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Review of University of Miami MFA in Motion Picture

Dino

Member
Happy holiday! Finally, I finished my first semester at the University of Miami as a first year MFA student in the UM Motion Picture Producing program. After one semester here, I think it's a good time for me to write something about the program and share the information here.

I can still remember one year ago, when I applied to film school. I read a lot of useful and interesting information on this forum. As every film student, I applied to the legendary big five film schools (AFI, USC, NYU, Columbia, UCLA) and a few more. Although I landed interviews with Columbia and FSU, both of them ended up putting me on a waiting list. At that time, UM became my best choice. First reason was the location. Miami being the third largest media center in U.S. only behind LA and NYC. There are a lot of opportunities in the local film/tv industry here. The other important reason was receiving a GA position in UM, which provided me with a tuition waiver and a small stipend each month. This scholarship helps me save a lot and it is not an easy thing to get from most film schools.

To be honest, before I came to UM I did a lot of research online about the program. Most reviews of UM here are quite negative. All of that information made me felt a bit skeptical. Nevertheless, I still decided to join the program and pursue my dream career. After just one semester of study here my experience is that the program is much better than what I read in the reviews.

The information I provide in this article is about the MFA program in Motion Pictures. Based on information I have, I am in the last class of the program expected to finish the degree in two years. Future students should expect something different.

As many people already know, there are three tracks at the UM film program, production, producing and screenwriting. Currently, there are many interesting and valuable courses in each track for students to choose. As a producing student, I had access to Producing the Motion Picture, Marketing, Motion Picture Management and Legal Aspects of Motion Picture. Production students, typically take Cinematography, Post-Production and Directing. Screenwriting, students can choose from Analysis of the Screenplay, Writing the Feature Film, etc. For my first semester I took Producing the Motion Picture, Directing, Analysis of the Screenplay and Film Culture. In the Producing class, I learned every aspect of film producing. From hiring a screenwriter to write a screenplay or purchasing a screenplay, negotiating with a studio, budgeting and putting together a production team, to shooting, post-production, marketing and distribution. I learned how a producer functions in the industry. I also worked on pitching, business plans and coverage of unpublished screenplays. I understand what a producer should do when he works with the creative team as well as negotiating deals as a businessman. In Analysis of the Screenplay, I read screenplays and watched films every week and looked at the process of the screenwriter and the director to tell the same story. I did two main script analyses during the semester addressing structure, character development, theme, etc. It is a tough course but I have to say it certainly improved my appreciation of a screenplay. In Directing, I finished 5 short projects this semester. During the process, every student helped with each other's project and that built a close relationship with the group. I learned about blocking, directing actors, framing, lighting, color etc. Everyone showed significant improvement of their skills by the end of the semester. In this class I also studied the work and style of different directors. I did a research paper on Tim Burton who is one of my favorite directors. There was a lot of pressure in this class, especially for the production students. They were taking Cinematography and Directing at the same time. That meant that they had twice as many projects that they had to finish by the end of the semester but most of my production classmates seemed to be content. Although they are exhausted to death, they all felt that they had accomplished a lot in a semester. Compared with the previous courses, the Film Culture course is more relaxed yet still interesting. Every week we watched a film at the Cosford Cinema which belongs to the program. The films would range from the early classics to contemporary international cinema. Then in class, we'd discuss the film and the readings related to the genre, history or movement. I did a research paper on the influence of Asian cinema on Hollywood for this course. I can't speak for all the courses but the ones I took in this semester I certainly enjoyed.

Besides the courses, I want to mention a few professors. Firstly our program director. I haven't taken her course yet but everything I heard about her is positive. I have talked with her several times. Her passion for the program and filmmaking impressed me. She is committed to keep developing and improving the program. My friends in the production track told me that she is also experienced in post-production. Most important, she is always willing to help and spends a lot of time meeting with the graduate students. The director of the Producing track has spent many years in Hollywood as a producer. He doesn't offer a lot of advice or get too close with the students but he is a great teacher. He leads a program which brings 20 students to LA every summer to connect with alumni and professionals, a great opportunity to build connections. The professor of my Film Culture class leads us into passionate discussions about film. She also provides information about film festivals and events. Many students find the Directing professor a bit too animated but I love his class. You cannot imagine how moving it is to see a 50-year old man jump up and down in front of you just want to make you understand how to best frame a shot. The humor helps a lot to remember every word he says in the class. I haven't taken a class with the Cinematography professor this semester, but all of my production friends tell me that they like him and learn a lot in his class. I worked as a Graduate Assistant for a professor who is a top expert on Hitchcock, another great person to work and study with. There are many other experienced professors in the program. I haven't met all of them yet but all are established professionals and willing to help students with their projects.

