For those interested in the new minor in filmmaking, Undergraduate Program Director Karen Offitzer presented detailed information that introduced students to the program’s curriculum on Sept. 25.
The discussion, which packed around 40 students in a small conference room in the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library, drew in a bigger crowd than expected. The minor will require 21 credits to complete and will be comprised of 10 courses, some new to the Stony Brook curriculum and several courses set to be added.
The minor will focus on various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting for movies and television, documentary filmmaking, production and direction. The course will culminate in a capstone project related to filmmaking.
Offitzer uses her background in creative writing and film to lecture in the film and television MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) and undergraduate programs at Stony Brook Manhattan.
“There is a huge demand,” Offitzer said regarding the minor’s inclusion. “The ability to create compelling visual stories is helpful in whatever anybody is doing, that was really the genesis of it, to teach people the visual storytelling skills that are so necessary to any field.”
The minor is the first program in filmmaking at the main campus and the second for the university; the program joins the university’s MFA in Film and Television based at the Stony Brook Manhattan Center on Eighth Avenue. Established filmmakers and writers, as well as master’s program students, will be teaching in the filmmaking minor program.
It was decided that smartphone devices would be used as the recording equipment due to the ease of accessibility, Offitzer explained. Applications, such as Apple’s iMovie, are going to be used as the main tools to edit student films; outside equipment such as student cameras won’t be used in the classes to make the filmmaking courses as streamlined as possible. Possibly later in the program — or if filmmaking becomes a major at the university — sound and lighting equipment may become accessible to the program, she said.
“We are really approaching this from a very ‘low tech, anyone can do it’ frame of mind, meaning that we are teaching how to use what is in everybody’s back pocket,” Offitzer said. “We are different from programs that have sound stages and expensive cameras. We want people to learn simple storytelling skills from the ground up.”
Graduate students in the MFA Film and Television program, James Evans and Vivien Jastrzębski, will be teachers in the minor program. Evans is a filmmaker who founded the Mastic Beach Mini Indie Film Fest; he is currently finishing up his thesis, a feature film that will grant him his master’s from SBU.
“What I think I bring to the program is a love for character-driven stories and how to articulate visually,” Evans said. “The faculty are all working in film, so we are not just academics. We are practicing what we teach, which is really important.”
Jastrzębski will teach television writing for the program; she values the importance of a “strong story engine” to set up the world for a show. Her students are treated as professional writers and are taught a “real-life practical approach” in class. She finds television to be her passion and hopes the minor’s popularity will only grow.
“It’s an incredible media of expression and there is a viable career in it,” Jastrzębski said. “Hollywood is a huge engine, and they are pulling talents from all sorts of walks of life; there has never been a better time to tell your story, tell a story and be passionate about storytelling in the medium of film.”
During the discussion, some students asked if the program will include a film animation and CGI (Computer-Generated Imaging). Muhammad Hossain, a sophomore biology major, is not committed to the minor due to a full plate but says if the CGI tech and animation film classes were part of the curriculum, he would consider the minor more heavily. Although it looks like the minor isn’t in his future, Hossain said he is still interested in taking classes with the curriculum.
“Fight scenes have always piqued my interest; I’ve always wanted to be the guy behind the camera shooting it, choreographing it, seeing my work on screen,” Hossain said. “A nice fight scene is always something I wanted to do. If any of the classes would help me out with it, I would certainly be taking it.”
Saramma Thomas, a sophomore business major, will be declaring the minor in filmmaking next semester. She said she has always had an interest in film — especially cinematography, a skill she’s always wanted to learn — the minor presents an exciting opportunity for her to build those skills.
“I like the idea that you can use iPhones to get a basic understanding of film, and then you learn how to develop it through other courses,” Thomas said.
This discussion is one of the five parts in a series of discussions called “Create Wednesdays” for the new minor in filmmaking; the other four will be held Oct. 16, Oct. 30, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11 with various guest speakers.
“One of our goals is to encourage a community of filmmakers here on campus,” Offitzer said. “By offering events with different topics that all relate to filmmaking, we hope to build a community. By running these events, we thought that would be a way for people to get together, and eat pizza.”