Stanford’s undergraduate film program, created in 2005, is one of the University’s smallest programs, with 26 majors and seven minors, and rarely shows up on any national rankings. While the major suffers from a lack of production classes, limiting hands-on experience in film creation, alumni and current majors praise the analytical and theoretical foundation that Stanford classes offer.
According to film and media studies assistant professor Jamie Meltzer, while Stanford’s master’s degree in documentary film is “legendary,” the undergraduate equivalent is primarily focused on film analysis, with a much smaller production component.
Because only seven of the 26 course offerings in the film program are production-based, students seeking production experience often turn to the Stanford Film Society (SFS), which hosts weekly advanced film workshops that allow students to discuss projects they are working on independently.
According to Alex Simon ’14, the director of the Advanced Film Workshop, the University does not provide advanced production resources for independent student use. All the cameras and equipment used by the estimated 30 students who attend the workshop every week have to be purchased by the SFS using special fees funding, which Simon said is enough to cover the expenses.
Simon said she teaches students how to use cameras and the Final Cut Pro editing software in the workshop, as these skills are not emphasized in the film department’s classes.
“The vast majority of the classes are theory-based. You’re not really getting to make films in hardly any of the classes,” Simon said.
Most of the classes focus on screenwriting, leading students to search elsewhere for experience, said Shaine Meulmester ’14, a film and media studies major.
“For students who have more of a desire to participate in film production, they don’t find it in the department, but in other outlets on campus,” Meulmester said. “A lot of the film production happens outside of the courses; it is more of an independent initiative by students.”
Meulmester, who came to Stanford wanting to study film, said that Stanford “didn’t make any of the lists” of top film schools.
“I just don’t think people naturally associate Stanford with film,” she said, adding that only five to 10 other students in the Class of 2014 share her major.
This analytical focus is not unique to Stanford. UC-Berkeley’s film program is also mostly based on theory, with a much smaller production component. But schools in Southern California, especially those in or near Los Angeles, show a much more intense focus on film production.
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television offers a Bachelor of Arts in film and television, as well as a film, television and digital media minor. The university is offering 82 film courses this year, 35 of which have a production or laboratory component.
The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has 848 undergraduate majors and minors, with 85 full-time and 200 part-time staff. It offers five different Bachelor of Arts majors and one interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science major. For the fall semester, USC offered almost 200 courses in the School of Cinematic Arts, with 63 courses focused on various aspects of production.
“[USC] just has a better program,” said Will Rogers ’09, a film and media studies alumnus. Rogers believes that Stanford’s film and media studies program is purposely based on analysis, not production, in order to avoid comparison with schools like USC.
“Stanford doesn’t want to attempt to compete with the big film school programs,” he said. “It would make Stanford look bad to go up against the other California schools that really cater to the type of student that wants to go to college to study film.”
Meulmester agreed and said she has heard a similar theory expressed by some of the faculty in the film department. She said this might explain why Stanford has not attempted to expand the program’s production component.
According to Meulmester, Stanford has only one real production course, FilmProd 114: Introduction to Film and Video Production, which she said is difficult to get into because of high demand.
Rogers said that when he attended Stanford, approximately half of the 12 students in the film studies program wanted more production opportunities that the University could not provide. Meulmester reported similar demand.
Stanford’s production class offerings may not be as robust as other schools, but both Meulmester and Rogers agreed that Stanford’s program provides a valuable and strong foundation in film analysis.
“Stanford offers some qualitative pieces that allow us to catch up in the long run,” Rogers said. “We are at an immediate disadvantage, but it is pretty easy to catch up.”