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STUDYING AT NYU GRADUATE FILM

The NYU Tisch Graduate Film program provides an intensive laboratory in writing/directing as well as concentrations in all other areas of filmmaking.

Each student makes at least four short films during their three years in the program, plus a thesis project. Our students are constantly filming, shooting exercises that allow them to flex their directorial muscles and prepare them to make their finished films.

Students begin the program as writer-directors, but are trained in the whole range of filmmaking skills. Coursework focuses on providing the skills to write, shoot, direct, edit, design, record and produce their own and each other’s films.

While we aim for students to achieve basic mastery of the classic tools of the film director, the curriculum encourages students to explore the personal variations within the art form that will lead to discovery of their own style.

First Year

In the first year of the program students are immersed in the crafts of writing, shooting, directing, editing, acting and producing as they are asked to make three short films over two semesters. 

MOS, a 4-minute silent, 16mm film

In fall semester, students learn visual storytelling by making a short, black and white film with no dialogue, and no music, shot on 16mm film, using only available light.  

The MOS project is designed to introduce the student to the graphic, photographic, and purely cinematic tools which are the foundation of the medium: frame, location, movement of actor and camera, light, mise-en-scene. The idea is to create characters in dynamic dramatic situations, simply and with control of the basic cinematic elements.  

The MOS script is developed with the support of the Screenwriting and Directing faculty. Through the Production Sound, Editing, Actors Craft and Cinematography courses, students embrace the collaborative tools of the auteur filmmaker.

NYU Graduate Film is one of the only film programs in the country that still requires students to shoot a curricular project on celluloid film. The discipline imposed on the director by using film is a valuable learning experience. With only a limited amount of footage to shoot, and without the instant gratification offered by digital mediums, the director is forced to plan and make artistic choices to ensure that every frame counts.

Observational Character Study (OCS), a 5-minute digital film

The second project of the year is a five-minute, color, observational documentary exercise that is shot over the inter-term break with one or two person crews.

In this exercise, students explore a character by observing them.  Each student must find and observe a person from real life who will be the subject of the piece. Students search for and film various aspects of their chosen subject that reveal character, such as behavior and place.

What is learned from the documentary exercise can be of great value to the dramatic director. The OCS project compels the filmmaker to use the camera to capture life as it happens, a skill which leads to more truthful and authentic behavior in their narrative fictional work.

Spring Narrative, a sync-sound, 7-minute digital film

For the final project of the first year, students make a short narrative, sync-sound film without many of the restrictions imposed on earlier projects.  Students write scripts with dialogue, shoot on digital cameras, in color, using cinematic lighting, and are free to incorporate music into the finished film.

However, the scope of the project is intentionally limited. Each film uses no more than three actors, in three locations, in three scenes.  Once again, these limitations are meant to inspire creativity and instill the discipline of concise, effective storytelling.

Students workshop these projects in small Writing-Directing sections which emphasize narrative, character development, scene construction, dialogue, performance and directing styles. Each class the student takes in the Spring semester focuses on this film, including training in casting and rehearsing with actors, blocking, locations, design, commanding a set, shooting and editing for story.

The year culminates in the First Year Marathon, a celebration and screening which allows classmates, cast and crew, family members and faculty to view and honor the films that have been completed.

Second Year

In the second year of the program the students are given a much deeper level of freedom to follow their own instincts and artistic voices.  At the same time they are still working under the guidance of the faculty and a curriculum designed to deepen their knowledge and mastery of the crafts of filmmaking. 

The entire year is devoted to the creation of a 10-minute narrative film with no restrictions other than the time limit. Spending an entire year working on a short film allows students to explore the various stages of filmmaking in great detail. They learn from the processes of writing, rewriting, casting, rehearsing, repeated viewings, re-cutting, sound design, music composition, color correction and the creation of the finished film. 

A cohort of producing students from the Stern/Tisch Dual Degree program join the program in 2nd year, participating in the same curriculum as Graduate Film MFA students and producing many of their classmates’ films, as well as often directing their own films.

Many NYU 2nd year films have gone on to win top awards at international film festivals, including multiple Student Academy Awards.

The Second Year Film, a 10 minute sync-sound film (digital or film)

The second year begins with a one-week Writing Intensive in which students workshop and revise the script for their ten-minute film.  They are expected and encouraged to come into this workshop with already developed ideas, treatments and even drafts of their scripts.

As the students move towards pre-production, they are immersed in courses which challenge them to further hone their craft in the service of this project. Directing and Cinematography classes explore the how and why of visual style, including movement, composition, point of view, cinematic flow, stillness, light and shadow, color, depth, blocking and mise-en-scene. Special emphasis is also put on directing actors, focusing on script analysis and subtext in performance to explore how to cinematically use the basic, fundamental components of drama.

After eight weeks of class preparation, students enter a production period that extends from early November through Mid-January.  Each student is allowed one week of production time, with four or five crews going out each week.  Students choose their own crews from among their classmates, and shoot their films all over the the U.S. and the globe. Equipment (16 mm film or digital cameras) and a small cash allotment is provided to each 2nd year director.

Students edit their second year films throughout the Spring semester. The entire class convenes in a weekly Master Class with all the directing teachers to screen cuts of everyone’s work, for an in-depth group critique. Mid-semester, the entire faculty critiques the fine-cut version of the work.

The spring semester classes are primarily elective to allow the possibility of specialization. While most students choose to graduate as writer-directors, in the second year, some students elect to concentrate their studies in cinematography, producing, or editing, as they move towards the third year and thesis period. Students also begin to write longer form material, either feature scripts, pilots or longer shorts, in the spring writing classes.

As the students prepare for their 3rd year, which will be geared toward their thesis project, the faculty provides advisement and guidance on how to approach the entirely elective third-year curriculum.

At the end of the second year, students organize a widely-attended, celebratory 2nd Year Marathon screening at an off-campus venue.

Third Year

This final year is more self-designed, depending on what the student will make for their thesis: a feature script, a short film, a short or feature length documentary, a web series, a television pilot, or, in some cases, a micro-budgeted feature film. Students who are focusing on Cinematography, Producing or Editing pursue advanced coursework and begin to develop a body of work in their chosen discipline.

Visiting faculty challenge the students to expand their work in ways they have not yet explored, and guide them as they begin preparing their thesis.  

Collaborative classes with other Tisch Graduate programs provide a unique opportunity to create films in concert with students from the Design, Acting and Dramatic Writing programs.

A range of electives are offered, including Directing Commercials, Documentary, Writing the Feature or Television Series, and green-screen workshops, as well as Independent Studies  with selected faculty.  

The goal is that by the end of the Third Year, the student has strengthened and deepened their skills sufficient to successfully launch a thesis project soon after finishing their course work.

Thesis (3rd or 4th Year)

The thesis offers an opportunity to take on a project of considerable sophistication, and should be an expression of the student’s own personal voice and vision. The final thesis presentation must demonstrate mastery of the craft of filmmaking and should rise to the level of professional standards in its execution so that it can help the student transition to a professional career.

While it is possible to graduate at the end of their 3rd year, many students will choose to shoot or write their thesis after the conclusion of their coursework, during a period of matriculation that lasts up to two semesters (a 4th year). During these two additional semesters, tuition is not charged, but students pay maintenance of matriculation, registration and departmental lab fees.