University Of Georgia’s New MFA Film Program Gives Students Hands-On Experience In Production Studios

In the realm of film and TV, Georgia’s industry has never been stronger. Productions are booming throughout the state, with 49 films and TV shows currently in the making. Now, the University of Georgia will keep the tide high by connecting students to the industry with a new MFA program in Film, Television, and Digital Media, through the University’s Grady College. Students will even live on-site in production studios as part of the curriculum.

Dr. Jeff Springston, the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the Grady College joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with Frank Patterson from Trilith Studios, formerly Pinewood, and Kyle Hamlin, a UGA student pursuing the new MFA. They discussed what the program will entail and how it will enrich students aspiring to have careers in Georgia’s robust media industry.

The MFA, in development for three years, started its first courses last year in August. “The very first cohort is actually finishing their summer films this summer, and then once they’re done they’re actually going to move out for the second year, which is right at Trilith Studios,” said Springston. “So we’re all very excited about them getting really right in the cusp of, frankly, where a lot of the action is in the film and television industry these days.”

This year, ten students will be living and learning at Trilith studios. 

Hamlin, a student in the program since its launch, said, “I am hoping that we get a lot of shadowing and on-site experiences that we wouldn’t get on an undergraduate campus. Because we will be in the film studios, and we’ll be meeting all these different types of people.”

The pandemic brought about serious challenges to the program’s first year of activities, but with determination and caution the faculty and students carried on.

“We were actually able to hold in-person classes,” said Springston. “It was done very carefully; there was a very strict adherence to sanitary procedures … The students made their way through it, and it wasn’t easy. But I think they did really well. I was also extremely gratified that none of them actually got COVID, so that was a real blessing.”

Curriculum this year aims primarily at developing behind-the-scenes savvy, but with an interdisciplinary approach that will even include some theatrics. 

“They’re trained in camera and lighting, they’re trained in editing, and some of those other aspects … and in fact, they even actually have to take an ‘Acting for the Camera’ class,” said Springston. “Our feeling is that the more the students understand all of the various crafts that are involved in making television and film, the better they’ll be at their above-the-line crafts.”

The enthusiasm of students and faculty at UGA appears to be matched by their collaborators at Trilith, as Patterson attested.

“It’s very exciting for the state of Georgia to have its first bonafide MFA program right in our industry,” said Patterson. “Jeffrey Stepakoff, the Executive Director of the Georgia Film Academy, who was a writer in Hollywood … said, ‘It’s very frustrating that we don’t have this kind of program in our great state.’ So it’s wonderful for the state of Georgia, but we got to be the special place where the program is located.”

“These young students are going to be rubbing shoulders every day with all kinds of people—from below-the-line folks who are grip and electric team members, to above-the-line folks who are just casually working every day,” said Patterson. “We just think it’s an unusual setting for an MFA program. It really brings together the best parts of Georgia’s industry and education in a truly unique way.”