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in Filmmaking
on Nov 22, 2009

A few weeks ago I attended a reception at Ira Deutchman’s house in which Columbia University‘s new Focus in Creative Producing was announced, and I’ve been remiss in posting here about what is a really promising and, in these times, necessary course of study up on Morningside Heights.

From the press release:

Building upon a strong record of faculty and alumni recognition at the Oscars, Sundance and other film festivals, Columbia University School of the Arts is expanding its master of fine arts film program. Film: Creative Producing, a newly introduced course of study, will train the next generation of filmmakers in the modern complexities of professional movie production.

Applications for the three-year MFA program are being accepted now. The deadline for the fall 2010 semester is December 1.

“A strong and gifted group of producers has come from Columbia, including Albert Berger (Little Miss Sunshine) to Ben Odell (Padre Nuestro) to current student Bridgette Liebowitz, producer of the acclaimed student short Cigarette Candy,” said Jamal Joseph, associate professor and chair of the film department. “Our new program will build on the success of our unique approach that immerses students in the creative, business, history and practical aspects of producing.”

Unlike other film producing programs, students will take a completely integrated core curriculum in their first year, including courses in directing, directing actors, screenwriting and film history. In these courses they will connect with students pursuing a focus in directing and screenwriting. The cross-disciplinary approach is designed to emphasize aspiring producers’ knowledge of all aspects of the film making process. The small size of the producing program — 24 students — will ensure individual attention from faculty and encourage the development of a close-knit community of students.

In the second year, the program offers a broad curriculum that is defined by Columbia’s presence in the New York independent filmmaking community, but is comprehensive in its scope. It includes instruction in the nuts and bolts of producing, but is steeped in Columbia’s traditional emphasis on storytelling as an art form. The expanded focus will also cross over into producing for related art forms, such as theater and the fast-growing area of new media studies.

Students in the program study with professors like Maureen Ryan, co-producer of Man on Wire; James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features and producer of Brokeback Mountain; Ira Deutchman, CEO of Emerging Pictures; and other prominent producers such as Richard Brick, Michael Hausman and Anthony Bregman. Columbia faculty and alumni were associated with 12 Oscar nominations at the 81st Annual Academy Awards, and two winners. Thirty seven Columbia filmmakers were involved with 28 films and shorts screened at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker readers will also note the large number of “25 New Face” filmmakers who have hailed from Columbia, including John Magary, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Fellipe Barbosa, Hope Dickson Leach and Moon Molson.

One of the impressive things about the new program is how it’s taken note of current imperatives within the indie community — principally, the need for producers to be versed in new 21st century modes of audience development and to assume a marketing and distribution role for their films — and embedded them within the curriculum. “Columbia’s Producing Program embraces the independent model,” Deutchman told me, “and as such will be dealing directly with issues of distribution in a difficult environment. We’ll be incorporating DIY and other alternative distribution methods into the curriculum, and making new financing and distribution models into an emphasis for research.”

We’ll be interested in hearing how the curriculum develops and will report back. And, in the meantime, please note that this year’s application deadline is December 1.

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