Cinema Directing (MFA)
Time to degree: two years plus thesis (52 credits)
The best directors need equal mastery of leadership, storytelling, and production skills. As a master’s candidate in the Cinema Directing program at Columbia College Chicago, you’ll learn how to craft character-driven narratives, work with producers, lead a crew, and create diverse and authentic films grounded in the human experience. You’ll complete intensive study in screenwriting, and direct your own scripts and those written by others. For your thesis project, you’ll develop and direct a short film.
Columbia offers one of the country’s few programs that give aspiring directors the opportunity to work with producers their first semester. You’ll develop your own style and voice while working closely with aspiring producers, cinematographers, production designers, composers, and actors in Columbia’s graduate and undergraduate programs and throughout Chicago’s arts scene.
In the Classroom
In August of your first year, you’ll take Columbia College Chicago’s cinema “boot camp” class, Introduction to Cinema Directing. In this immersive three-week workshop, you’ll learn foundational principles and technical skills through lectures and hands-on demonstrations.
In the first year, Cinema Directing students and Creative Producing students make several films together. Some films are based on a director’s concept and some are based on a producer’s. You’ll have creative control and gain work-for-hire experience. In addition, you’ll deepen your understanding of film history and the film industry through graduate seminars and a screening series. At the end of both semesters, graduate faculty members will constructively critique your work.
In your last year, you’ll work with two thesis advisors to develop and shoot your thesis film. In Thesis Workshop, you’ll explore your thesis material through individualized rehearsals, pre-visualization exercises, exploratory shoots, critique, and discussion. This time of exploration will help you further develop the script and pre-production for your thesis film, which you’ll direct and screen as part of your thesis requirement.
Outside the Classroom
You’ll have endless opportunities to engage with Columbia College Chicago’s passionate film community. Here are a few examples of exciting events that take place outside the classroom:
- Doc Your World: a student-curated festival showcasing documentary works.
- Cinema Slapdown: Watch a screening of a polarizing movie or television show, followed by a debate between someone who loves it and someone who hates it.
- FrameWork: a series of student-produced video interviews that allow seniors and graduate students to talk about their filmmaking processes.
- University Film and Video Association (UFVA): Students interested in teaching participate in this international conference each year.
- Film Festivals: Chicago hosts several renowned film festivals. Some festivals, like the Chicago Feminist Film Festival, are hosted on campus and organized by our faculty and students. We encourage students to submit their films and volunteer.
Creatives Spaces and Facilities
We offer a number of audio and post-production facilities, equipment rental centers, professional sound stages, and TV studios equipped with industry-standard software and technology.
Meet a Current Student
Columbia College Chicago has produced many successful alumni. Our alumni find work in the industry right out of college, and some have gone on to win Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes.
A small sample of our department’s alumni success stories:
- Ayanna Floyd MFA ’98 was coexecutive producer for the TV shows Empire and Falling Skies, and has writing credits on episodes of Empire, The Chi, Falling Skies, and Private Practice.
- Michael Goi ’80 is a cinematographer, director, writer, and producer who has worked on films and TV shows such as The Mentalist, Glee, Pretty Little Liars, and American Horror Story. Goi was president of the American Society of Cinematographers.
- Janusz Kaminski ’87 is a two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer whose credits include Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Lincoln, and The Post.
- Declan Quinn ’79 has film credits as a cinematographer and director of photography for Leaving Las Vegas, 28 Days, and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.
- Christian Sprenger ’07 is the Emmy Award-winning cinematographer for the TV shows Atlanta, GLOW, Baskets, and Last Man on Earth.
- Bob Teitel ’90 is a producer and writer whose credits include Soul Food, the Barbershop movies, and the Academy Award-nominated Mudbound.
- Antonia Tighe MFA ’02 is an editor and Emmy winner on the TV series Top Chef.
- Jordan Vogt-Roberts ’06 directed the films Kings of Summer and Kong: Skull Island.
- Lena Waithe ’06 is an Emmy Award-winning writer, actress, and producer on shows and films such as Dear White People, Bones, Master of None, and The Chi, and was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2018.
- Diane Weyermann MFA ’92 is president of documentary film and television at Participant Media. Participant Media’s documentary projects include the Academy Award-winning documentary films Citizenfour and An Inconvenient Truth as well as Emmy-winning Food, Inc. and Emmy-nominated The Great Invisible.
- Annick Wokan ’05 is an associate producer on the award-winning TV show Game of Thrones.
Our faculty members are working professionals, filmmakers, documentarians, producers, and editors who stay up-to-date with industry trends and teach them in the classroom. They’re dedicated to giving you a real-world education, and they’re great resources for jobs and references once you graduate.