asked asked Neil Landau, associate professor in EMST and director of screenwriting for the MFA Film program, about the ramifications of this announcement and what it means in regard to evolving viewer habits.

Landau teaches a class at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester. (Photo: Sarah Freeman).

“This is a sea change that will have lasting, if not permanent, repercussions on the movie business — from P&A (prints and advertising) and distribution to exhibition and all-important opening weekend box office tallies,” Landau said.

He says home streaming offers advantages and access to some productions that audiences may not have previously had.

“Depending on the post Covid-19 economic rebound, I believe streaming movies at home is here to stay,” said Landau. ” Not only is it much cheaper for those on a budget, it’s also more convenient and offers more global choices.”

The relationship between movie theaters and streaming services will continue to be defined and Landau says there are some critical questions that must be answered through audience behavior.

“Can both cinemas and movies-on-demand streaming at home co-exist?  Will people, who have mainly been staying home to avoid contagion, be compelled to return to the communal movie-going experience,” Landau questioned.

“My hunch is that while the communal experience of cinema will survive, many movie megaplexes will downsize or go out of business (tantamount to book stores and shopping malls in the age of Amazon Prime),” Landau said.

Like all industries that rely on people gathering, Landau says the new landscape must be defined through the public response to medical breakthroughs as COVID-19 treatments are administered. However, he says many of the business decisions are made because streaming profits benefit movie studio groups too.

“We already had signs of what I call “Digital Darwinism,” but Covid-19 has made it impossible for movie theaters to compete,” Landau said. “Once we have a vaccine and we get the economy back on track, it’s anyone’s guess.  We all know for certain that sports will remain huge.  Ditto for video games.  But movies on-demand at home and relatively inexpensive monthly streaming subscriptions are not the competition for the major studios because they own or have a stake in most of these streaming platforms.”

“You could look at HBO Max’s decision to collapse theatrical windows as cannibalizing their own business —until you realize that they’re profiting from increasing their HBO Max subscriptions exponentially,” said Landau. “And a monthly subscription fee and access to customer data are both gifts that keep on giving, not dependent on what’s opening at the movie theater.”

Learn more about the UGA MFA Film program at: mfafilm.uga.edu.

MFA Film program announces Distinguished Industry Mentor initiative; applications open until Dec. 1 for second year of program

Details about the MFA Film program and the Dec. 1, 2020 application deadline can be viewed on the MFA Film website.

As the application timeline opens for its second year, the University of Georgia’s Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media announces a new addition: the start of the Distinguished Industry Mentor program.

The Distinguished Industry Mentors initiative will draw on top talent from more than 45 professional writers, producers and directors to work with the students by providing master classes, hosted conversations, special screenings of their work and networking opportunities. Mentors signed on to help include recent Emmy winner Damon Lindelof, co-creator/showrunner of “Watchmen,” “The Leftovers” and “Lost”; Amy Aniobi, executive producer of “Insecure” and “Two Dope Queens”; and Justin Hillian, showrunner of “The Chi“, among others.

Steven Canals, co-creator, director and executive producer of “Pose” will be a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence for the MFA Film program in spring 2021. Canals and “Pose” won a Peabody Award in 2018.

This spring, the program will host Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, Steven Canals, co-creator, director and executive producer of hit television series, “Pose,” to teach writing techniques and provide critique for students.

“Our goal is to provide students with a world-class education and that includes having contacts with some of the most accomplished television and film professionals in the business,” said Dr. Jeff Springston, director of the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program. “Our faculty have invited their extensive network of Hollywood talent to the program through our Distinguished Industry Mentors and Writers-in-Residence initiatives. These connections not only set our program apart from others, but the mentors are sure to provide inspiration and motivation to our students.”

This fall, the University of Georgia and the Georgia Film Academy (GFA) rolled out the state’s first-ever professional Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program for Georgia filmmakers and content creators, in collaboration with film industry center, Trilith. Through this master’s program, the state is building a content creation industry to rival that of Hollywood.

“This is an unprecedented advancement in laying the foundation to create writing and content creation jobs in Georgia,” said Jeffrey Stepakoff, executive director of the GFA. “For the past five years, we have been actively training a robust workforce of Georgians in below-the-line fields, and this program will create opportunities for storytellers, who would otherwise have to leave the state for jobs in New York and Los Angeles.”

Joining the list of MFA Film faculty this academic year are industry veterans Neil Landau and Bryan Cole. Neil Landau joined the faculty as director of screenwriting. Landau’s screen credits include cult teen comedy “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” and “The Secret World of Alex Mack,” among others. Accomplished editor Bryan Cole, editor of “Who Killed Malcom X, also joins the program in January 2021 as associate professor, Department of Theatre and Film Studies.

“Drawing this level of talent to Georgia sends a strong message to the industry,” said Stepakoff. “Georgia means business.”

