Master of Fine Arts Digital Cinema Production

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The Digital Cinema Production MFA prepares graduates to produce compelling visual stories for an expanding digital media marketplace. The MFA in film production provides hands-on experience applying dramatic narrative and cinematic concepts and professional techniques from Hollywood and independent film traditions to the creative development and production of entertainment and other media content. The digital cinema production program focuses on developing filmmakers well versed in all aspects of low budget, independent filmmaking that can be applied to a variety of media content production environments, including commercial, corporate, and industrial promotion and communication projects; film, television, and other entertainment media distribution channels; and instructional media programs. Film production graduate program students are prepared to collaborate efficiently with a creative team and to adapt to the dynamic digital landscape and media distribution marketplace. Graduates are also prepared to teach in film and media arts programs at the college and university level.

Offered in a hybrid online/low-residency format, the MDC-MFA program affords students living outside the major media markets and entertainment production centers the opportunity to study professional film production at the graduate level with film industry professionals and to develop the technical skills and practical experience necessary to function as media production entrepreneurs. The hybrid program offers instruction for a majority of courses delivered online, with a required one-month intensive residency at the Los Angeles campus. The program is also offered full-time at the National University Los Angeles campus with a significant number of classes offered onsite that includes access to digital editing and production facilities and equipment.

The first year of the MDC-MFA immerses students in the applied cinematic arts, narrative structure, cinematic design and grammar, short film forms, sound design and cinematography, and professional editing techniques and postproduction workflow. In the second year, graduate fellows take six MFA Production Sequence courses taking a short film script through a professional film producing cycle from development to festival distribution over a five-month period. Working from the perspective of the producer, each fellow produces a professional film production and distribution plan and look book used to pitch a project to potential funders and distributors.

Next working as a director, each student prepares a director's production book that details a personal approach to directing the film. In the third class, the students are assigned department leadership positions on a production team that takes the project through preproduction, preparing a production book that will be the guide to the production of the short in the fourth month during the MDC-MFA residency in Los Angeles. All MFA students serve in one of the following leadership positions during preproduction and production—producer, director, director of photography, production designer—and rotate through other key production crew positions depending on interests and career goals. After principal photography has been completed, each student is responsible for bringing the project through all aspects of postproduction in preparation for a screening in Hollywood.

As a result of this second year production sequence, the graduate MFA production fellows are prepared for the development and production of their thesis films.

Program Residency Requirements
All Digital Cinema fellows must take the intensive residency consisting of three courses onsite at the National University Los Angeles campus: MDC 683P Production Practicum, MDC 688 Production and MDC 689 Postproduction. The MDC 688 Production workshop lasts the first two weeks of the month and the second, MDC 689 Post-Production, runs for two weeks during the second half of the month. MDC 683P runs for the whole month. These three workshops provide students with hands-on production experience in a collaborative environment using professional equipment and must be completed prior to the thesis sequence.

Students who are unable to devote a full month onsite for both MDC 688 and MDC 689 may elect to split the onsite residency by taking MDC 689 first and then later scheduling MDC 683P and MDC 688, which must be taken concurrently. For more information on the residency workshops, contact the program lead faculty advisor.

Thesis Sequence
The Digital Cinema Production MFA thesis sequence consists of four courses, MDC 692, 693, 694 and 695 and may last from 12-18 months. Classes cover the producing cycle for a professional film project: development, preproduction, production, postproduction, picture lock and final postproduction in preparation for release and distribution to a film festival.

To be eligible for thesis, the MFA candidate must have successfully completed all core courses by maintaining a “B” average, and have completed the second-year Production and Residency courses with a minimum grade of “B.” Candidates who do not meet these criteria can be required to successfully repeat a course based upon consultation with the program lead faculty and policies for Graduate programs published in the National University catalog.

The thesis project consists of a short subject digital motion picture and written thesis. The finished short film should represent professional quality production values, be between 12 and 22 minutes in length, and present a dramatically compelling visual story that sustains the interest of a discriminating audience. Projects may be documentary or fiction. Although animation projects are not discouraged, to be accepted a thesis candidate must demonstrate previous mastery in that genre and the ability to bring such a project to completion under the parameters of the thesis courses. Specifications and qualification criteria for the project are developed in consultation with the thesis advisors assigned to thesis courses.

