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OSU moving toward moving image program

Preliminary talks among administration in Ohio State’s premier art divisions could see new interdisciplinary majors that will offer degrees in film and television production.

J. Ronald Green, associate professor of film studies in the History of Art Department at OSU, discussed the advent of the moving image production degree. It is a comprehensive program that will offer students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and skills in the field of media arts production.

“We are working on a moving image production program worthy of a major research institution, which is long overdue,” Green said. For the past two to three years, he has been part of an exploratory team called “The Moving Image Production Group”, which is seeking to revive production education at OSU.

The Moving Image Production Group, which a grant from the Humanities Institute fuels, has spent the past year researching and planning fundamental resources that will make the new curriculum a reality.

The group itself is composed of 20 to 30 active faculty and staff members from around the university. Major divisions include the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Film Studies Program, the History of Art Department, Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, the Department of Art and the video production program in the Department of Theatre.

While OSU already offers degrees in film studies, the moving image production degree would allow students to apply both the conceptual and technical components of film studies to create actual media art.

If the moving image production program comes into fruition, it will work to close the gap left behind by OSU’s now defunct School of Photography and Cinema, which was established in the mid-1920s.

“Places like University of Southern California and New York University considered OSU a peer,” Green said.

The School of Photography and Cinema was initially introduced as a division within the School of Engineering to satisfy the photographic needs of engineering projects. The program expanded to incorporate the various studies of film theory and technical application.

The program offered about 100 courses, with up to three levels of instruction in production fundamentals of filmmaking, editing, cinematography and sound production. Specialization tracks in narrative, documentary and avant-garde filmmaking were also available, with an equivalent array of classes available for photography majors.

A faculty of 15 to 20 professional filmmakers, film studies instructors, photographers and photo historians administered the program.

In addition to housing a full studio, with all the equipment needed to produce and edit 16mm film, the program operated like a non-profit film production company. It held contracts with AAA Auto Insurance to produce safety films, OSU’s College of Medicine to document medical research and athletic films for the football team.

Though enrollment numbers remained strong throughout the program’s lifetime, growth served as the harbinger for its own cancellation in the late 1980s, as the department attempted to transition out of the School of Engineering and into the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The department was politically conflicted within itself. There were contending interests within the department that made us politically weak,” Green said. “The growing pains of moving from an engineering discipline, which was a science research oriented mission, to a more social, humanities and arts mission were causing conflicts within the department.”

Simultaneously, a severe budget crunch struck the university that affected all programs. With the Department of Photography and Cinema still committed to 16mm film, and already running on a budget deficit, it was a prime target to limit university spending.

“If we were able to make the transition to video in time, we would not have had that running deficit that 16mm was causing us,” Green said. “But we looked like a good place to save money.”

In the wake of the program’s termination, much of its curriculum and faculty were dispersed into other divisions around the College of the Arts.

Green, who was sent to the History of Art Department, collaborated with current humanities and French professor Judith Mayne throughout a 10-year period to create the Film Studies program, which allows students to design a production-oriented area for the major.

However, at only 15 credit hours, students and faculty feel that such an offering barely scratches the surface of what is offered by other universities with a full production-based curriculum.

“Ohio State does offer some classes in basic video production, and basic video editing. But the offerings are very paltry,” said Kevin Toomey, a film studies major who aspires to work as a professional video editor. “It’s really something you have to go and search out on your own, but I think a unified program here on campus would be greatly appreciated by many.”

David Filipi, curator of film and video at the Wexner Center’s Media Arts Department, is one of those many.

“I definitely feel that if offered, it would become one of the university’s more popular majors,” said Filipi, who is also a member of OSU’s film studies committee. “We would be able to do programming that really addresses some of the concerns that students going through a film program would have.”

Some see the addition of a media arts production curriculum as a possibility to introduce a new dynamic to the state of Ohio.

“There is a lot of talent exported from Ohio to (Los Angeles), and they’re producing content at the top level in some of the top studios,” said Shannon Mills, a Columbus native who now provides a host of production services to several major studios in the LA area. “OSU is not only losing great students to competing schools, but they’re also stunting major revenue in Ohio cities by having their creative talent uproot and head to other markets.”

In Spring 2010, Carroll Glynn, director of OSU’s School of Communication, said that without donations from alumni it has been hard to establish media education programs at OSU.

The USC School of Cinematic Arts, which is the nation’s oldest traditional film school and boasts alumnus such as George Lucas, has received more than $200 million in alumni donations throughout the past five years alone. These donations, coupled with a $47.2 million endowment, have allowed the university to cope with booming costs of film education.

“We are highly grateful for the contributions of our alumni. They are the heart of this program,” said Elizabeth Daley, dean of the School of Cinematic Arts at USC and a former producer for MGM Television. “They allow us to offer a learning experience that is unique to this university, and we are very fortunate for that.”

If budget concerns are a major hurdle in initiating the moving image production program, Green remains unfazed.

“The good thing is there’s a lot of people who feel it’s been long overdue since the elimination. And we have received encouragement from a lot of high level administration, so we are very hopeful,” Green said. “I would say it’s unethical for a major research university not to offer high level training in media arts.”

Though no concrete dates have been made for the start of the program, Green expects more announcements to be made over the next year.

He added that the Moving Image Production Group are already arranging talks with personnel from international institutions to see what advancements universities abroad are making in film education.

“We expect to be competitive not only on a national level but on an international level as well,” said Green. “It may start small, but it will have world-class ambitions.”

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