Ok, after all the positive notes, I have a couple issues to share about the program. The equipment reservation is not perfect. As a graduate producing student I do not get priority when I check out equipment. It seems that students from other majors get more priority. I think this is one of the areas of improvement for the future. I am told that the plan is to purchase equipment exclusive to the MFA program by next year. The soundstage is not well managed. It gets a lot of use over the semester but it is not as well organized as it could be. At last, casting. It is not easy to get professional actors to UM but the situation seems to be improving right now. Film students from get more and more opportunities to work with students from the theatre program. We also cooperate with SAG and can get some awesome actors for our productions.

There is much negative information about the program out there, which is not true. It has taken some time but the program has made a transition. I think the switch to a three-year program is a major improvement. Potential film students should understand that a two-year degree is not enough. An MFA is a terminal degree like a PhD. The only difference being that MFA is focused on creative practice and professional training. I heard from the program director that MFA students in the three-year program will have to choose a primary and secondary area of specialization. For example, a producing student may also choose to study production or screenwriting which can expand their knowledge. I believe with this option future MFA students will have a great advantage over us by their third year. For those students who are concerned about tuition at UM because it is a private school, the film program provides tuition waivers and GA positions for qualified students. I don't know many film schools that provide such opportunities to their students. Let's face it. Film school is not cheap so anytime you can save any money that means more money for your production. I read somewhere that UM owns the copyright of thesis films. That's bull****! The program doesn't own the students' productions even though they provide a subsidy of several thousands for the films. My understanding is that not every film school provides a budget for thesis projects.

I've met many talented and inspiring film students here at UM. We work together as a big family. We meet to talk about recent films, ideas we have for our projects, shooting schedules, etc. Everyone is willing to help each other with their productions and scripts. Although we've only spend a semester together, we are already good friends, almost like a family. As an international student studying in here, I feel great among my classmates.

Some quick check points on the program:
+ Useful courses
+ Great professors
+ Program Director
+ Cosford Cinema: watch films for free and see your production on the big screen
+ Canes Film Festival: on campus annual film festival
+ Inspiring classmates
+ Transition to 3 years
+ Tuition waivers, Graduate Assistantships, Scholarships
+ Students own copyright of their films and thesis work
+ Budget for thesis films
+ Nice campus
+ Nice environment, all year long and the beach
+ Strong alumni network in LA
+ Special programs like LA experience
- Equipment check out
- Soundstage management
- Casting. But improving a lot right now.
- Lack of internship credits (available in the 3 year program)
- Limited promotion of student work film festivals

Finally, I want to say a word about all the negative information out there. Perhaps the program was different in the past but the program now is not as it has been described. And it is bound to become better and better. I know that every student appreciates their program and will say something positive about it. UM may not have the reputation of the legendary big five schools but I learned a lot from my time here and I am very satisfied. I still remember how I felt when I read the reviews of UM over and over. I don't want future students who will apply to UM to agonize the way I did. That's why I wanted to post this review of the program here.

Filmmaking is an art form. It's not about where you went to school but more about yourself. If you have the talent, and you spend your time in film school efficiently, if you bring your heart, mind and dreams to it, then no doubt you'll learn what you must at UM. Be smart, be passionate and be patient. It will take time before you get famous or even land a job in the industry. One of my best friends who graduated from the top university in China told me one thing I want to share with you here: Never be proud of your school, make your school proud of you. You already study and work in the field you love. You will spend your lifetime working in a dream industry. Your effort will bring more and more dreams to other people. What else can you possibly want?

The problem for UM right now I think is that there are not enough famous alumni from the graduate program. I say, let me be the first. Perhaps you think I am crazy. Take a sentence from HUGO: Come and dream with me!
 
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Dino

Member
Yup, I come from Beijing, China. The NBA will start these days I think. So if you can come you will enjoy the game. lol
 

bernicelu

New Member
Deno, you did a great job here. Absolutely, i cannot agree with you anymore. You kneo what? I have the same idea with u, I'd love to write something here. Let more and more people know the real MFA track in UM! But I have no time to do it now.maybe later! But u are awesome! I am proud of u give such positive information of our program. I lOve u and our program. And I will let more production or screen writing track people write somethin here. It would be
Helpful! How do u think?
 