MDC-MFA candidates must also complete a written thesis that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to communicate coherently, critically, and creatively. The written thesis will be drawn from work completed during the thesis process, including the complete production documentation, an approved proposal, a locked step outline, a screenplay or documentary production treatment, and project funding, budget, scheduling and distribution plans. In addition, the thesis will present a critical analysis of the finished project, an evaluation of relevant genre influences, and a self-assessment of the thesis candidate’s evolution as a filmmaker during the thesis producing cycle, including lessons learned and recommendations for future projects.

The MFA thesis process is collaborative and thesis fellows are responsible for maintaining regular communication with thesis advisors and making satisfactory progress on the project. Thesis advisors provide oral and written critiques and notes for discussion and incorporation into the creative development of the story and project plan and to help guide subsequent revisions of the film and lead to a successful qualification of the film.

A fellow must satisfactorily complete each thesis course within the specified term of the course. MDC 692 Thesis Development is four months. MDC 693 Production and MDC 694 Postproduction courses are three months each, and the MDC 695 Qualification course is two months. Incompletes may be considered based on the satisfactory progress of the thesis fellow in each of the phases of the producing cycle and University policy. Any thesis course that receives an unsatisfactory final evaluation must be repeated.

Upon satisfactory completion of thesis post-production, the thesis project enters the Thesis Qualification class to complete the final revision of the film and compile the written thesis. The MDC-MFA thesis qualification review committee will provide a final review of the thesis film to determine whether the film has met or exceeded the qualification requirements for the Master of Fine Arts.

Production and course material fees listed below cover the additional costs of the residency including workshop and production, expendables, materials, supplies and related expenses. Expenses for accommodation and transportation are not included in the fees or tuition, and students are responsible for arranging their own accommodations and transportation during the onsite residency. Additional equipment fees may apply to some onsite workshop courses.

For more information on program formats, residency workshops, onsite courses and fees, contact the program lead faculty advisor.

Production and course material fees:

MDC 688 Course Fee........................................................ $1,250

MDC 689 Course Fee.......................................................... $550

Thesis Qualification Fee:

MDC 695 ........................................................ $300

The Thesis Qualification Fee provides compensation for qualification committee member's time for final review and providing comments on thesis projects prior to qualification.

Program Application Requirements
To be considered for admission to the Digital Cinema Production MFA program, applicants must meet the University graduate admission requirements listed in the catalog under General Information for Graduate Degrees and the following program criteria. Applicants must submit an application packet and pass a personal interview with the program lead faculty advisor. The MDC-MFA program application and interview will assess the applicant's technical proficiency, experience and skill level in digital photography and editing, relevant formal education, training or informal experience with film production, storytelling and film history, as well as writing and communication in English at the graduate level. A portfolio, resume, certificate or other proof may be required. Program start dates may vary depending on applicant experience, skills and proficiencies.

Students interested in enrolling in this program should contact the MDC-MFA program lead faculty advisor by e-mail for further information regarding the application process. Please use the subject line "Digital Cinema Production MFA application information." The MDC application and personal interview will determine whether or not an applicant meets the program prerequisites. The enrollment date and class schedule will be determined by the program lead faculty after the interview has been completed. Applicants should allow 30 days for review and scheduling of the interview.

Program Prerequisites
To be successful students in the MDC-MFA program are expected to be able to conduct independent research on films, filmmaking issues using valid and reliable sources and be able to write at the graduate level. It is recommended that students have had undergraduate courses or experience in some of the following areas: communication, film, literature, media studies, graphic design, multimedia arts, history, philosophy, psychology or sociology. A successful applicant should have beginner to intermediate level knowledge of video editing software and be able to create new projects, capture digital video and audio assets, assemble and insert, edit, and export sequences to a variety of QuickTime formats for DVD, Internet and streaming formats.

Students are also required to have the basic technical knowledge and skills needed to operate a digital camera using manual settings and be familiar with photographic principles like exposure, iris, and shutter, as well as such digital concepts as white balance, image resolution, frame rate and screen ratio. Students who do not have such experience or skills should take a basic noncredit video editing and digital photography course as preparation for the degree. Students may also be asked to submit a short digital video project for consideration.

Technical Requirements
Students admitted to the program are expected to have reliable access to a high-speed Internet connection, an email account outside of National University for course projects and assignments, access to a DVD rental service for watching films and television programs, and a headset for collaboration in live online class meetings.

Students need to own a personal computer that meets the system requirements for professional digital video editing software currently available. (Always check the manufacturer’s web site for system requirements before purchasing software. Students may need to upgrade their computer or components to meet those specifications.) Access to one of the following professional level editing software is required: AVID Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Production Suite (CS6) or Final Cut Pro (version 7). These programs are used for the onsite editing and post-production. Students should plan to learn how to operate required software before taking related classes (MDC 652 and 689).

