Screenwriting concentration added

by Beacon Staff • October 4, 2006

Until now, that is.

This year's incoming freshman class was the first to be offered the opportunity to specialize in writing for film and television, a new concentration of the Department of Visual and Media Arts (VMA).,While many Emerson College students may claim to be crafting the next silver-screen masterpiece, studying the fine art of screenwriting here has been confined to extracurricular activities and double-major collaborations.

Until now, that is.

This year's incoming freshman class was the first to be offered the opportunity to specialize in writing for film and television, a new concentration of the Department of Visual and Media Arts (VMA).

According to Jean Stawarz, film-writing professor at Emerson, the idea for such a specialization has been in the works for four years. A curriculum committee, under the leadership of Tom Kingdon, met four years ago to brainstorm ideas about the subject and revise the department's overall curriculum.

"BFAs had to write, but film students could leave without ever taking a writing class," Stawarz said. "The student voice helped urge the decision. This was the next logical step."

With an extensive background in film, Stawarz is enthusiastic about the updated curriculum. She stressed the fact that specializations allow students to focus on a particular subject of their interest. In this case, students attracted to screenwriting for film or television will finally be able to take more classes that will enhance their writing skills.

According to VMA Chair Michael Selig, this concentration is not considered a "major," but rather a specialization within the media production major.

Still, students who wish to concentrate on television or film writing should expect a full workload.

The courses allow students to complete a script they may end up filming in a production class at a later date, allowing them to understand the process as a whole, something she stresses in her classes, Stawarz said.

In the past, only BFA students in the VMA department had writing-intensive courses. Now all VMA students have the opportunity to experience writing for the purpose of production.

According to the academic advising center, 48 students are currently specializing in the area.

"Writing is the basis of everything we do," Stawarz said. "This allows students to imagine they can really be in the one area they are interested."

Martie Cook, an assistant television-writing professor, offered a supportive second opinion for Stawarz and the new curriculum.

As an Emerson alumna, Cook explained that having no television-writing course during her years at the college was "criminal."

"The script is the basis of everything in terms of film and TV," Cook said. "You can't have a bad script and a good movie. The script is the heart and soul of every project."

Cook said a specialization that offers the unique opportunity for individual class attention and consideration of scripts will draw more students to the Emerson campus and, more specifically, the VMA department. All majors within the department must take certain core requirements before choosing subject-specific courses or a specialization.

The curriculum also includes prerequisites students are required to take before admittance into specialized classes. This offers students a broad base of knowledge in the field before they concentrate on one topic.

This year, two new teachers have joined the VMA staff to round out the range of teaching expertise in the department: Jim Macak, assistant VMA professor, formerly worked as a writer for the popular television show "NYPD Blue"; Diane Lake, assistant VMA professor, co-wrote the film "Frida," starring Salma Hayek.

The new concentration and the experience with professionals in the field will better prepare students for careers in screenwriting, Cook said. Leaving Emerson with a solid script will allow students to compete with professionals in the field, putting Emerson graduates at an advantage in the job market.

"Down the road, student projects will churn out more alums successful in the field," Cook said.

Students interviewed said they were generally pleased with the new specialization.

Dana Rudnitsky, a freshman with a concentration in screenwriting, shared her reasons for focus. She said that she has been writing since middle school, and the new concentration is what initially attracted her to Emerson College.

"I want to learn how to convey my ideas through a different medium than just text," Rudnitsky said.

Ashley Whiting, another freshman specializing in screenwriting, said Emerson was the only college to which she applied. The screenwriting concentration drew her to the college.

"Eventually, I want to do films," Whiting said. "I believe that the narrative of the film is the most important part."