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Wednesday, October 15, 2014 // The Statemer B
K sharp rise of intonation followed by an
inquisitive eyebrow - "Oh, so you're
joring in film?"
Well, not exactly.
Here at the University, it's Screen Arts & Cul-
tures, which isn't the same as majoring in film.
That medium is dead. You'd be hard pressed
to find a kid reeling film stock or splicing and
mendingtogether single frames from a filmstrip.
But screen arts? It's a combination of practice
and theory, and it's a field thatis very much alive.
Screen art is the modern alternative to film
- the dynamic digital imagery that pops up on
your laptop screen, flashes on the television and
glues you to your smartphone. It's not just the
study of how to make films, but the study of the
culture of making them.
But with big film schools like New York Uni-
versity or the University of Southern California
leading the pack, how does Michigan stack up?
What does a SAC degree mean for a life post-
graduation? With an interdisciplinary take on
film education, students at the University are
taking advantage of a more diverse set of post-
grad endeavors. Such careers may apply to film,
butit's certainlynot a set-in-stone requirement.
"Do you know what film is anymore?" Terri
Sarris, associate chair of the Department, asked.
"It's the stuff with the holes - celluloid." No one
at the University is a'film' major.
Instead, the SAC department, in line with all
other LSA majors, prides itself on the diverse
education it offers, comprised of both theory
and practice courses.
"We think of it, on one hand, like any other
major in that college," Sarris said. "Anybody
who has a degree from LSA finds creative ways
to use that degree."
Two-thirds ofthe department's curriculum is
based on the study of theory and history, while
the other third includes hands-on production
The Screen Arts & Cultures Department is
the University. Before administrators were con-
vinced that students could pursue viable careers
in media studies, the Department was classified
as the Film and Video Studies Program.
Under Gaylyn Studlar, who served as director
of LSA's Film and Video Program from 1995 to
2005, it was transformed into the Screen Arts &
Cultures Department,giving it the power to hire
its ownprofessors and to expand its curriculum.
"The idea of [the program] being screen arts
and the culture around that seem to more accu-
rately reflectwhat the department had become,"
Phil Ranta, a LSA alum, focused on screen-
writing when it was still the Film and Video
Program. The transition was finalized in 2005,
the year he graduated - a year when MySpace
was hugely popular and YouTube had just pre-
"So it was really the beginning of a revolu-
tion," Ranta said. "U of M recognized the shift
at the right time."
After graduation, Ranta became a pioneer
in shaping film's place in an online platform.
Initially, he sold his screenplay for a TV pilot,
which was shot in Ann Arbor during his senior
year, to Turner's comedy web outlet called
SuperDeluxe.com. He stressed the importance
of knowing how to write and tell a story, regard-
less ofcareer plans. In this sense, his degree was
applicable far beyond the world of film.
"The beautiful thing about focusing on
screenwriting is that everything is storytelling
- independent of the medium," Ranta said.
Ranta later became the Head of Channel
Partnershipswith Fullscreen - YouTube's larg-
est network of content creators and brands that
strive to"empower thenextgenerationofartists
and creators." As their ninth employee at the
time, Ranta said he played a role in shaping the
TAKES A NEW APPROACH TO TINSEL TOW
goals of the now multimillion-dollar company.
The Department's fusion of production,
screenwriting, history and theory courses into
its curriculum is a unique concept that sets it
apart from the more traditional film schools.
Other universities are beginning to catch on
and recognize the value in a more liberal arts
style film school education. After leaving in
2009, Studlar, who built up the SAC program at
the University, joined Washington University in
St. Louis and presently serves there as the direc-
tor of its own Film and Media Studies Program.
Studlar pushed to incorporate a similar ratio of
theory and practice courses in St. Louis.
Screen Arts lecturer Mark Kligerman has
taught a variety of study-based courses at the
University for over 10 years. Courses he has
recently instructed include upper level Con-
temporary Film Theory; Cult, Camp Art and
Exploitation; and The Animated Film, aswell as
various film history courses.
