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Film student Shayla Racquel behind a camera

Be a Compelling Visual Storyteller

Popular entertainment and games have a tremendous role in shaping our culture. But what distinguishes a generic television show or documentary from a groundbreaking one? What makes one game forgettable and another go viral? Media matters when it is compelling.

The AU School of Communication master of fine arts in Film and Media Arts prepares you to be a compelling visual storyteller. Our program equips you with the skills you need for a career as an artist creating meaningful stories for public knowledge and action in film, video, and game design.

You will concentrate your studies in one of four areas: Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking; Political, Cultural and Social Impact; Art in Entertainment; or Games and Interactivity. Our program includes courses in media studies, history, and theory that complement the production courses, including those in advanced-level fiction, documentary, scriptwriting, producing, and new media topics. Our students use American University's state-of-the-art film, video, and digital equipment to build skills in film and video production, script writing, computer animation, digital imaging, sound production, and digital media design. You will also take a seminar in teaching philosophy, skills, and techniques that prepare you to teach at the university level.

Whether you want to step into the industry as a filmmaker, game designer, or media creator, or forge a career in academia, the AU School of Communication's MFA in Film and Media Arts will give you the skills and theories you need to be successful.

Demonstrate Your Commitment and Interest

The School of Communication operates on a rolling admissions basis for our graduate programs. Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis until programs reach capacity.

While an undergraduate degree in one of our visual media is desirable, applications from candidates who have majored in other fields also will be considered. Your essay demonstrating a serious commitment to a career in this field will be essential, along with the other required application materials. If you have prior experience in visual media, you should submit a portfolio illustrating relevant professional work.

Our Film and Media Arts MFA program is a full-time program, but it can be completed part-time. Students are generally expected to complete the 54-credit-hour program within 36 months. First year students are required to attend our Film & Media Arts Boot Camp in August before their first semester. Boot Camp teaches you the essential building blocks for production. Focusing on a digital skill set, students will work on practical exercises to get up to speed with equipment and orient those with experience to the expectations of the programs in SOC. Substitutions for Boot Camp are possible.

Faculty Research Fuels Creativity

School of Communication faculty members' creative efforts range from dramatic films and documentaries to photojournalism and social advertising campaigns to interactive and immersive media for museums and national historic sites.

Their award-winning work has been shown through national and international cable and network news outlets, on public broadcasting stations, and in film markets and film festivals around the world.

As you strive to expand the power of visual storytelling, you'll engage in meaningful work with a profound impact. Our faculty actively help you shape our world through public knowledge and action. Their academic and professional engagements play key roles in raising awareness and shaping messages. They use their years of experience in the field and their professional contacts to help launch the next generation of communicators.

Here are just some of the prestigious awards our faculty have won:

  • Academy Award
  • Emmy Award
  • Peabody Award
  • Mountain Spirit Award
  • Kavli Science Journalism Award (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
  • Distinguished Achievement Award (International Television Association)
  • LAWEBFEST (Los Angeles Web Series Festival)
  • Best Director and Best Scriptwriter (Washington Peer Awards)
  • CINE Golden Eagle Award
  • Pinnacle Award for Excellence in Media Education
  • George Stoney Award for Service to Documentary (University Film and Video Association)
  • Woman of Vision Award (Women in Film and Video-Washington, DC)
  • Fulbright Fellowship
  • Career Achievement Award (International Digital Media and Arts Association)
  • Research Award (International Communication Association)
  • Scholarship and Preservation Award (International Documentary Association)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Bronze Palm Award (Mexico International Film Festival)
  • Gracie Allen Award (American Women in Radio and Television)
  • Best Selected Juror Film (Small International Film Festival, Berkeley Art Center, California)
  • Nickelodeon Screenwriting Award

Financing Your Education

The MFA in Film & Electronic Media is a 54 credit program. To estimate the cost of tuition, please see the current cost per credit hour for graduate students.

The School of Communication (SOC) offers graduate students both merit-based and need-based financial aid. Merit awards are administered by the SOC Graduate Admissions Office, while need-based awards are administered by the American University Office of Financial Aid. A number of scholarships are also available for students in the Film and Electronic Media program. Additional financial support is available for veterans.

All merit awards are based on your academic merit and professional experience, specifically your undergraduate grades and leadership activities as well as career-related accomplishments. Merit awards are valid for one year-they vary in amount, are typically divided evenly between the fall and spring semesters, and are not typically renewable.

