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.
“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.’”
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 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.
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!”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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 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.
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.