Growing up, Grace Rolfe, a junior at Augusta University, admits she was your typical “theater kid.”
“In the beginning, I was really into sound engineering and music, so I had a gig at my high school to do sound engineering,” Rolfe said. “Eventually I started doing the lights and I started leaning towards theater pretty heavily. I was definitely a theater kid, so I started helping my friend, who was also in the theater, to make a short film in high school, and that really got me interested in cinema.
But when Rolfe first enrolled at Augusta University a few years ago, she wasn’t sure where she was going or what she wanted to study.
“I didn’t go to college instantly thinking I was going to make movies,” she said. “I was like, ‘Let me take some lessons and try to figure it out.’ But I took a film class my first semester, and then I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to do.
Although Rolfe’s major is currently Integrated Studies, she looks forward to officially declaring her new major as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital and Visual Storytelling beginning this fall at Augusta University.
“I started with an integrated studies degree because I just wanted to focus on the courses that I thought would serve me best and help me become a filmmaker,” Rolfe said. “Luckily this approach gave me a really good head start towards the new BFA because I took a lot of art and design courses as opposed to some of the other compulsory courses. So luckily all the courses I I’ve followed so far will fit pretty much perfectly into this new BFA.
“It couldn’t have worked better,” she added. “I’m so grateful that Augusta University pretty much gave me my perfect degree right before I graduated.”
Presentation of the new BFA
The new BFA in Digital and Visual Storytelling starting this fall will prepare students to be “advanced visual storytellers” by developing diverse skill sets, including a strong theoretical and technical understanding of filmmaking, theater performance, filmmaking, and art. writing, directing and producing across multiple forms of expressive media, explained Scott Thorp, chair of Augusta University’s Department of Art and Design.
“Students graduating from this degree will have the skills to be like a one-stop-shop for multimedia production,” Thorp said. “It’s an extremely unique degree. In fact, we couldn’t find a similar degree anywhere in the country, because traditionally theater and film are housed in different places. Other programs don’t even try not to put them together, which is a shame because they interact in much the same way.
The new BFA program will be led by a group of talented and enthusiastic faculty from the Department of Art and Design, including Matthew Buzzell, Dr. Melanie Kitchens O’Meara and Doug Joiner, Thorp said.
“Initially, the more we started designing this degree, the more excited we got,” Thorp said. “A student with that degree is going to be able to film something that they’ve acted in, directed, edited, written in, so I think this new BFA will be a place for students with all those varieties of backgrounds. A student can come here and be a creative person with lots of freedom and future opportunities because there is a lot of flexibility with this degree.
For more than a decade, Georgia’s film industry has grown exponentially to become the epicenter of cinema, with new spending records steadily being set by productions, Thorp said.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Economic Development announced that the motion picture industry had had a banner year in the state of Peach. In fiscal year 2021, the film and television industry set a new record with $4 billion in direct spending on state productions.
“The job market for students with this new BFA is really robust, especially in this region due to the film industry in Georgia,” Thorp said. “But there are so many options beyond this industry because small, independent businesses need storytellers, too.”
Not a typical BFA degree
When the Georgia University System Board of Trustees formally approved the new program last fall, Dr. Wesley Kisting, associate dean of Augusta University’s Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, said that this new degree would be attractive to students. throughout the region and beyond.
“We’ve known for a long time that students here would like to follow a path where they can immerse themselves more deeply in filmmaking, media production and performance,” he said. “I’m sure a number of students will convert immediately when the program launches because that’s really what they would like to do.”
Kisting explained that this particular BFA in Digital and Visual Storytelling is different from many other programs across the country.
“It’s not a traditional film or theater degree like a lot of people might think when looking at the program, which has a lot of film and theater components,” Kisting said. “It’s designed as an interdisciplinary program that really speaks to students who are now growing up in what’s called the maker economy.”
Basically, the creator economy is a business model in which content creators accumulate many followers through social media and can directly earn money from their audience, Kisting said.
“It’s a huge industry, but a non-traditional industry that has emerged on digital and social media on all kinds of different platforms like YouTube and Twitch,” he said. “People have found ways to do what is essentially a combination of traditional filmmaking, performance and public relations skills.”
The art of collaborating
For Dr. Melanie Kitchens O’Meara, having the opportunity to help develop a new BFA from scratch was a dream come true, she said.
“To see a new program that I have my hands on and the ability to help create and benefit our students is exciting,” O’Meara said. “And I think the students are excited too, because they’re exploring these other classes. For example, I have several students who participated in my last two theater productions and this semester they started taking film lessons with Matthew Buzzell. At first they were a little nervous because it was new to them, but they ended up having so much fun. And it’s exciting for me and Matthew to talk and say, “Hey, how are my students doing in your classes? It’s a wonderful collaboration.
Earlier this year, Doug Joiner directed the play mechanical by Sophie Treadwell, and Buzzell said it was a powerful performance that gave her an idea for a new project.
“I said to Doug and the actors, ‘It would be really cool if we could shoot some of these scenes like a movie and have my filmmaking students come in and cover them with multiple camera positions.’ And they thought that was great,” Buzzell said. “I said to them, ‘This would create a really amazing synergy between theater-focused students and film-focused students.’ Film students would have a unique opportunity to work with excellent written material, but also with students who have rehearsed well, directed well, and whose performances are already tailored.
And drama students would benefit from a short film showcasing their acting abilities, he said.
“While this would serve my filmmaking students as great working examples of what they can do, it would also serve students who are focused on acting as a great tool for their portfolio,” said Buzzell. “At the end of the day, they’d all have a beautifully photographed scene. So finding those connections between film and theater isn’t very difficult. I think there’s a lot of fun our students can have with this degree. , both in front of and behind the camera.
Joiner, who has been leading for more than 25 years, said this new degree will improve the skills of each of their students so that they will be “highly employable” upon graduation.
“It will be quite marketable for them when they leave to find a job because when I started directing I had to learn how to do everything from building sets to lighting and sound,” Joiner said. . “That’s the key. I believe that specialization in the arts is limiting. If you can perform a large number of tasks and trades associated with performing, directing, or filming, then you will be much more marketable and better off than those who have specialized in just one of these skills.
Looking for creators
Word of the new BFA spread quickly on campus, and many students are eager to pursue this degree, Thorp said.
“One of the cool things about this is that we’re not looking to create any particular type of student,” Thorp said. “We seek to have truly creative students. Students will find this degree appealing.
Shiloh Reimche, a 21-year-old sophomore at Augusta University, has decided to switch to this new BFA degree and couldn’t be happier about the opportunity.
“Before the new BFA, I had a hard time deciding what to specialize in. Once I found out about the new major, I immediately knew it was the perfect fit for me,” said Reimche. “I have always had a passion for theater and cinema and this new BFA allows me to pursue my passions while preparing for a diploma. And so far, the courses required for the major have helped me tremendously to grow as an actor.
One of the best things about this new degree is the professors who teach classes and mentor new BFA students, Reimche said.
“The professors who teach the BFA courses are absolutely wonderful,” Reimche said. “Their passion for theater and/or cinema shines through in their teaching methods and inspires me as I learn. I truly believe this degree will set me up for success in my future career.