The following software is required to complete program course work: Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer) or comparable software capable of outputting PDF documents (e.g. adobe Acrobat Professional), a variety of standard browser plug-ins (i.e. JavaScript, Flash, QuickTime, etc.), an FTP client software (such as Fetch, CoreFTP, FileZilla, etc.), Adobe Photoshop Elements (or equivalent photo image processing program (MDC661 and 651), Apple QuickTime Pro, Compressor or another media transcoding program compatible with the above mentioned digital video editing software package (MDC 662 and 652), project management software like GanttProject, Gorrila or Movie Magic (MDC 650, 683, 683P), and a script writing program such as CELTX, MovieMagic or Final Draft (MDC 664, 664P and 692).

Access to the following additional equipment is required prior to taking MDC 652, 661, and 651: external FireWire (400 or 800, IEEE 1394), USB 3 or Thunderbolt hard drive for media storage, a digital still camera with manual controls, a digital video camera with manual controls capable of recoding HD or HDV signals, an external microphone and stand, a tripod, a basic lighting kit, and the above mentioned nonlinear editing software

For more information on any of the above requirements contact the program lead faculty advisor.

Program Learning Outcomes

  • Critique the creative works of others using relevant critical models and professional vocabulary
  • Evaluate professional and theoretical issues and processes pertaining to movies and aspects of digital filmmaking based on recognized industry models and standards
  • Incorporate research from primary and secondary sources into sustained analyses and interpretations of screenplays, films and television programs
  • Generate an original narrative screenplay that incorporates standard industry format, dramatic narrative elements in a coherent plot structure
  • Create an original short fiction or non-fiction narrative film with a coherent structure and compelling storyline that engages and sustains the interest of a discriminating audience
  • Generate the standard industry documentation required to effectively communicate and collaborate with a production team during the development, production, editing and distribution of a professional motion picture
  • Generate original digital motion picture sequences using current cinematic theory and techniques to support the thematic concepts and story objectives of a script
  • Construct digital motion picture sequences using current film and sound editing techniques and theory that engage and sustain the interest of a discriminating audience
  • Implement film industry production and post-production workflow processes to capture, edit, finish and export digital video assets to appropriate distribution media
  • Create an original short motion picture based on an original concept with a coherent storyline that is significant and complex enough to engage and sustain the interest of a discriminating audience and is suitable for distribution or submission to a film festival


To receive a Master of Fine Arts, students in the Digital Cinema program must complete at least 81 quarter units of graduate work, of which a minimum of 67.5 quarter units must be taken at National University. Students can transfer up to 13.5 quarter units at the graduate level from a regionally accredited institution in the areas of communication, film, media studies, or production, provided the units have not been used to satisfy the requirements of an awarded degree. Program applicants wishing to transfer credits into the program should contact the program lead faculty advisor and arrange for an evaluation in advance. Refer to the section in the graduate admission requirements for additional specific information regarding application and matriculation.
First Year (10 courses; 38.25 quarter units)
Core Requisite(s):
Second Year (6 courses; 24.75 quarter units)
Core Requisite(s):
  • MDC 650 Film Producing
  • MDC 653 Film Directing
  • MDC 683 Production Management
  • MDC 683P Production Practicum
  • Four-week practicum only offered onsite and must be taken concurrently with MDC 688.
  • MDC 688 Production
  • Two-week workshop is only offered onsite and must be taken concurrently with MDC 683P.
  • MDC 689 Digital Cinema Post-Production
  • Two-week workshop is only offered onsite and recommended to be taken after MDC 688 and concurrently with MDC 683P.
    The production sequence courses MDC 653 through MDC 688 must be taken in sequence. MDC 683P and MDC 688 and MDC 689 are only offered in an onsite residency at the National University Los Angeles Learning Center. This production residency is only offered in July of each academic year. MDC 650 and MDC 688 may be taken separately by splitting the production residency into two visits. However the time to degree may be extended by up to 12 months. Contact the program Lead Faculty for more information.
Program Electives (2 courses; 6.75 quarter units)
Students doing a short documentary film for their thesis must select MDC 670 and MDC 670P documentary courses as electives prior to starting the MDC MFA thesis sequence. Otherwise students may take MDC 664P Short Film Practicum for a second time and one other 4.5 unit course. Contact the lead faculty advisor to discuss scheduling options.
Thesis Sequence (4 courses; 11.25 quarter units)
Core Requisite(s):