  • Graduate Assistantships consist of graduate tuition remission, a stipend, or both. Tuition remission will vary in the number of credits offered. If you are offered a stipend, you must be employed as a graduate assistant for an SOC faculty member for 10 hours per week.
  • Graduate Study Grants are for returning-year MFA candidates and may be awarded to students who received merit awards during their first year of study. Graduate study grants consist of graduate tuition remission and/or a stipend, similar to a standard assistantship. Students must be enrolled full-time for both the fall and spring semesters to qualify.
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All Film and Media Arts candidates will choose a concentration and complete 6 credit hours in their chosen area starting in the spring of their first year.

If you’re interested in the sustainability of the natural world and related issues—climate disruption, wildlife, environmental justice, overconsumption, biodiversity loss, animal rights, food and agriculture, and a huge array of related topics—you’ll want to choose the Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking concentration.

This concentration is based on the conviction that films and new media are essential educational and policy tools in the struggle to protect the environment and wildlife. You’ll produce media that focus attention on the need to conserve the environment in a way that is effective as well as ethically sound, educationally powerful, and entertaining

Our students augment their production skills with internships at film and broadcasting companies, nonprofit and advocacy organizations, and government agencies. They go on to find fulfilling careers as producers, directors, editors, cinematographers, educators, marketers, distributors, and outreach specialists at networks such as Discovery and National Geographic, at film companies like JWM and Story House, at nonprofits including the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society, and at federal agencies like the Department of the Interior and NASA. Some of our graduates have even started their own for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

If you see media as a tool for public knowledge and action; if you want to frame issues to engage, inform, and equip audiences for civic participation and social action; if you believe in the power of media to express identity and build community, the Political, Cultural, and Social Impact concentration is for you.

You’ll have opportunities to produce work that ranges from short-form public education, museum exhibition, and advocacy campaign videos to feature-length films and television specials to new-form interactive transmedia productions. 

Our students gain valuable experience through internships at our own Center for Media & Social Impact and Investigative Reporting Workshop, and a diverse range of other media organizations including The Washington Post, the National Museum of American History, The Daily Show, the Newseum, Discovery Communications, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, Univision, PBS, Women in Film and Video, and the Ad Council. We have alumni working in production, promotion, development, and management at documentary production companies, television stations and cable channels, nonprofit and advocacy organizations, government agencies, national unions, and professional associations as assistant and associate producers, producers, directors, editors, writers, set designers, and cinematographers.

If you're seeking an immersive understanding of the relationship between the building blocks of cinematic storytelling and the business of show, or if you want to learn how the commerce of creativity determines success in the marketplace, the Art in Entertainment concentration will appeal to you.

In this concentration, you'll gain deep knowledge in both the production and aesthetics of films and television. You'll master the tools of the craft such as screenwriting, producing, directing, cinematography, and editing, while approaching stories as art. At the same time, you'll gain an understanding of the business side of the motion picture industry and explore newer forms of storytelling through game design and rapidly evolving internet platforms.

You can gain the necessary credentials to advance in this highly competitive industry through internships with companies that are leaders in their fields. Our students have found positions with Discovery and National Geographic, as well as Showtime, DreamWorks, Josephson Entertainment, Participant, Wolf Productions, Vertical Ascent, NBC Drama, and Disney Interactive, to name just a few. You’ll be able to put your experience to the test in editing, production management, research and development, publicity, marketing, and more. Or you might choose to leverage your own entrepreneurial dreams as a writer, director, or producer in your own company.

If you want to stretch your capacity as a game designer, developer, or administrator, the Games and Interactivity concentration is what you're looking for. This concentration melds the practice of interactive media with the power of playful engagement. You'll be able to apply your own media making experience and topical interests, whether in politics, science, art, history, marketing, or international studies.

The cross-disciplinary course of study integrates classes from our Film and Media Arts and Game Design programs. You'll master professional skills in photography, sound, story development, editing, emerging media, and digital production and deepen your knowledge of media history and theory and your understanding of industry trends. Our students spend a substantial amount of time and effort implementing games through participation in the School of Communication's Game Lab Studio and through independent creative work.

Our Games and Interactivity concentration will prepare you for a career in a variety of business, educational, and creative contexts within the creative economy.

Film and Media Arts Scholarships

The Mavis and Sidney John Palmer Scholarship is awarded annually to an outstanding graduate student in the School of Communication with an interest in environmental, natural history, or wildlife filmmaking. Scholarship recipients are selected by a faculty committee based on an essay detailing the student's aspirations and interest in the field. Named for the parents of Professor Chris Palmer, the scholarship was established in 2013 by Professor Palmer and his wife Gail Shearer.

Center for Environmental Filmmaking Scholars are chosen annually in order to further the Center's mission to produce the next generation of environmental and wildlife filmmakers. Scholars are selected during the second year of their graduate program, when they have accumulated at least 18 credit hours and are about to embark on their thesis projects.