After spending their first year studying at UGA’s campus in Athens, MFA Film students spend the second year taking residence with GFA at Trilith, the 935-acre master development for the creative industries in South Metro Atlanta that is home to Trilith Studios, the second largest purpose-built studio in North America, where blockbuster films like “Avengers: Endgame” were produced. The studios feature 18 sound stages ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet with adjacent workshop facilities and an extensive 400-acre backlot. Immersed in the industry, students will gain real-world experience in advanced writing, production, advanced directing, computer animation and thesis films, and will graduate with a master’s degree from UGA.

Applications for the fall 2021 cohort are open until December 1.

UGA establishes Master of Fine Arts Film program

Graduate program to work with Georgia Film Academy at Pinewood Forest

Georgia’s burgeoning film and television industry stands ready to benefit from an expanded work force, thanks to an innovative new partnership between the University of Georgia, the Georgia Film Academy and Pinewood Forest, the new community in Fayetteville, Georgia, located adjacent to Pinewood Atlanta Studios.

The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences have aligned with Pinewood Forest and the Georgia Film Academy to create a Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program. The program is the first of its kind in Georgia, with students taking classes in an academic setting during the first year and producing projects in a major studio setting during the second year.

“The University of Georgia is uniquely positioned to house this interdisciplinary program that will make a lasting economic and educational impact on one of our state’s leading industries,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “We are grateful for the support of Dan Cathy and Pinewood Forest, the Georgia Film Academy, and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in helping us to establish it.”

There are nearly 45,800 direct motion picture and television industry jobs in Georgia, according to the Motion Picture Association. In the 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Georgia hosted 391 projects that had a direct in-state spend of $2.9 billion, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“As Georgia continues to grow as a world leader in film and TV production, UGA will help to meet our state’s critical need for world-class writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors and other key personnel for years to come,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College.

The new MFA Film program is a significant addition to the university’s already strong educational offerings related to the film and television industry, including Grady College’s entertainment and media studies major and Franklin College’s film studies major.

“This program is an important step in the evolution of film studies at UGA as we continue to broaden our students’ creative abilities,” said Alan Dorsey, dean of Franklin College. “The collaboration between Franklin College and Grady College will produce many new imaginative projects and prepare a new generation of graduate students for exciting careers in global media.”

 MFA Film Curriculum

The MFA Film program will matriculate its cohort in fall 2020. Applications will be accepted until Feb. 15, 2020, and can be viewed at mfafilm.uga.edu.

UGA’s MFA Film program is the only master of fine arts program in film production at a public university in Georgia. It will be offered to students at a tuition rate comparable to that of other graduate programs at the university, making it one of the most financially accessible programs of its caliber in the country.

Students are expected to range from recent graduates to those who have worked in the industry for a few years and are looking for a new challenge.

The MFA Film program will be a two-year (six-semester), 62-credit-hour program culminating in capstone experiences and professional internships.

During the first year of the program, students will study on the University of Georgia campus in Athens and take courses focused on writing for the screen, producing, directing, film history, audio production and lighting, among others.

During the second year, students will work on capstone projects and internships through the Georgia Film Academy while living at Pinewood Forest, a 235-acre master-planned residential and mixed-use development. Second-year courses are expected to include advanced writing, advanced production, advanced directing, computer animation and thesis film.

“The vision for Pinewood has always been to create an extraordinary environment for the next generation of creators, storytellers and entrepreneurs,” said Dan Cathy, Pinewood Atlanta Studios owner, who has helped make the MFA program possible through personal financial support and accommodation at Pinewood Forest. “We are thrilled to partner with Jeffrey Stepakoff, President Morehead, Dean Davis and everyone involved by hosting these inspiring students and faculty at Pinewood.”

The MFA Film program will feature student-created films and television projects produced in collaboration with industry professionals each year.

Fundamentals and advanced courses in film and television production will be taught in partnership with the Georgia Film Academy, efficiently utilizing existing resources in the state’s acclaimed workforce program.

“Along with providing affordable, accessible, high quality training, this critical new professional degree program will help ensure that Georgia has its own complete and sustainable entertainment industry,” said Jeffrey Stepakoff, executive director of the Georgia Film Academy.

Industry-related workshops and lectures also will be sponsored by the program. As the program grows, partnerships will be established with additional professional production sites in Georgia.

The MFA in Film, Television and Digital Media is added to a stable of existing MFA programs at the university. An MFA in Narrative Media Writing, which includes a screenwriting track, was launched in Grady College in 2015. Within Franklin College, the Lamar Dodd School of Art offers a studio art MFA, and the department of theatre and film studies offers a pre-professional MFA with concentrations in acting; scenic, lighting and costume design; and dramatic media.

Grady College is the founding home of the George Foster Peabody Awards, one of the most prestigious awards for powerful and enlightening stories in television, radio and digital media. Every entry submitted for Peabody Award consideration is archived at the University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries, representing the third largest media collection in the world.