Tag Archives: graduate program

COMLIGHT

A Laboratory for Visual Storytelling: COM’s New Cinema and Media Production MFA

By Michelle Marino
MS Journalism ’15
BU College of Communication

We hear a lot at COM about the shifting media landscape. Every day, new technological advances are making it possible for us to produce and consume media in ways we never have before. Keeping up with technology is essential, but no matter what industry you’re in, one thing is clear: telling a compelling story is at the core of everything we do. COM’s newly re-launched MFA in Cinema and Media Production, spawned out of this philosophy, provides an advanced degree for students interested in taking film beyond its fundamentals and honing their storytelling skills.

“What we have come to realize is students now are much more technically sophisticated,” says Jan Egleson, Associate Professor of the Practice in Film & Television. “In the old days, film school’s function was to teach people arcane technology. Students today are much more adept at using equipment but they still have the difficulty of telling stories. That’s where we’ve been pushing the program.” Though the new MFA does also involve technical skills, they mainly function as support tools for the film’s overall objective. “The focus is storytelling and the skills of fiction film-making,” Egleson says. “You’re working with actors, breaking down scenes, and structuring a story to convey it visually.”

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Prospective candidates for the program, which launches in Fall 2015, are required to come in with a baseline of both technical and storytelling skills. Whether they’ve learned it on their own or through an undergraduate film program, they must demonstrate they’ve already mastered the basics to apply to the films they’ll work on during the course of their MFA. When accepted, students already know their designated film making role, whether it be director, producer, or cinematographer. This fall, three producers, three cinematographers, and six directors will join the crew. Before first semester, students are asked to pitch three film ideas, which are continually honed and vetted until arriving on one film concept that will be the focus for the duration of the program.

As the film landscape continuously changes, so do the types of films students will work on. “We’re platform agnostic,” Egleson says. “If you come in and say I want to make a web series – ten, 10-minute webisodes – you can do that. If you want to make a 30 minute film, that works. As long as you can convince us of the clarity of your vision we don’t care what the platform is. That’s the shift.” If you’re dead set on working towards a full length film, you might work on a section of it or a shorter version, says Egleson, which is how many full length features get their start.

CMPBlogPhoto4The new Cinema and Media Production MFA will continue its adaptive response to the new world after the switchover from conventional film to digital media. “Once that happens, it becomes very apparent to everybody that the focus needs to shift to the ideas behind this stuff. It’s very liberating,” Egleson says. “It means we can now be a laboratory for visual storytelling.”

Are you excited about the new face of the MFA in Cinema Media Production or have you thought about applying? Do you think it will support the changing film making landscape? Learn more here.

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COM’s first data storytelling course was nothing short of a success

By Iris Moore
MS Broadcast Journalism ’15
BU College of Communication

In a recent post, blogger Michelle Marino filled us in on the most recent, innovative medium of journalism—data storytelling (if you did not get a chance to read it, check it out here). In her post, Michelle introduced us to Maggie Mulvihill, a BU College of Communication (COM) professor who is at the forefront of incorporating data storytelling into COM’s Journalism curriculum.

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I, along with a few other COM faculty and staff members, had the pleasure of sitting in on Prof. Mulvihill’s final data storytelling class of the semester. In fact, this was the very first data storytelling course offered at COM—I watched history happen!

During this particular class, Mulvihill’s students presented their final projects, which they had been working on all semester. However, before presentations started, Mulvihill provided us with a clear objective as to why she worked so hard to convince COM to let her build and teach this course—a journalist’s story becomes more powerful when data is used because it enables one to more effectively persuade, pitch, propose, advocate, engage and convince their audiences.

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Throughout the semester, Mulvihill worked to equip students with a number of skill sets for analyzing and obtaining data. After teaching students how to identify what data is attainable and appropriate for an intended story, she made sure they understood how to do the following:

  • Obtain data
  • Clean data
  • Analyze data
  • Extract data
  • Scrape data
  • Visualize and present data (students learned how to use a number of multimedia and software tools, such as Open Refine, Tableau, Time Toast and Google Fusion)

Mulvihill designed the course’s final projects to provide students with a practical understanding for telling stories with data. Students were expected to identify a data-set for their project, request it from a government agency, negotiate for it and obtain it.

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For each presentation, students first told us how they came up with their data story idea. Then, they explained why the data they had spent all semester trying to collect was actually newsworthy. From there, they described what tactics they used in obtaining the data. Each student explained the numerous challenges they faced while trying to obtain data (costs, contact issues, legal issues, etc.). In fact, some were even unable to collect the necessary data for their story. However, this did not make their project any less complete, as one thing was made clear by both the students and Mulvihill: data storytelling takes time!

The majority of these projects are not even complete. They will require months, maybe even years of work. One example is a project done by graduate student John Hilliard. He took on a project Mulvihill started back in 2013 and took it all the way to the front page of The Boston Globe (the day I sat in on their class was the same day the article was published—again, more history I was able to witness). If you want to hear more about Hilliard’s exciting accomplishment, be sure to check out blogger Gina Kim’s interview with him here.

