UNCW to add master’s degree in filmmaking

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UNCW's film studies department will expand to include a graduate degree program in filmmaking. Photo courtesy UNCW/Jeff Janowski.
UNCW’s film studies department will expand to include a graduate degree program in filmmaking. Photo courtesy UNCW/Jeff Janowski.

It’s lights, camera, action on a Master of Fine Arts in filmmaking at UNC-Wilmington.

Last week, the UNC Board of Governors approved the university’s proposal—years in the making—for the graduate degree program.

Once up and running, the program will be a natural extension of UNCW’s undergraduate film studies courses, Dave Monahan, professor and chair of the department, said.

“We wanted a graduate program that extended what we already had, and was also more immersive and intense,” Monahan said.

And unlike many filmmaking programs—including at the N.C. School of the Arts, which also had its proposal accepted last week—UNCW’s will be comprehensive instead of specialized, offering students a chance to try their hands at shooting, editing, sound design, screenwriting and directing in a variety of formats, notably narrative, documentary and experimental. Course work will also include what Monahan calls “critical studies”–film history, film theory and film analysis, among others, tailor-made to provide context to budding filmmakers.

To earn a master’s degree, students will have to make one film in each of those genres at the end of each year.

Not only will that be a sure fire resume-builder , Monahan said, it will also give undergrads the opportunity for more hands-on experience.

“We will be able to take things to a level we are not able to do with our undergraduate program. But it’s also a great resource for our undergraduates to be able to work on other projects,” he said. “So, at full capacity that’s 36 films being made a year that are going to need [crew]. And I happen to think one of best ways to learn to make movies is to make movies. That’s the kind of experience we’re always looking for with our students.”

With a hopeful start date of fall 2016—and a more realistic timeline of fall 2017—Monahan said the new graduate program will accept 12 students the first year, and 12 more the following two, to reach that maximum of 36.

The undergraduate film studies department–first created in the late 90s as an interdisciplinary program—has grown to graduate about 100 students a year since achieving departmental status in 2003.

Interest among undergrads in continuing their education without having to leave campus, Monahan said, was a driving force behind putting the graduate program proposal together.

“A lot of times, by the time they’re graduating  they’re really sort of getting rolling as filmmakers. So, to have that kind of safe, supportive and mentored experience is important,” he said. “And most film schools are very expensive and you have to relocate to go. That’s always been a draw for us. We’re a film school in a film town with state school prices. Plus, we have the beach.”

Monahan acknowledges that Wilmington might not be the “film town” it once was—at least for now–since the state’s tax incentive program came to an end.

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t impact our undergraduate and graduate programs,” he said.

But he’s hopeful, based on experience, that any impact will be temporary.

“I’ve seen [film] declared dead before and it’s always come back. And our program has already thrived even during dead times,” he said. “We’re trying to look toward the future with this program and create…media makers that can work in a wide variety of motion picture applications. We think that if we can train people to tell stories and communicate with images that there’s a lot of opportunities even beyond the film industry.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.