Chair Sharon McGowan has seen the re-birth of UBC’s Film Production program after a wave of support - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 8 | Aug. 7, 2008
Film Production: Take 2
By Meg Walker
When a restructured Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film Production starts up this September, UBC student Kathleen Jayme will be ready. This month she begins an animation-editing internship with the National Film Board, a position she will continue part-time during the fall semester.
For outsiders, one of the most noticeable additions to the program might be the new artist-in-residence position. Actor, writer and director Peter Howitt -- Hollywood directing credits include Sliding Doors (1998, starring Gwyneth Paltrow) and Antitrust (2001, filmed partly at UBC) -- will fill the position this fall.
But the most profound change is the BFA Film Production’s expansion from a two-year to a three-year program. The expanded lineup now offers students a foundation year that has a focus on writing short screenplays (developed with the support of UBC Creative Writing Program), and an orientation to business practices and production planning.
The industry-related course brings members of Vancouver’s influential film industry -- the third largest in North America -- into the classroom so students can start making connections early in their careers.
“That way students can learn who the film organizations are in their first year,” says Program Chair Sharon McGowan, “and they can use their summers more effectively to work or volunteer with players in the industry.”
Jayme was hoping to enter the program earlier, but in August 2006, admissions were suspended due to UBC-wide budget constraints.
There was a strong public response to the program suspension. Amy Belling (BA 2003) and other alumni set up a press conference that presented a show of support for the program from filmmakers across North America. Directors Sturla Gunnarsson, Mina Shum and Lynne Stopkewich, plus cinematographer Greg Middleton -- all UBC alumni -- spoke at the event.
In early 2007, Belling, Jessica Cheung (BFA 2006), and Sidney Chiu (BA 2002) formally created the UBC Film Production Alumni Association (FPAA) and met with Dean of Arts Nancy Gallini to see what it would take to get the program reopened.
“The meeting came at an important point in the program’s restructuring,” says Gallini. By this time, she had compiled a list of goals or changes that would strengthen the program -- from an expanded curriculum to deeper collaborations with other academic institutions such as SFU and the Emily Carr University (then-Institute of Art and Design) to a mentorship program and internship opportunities for students to new space on campus for faculty, staff and students.
One of these changes was well underway. A committee chaired by McGowan had consulted with program alumni, industry players and faculty from other film programs across Canada including York, SFU and Emily Carr to develop a comprehensive plan for changes.
In particular, a partnership was developed with Emily Carr in key areas where each institution wants to enhance its program. UBC students will benefit from Emily Carr’s expertise in sound design and animation, and Emily Carr students will be able to join courses in business practices and producing for film and television, as UBC develops those.
So when the FPAA came to ask how they could help, the timing was ripe for them to tackle two items on Gallini’s list.
First, working with UBC’s Tri-mentorship Program, they organized a mentorship program for students with alumni who are now established professionals in the industry -- pairing student writers with professional writers, student producers with professional producers and so on.
Secondly the FPAA is creating an internship program for students from UBC, SFU and Emily Carr. The goal: “an internship program that is rich in the long term -- one that extends beyond just UBC to the rest of the film-makers’ community that we belong to,” as Belling puts it.
The months of hard work and collaboration led to a surprise announcement at a FPAA event during the Vancouver International Film Festival in early October 2007. Gallini had been invited to provide an update on the status of the Film Production Program, and she did -- stating that the program would reopen in 2008.
“The best part is that this was truly a collaborative effort with other academic institutions like Emily Carr, our supportive industry partners and, of course, the new and energetic UBC Film Production Alumni Association,” Gallini said at the FPAA event. “I believe that together we will be able to sustain and build upon the tremendous strengths of our film industry in B.C.”
Back to Jayme’s story. Last year, she took a course in Film Directing with McGowan. “Sharon would encourage us by saying that meetings were going on [to reinstate the program] so keep thinking about applying, and make sure you do a movie that means something to you,” Jayme says.
Jayme made a documentary film about the basketball team of a close friend who has been diagnosed with brain cancer. The result, a short film called True Player, was shown on Shaw Television earlier this year.