I was inspired to write this piece after reading about a very innovative MFA program at the University of Central Florida. The "Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema" track aims to provide a comprehensive education in all aspects of film and media content creation which includes production of a feature length microbudget film that is fully funded by the efforts of the filmmaker and a detailed marketing strategy for its distribution. Very innovative! One of the program's founders, Randy Finch, wrote about the program a month ago on Ted Hope's Truly Free Film blog. It caused a lot of discussion (it is currently the second highest commented post) mostly due to the fact that some independent filmmakers do not see a need for this in film education. I talked to Finch and the film department's Interim Chairman, Steve Schlow, about what makes a good candidate for the program, how the program came about, and what it takes to survive in the "real" world of filmmaking.
In the Truly Free post, Finch explained that the MFA program, started in 2005, is designed for a small group of microbudget digital filmmakers. "If you are not prepared to do everything, including raising your own financing, that it takes to get a feature made and marketed for under $50,000, we're not for you." The program can accept up to 10 applicants per year with an MFA earned in 3 years of study. "We have been taking about 6 students each year so far. We require a reel under 15 minutes with a good sample of filmmaking skill, a written artist statement, a treatment of the script they intend to work on while they are here in the program or a finished script. On the first day, they have to have a first draft screenplay. It is not required that applicants come from a film school, though they must have filmmaking experience. This program isn't for someone who thinks they might want to make a movie and has never tried it before. It isn't for absolute beginners," said Finch.
The film department program originally was set up in the Hollywood industrial model (students are educated and trained for work within the studio system) mainly because Orlando had been poised to be the Hollywood of the East and UCF intended to train students for work on the soundstages and in the studio industry. "The program began in a slightly more traditional mode. It had been designed originally to award a degree in Film and Digital Media – The 'entrepreneurial' piece was part of a sub track that had not been completely designed when I became Interim Chair of the Department. The revisions to the program which pushed it closer to its current model came from some brainstorming sessions that were based on thoughts inspired by Chris Anderson's article and book, The Long Tail – We became convinced that what was happening to music could happen to film: the results might not be the same but the coming change was going to be bigger than was first assumed in the original design of the program.