Photo by Rachel Ettlinger
Following a five-year review, the Pepperdine University Communication Division is considering changes to the Media Production major that will also affect the Film Studies major because the two programs of study have overlap.
As part of the review’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), an external reviewer from a university with a similar program to Pepperdine’s Media Production major looked at the past five years of the Media Production program and made suggestions for improvements, said John Sitter, professor of Communication at Pepperdine.
“She had a lot of really good feedback for our program,” Sitter said. “At the same time, she had suggested a lot of ways we could improve our program.”
The Tale of Two Programs
The Media Production major is housed in the Communication Division and focuses on how film, television and radio are created, while Film Studies is housed in the Humanities Division and focuses on the anatomy of a film and “the history, theory, social impact and the production of cinema and digital media arts,” according to Pepperdine’s website.
The two programs overlap in courses, such as MPRD/FILM 250: Film Production and Editing, and the external reviewer had some feedback as to how the two majors can better serve the students and what they hope to do with their degrees.
The external reviewer was a professor from George Fox University, a small, Christian, liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon, with a Media Production program similar to Pepperdine’s, Sitter said. Professor of Media Production Michael Smith brought the external reviewer to campus and oversaw the QIP’s execution.
“From my perspective, there is a significant alignment between what students report, what our reviewers recommend, and what our faculty want to do,” Smith wrote in an email.
Film Studies Program Director Joi Carr said the Film Studies program primarily targets those who want to pursue narrative filmmaking and storytelling.
“We are focused on developing critical thinking skills and a deep understanding of cinematic arts from an aesthetic, theoretical, historical and production perspective,” Carr said.
In an email, Associate Professor of English and Film Studies Stephen Parmelee wrote he hopes over time both Film Studies and Media Production will be able to build on each programs’ successes.
“It’s probably not an ideal situation for either division; both divisions would probably like to bolster their programs in various ways that would require more funding and staffing,” Parmelee said. “But we’ve had some good success nevertheless.”
Smith wrote that he has several years worth of data from the QIP to sift through that he said supports changes he hopes to implement to the Media Production program.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Smith wrote in an email to the Graphic. “And the production faculty would like the freedom and support from the division, college, and university to do it.”
Students pursuing a Theater-Media Production degree also take Media Production classes.
Town Hall Brings About Changes
Communication Divisional Dean Sarah Stone Watt, held a town hall Feb. 8 to discuss questions and concerns students had with the Media Production program and its offerings. Students were able to voice concerns and ask questions about the program to alleviate misconceptions and grievances.
“Students have asked for opportunities without creating a whole co-curricular production, to just work on specific skills,” Stone Watt said.
Concerns discussed at the meeting pertained to the camera check-out process, insuring equipment and creating opportunities for students to partake in production opportunities not limited to co-curriculars, such as the “Randumb Show” or “Suite Talk,” both student-run projects no longer in production, said Stone Watt, who took over as divisional dean in May 2017. Co-curricular programs are widely defined as programs supported by an academic program with an emphasis on the hands-on practice of a craft outside of a typical classroom experience.
In order to produce these shows and projects, students need to get their hands on specific equipment.
Previously, the camera check-out located on the first floor of the Center for Communication and Business had been lenient in letting students use equipment for non-class-related purposes, Stone Watt said. Now that the division is under a new insurance plan with stricter language for camera usage, cameras can only be used for class projects.
Media Production Co-Curriculars Balance What Major Doesn’t Provide
For junior Media Production major Paul DiRico, finding production opportunities at the student-led variety show “Malibu Tonight” and within other co-curriculars have made his experience at Pepperdine well-rounded. He said other prospective students can do that as well as long as they put themselves out there and seek opportunities both on and off campus.
“I would say [Pepperdine] is definitely a good place to come to,” DiRico said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of progress in the next coming years just from things that I’ve heard and the attitudes of the faculty that I’ve encountered. They seem very forward and making sure that our experience does improve, not that it’s so bad as it is.”
