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School of Theatre and Film brings industry, practice into the classroom

March 13, 2012

In a time when the film industry is rapidly evolving, the School of Theatre and Film in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts seeks to provide future generations with the knowledge to create a better world via the arts by bringing Hollywood directly to the classroom.

Offering undergraduate degrees in both film and theater, the school allows film students to select a concentration in either filmmaking practices (FPR) or film and media production (FMP). The goal for both programs is to turn passion into productivity through hands-on experience in their designated areas.  

“We want students to graduate with professional development and training, a sense of the best practices and, most importantly, the ability to translate their education into a viable career,” said Jacob Pinholster, director and associate professor of the ASU School of Theatre and Film. “Everyone learns to collaborate with a team of people, all with different expertise and level of involvement to make a physical work that has to stand alone in the world and be judged on its merits.”

As part of this training, students are required to take a business ethics and entertainment class taught by F. Miguel Valenti, a Lincoln Professor of Ethics and the Arts, who founded the FMP programs. During the course, Valenti tackles the hard-hitting questions and situations that beginning filmmakers are bound to encounter upon graduating.

“We talk about real-world circumstances, such as what to do with your résumé, how to get your screenplay or reel viewed, and even what to wear to business meetings,” Valenti says. “We want them to know what is negotiable in the industry and how to get their work out there.”

In addition, seniors in the film and media production concentration must complete a capstone project. They choose the role they want to play in a production, such as editor, producer, director, cinematographer or designer, based on their interests. The faculty, then, will match students with projects like a matrix, ensuring each individual comes out of the program with an example of the work they want to get hired to perform.

“I’m very inspired by the vision Miguel has for this program and by the students here at ASU,” says Adam Collis, a visiting professor of film directing. “They’re making highly original pieces of work that are on par with some of the best film schools in the country.”

Recently, Collis, along with his colleagues, created the Hollywood Invades Tempe (HIT) series to bring students face-to-face with industry experts. During the lectures, guests, such as producer Judd Payne (upcoming film "Bernie"), director Bennett Miller ("Moneyball"), and producer Brunson Green ("The Help"), use Skype to virtually speak with audience members about the stages of filmmaking from conceptualization to post-production. Payne even attended a capstone screening and emailed each student with his critique of their project.

“Our students are securing jobs and internships due to programs like HIT and the weekend seminars because those industry professionals are now aware of what ASU is doing,” says Valenti. “It’s really gratifying for us to see they are successful and working in a business they love.”

This summer the school will embark on creating their very own feature film. Faculty members, along with industry professionals, will be serving in higher-level roles, such as director, producer and director of photography, while all other members of the crew will be students. It also will be the job of students to put together the marketing plan and represent the film to agencies and film festivals. To fulfill an academic component, a required class will accompany the shoot to teach the principals behind the filmmaking practice.

Looking ahead for the program, the department plans to expand the speaker series, so that highly respected industry members teach a course at ASU about their field of knowledge. It is through opportunities such as these that students are able to learn directly from those who once walked in their very shoes.