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Pitt's film department plans new track for film and media production

The Pitt News

Film department plans new track

Pitt+Tonight%2C+a+student-run+late+night-style+production%2C+relies+on+technical+skill+techniques+in+film+to+bring+their+show+to+digital+platforms.+Theo+Schwarz+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Pitt Tonight, a student-run late night-style production, relies on technical skill techniques in film to bring their show to digital platforms. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt Tonight, a student-run late night-style production, relies on technical skill techniques in film to bring their show to digital platforms. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt Tonight, a student-run late night-style production, relies on technical skill techniques in film to bring their show to digital platforms. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

By Emily Suruda / For The Pitt News

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When Ann Shetler took a film class during her first year at Pitt, she was the only one in the class who didn’t enroll to fulfill a general education requirement.

Rather than pick a major that would lead to a job she hated, Shetler decided she wanted to make films. But there was one problem: she couldn’t. Pitt didn’t have a film production major.

And while the University still doesn’t offer this major, Shetler, a film studies major, is now able to shift her studies to the film department’s film and media production track, which is launching in the spring.

Students who wish to follow the new track will still be film studies majors, but they will declare film and media production as a specific area of study within the film studies program. The track, which film students are not required to declare, is a combination of hands-on production and classes that focus on critical analysis.

Under the current program, the main focus is on critical analysis of film, and students are only required to take one production class. Once the production track debuts, the department will still be offering a film studies program without production, if students do not wish to follow the new track.

The new track will be available to incoming first-years, sophomores and juniors, although current seniors who want to follow this track will have to spend a longer time completing their undergraduate degree. This is because the track cannot be completed without a student taking a capstone, which will not be offered until the spring 2018 semester.

Students in the production track will be required to take 13 courses, including film analysis and world film history as well as production classes such as technical directing. Students will take six of the 13 courses at Pitt and four at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ School of Filmmaking and Photography, located in North Oakland. Each student will have the choice of taking the remaining three courses at either Pitt or Filmmakers’.

Ali Patterson, an English and film studies lecturer at Pitt, will provide administrative and policy support for the new film and media production track.

“Students are prepared in a liberal arts but technological atmosphere that you wouldn’t get with just a production degree,” Patterson said. “Students will be learning not just how to do it but why to do it.”

Patterson said the new track will allow for more career opportunities and experience for students within the film department.

According to Robert Clift, an assistant professor of film studies who will direct the film and media production track, said students at Pitt have wanted a production-based track for several years.

In the 2014 to 2015 annual survey of film studies majors at Pitt, students were asked if they would like to see a production track. The answer was clear: 90 percent of students wanted a production track. The faculty agreed. Clift said that it is best for students to be trained in both critical studies and practical aspects of filmmaking.

“A lot of students asked for it and want to do production who are not only film studies students but students across campus [who] want to be trained and use media production practices,” Clift said.

The only extra costs for the new track as compared to the current, undifferentiated program is an additional $70 lab fee paid to Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Clift started developing this track in the 2014 to 2015 academic year. From there, Clift worked with film studies faculty, including Adam Lowenstein — the former director of film studies at Pitt — and representatives from Pittsburgh Filmmakers to create a curriculum that is both robust and feasible for students to complete. Because of the collaboration, both Pitt and Filmmakers had to approve the track before it could go through Pitt’s internal review for new academic tracks.

In addition, Clift had to work with Pitt’s administration to come up with proper places for post-production work –– such as editing labs –– and to find production resources. Some of the new equipment includes, two digital cameras with sets of lenses, three wireless digital audio recorders and two lights and diffusers that have stands and umbrellas.

After all of the work that went into designing the new curriculum and classes, another vital part of the new track was getting the University Library System to agree to manage all of the equipment checkout. The ULS agreed and has been circulating equipment and putting together equipment kits since last summer.

Since the library started offering equipment, students have been able to use it in production courses and outside projects such as for Pitt Tonight, Pitt’s student-run late night talk show. Then, the first hybrid course — Mockumentary: Production & Criticism — of this new track was offered in fall 2015.

Randall Halle, director of film studies, said although the process of instituting the track took about three years, it was “fast and efficient” considering all the efforts that had to be coordinated.

“From the moment that a faculty member comes up with a proposal to change an existing major or add a new major, a process of discussion and review begins, starting within the program and going all the way up through the Dietrich School onto the Provost’s level,” Halle said in an email.

After each step, reviewers provide feedback that the organizers then must incorporate into their plan, according to Halle.

“The process may seem slow, but you want to make sure that students are getting the best education in line with state and national criteria,” Halle said in an email.

John Cantine, director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, said this combination of critical studies and production will help students become better filmmakers.

“Regionally speaking, people had the chance to do production majors at Point Park University, and this is the first time a real production option is being offered at a public school,” Cantine said.

Point Park has had a cinema production major since 2005.

Cantine said over the time it takes to do the production courses, students will have the opportunity to make increasingly ambitious movies as they gain more knowledge and experience with each class. Cantine is finding an overwhelming positive response to this new track at Filmmakers.

The film studies department sees how in this modern world, people need to be critical consumers and thoughtful makers in the film industry, according to Patterson, and wants to provide students with the courses necessary to develop conceptually as media producers.

Shetler said she is a film studies major in the hopes of working with cinematography or becoming a director after she graduates.

“I want to gain more experience, because it’s hard to get out of college with no experience,” Shetler said.

Before this new track, Shetler had to take more production courses at Filmmakers because she wasn’t getting the opportunity as frequently at Pitt. Shetler had to go to Filmmakers just to get some experience in a school setting unless she joined clubs such as Pitt Tonight or UPTV at Pitt.

“I hope this new track will make people more interested in film while providing resources and showing people that you can do it and be successful in it,” Shetler said.

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Film department plans new track