I've heard many great things about the University of Miami's motion picture department. I hear it's a pretty hard college to get into to, so good luck to those trying.

Great review by the way. :)
 
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cvors001

New Member
Thanks so much for your feedback about UM's MFA program. I am interested in applying for the 2013 school year (since i missed the 2012 deadline) and have had a hard time finding quality reviews on the program. I am also hoping to get financial assistance and would be interested in hearing what kind of portfolio you needed to put together to get the GA spot (Dino). Any other feedback you have about the program would be appreciated!
 

D. Brooks

New Member
Thanks so much Dino! I'm an incoming senior at UM for Motion Pictures and I'm glad to finally see something positive about our program, grad and undergrad. We may no have a well-known faculty and staff but we have professors that care about our success and want us to succeed and are willing to help when we need them. The equipment room is for the entire Comm school so it's always gonna be hard to get it until someone decides to donate a bunch of equipment for film students only (ha!). Casting sucks here IF you go out it. Our theater department has TALENTED people that are DYING to have stuff for their reel and are willing to be in student productions. Despite the flaws, I love UM and this program and I suggest everyone to drop their doubts about it and apply/come visit!
 

ngs091

Member
@ Dino and D. Brooks and any other current/former Univ. of Miami students...,

Note: These posts are from 6-7 years ago, so hopefully these posters still can see this.
--------
I actually got accepted back on February 9th for screenwriting. I was quite happy to have the offer that also included an assistantship award for my 2nd and 3rd year there (which includes a good size stipend for assistant teaching) and that also included a quite large chunk off of my tuition for those years. I certainly want to go there, but I have 4 of the 6 schools left that I applied at to hear back from. I just want to know what my options are.

So, I was wondering if I could perhaps email a list of additional questions about your experience in the program?



Best, Nick Schwab
 
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Operator

Active Member
@ Dino and D. Brooks and any other current/former Univ. of Miami students...,

Note: These posts are from 6-7 years ago, so hopefully these posters still can see this.
--------
I actually got accepted back on February 9th for screenwriting. I was quite happy to have the offer that also included an assistantship award for my 2nd and 3rd year there (which includes a good size stipend for assistant teaching) and that also included a quite large chunk off of my tuition for those years. I certainly want to go there, but I have 4 of the 6 schools left that I applied at to hear back from. I just want to know what my options

So, I was wondering if I could perhaps email a list of additional questions about your experience in the program?



Best, Nick Schwab
I recently got my admissions letter. I was not offered any assistantships. I also found their student showcase page that has all their student films from the MFA program and was not impressed. It seems like the schools likes to focus more on documentaries which of those I saw looked great. But narrative based work, was very subpar. I'd hold off until you get other notifications and use Miami as a backup school.
 

ngs091

Member
Do you have a direct link to their showcase page?

Also, do you know (or anyone else know) of any student showcase page at these following schools: USC, UCLA, AFI, Boston University and NYU?

I want to compare.
 

ngs091

Member
Thanks.

I dug the flooding water in the tunnel in that AFI one above. To be honest, both schools trailers look quite similar to my eyes though in quality: some of them were much more appealing, some as much, and some less. I guess it shows that trailers are a crap shoot at any level of the artform.

These Miami trailers grabbed me as quite good (especially in terms of cinematography and shot composition)......
 

sharkb8

iAmB84AshRk
It's interesting, I watched all three of those trailers, and I think they do say something about the schools themselves. The AFI one is very story based, and also rooted in film history. That shot of the sewer flooding is an obvious copy of the blood coming out of the Elevator in The Shining. The movie looks good, unique, and suitably pretentious.

Meanwhile, the two Miami trailers arguably look better shot than the AFI one. I really love the cinematography in the Deer Story one. But what I notice about both of them, is that their editing and story are really lacking. Neither trailer gives any expectation of plot. To a certain extent, you don't want to give away your story in the trailer, but I would contend you should at least hint at some sort of story. I leave those three trailers rather interested in seeing the AFI movie, because I want to know what happens. In the other two, I respect the artistry, but it doesn't make me want to watch their finished films.