However senior Media Production major Andrew Lucero said he was disappointed in the what he sees as the program’s narrow focus on film. Pepperdine’s offerings are supposed to focus on not just film but also television and radio, and Lucero said the curriculum right now doesn’t cover all those bases. (Lucero has worked for the Graphic as a photographer in past semesters.)
“Right now the Media Production program, the way it stands, does not accomplish it’s goals…,” Lucero said. “We don’t have the resources to call ourselves a film school, and we also are not following up with what media production really is in the classes we’re offering.”
Film Studies requires five production courses and has two tracks for students to pursue for their degree: production and critical studies, Carr said. These tracks allow students to focus their studies on narrative storytelling and documentary filmmaking.
Screenwriting courses, which are taught in the Creative Writing major of the Humanities Division, are considered elective courses for both Media Production and Film Studies majors, Stone Watt said.
Lucero said he doesn’t think the programs accomplish the overall goal of creating a film without the screenwriting course, and by bridging the gap between the Film Studies and Media Production programs, Pepperdine can greatly improve their offerings for students who want to pursue filmmaking and other areas of media.
“If you look at how media is made, you start from an idea — screenwriting, and you kind of look at the past — film studies, and then you make it happen, which is production,” Lucero said.
Bridging the Media Production and Film Studies Gap
Stone Watt said both programs have their own strengths and attributes, and the Humanities Division and the Communication Division are trying to find ways to bridge those gaps.
“We definitely know that the Media Production and Film Studies [majors] currently have separate strengths that we need to bring together,” Stone Watt said.
Executive Director of the Pepperdine Institute of Entertainment, Media and Culture, John Mooney, said he was part of the discussion pertaining to the Media Production and Film Studies programs at Pepperdine before Stone Watt came on board as dean.
Mooney said he does not participate in any curriculum matters, but said he has heard concerns from students pertain mostly to committing to one track, either media production or film studies, without having knowledge that there is another option for filmmaking.
“At the center of this somewhere there is a question around what is the best curriculum for students who are aspiring narrative film production,” Mooney said. He said narrative filmmakers are being served by both the Media Production and Film Studies majors.
With Pepperdine’s production courses being in high demand as they overlap with other divisions, Smith wrote that he hopes to make the production programs more transparent in what they accomplish on their own.
“Our structure is seen by many internal and external constituents as confusing, and we’re working to address that,” Smith wrote.
Stone Watt said there have not been any full curriculum changes yet. Because the Media Production faculty have been busy during the school year, they will take the summer to come up with a proposal for curriculum changes and bring it to the Seaver Academic Council for approval. She said it can take up to two years for new curriculum to be approved, as it has to go through several other approval processes before it can be implemented.
Improvements to the curriculum by better defining the two majors and gaining access to the screenwriting courses offered every other year within the creative writing curriculum will help the program better tailor itself to prospective and current students, Sitter said, especially those who want to pursue narrative filmmaking.
“It’s crazy, just change,” Sitter said. “But it’s positive change and students are embracing it in a very good way.”
Prospective students have come to campus to visit the media production facilities a lot in previous weeks as they decide on what school to attend in the fall, Sitter said. He has had parents ask why there is so much overlap in the curriculum between the Media Production and Film Studies majors.
“Parents with spreadsheets are literally asking me questions that are directly the same questions that were brought to [Media Production faculty] by an external reviewer…” Sitter said. “We need to seriously investigate our QIP, because we’re at the point now where parents are showing up and saying the same things, looking at all these degrees and saying the same things that an external reviewer has to say.”
One course the division was able to add to the Media Production curriculum was Entertainment Law, named COM 592, that takes the place of Media Law, named COM 570, which is required by media communication majors within the division. Stone Watt said this change was a success for Media Production students and anticipates it will become a permanent option within the curriculum.
“There’s a lot of great faculty that are willing to help you out and they really know their stuff, and it’s about getting close with them and making sure that you’re on the same page not only in terms of what you want to create but where you want it to go, what your goals are, because in the end everybody is here trying to help each other out,” DiRico said.
Gabby Gonta contributed to this report.
UPDATE 4/11/18: This story was updated to reflect comments from Professor of Media Production Michael Smith.
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