Professor Bruce Sheridan
“The future belongs to creative producers,” asserts Bruce Sheridan, Chairperson of Columbia’s Film & Video Department and co-founder of its new MFA program. As a director, producer, musician, former studio executive, educator, and administrator, Sheridan has been involved in the film and television industry for over 30 years. Because of his vast experience and demonstrated reputation as an innovator, his predictions for what’s next in the field are eminently reliable—moreover, with the establishment of Columbia’s MFA in Creative Producing, Sheridan is taking an active role in shaping that future himself.
The future belongs to creative producers.
A native of New Zealand, Sheridan began his career as a musician and a recording engineer. Although his formal academic training was in philosophy—a subject he continues to pursue as a PhD candidate—he was drawn to filmmaking via an interest in music videos and theater. He continues to have success with his work as a producer, writer, and director—in 1999 his television feature Lawless received New Zealand’s Best Drama Award—but he has also proven to be a force in film education.
Sheridan was recruited to chair Columbia’s Film & Video department in 2001 and entered the position with a pioneering new proposal for what film education should be—a creative and commercially viable endeavor. The idea was spurred from observations he made in the late 90s. “At that time,” he says, “the positive thing in the school environment was risk taking and innovation, but often the films being made were just disappearing. And in the industry, there was hardly any risk taking or innovation, but they had the financial power and experience. So I started to think that those two things—the creative side and the business side—should come together, that the walls should get broken down.”
I started to think that those two things—the creative side and the business side—should come together, that the walls should get broken down.
His vision was implemented early on in his tenure at Columbia but has come to full realization in the Film & Video department’s new MFA degree in Creative Producing. Creative producers combine artistic vision, business acumen, and management skills to lead films and other media projects from concept through creation and distribution. With an eye on the big picture, they are involved in each step of the process and bear ultimate responsibility for the project's creative character. Sheridan puts it this way: “The program is about integrated learning—it’s not about two separate pieces. It’s more like a cake: you put all the sugar and eggs in a tin and put it in the oven; when you pull it out, you can’t see individual ingredients anymore, it’s one cohesive substance—and that’s what being a good creative producer really is.”
As part of the nation’s largest film & video program, Creative Producing students at Columbia develop their skills by working hands-on with a diverse group of student filmmakers, writers, and composers. Creative collaboration is enhanced by the accessibility of the College’s new Media Production Center (MPC)—a state-of-the-art facility originally proposed by Sheridan. Moreover, students will have the opportunity to apply the skills they learn on campus to a real-world context when they spend 12 weeks of their second year at Columbia’s Semester in LA Program on the historic Raleigh Studios Hollywood lot in Los Angeles.
The creation of the MPC and development of the Semester in LA program are huge accomplishments, but are only two of many innovations that are bound to result from Sheridan and his department. “I’ve been here nine years,” he says, “and I had a five-year plan and a 12-year plan...we’re basically three years ahead of the 12-year plan.”