The Center for Environmental Filmmaking Challenge Prize is an annual competition open to School of Communication second-year graduate students who have overcome (or are overcoming) challenges and adversity in their lives such as poverty, marginalization, racism, or personal tragedy, and who plan to use environmental and wildlife media to influence personal behavior or public policy and make the world a better place.

The Neel Foundation Fund in honor of Professor John Stephen Douglass was established in 2015 to support one or more outstanding graduate students studying Film & Media Arts (FMA) or its successor program in the School of Communication (SOC) whose focus is documentary filmmaking.

Income from the fund will be awarded to degree seeking FMA graduate students to assist them in completing their film to the appropriate level for them to enter it in a film festival or to use it as an example of their work as part of a professional portfolio. The Dean of SOC will appoint a faculty committee to select recipients who will receive support from the Fund. It is suggested that the committee composition consist of the FMA division director and two or more additional faculty members or an alternate composition as determined by the Dean. Funds will be used to offset expenses incurred for finishing purposes; e.g. audio mix, color correction, sound correction, titling, editorial consulting, etc.; or to offset expenses associated with entering competitions or festivals, including duplication costs, shipping expenses and entry fees. If, in a particular year, there are no qualified applicants, the University shall reserve the funds for subsequent years when qualified applicants are identified.

The Pedas Family Foundation Fund was established in 2016 by the James and Theodore Pedas Family Foundation to provide scholarship support to one or more outstanding graduate students studying Film & Media Arts (FMA) or its successor program in the School of Communication at the University. Income from the Fund will be awarded annually in accord with the University's financial aid policies to deserving full time second or third year graduate student(s) with demonstrated financial need and in good academic standing who are enrolled in a degree program in FMA at the University. The Scholarship will be administered by the University's Office of Financial Aid. Recipients of the Scholarship will be selected from a pool of qualified applicants by a panel of representatives selected by the Dean of SOC. Panel members may include the FMA division director and two or more additional faculty members or an alternate composition as determined by the Dean.

The scholarship is awarded for one academic year and may be eligible for renewal. If, in a particular year, there are no qualified applicants, the University may choose to award the scholarship in a manner that best follows the Donor's original intent or to reserve the funds for subsequent years when qualified applicants are identified. Scholarships awarded by the Fund will be applied to the cost of attending the University.

Common ground. Greater purpose.

I want the Baby Boomers and Millennials to recognize we need each other.

From short films to web series, Shayla builds her stories around everyday life events. She explores what makes us different, but more important, what brings us together. Sometimes that's life milestones, while other times it's a common cause or fight. Inspired by a conversation with her grandmother, her current project is a dialogue between two generations of African Americans and their unique approaches to activism.
MFA in Film and Electronic Media

Frequently Asked Questions

Our MA in Film and Media Production is a 36-credit, 24-month program that will help you build a solid professional skill set in film, video, and digital media. You’ll acquire professional competencies in scriptwriting, cinematography, lighting, sound recording, and editing, while also learning the historical, conceptual, and aesthetic foundations and frameworks of the art form and the industry.

Our MFA in Film and Media Arts is a 54-credit, 36-month terminal degree that prepares you to teach at the university level. The focus is more on how meaningful stories are constructed, in an artistic sense, for public knowledge and action. You will also focus your studies in one of four concentrations: Environmental and Wildlife Filmmaking; Political, Cultural and Social Impact; Art in Entertainment; or Games and Interactivity.

The Film & Media Arts Division of American University's School of Communication is a leader in visual storytelling and integrating the latest and evolving technologies into production and distribution.

As a result, we are pleased to partner with Apple to provide you with recommendations for your laptop needs. We have an all-digital tapeless production workflow, which means that the central tool for managing media is your computer. Read about the specific computer requirements for this program.

Applicants with prior experience in visual media, who wish to be considered for a substitution of the required COMM-610 Principles of Video Productio and/or COMM-663 Techniques and Aesthetics of Editing courses, should submit a written request illustrating relevant coursework or professional experience. Those requesting a substitution of either or both of these required courses will be required to take and pass an exam. Students granted substitutions for either, or both, of these required courses take advanced coursework in order to fulfill those academic credits. It is up to the discretion of the faculty committee to allow students to proceed to fall courses even if they pass either, or both, of the required bootcamp courses.

The School of Communication offers a number of opportunities for hands-on learning that also allow you to showcase your own work. The Visions Awards celebrate the best in student visual work—documentary, fiction, digital and new media, screenwriting, and photography. Our partnership with the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague helps students develop their skills and portfolios in photography and super 16mm or 35mm film. The Center for Environmental Filmmaking inspires a new generation of filmmakers and media experts committed to using media to drive environmental change. And our Center for Media & Social Impact empowers media that matter as an innovation incubator and research center that creates, studies, and showcases media for social impact.

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