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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


SUNY shines light on the arts with new three-year program

Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimers in "Still Alice." According to, the film is based on Lisa Genova's book of the same name. PHOTO CREDIT: NICHOLAS GENIN
Julianne Moore plays a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimers in “Still Alice.” According to, the film is based on Lisa Genova’s book of the same name. PHOTO CREDIT: NICHOLAS GENIN

Lights, camera, action. Stony Brook introduced the SUNY system’s first ever Master of Fine Arts program to its Southampton and Manhattan campuses.

This three-year program has attracted aspiring filmmakers from across the country. The program delves into the field of film making, with real world experience tied into every class.

The 45-48 credit program is lead by independent film producer and co-founder of Killer Films, Christine Vachon. Vachon has worked in various film schools and has noticed the disconnection of the academic world to the reality of film production.

This program is looking to change that and hopes to compete with the prestigious film schools while remaining affordable.

This creative staff consists of highly accredited producers, directors, screenwriters and novelists.  Emmy award-winning screenwriter and former writer’s agent Annette Handley Chandler is on the staff, as well as writer/director Jennie Allen, Lenny Crooks, who ran the UK Film fund, producer Simone Pero and Killer co-founder Pamela Koffler, to name a few.

With such a close association to Killer Films, students from the program have worked on some of the company’s most accredited pieces, such as the Oscar nominated film “Still Alice.”

A class called “Masters in Independent Production” used the production of “Still Alice” as a main reference to the creation and processes of filmmaking.

Students worked behind the scenes of the highly buzzed about film, assisting directors and producers, taking photographs and conducting Alzheimer’s research.

The film was in the works when the class was in session on and had the directors visiting the class. The students saw the script, the schedule, early cuts, the funding and the entire development of “Still Alice.”

Not only did the students learn from observation, three students physically worked on the film that has earned actress Julianne Moore a Golden Globe Award for best actress, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award a SAG Award and a BAFTA Award with a nomination for an Academy Award.

“Nasty Baby,” starring Kristen Wiig and Alia Shawkat, is another film we will be hearing about that was produced with the help of this program. It won the Berlin Teddy award and was screened in the Sundance Film Festival. Students shot and edited short parts of the film.

The close association with Killer Films gives students the opportunity to work closely with the company.

However, the programs initial goal is to give these students the right tools to venture out on their own creative paths.

Producer, novelist and associate director of the MFA program Magdalene Brandeis said, “The students learn what actual production problems are. It is about current practice and protocols in the film world and how that leads to lessons in the classroom. We see a career as a whole. You realize there is a long haul to crafting a career path.”

After three years, the students have a myriad of skills in their tool belts. The program is working on a curriculum that will prepare students for screenwriting, directing and producing.

Associate Provost of the Southampton Graduate Arts program Robert Reeves expressed the goal of the program, saying “Get it made, make it right and get it seen. [This is] a curriculum driven by making films and having hands on experience.”

The students will have the experience of directing episodic series, producing creative screen writes, scripts and directing short films of increasing complexity and depth. They will then leave with a significant project of their own.

The program is expected to expand in the near future and bring undergraduate classes pertaining to producing, directing and screenwriting to Stony Brook’s main campus. It will possibly create an undergraduate Fine Arts minor based on film as well.

Being only a month or so old, this program consists of approximately 30 graduate students of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life.

It is the only SUNY film school so far that has been approved by the New York State Department of Education.

The program’s growing reputation and affordability resulted in a flood of applications. The program hopes to shape the future of film, and place Stony Brook student work in the spotlight.

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