By Joanna Banks
In this entertainment mecca filled with marquee names and big ideas, Mount St. Mary’s College is in pre-production on its own blockbuster.
This fall, the Department of Film, Media & Communication will offer a master of fine arts degree in film & television. The two-year, co-ed program will be held on weekends to accommodate both working professionals and aspiring young filmmakers, and includes extensive hands-on training. "We will have a very low student-to-instructor ratio, and the students will have tremendous access, full access, to editing equipment right away,” says Pam Haldeman, department chair. "They’re not going to have to wait to do real production work.”
Prominent instructors have come aboard to develop students’ experiences, including Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American and third woman to be elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Catherine Paura ’07 MA, a pioneer in film marketing as well as chair and CEO of Capstone Global Marketing & Research Group, will also share her expertise with students. Actors’ workshops are being planned, as well as a string of lectures from visiting professionals.
All of this will take place at the MFA’s new headquarters on The Lot, a historic Hollywood studio built in 1919 during the Silent Era of film. Through the years, the studio served as home to United Artists, Warner Bros. and Samuel Goldwyn Studio. Frank Sinatra spent so much time at The Lot that his office bungalow still stands today, bearing his name. Films shot or edited on location range from classics such as "Some Like It Hot” and "Porgy & Bess” to contemporary hits like "The Green Mile” and the "Austin Powers” trilogy.
"We're thrilled to have a home at The Lot,” says filmmaker and writer Ron Fernández, who will lead the MFA faculty as program director. "This is a studio that holds such an important place in Hollywood history, and it continues to serve as a vibrant filmmaking locale today.”
Indeed, the state-of-the-art facility currently hosts companies such as Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network and popular shows like "True Blood” and "Game of Thrones.” Students in the Mount’s MFA program will have the opportunity to access The Lot’s full gamut of offerings, including sound stages, production offices, carpentry shops, screening rooms and more.
"With the Mount’s own storied tradition in Los Angeles, we’re looking forward to a long, successful partnership with The Lot and greater Hollywood,” says Fernández, "as we pursue new opportunities for art, learning, and growth for our students, alums and the greater community.”
The MFA represents a broadening of the College’s academic array of film degrees, which until now have been concentrated on the undergraduate level. The MFA program shares a focus on human stories with MSMC’s innovative bachelor of science degree in film, media and social justice. However, MFA coursework will be carefully tailored to a student’s specific interests, from sound mixing and special effects to directing and screenwriting.
Each student will also be issued a high-resolution, production-quality camera. The department is purchasing Red cameras, the same ones used to shoot the high-profile films "The Hobbit” and "Thor.”
"Students will be living with these cameras,” says Kelby Thwaits, an actor, singer and full-time instructor in the film, media and communication department. And they will be encouraged to use the equipment outside of class to earn a paycheck on commercial shoots and add to professional portfolios. In addition, editing and audio courses will be taught by Avid-certified instructors — a certification that ensures students are learning the latest versions of industry-standard software.
It’s not just about having the latest technology, though. Thwaits says the tools will make it easier to get good content out to people, and will enhance marketability for film graduates. "We want our students to develop their voice and to have a message to spread and to send,” he adds. "We want them to become storytellers and advocates using their writing skills for screenwriting, and their creative and artistic skills in editing and film production.”
Haldeman envisions an international recruitment effort to draw students with diverse perspectives. She says the hallmark of the MFA will be its mentoring model. "Upon graduation, our goal is to ensure that the graduate has landed a job or selected a job in the industry and has something lined up,” Haldeman says.