I think therein is the difference between the two schools. AFI is rooted in film history and story. Miami comes across more as a copycat. They're going through the motions, but missing the main point.
 

ngs091

Member
I can certainly see your point in terms of the different style of trailers (I thought of The Shining too there... but also the teaser trailer for The Shining which was solely just that elevator shot. Period.) But to me that is all it is: a different style of a half minute +/- trailer. And I think we all know that AFI does have a more prestigious rep than Miami. And I am hoping I get in to that school this year, as well. With that said, honestly, your generalized comments about the 'schools themselves' ('copycat/story based/more film history' implications) comes across as, well, to put it nicely, a bit in poor taste.
 
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sharkb8

iAmB84AshRk
Poor taste? I thought the differentiation between the elite school and the local school could be seen in their trailers and I pointed out why. Obviously the sample sizes are small so perhaps this isn't a rule, and even if it is, I'm sure there are a lot of exceptions to the rule, but at least within these 3 videos there was a clear difference in the goal of each video. I don't mind if you have a difference of opinion, but at least say what leads you to a differing conclusion.

As I read up, I see that you were accepted into Miami, so you have an appreciation for the school. Congratulations! I don't mean to disparage your school. I just noticed a difference in the approach each of those trailers took, which I think could very well be a representation of the difference in approach each of the schools takes.
 

ngs091

Member
Oh... I know you were saying it nicely. And I do understand it is a thread about a review of the school. But I very much doubt that one school values 'storytelling' and 'film history' more than the other. LA and NY schools may have more alumni and thus more connections. But I would argue that is more to do with their location, and that locations local industry. However, I don't really think any school would teach it much differently. Seriously. Art is generally taught the same. It's true you can have better teachers than others, but honestly a few of my best teachers in my life were at a local community college of all things, not my four year school or a private Ivy League institution. And some of my best teachers in my life, to be honest, I was more talented and successful than. They just knew how to teach to make me better. And perhaps had more connections than others to do so.
 
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ngs091

Member
I mean even if I get accepted to another school.... They even gave me a Graduate Assitantship for my last two years there (a TA stipend of $7,500 a year for only 10 hours of work a week for only 7 months of work (September-through-April, still letting me intern/work or whatever in summer, and probably the school year, too.) The agreement also gave me half off tuition (tuition is close to 40 grand a year, so I get forty grand off plus that 15 grand in my pocket for those two years.)

I couldn't be happier.

Even if I get into a school with a quote-unquote more prestigious reputation, they would probably have to at least match that for me.

PS. That is also not including Pell Grants, other scholarships, fellowships etc, some of which are available. That is only from the Assistantship.

Edit:

2nd PS. Not to split hairs, but I have seen the school in top 10 lists for screenwriting numerous times, as well. I wouldn't call it a 'local' school if it's that highly rated. From the lists I seen it is right around Boston University, sometimes higher sometimes not, BU, however, is the one school to reject me so far in this quote-unquote crapshoot of the selection process, to be honest. But I still got 4 of my 6 left, haha.
 
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Operator

Active Member
I mean even if I get accepted to another school.... They even gave me a Graduate Assitantship for my last two years there (a TA stipend of $7,500 a year for only 10 hours of work a week for only 7 months of work (September-through-April, still letting me intern/work or whatever in summer, and probably the school year, too.) The agreement also gave me half off tuition (tuition is close to 40 grand a year, so I get forty grand off plus that 15 grand in my pocket for those two years.)

I couldn't be happier.

Even if I get into a school with a quote-unquote more prestigious reputation, they would probably have to at least match that for me.

PS. That is also not including Pell Grants, other scholarships, fellowships etc, some of which are available. That is only from the Assistantship.

Edit:

2nd PS. Not to split hairs, but I have seen the school in top 10 lists for screenwriting numerous times, as well. I wouldn't call it a 'local' school if it's that highly rated. From the lists I seen it is right around Boston University, sometimes higher sometimes not, BU, however, is the one school to reject me so far in this quote-unquote crapshoot of the selection process, to be honest. But I still got 4 left, haha.
Graduate students don't get pell grants
 

ngs091

Member
Now just for fun..... wanna see how silly i am?

This is seriously my Personal Statement that I sent to Boston University.....


Notice the name of the school not just in the file name but the actual statement....

..........
Ya, I am not joking, I thought i was applying and had applied to Boston College until literally a month ago.

I did mean to apply to Boston University, but I seriously thought it was the same school (University/Colllege... Whoops)


At least it was the only school I had a glaring error with aside from perhaps some minor typos or something......

I can't say for sure that is why I got denied... but........ I think the biggest F-up on these boards goes to me.
 

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  • Boston College Statement.pdf
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