APU: Calling all screenwriters!

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Photo by Daniela Pamfilie

Creative minds in Azusa Pacific’s film program now have the option of combining a talent for storytelling and a gift with words to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in screenwriting.

The addition is great news for junior screenwriting major Rita Bakelaar, who is finally getting the opportunity to pursue a degree in the specific field that she wants to enter post-graduation. She is one of the first students to make the switch to the BFA track from the screenwriting BA program.

“It’s great because it feels like the writing in film is being taken more seriously,” Bakelaar said. “Production needs good stories so that they can make good films.”

The difference between a traditional Bachelor of Arts degree and a BFA is more than just the title. A BA degree is more generalized in the study of liberal arts such as psychology or humanities, while a BFA is a professional degree that is much more specific and earned in more performance-oriented fields such as theater, film or music.

Students who wished to pursue a degree related to film prior to this academic year had limited choices.

“We had a BA in cinematic arts, and that had two options in it,” said cinematic arts professor, Michael Smith. “And that was either an emphasis in screenwriting or an emphasis in critical studies.”

For students in the field, this meant taking cinematic general-studies courses that were informative but not necessary for students who specifically wanted to become screenwriters. Even the emphasis of screenwriting in the cinematic arts program only consisted of 49 units of actual screenwriting classes, which some students felt gave them a less-than-ideal amount of time to practice their trade.

The addition of the screenwriting program was made partially as a result of the success of adding a BFA in production just a few short years ago, which has
had positive reaction from students and staff alike.

“What the BFA in screenwriting does is it transforms that generalist degree into a professional degree,” said Smith. “It’s more intensive and focused on screenwriting, and it essentially involves more units.”

The new unit count for the BFA in screenwriting is 64, a significant jump from the previous BA in cinematic arts with a screenwriting emphasis.

“I think this is a bold direction for the school,” said Dr. David Esselstrom, who chairs the English Department and has extensive experience writing for film. “This program will help students get the experience they need to write something that will be read.”

Students who are currently working toward a cinematic arts degree now have a choice to either finish their current BA program or make the switch over to screenwriting.

Although the choice is up to each student, making the change will give screenwriting hopefuls more practical production experience. Before, most film productions at APU were written, directed and produced only by students in the production program. Now, the work that goes into creating a film can be split between students in both programs, mimicking the way a movie is made in the professional world.

Additionally, switching to the BFA route gives students more experience with writing specifically for their trade.

“It gives students a slight leg up in terms of spending more of their time writing more product, which is the most important thing,” Smith said.

Adding a BFA in screenwriting may empower APU to produce more students who will someday write for the ever-growing and highly influential film industry.

“I’m excited for what the future holds,” Bakelaar said. “APU has given those of us in the screenwriting community a fighting chance in the competitive industry of writing for film and television.”

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