After many years of consideration and 13 years of offering it as a minor, Union University is offering film studies as a major beginning this upcoming fall semester.
A great deal of thought went into the major curriculum, which was officially approved by the greater faculty in the March. The process began with a draft, then an alumni advisory committee made of former film studies minors with experience in the entertainment industry helped brainstorm the various classes.
The four members of the committee were Jon Crook, director of digital marketing at Warner Brother Studios, Andrew Terhune, vice president of development at Sycamore Pictures, Jay New, adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and Tyler Litton, creative producer at Lifeway Christian Resources.
“Film is a cultural connection point for everyone,” said Christopher Blair, communications professor and coordinator of digital media studies. “And we want our students to be involved in making culture that reflects our Christian values and ultimately brings glory to the Kingdom.”
The Communication Arts Department has been involved in various media, from print media, to broadcast media, to digital media. Offering a film studies major is just a natural extension of what is already happening in the department.
“Film production for so many years was a prohibitively expensive venture that was in the hands of an elite few,” Blair said. “But in the past ten years we have seen significant democratization in both film production and film distribution.”
The industry has become increasingly more accessible to the general populace. Almost anyone could make a decent movie using their phone camera and a free editing software on their computer, as has been proven by movies entered into the Sundance Film Festival that were shot entirely on an iPhone. A lot of people are successfully making a living in the industry, with more people gaining an interest, especially at the collegiate level. There are more film programs across the country today than there were 10 years ago.
“We’ve been looking at this for several years, but we wanted to wait until we had the right faculty who could teach all the classes that we felt necessary to build a successful program,” Blair said.
In general, the film study students will be taking a mixture of production classes, but also performance electives and contextual courses. Students will be required to take courses like Digital Storytelling and Fundamentals of Directing, while also taking electives like Acting Theory and Technique and Broadcast Performance to gain an understanding of what encapsulates a good performance, even if they’re not planning on acting. To understand basic camera operation and more advanced technical aspects of film production as well as what makes a great film and story, they will be taking Theory and History of Film courses.
The major is a collaborative effort, with production and screenwriting courses from the Communication Arts Department, performance courses in the Theater Department, faith and film courses from the Theology Department and even a course in politics and film.
Like film study minors, film studies majors will have the opportunity to study for a semester in Hollywood. Union is also looking at expanding its relationships with other media outlets, such as studying for a semester in the United Kingdom in a university in Media City.
Due to the novelty of the major, most students coming into the program next year will be students who have already begun their studies here at Union, but change their major to this new one. The curriculum was only approved in early March, and they have only just begun to market it. But within the next two or three years, a significant number of students is expected.
Those who are interested in the major, don’t need to feel as though it is necessary to move to Hollywood to use the degree.
“For film studies, we are focusing on the entertainment industry in general, and understanding that some of our students will want to pursue a career in motion pictures in Hollywood with the big studios, and some of our students will want to take this experience and use it wherever they are,” Blair said. “Here in the south, in their church, with a small production company in their town. It’s not just for people who want to become permanent west-coasters, it’s for those who want the experience to be able to tell compelling stories wherever they are.”