Kligerman said that although students are
being primed for a career in film production
- what most would associate with the "Holly-
wood" career path - they also develop writing
and critical skills by studying theory and his-
tory, which prepares them to go into any field,
related orunrelated to film itself.
He said he has seen students graduate and
begin endeavors in the fields of journalism, law
and even medicine. Regardless of where stu-
dents decide to take their major, career-wise,
Kligerman stressed the importance ofbecoming
informed producers and consumers of media
culture. The intention of raising profound his-
torical awareness of media culture itself is
inherent in the name of the major - Screen Arts
LSA senior Keshav Prasad, a SAC major,
believes that the attention to experimental and
unconventional forms of film sets the Univer- network of alumni and Uni- B Y H / L L A R Y C R A W F
sity apart from departments at more traditional versity affiliates on the West
universities that identify solely as "film schools." Coast, some of which have been established by But it's unclear how much revenue t
Such courses include The Experimental Screen Jim Burnstein, who has written full-length fea- itsgenerate. Does publicity for the state
and New Media Practices. tures such as "D3: The Mighty Ducks," "Renais- money spent during shooting offset ther
For example, in classes like Experimental sance Man" and "Love and Honor," which he of dollars in tax breaks productions rec
Film (SAC 304), students are given free range also produced. Such connections help students an effort to track exactly how much t
to make any type of projectthey want with tam- get their "foot in the door"of the movie industry. is spending and receiving, Governor Ri
pered film or digital image technology. Burnstein served on the Michigan Film Office der signed new legislation in 2011 that
"What separates those from courses you Advisory Council from 2003 until 2011, pushing spending at $25 million. About 60 fil
would take at a traditional filmschool is one. the for increased film incentives in the state. While been produced in the state since.
lack of structure, and two: the specific attention most of his colleagues travelled to Hollywood to "They had once ina lifetime opportu
towards counter media, or media that is non- develop careers in writing and producing, Burn- work on films, get positions right away,
narrative," Prasad added. stein chose to work from Michigan and main- stein said of the state'sonce-booming fil
"We are challenging the notion of what it tain correspondence with his Hollywood agent. omy.
means to be a filmmaker and to expand our hori- Hollywood careers don't have to be rooted in Though the incentive has become
zons and understand that there is more to media Hollywood. Writers, producers and directors over the past few years, Michelle G
and visual communications over lapsed time can operate locally to stimulate a Michigan film senior communications advisor at M
than merely the production of a 90 minute oar- industry that is struggling to stay relevant. Film Office, said they have tried to nu
rative film that Hollywood makes," Prasad said. One of the largest movie sets in the country opportunities for Michigan residents w
"That allows students the opportunityto be art- sits less than an hour away from the University's fewer resources it possesses.
ists rather than cogs in a Hollywood machine." : campus. Michigan Motion Picture Studios in "We want to make sure that any proj
Allowing students to explore practices out- Pontiac hasover170,000square feetofstage and is receiving an incentive is placing an
side the norm does not take away from the, mill space, where productions like Oz the Great sis on hiring Michigan crew, Michiga
curriculum's academic rigor. Inthe classScreen- and Powerful were shot. Grinnell said. "Film incentives especiall
writing I, for example, students are required to Burnstein said he worked with former gov- ever-changing landscape; however, Mi
write a full-length screenplay. Those who move ernor Jennifer Granholm to convince students program has been pretty consistently on
on to Screenwriting II continue the develop- to stay in the state to stimulate the industry. top programs.7
ment process asthey work to revisectheir screen- She signed a law in 2008 creating a film incen- Burnstein acknowledged that regar
plays from the previous semester. Screenwriting tive tax credit program with no ceiling, mean- incentives, students internalize the id
courses have been incorporated intoa sub-major . ing the state could grant as many credits as they experiencing Hollywood, the epicenter
of its own. desired. A credit waives the taxes a film pro- entertainment media business, is a nece
"We have a first rate writing program, great duction would have had to pay on all purchases Withinthe SACdepartment, alumnilh
production program and a great studies pro- F during shooting, which can add up to millions ate a support group for current students
gram," said Jim Burnstein, screenwriting coor- of dollars. According to Burnstein, when Gran- for jobsand internships, and thecycle of
dinator. "And as a result, most of our students ° holm signed it into law, she turned around and tinues.
