|by Evelyn Boswell
Discovery Communications, the parent company of the Discovery Channel, has given MSU-Bozeman
$1.4 million to launch a Master of Fine Arts degree program in natural history filmmaking,
says Ronald Tobias, MSU professor and award-winning filmmaker of natural history.
If approved by MSU's College of Graduate Studies and the Montana Board of Regents, the program
could begin in the summer of 2001.
"There's just been nothing but pure excitement. Even their competitor (National Geographic) is
excited," said Tobias who has had a long-time relationship with the Discovery Channel. Several
of his films, including shows on piranhas, anacondas and wolverines, have aired on Discovery.
Jerry Bancroft, dean of MSU's College of Arts and Architecture, said the process of getting the
program approved and established on campus is just beginning. But he is excited about the program's
potential. Considering the quality of MSU's film school, its scientists and the proximity of
wildlife, "There's no better place in the world for a program like this," he said.
Tobias said the master's program would be the only one of its kind in the United States, if not
the world. Of the 60 hours required for the degree, half would focus on natural history and science
filmmaking. One-fourth would be science courses, including the history and philosophy of science.
The final fourth would give students time to make a thesis film. Those who want to expand beyond
Yellowstone National Park and the Rocky Mountains would have the opportunity to film in Africa,
Sweden or India.
In addition to the year-long curriculum, the program would also run through the summers. During
their first summer, students would attend special workshops with practicing scientists and other
outside experts brought to MSU. During their second summer, students would intern with Discovery,
National Geographic or other major broadcasters in natural history and science.
The program will probably begin with 10 students, Tobias said. Since it's a two- to three-year
program, it would eventually have 20 to 30 students at any one time.
"The whole point of the program is to bridge the gap between scientists and the public," Tobias
said. "People don't really understand what scientists are doing or why. With a program like this,
this is really training people for the first time to be strong in both science and filmmaking."
Bancroft said, "We anticipate this creating a whole new brand of filmmaker."
MSU faculty who are planning the courses are Gary Strobel, professor of plant sciences;
Paul Monaco, head of the Department of Media and Theatre Arts; Ed Dratz, professor of chemistry
and biochemistry; Loren Acton, research professor of physics; Ernie Vyse, interim head of the
biology department; Gwen Jacobs, co-director of the Center for Computational Biology; and Kathy
Hansen, geography professor.
Evelyn Boswell writes for the MSU Office of Research, Creative
Activity and Technology Transfer.