An Interview with Paula Amanda: New BFA in Film Program in Santa Fe

Nov 16, 2012 by

Paula Amanda is Associate Chair of The Film School at Santa Fe University of Art and Design (and director of Garson Studios). In this interview, she responds to questions about the new program.

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1.           Paula, I understand that Santa Fe University of Art and Design has launched The Film School, previously known as the Moving Image Arts Department. When did this come about?

We’ve actually been teaching film on campus for almost 30 years. However, we are very excited to be launching our new BFA in Film with an entirely refreshed 21st century curriculum, along with an Advisory Board of celebrated film and TV professionals who will help guide The Film School to ensure we stay at the forefront of what’s happening in the industry. The new BFA will launch for the Fall 2013 intake.

2.           What kinds of experiences will prospective students get?

The new BFA in Film has a very strong platform for all incoming students. By the second semester of their sophomore year, students will choose a specific concentration. Those concentrations include Production, Story Development and Visual Effects/Technical Animation. All students will also have the opportunity for film internships both at Garson Studios, and on films being made off-campus. Our department has such a strong reputation for interns that we get regular calls from most productions being made in the state that want to use our student interns.

We’re also introducing a new initiative where our students have the opportunity every Fall to work on Shoot the Stars! This is an exciting initiative where we bring name talent in to participate in student-written shorts, using a student crew, and receiving guidance from professional mentors. This year we’re bringing in Canadian independent film and TV actor Luke Kirby, as well as Wes Studi, an actor who has worked with A-list directors such as James Cameron, Michael Mann and Walter Hill, and been in movies including Avatar, The Last of the Mohicans and Dances With Wolves.

3.           How many faculty members are there, and what kinds of backgrounds do they have?

Every semester we have between 10-14 faculty members, depending on scheduling needs. All faculty members are working professionals in the film industry. Their roles range from editing, sound design, production, to cinematography and screenwriting. As an example, one faculty member won the Albuquerque division of the 48 Hour Film Project this year, another runs the Albuquerque Film Festival, and we also have an instructor who is the producer of the upcoming film, Red Clay, which was just shot here in New Mexico.

All of our production classes are small and hands-on, with no more than 14 students in each class.

4.           Tell us about some of the people on the Advisory Board.

The Film School Advisory Board has four members right now, and it’s our goal to add more in the future. Right now we have Kirk Ellis, a writer and producer who is best known for writing the Emmy Award– winning John Adams miniseries for HBO, Jaime Paglia, a writer and producer who co-created Eureka for the Syfy Channel and NBC Universal, Kathleen Broyles of the Sundance Institute and liaison to Robert Redford, and animator and director John Stevenson. Stevenson is known for his work on films like Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda.

5.           What does the curriculum focus on?

Freshmen starting out in the program will have a strong understanding of the basics of film, and then they choose their specific concentration during their sophomore year. All classes integrate and focus on three key elements: business, story, and professional responsibility, which are our core values in The Film School at SFUAD.

6.           Tell us about Garson Studios.

Garson Studios was built in 1989 by actress Greer Garson, who wanted to bring professional soundstages to New Mexico for the benefit of students. We’ve hosted more than 30 commercial films since then, including No Country For Old Men, True Grit, and Cowboys & Aliens, and have had many student interns on those productions. Most recently, we had the first season of Longmire at Garson Studios, which has been named the highest-rated scripted show on A&E. It will be coming back to Garson Studios to film its second season beginning in February.

We work very hard to integrate Garson Studios with the Film School so students can walk through the doors and onto commercial soundstages to begin their careers. We also invite professionals from the film crews to speak to our students and offer them professional advice.

7.           What are your basic core values?

We emphasize the importance of business, storytelling, and professional responsibility throughout our curriculum in the Film School.

8.           Tell us about your location, and the surrounding communities.

The Film School chair, Chris Eyre, and I both like to say that New Mexico offers ‘space to create.’ Filmmakers have been making films here for more than 100 years based on the state’s landscape, quality of light, and creative sensibility. We feel it’s the ideal location for students who want to enhance and hone their creative filmmaking skills.

9.           What have I neglected to ask?

One of the unique qualities of The Film School at SFUAD is our growing relationship with our sister campuses around the world through the Laureate International Universities network. Not only do we offer a global experience to students studying in Santa Fe when we host students from other universities, but our students can also visit and learn at our sister campuses around the world.

A global experience is very important to every young person, especially those pursuing a career in film or TV. It’s reflective of the real film industry, which is certainly going global. To make our students even more competitive in the industry, we’re also working on several film certificates around the world.

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