when they leave here try to work in the enter- } said, "Jim, tell your students." LSA senior Sam Barnett, also a SAC
tainment industry." Between 2008 and 2010, over 130 movies has had internships in LA. for the p
To help catalyze the job-seeking process, were shot in Michigan, including "Gran Torino" summers. Two years ago, he landed an
many students have taken advantage of the large and "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon." ship at JosephsonEntertainment, after c
ORD, STAFF REPORT
ax cred- ing with Sean Bennett, a SAC alum who moved
and the on from Josephson to become the Assistant to
millions Executive Producer at CBS Television Studios.
eive? In Josephson also worked on an AMC show called
he state Turn. Craig Silverstein, another SAC alum, is
ck Sny- the series' show runner.
capped "These internships have helped me feel more
ms have secure when I go out (to Los Angeles)," Barnett
said, "I definitely feel like there's a network of
nities to University of Michigan alumni out there."
" Burn- Julia Mogerman, a fifth-year senior, said the
m econ- network is even stronger in this way because the
department is relatively small in size.
weaker "I think its small size makes it great because
=rinnell, you get individual attention from professors and
ichigan you get to know them," Mogerman said. "They
aximize get to know your interests and lead you down
with the different avenues."
Mogerman interned at Red Wagon Enter-
ect that tainment with the help of Jim Burnstein and his
empha- connection with Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher,
n cast," who run the production company. Red Wagon
y are an has produced films such as "Gladiator," "Mem-
chigan's oirs of a Geisha" and "Divergent."
e of the "A U of M student went to Red Wagon the
semester before me and paved the way and made
dless of a good reputation for us there," Mogerman said.
lea that She said that much of what students hear
r of the about Hollywood is gossip, making it even more
ssity. pertinentfor each individual to spend time there
ielp cre- and gauge his or her own opinion. SAC 455,
looking Contemporary Film Industry, gives students an
ten con- idea of how institutions, such as talent agencies,
operate as market conditions evolve.
major, "I can imagine-that someone taking that class
ast two before going to L.A. would be really prepared
intern- with what to expect," Mogerman added. "And
onnect- I'm learning a lot from the class still even though
N I've been to L.A."
Hollywood itself is daunting -but
so are the vast opportunities available
E R outside of it. To provide some trans-
parency and encourage students to get
creative in their questfor jobs, the department is
in the process of creating a speaker series, which
.has yet to be formally named. The series wij71,
bring in alumni who have stayed in the area to
pursue less traditional career pathways.
"It's one thing to bring in very successful
graduates who are further along in their careers
but those people can seem fairly remote so I
think we're conscious of wantingto bring in stu-
dents who have just graduated," Sarris added.
Sarris mentioned one University graduate
who is getting in touch with more eccentric
opportunities. One student is travelling with
Ann Arbor musician Mr. B, documenting his
ride down the Mississippi bank pulling a piano
Inevitably, during production classes, SAC
majors will carry camera equipment around
the city of Ann Arbor. In this sense, Ann Arbor
serves as a springboard for on-site filming,
regardless of where students decide to apply
the skills learned. Aside from campus, the city
of Ann Arbor is much friendlier to SAC students
than large cities, such as New York, which costs
minimum $300 for a permit to film.
Sarris said Ann Arbor, as a smaller town, is
not so steeped in the film industry, so people are
lenient with lettingstudents shoot.
"Understanding the history of the industry,
understanding the current state of the indust94
understanding cultural, societal and philosoph- -
ical undertones of the world can really shape
your art, and the art you produce has direct
results on the media," Keshav Prasad said, "It
makes us more aware of the power of whatwe're
making and hopefully gives us more responsibil-
ity with how we represent what we're produces