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Curriculum + Degree Requirements

We’ve designed our MFA around six core courses, which introduce the foundational concepts and techniques of documentary media.

Students will build a significant portfolio of work during the course of the program: in the first year, they will create at least one short documentary, one narrative film, and one interactive project. The second year is devoted to an in-depth thesis project (10-20 minutes in length) that can be developed as a documentary, hybrid, or interactive project.

In addition to learning about the art and craft of media production, students learn about the business, including pitching, fundraising, budgeting, distribution, and exhibition.

Core courses are augmented with electives, such as writing for documentary, advanced cinematography, interactive media, post-production sound, curatorial practices, and animation. To get a better sense of the relationship between practice and theoretical/historical context, students also take film studies courses.

Coursework Requirements – 17 Units Total

Core courses (6)


RTVF 551 – Documentary Techniques

This core course combines practice and theory to introduce students to nonfiction filmmaking through the process of directing their own short 6 to 8 minute project. With equal emphasis placed on technical training and creative development, students will gain hands-on experience in cinematography, sound recording, and editing.


RTVF 552 – Narrative Techniques
Intro to small-crew narrative sync-sound filmmaking; hybridization: narratives that use doc techniques, docs that use narrative techniques. Product: short narrative film.


RTVF 553 – Pre-Thesis
First year MFA in Documentary Media students develop a proposal and accompanying materials for their thesis project, which they will direct and complete during their second year of study.


RTVF 554 – Thesis 1
Development and production of thesis project. Refined proposal and principal photography completed by the end of the quarter.


RTVF 555 – Thesis 2
Post-production of thesis project. Rough-cut or prototype of interactive project completed by the end of the quarter.


RTVF 556 – Thesis 3
Final post-production steps for thesis project, including polished cut, sound mix, color correction. Students are expected to curate and organize a public screening/exhibition of their thesis projects.


Topics courses (5) RTVF (300 level or higher) with director of MFA approval


Sample courses include:
Lighting Cinematography
SFX Cinematography
Designing for the Internet
Directing Actors
Advanced Audio Production
Advanced Sound Design
Color Correction
2D Computer Animation
3D Computer Animation
Stop Motion Animation
Interactive Comics
Conceptual Design
Advanced SFX Recording
Approaches to Video Game Design
Gaming Narratives
Experimental Media Production
Location-based Documentary
Problem Families/Family Problems
Secrets and Lies
Computer Code as Expressive Medium
Layout and Storyboarding
Sitcom Production
Romantic Comedy
Rebels, Misfits, and Losers
Making the Bromance
Making Reality TV
Love Hurts Webisodes
Hybrid I and II
Improvised Comedy Web Series
Blocking and Staging
Devised Narrative
Fractured/Anti-/Alternative Narratives

Expanded Techniques (1)

One of these 5 electives needs to fulfill the one course Expanded Techniques requirement, which invites students to expand their practice and their thinking beyond single-channel documentary work.

With the approval of the DGS, expanded techniques courses can also be pursued in other departments, such as Art, Theory, Practice (ATP) and Performance Studies, though the course must involve a production component.

1 each, for a total of 5

Theory/history/culture courses (300 level or higher) (1)


 A media studies course offered through Screen Cultures, or – with approval by the MFA program director – a theory course in Performance Studies, Art Theory and Practice, Theatre, or another department. A course in documentary history/theory is especially encouraged.


Electives (300 level or higher) (5)


Choose from Radio/TV/Film Department’s Production, Screen Cultures, or Writing courses, or – with approval by the MFA program director – from Performance Studies, Art Theory and Practice, Theatre, or other departments.

1 each, for a total of 5

Total credits:


Optional Internship/Professional Experience

  • Students who are considering an Internship or Professional Experience Option will meet with our EPICS team.  Externally hosted work experiences can be:
    • Fellowships
    • Apprenticeships
    • Internships
    • Mentorships
    • Assistantships
    • Consulting Projects
    • Paid Project Work in a relevant field
    • Working with an established filmmaker on a project in some professional capacity
    • Working on an individual project that advances the student professionally or helps the student prepare for the industry.

Other MFA Degree Requirements

MFA students will be allowed to take a maximum of 20 credits.

Grade average: you must maintain a B average. If your average is not a B or higher by the end of the first year, you may be asked to leave the program.

First Year Review: The academic and professional progress of all first year MFAs will be reviewed in early June by the director of the program in consultation with production faculty.

Final Portfolio Review/Defense: you will choose a committee of two faculty members (both part of The Graduate School faculty) to review your final portfolio. The portfolio should include: artist statement; thesis project, plus other class work (for a total running time of 20-45 minutes); or two to three substantial interactive projects.

“My year-long thesis project forced me out of my comfort zone to overcome obstacles that had previously hindered my artistic voice; and I can now proudly say that my films have touched individuals in cities across the world, through festival screenings and online distribution.”

– Deborah Libby, Class of 2016