Filmmaking scene at Tufts sees major expansion with new film major

Garfield hopes that the new film major will bring together more students with creative backgrounds. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Tufts is an environment that could foster a culture of artistic production and collaboration when it comes to making films. However, that hasn’t been the case — up until now. In a response to increased student interest, the Experimental College will begin to offer a film major starting next fall.

Interest in filmmaking and digital media production has grown considerably not only at Tufts but also around the world, thanks to the now widely available resources for production and distribution. Independent film production and particularly short film production, has grown tremendously as the cost of high quality digital cameras has dropped, and the popularity of video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo has risen. Now, it seems the Tufts student body is following suit. Howard Woolf, associate director of the Experimental College, has noticed an increase in demand for film classes at Tufts.

“Student interest, from what we can gauge, is growing dramatically. We offer a perspectives course, a first-year student seminar in short film production, and it’s one of the most popular ones now,” Woolf said. “During open-house for prospective students, one of the most inquired about fields is filmmaking.” 

Filmmaking classes at Tufts have long been offered through the Experimental College. The number of filmmaking classes available in any given semester, however, has always been scarce. Classic Tufts courses include hits such as “Making Movies,”  an exploration of short film production, and “Producing Films for Social Change,” a course in documentary filmmaking. Students interested in pursuing film academically were limited to a communications and media studies (CMS) minor or a film studies minor, while the lack of interest and funding prevented any serious program expansions.

“The ExCollege has always lived within its means,” Woolf said. “It relied mainly on donations from alumni to survive.”

“The filmmaking program, or [the] subset of what’s about to become the filmmaking major, has grown significantly in the last  years,” he continued.

So there it is, the answer to some students’ prayers: confirmation that there will be a film major at Tufts. The fund set up to support the creation of this program recently reached its goal thanks to alumni donations, and the major should be offered as soon as fall semester 2015.While open to rising first-years and sophomores, this news will unfortunately come a little too late for interested juniors and seniors.

Film and media scholar Malcolm Turvey will be joining the Tufts program from Sarah Lawrence College to kick-start the major and bring a fresh perspective to the mix with his years of experience. Turvey will be joining the likes of newly appointed faculty members including Jennifer Burton, who has taught a course called “Independent Film Production,” focusing on the producer’s role in the filmmaking process.

The ExCollege budget has also been recently expanded, a change approved by former Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney and current Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Nancy Bauer. According to Woolf, at least part of the money has already been spent on new media equipment.

“We needed to do two things, buy work-horse equipment to be used in all of the courses and buy equipment that would get us to the next level,” Woolf said. “Students who are advanced enough can now do work with more professional equipment, shooting in 4k for example.”

This more expensive equipment will be only selectively available for student use,  but it does indicate a step in the right direction for a new department struggling to find its place on campus.

Up until recently, the filmmaking scene at Tufts has relied on the enthusiasm of a few students. This tradition dates all the way back to 1977 with the inception of Tufts University Television (TUTV). Back then the group operated without YouTube, so once their films were shot, they had to show their work in public places, like the Rez. In the 90’s came the birth of digital cameras, and once the university began to install cable in the dorms, TUTV was able to gain more traction, Woolf explained.

The sheer tenacity of these students has kept the TUTV and filmmaking culture alive on campus, and now they are being rewarded with their own golden age. TUTV is finding success with its web series, such as the popular “My Gay Roommate” (2013 – present), which has now developed a vibrant online presence outside of Tufts. Other clubs, too, are finding success in video production, among them sketch comedy group The Institute. Clubs seemingly unrelated to film are also seeing the value in filming videos, be it for promotional purposes or recording performances. Everybody’s doing it.

Sophomore Ben Taylor, who works with TUTV, and junior Danny Garfield from The Institute, both began their Tufts filmmaking careers in the ExCollege. Neither came to Tufts because of its film studies minor but they fell into the scene once they got here.

“I said ‘hi’ to Howard [Woolf] on Jumbo Days, and then I got a job in the editing lab at the ExCollege,” Garfield said.

Taylor displayed enthusiasm about filmmaking prior to his tenure at Tufts.

“I knew I wanted to make films at Tufts. I looked up work by Tufts students and found some great stuff, including a film Danny [Garfield] shot with Tufts legend Lai-San Ho called ‘Mavis at the End,’ which I loved,” he said.

Garfield and Taylor’s experiences describe the nature of the filmmaking culture at the university: sSome students come in with the enthusiasm of a first year student at their first Fall Gala, and others find an interest once they arrive. Both paths, however, lead to the passionate group of students involved with Tufts filmmaking today.

Taylor and Garfield have both gone through the film production course circuit as students and TAs. These courses, which they have found formative, are hidden gems on SIS. Although interest is growing, not many students know about the opportunities in creative media production.

Taylor, while only a sophomore, has already established himself on the executive board of TUTV and has already noticed growth during his time in the group.

“I attended the general interest meeting, and I noticed that it was a big GIM with little retention, so I saw room for improvement,” Taylor said.

This year, however, Taylor has seen an increase in size and commitment to the group. Taylor’s gusto, along with that of the other TUTV leaders, has revitalized the group, giving it a much clearer structure. The club recently organized a mini film festival of horror shorts screened with the help of Tufts Film Series. Taylor also outlined plans to organize the first full-fledged film festival. Both Taylor and Garfield described their desire to create a more collaborative environment on campus.

“There are a lot of creative people on campus, but film is a very collaborative and difficult process, so it’s hard to get people working together,” Garfield said.

For his part, Taylor hopes that this film festival will showcase the talent of some of the aforementioned creative students and that connections between like-minded creators will be made.

It is an exciting time to be behind a camera at Tufts, as next year will see a fresh crop of film students flocking to the hill. It isn’t often a new major is created at Tufts, and this is surely a defining moment in this university’s history. The notable alumni list on Wikipedia can only grow from here.