Montana State University:
Department of Science and Natural History Filmmaking Department
by MSU Filmmaker Rob Nelson
While the Filmmaking Program for Science and Natural History at Montana State University is no longer the only program of its kind in the world, it is the largest and most well-known.
The program offers students who already have experience in some field of science the chance to earn a masters degree in filmmaking with an emphasis on science and natural history. The program is a three year course.
In the first year of the program students engage in an extremely intensive year of coursework. I'd like to think of it as taking an entire four year undergraduate filmmaking degree and feeding it to everyone in only two semesters. It makes the learning curve steep in an effort to get students into the field and making their own films by their second year.
The second year of the course, while different for every cohort, consists of making a short film. Most films are commissioned by the national parks service, or some other form of governmental granting agency. Money for the second year films is not given away freely however. Students must be proactive and approach the funding agencies themselves in an effort to earn funding for their films.
In the third year of the course students are expected to break the boundaries of wildlife filmmaking. They are expected to make a film where they have complete control over the content , the look and the presentation. It becomes their thesis film which is then defended orally and through a written thesis paper.
The program began in 2001 and every week we learn about new honors that students have received. Awards in the last few years include a student Emmy, Tellies, the best of show in major film festivals. My classmates have mate videos for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The Science Channel, CNN, Sixty Minutes II, Larry King, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News. They have produced films for the National Park Service, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, NOAA, NASA, and such non-profit organizations including the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and the Nature Conservancy. Other students’ work has appeared in major museums, schools, and cultural venues too numerous to count.
But probably the greatest thing about the MSU film course is the people that you meet and the connections you're able to make in the industry. I truly feel that I've finally found a group of people that think the same way as myself. To have this support group of intellectual filmmakers that are passionate about wildlife is invaluable. Each of my classmates are truly the cream of the crop. And not just any cream, the fancy diverse stuff that you only buy for special occasions.
Needless to say, I've gained a lot from my experience at MSU. I truly feel there is no better place to learn to produce wildlife films. For more information check out the official MSU wildlife filmmaking site.