FILM-MFA - Documentary Film and Video (MFA)
Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Film
Situated in the Department of Art & Art History, the Master of Fine Arts program in documentary production provides a historical, theoretical, and critical framework within which students master the conceptual and practical skills for producing nonfiction film and video. The MFA is a terminal degree program with a two-year, full-time curriculum synthesizing film praxis and film and media history, theory, and criticism. Courses provide an intellectual and theoretical framework for developing students’ creative work. Students proceed through the program as a cohort.
Fields of Study or Degree Options
Fields of study for the MFA degree are offered in Documentary Film.
The program requires residency for two consecutive years. The admissions committee seeks applicants with work experience beyond their undergraduate years and can articulate why they want to learn documentary film production. The committee looks for evidence of the likelihood of success in a rigorous academic program emphasizing creative work. The conceptual and technical skills required for documentary work are sufficiently different from fictional narratives to make the Stanford program inappropriate for students interested in fiction filmmaking. The program does not allow for deferred admission or a mid-year enrollment.
The department requires a film or video work for which the applicant has had creative control. The sample work must be well labeled and accompanied by a brief synopsis, the clips’ running time, the production circumstances, and the applicant’s role. The admissions committee will view 15 minutes of work samples. Applicants may submit multiple projects and should include notes on which portion of their work to consider (up to 15 minutes). Work on which the applicant had only a production assistant role is inappropriate for submission. Student work, however, is appropriate for consideration. Applicants with minimal film or video production experience should submit an example of their best creative work in any medium.
Portfolio Specifications—See the department’s Graduate Admission website for portfolio requirements.
Free Form Requisites
Completing two years (six quarters) of graduate work in residence at Stanford.
A minimum of 62 units is required for the M.F.A. degree. In the production core, students are required to conceptualize and visualize their ideas in a series of writing and producing courses that focus on documentary story structure. These courses are taken in tandem with project-based production courses that provide training in the technical and conceptual aspects of cinematography, sound recording, and editing. Discussion of form and content is a signature component of the writing and production courses. The production core is complemented by a series of required film studies courses in documentary plus elective courses in the history, aesthetics, ideology, and theory of all genres of moving image media. All courses, except for FILMPROD core courses, must be taken for a letter grade.
The Department of Art & Art History did not make any changes to graduate degree grade requirements for classes taken in Winter Quarter 2019-20.
The Department of Art & Art History counts any Spring Quarter 2019-20 class in which the student received a final grade of ‘S’ towards graduate degree requirements that otherwise require a letter grade.
The Art & Art History department did not make any changes to its policy concerning 'CR' (credit) or 'S' (satisfactory) grades in degree requirements requiring a letter grade for academic year 2020-21.
M.F.A. Thesis Project
In the second year of the program, each student produces a 15-20 minute documentary that constitutes the thesis project. In course Producing Practicum: The Non-Fiction Film, students research and develop their project and write a proposal for submission. A project may not begin production until the written proposal has been approved. Most of the production and post-production occurs (in Winter and Spring quarters) in course and course.
1. Core Production courses; core courses must be taken in sequence:
Film/Video Writing and Directing
Nonfiction Film Production
Advanced Documentary Directing
Advanced Video Production
Producing Practicum: The Non-Fiction Film
Documentary M.F.A. Thesis Seminar I
Documentary M.F.A.Thesis Seminar II
2. Core Film Studies courses:
Documentary Perspectives I
Documentary Perspectives II
3. Electives (to be chosen in consultation with the student's adviser):
Art History—one course
Studio Art —one course
Film Studies—three courses
Choice Elective—one course