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Other projects covered topics, such as domestic violence, housing issues, crime on university and college campuses in Boston and lightning related injuries in the state.  (Since many of these stories are being offered for publication and broadcast to larger news outlets, we are unable to provide you with the actual project).

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To me, these projects are a clear reflection of Mulvihill and her students’ hard work throughout the semester. On behalf of her students, Mulvhill spoke with so much pride and confidence in their ability to become successful journalists, given the tools they so successfully acquired over the last 15 weeks. Her passion and dedication for her students reminds me, yet again, as to why I am here at Boston University’s College of Communication.

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Why journalists shouldn’t fear numbers: storytelling with data

By Michelle Marino
MS Journalism ’15
BU College of Communication

We live in a digital world. No matter what you do or what profession you’re in, this reality permeates everything around us. In the communications field especially, it has never been more critical to embrace digitization to effectively gather, analyze and disseminate information. Aside from a compelling narrative, finding ways to insert data and help people visualize information is vital.

COM Journalism Professor Maggie Mulvihill
COM Journalism Professor Maggie Mulvihill

It’s no coincidence the Fall 2014 issue of COMtalk (BU’s College of Communication publication for alumni, parents and friends) listed data storytelling as one of three major trends affecting journalism today. Within the issue, many of COM’s professors are featured for their keen efforts in providing students with the tools needed to succeed in a changing field; one of those professors is Maggie Mulvihill. This COM Journalism professor is dedicated to getting students on board with using data not only to enhance their story’s credibility, but also arm them with valuable skills eagerly sought out by employers.

Professor Mulvihill, whose background is in watchdog and investigative reporting, has been using data to inform her stories for over 20 years. She ran a Storytelling with Data workshop at BU this summer, and is currently teaching a class this semester—Data Storytelling. The course focuses on learning how to identify and obtain appropriate data, how to download and extract, clean, analyze and finally bring it to life through data visualization. “No matter what occupation, we need to know how to work with digital information,” says Mulvihill. “All records are being digitized. In three to five years, government information will be streaming instead of static. Journalists have to be able to harness and capture information as it’s streamed and tell stories,” she says.

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Data is important, but when coupled with good journalistic skill, it can be powerful. Especially when analyzing, if you’re asking the right questions, your data can serve to elevate your story in a meaningful way. Although most of us aren’t statisticians or research scientists, as social scientists we’re able to ask the right people to fairly and accurately assist us with data interpretation.

Currently, Mulvihill has a student in her class working on a story with the use of government data. After analyzing this data and obtaining a statistical finding, the question of statistical significance comes into play. Mulvihill asks the question, “Is it statistically significant to be news?” In other words, to be newsworthy, data has to provide information that isn’t already out there and doesn’t serve as an outlier. The student looking at government data consulted with a statistics professor who advised them to get more data so they could look at a broader spectrum of information. In the end, these types of consultations will ensure a statistically sound story.

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Along with journalistic skill, data is always more effective when presented with a human face. “It can’t just be statistics and government records,” says Mulvihill. “It has to have a strong character driving the story so people who read, watch and care about it can identify.” This is why Mulvihill asks her students to choose a character at the beginning of the story development process to focus on throughout.

Mulvihill is also in the process of developing a computational journalism initiative at BU. She says there is a sense of urgency for journalists to move in the direction of telling stories with data, and more and more people studying journalism are learning and integrating computer science into their careers. “There are so many jobs for journalists now with data storytelling skills,” says Mulvihill. “It’s prominent and it’s not just limited to journalism, it’s every profession,” she says. “I love the ability to do stories other people can’t.”

What are your thoughts on incorporating data with journalism? Let us know in the comment section below.

Interested in BU’s College of Communication graduate programs? Visit our website here and you can find out what it takes to earn your MS in Journalism at BU.

 

 

 

International Students

A helping hand for the international students in COM’s Journalism graduate program

By Nikita Sampath
MS Broadcast Journalism ’16
BU College of Communication 

All Journalism graduate students at BU’s College of Communication are required to take JO721- Journalism Principles/Techniques. Every fall, Professor Christopher Daly teaches a section of JO721 designed for all new international grad students in the Journalism program.

Alongside classes, Prof. Daly does his bit to help these same students acclimate to American culture and the education system. “In a program like journalism, a lot of our assignments depend on cultural awareness. If the students need to tackle topics like the Red Sox, Halloween and Black Friday they need to have a general knowledge of American folkways and society, as they cannot be expected to have that exposure coming from another country” he says.

The American exposure begins early in the semester, when Daly invites students to his home so they can get a first-hand impression of an American household. Daly is also known to bring alumni and other experienced journalists into his classroom to speak to the international students.

The positive influence Daly’s class and efforts have on international students is apparent through the grad students who have been in the program for a few semesters. “My more experienced students come into class and happily and spontaneously testify that they got a lot better over the course of their first year. ” says a proud Daly.

Those grad students who visited Daly’s current students had a lot of advice to offer. Third-semester Journalism student Claire Giangrave told them about how she would ask American students who were better than her to let her read their work. She would look at what they did and imitate it. “The truth is, you have to work harder and better than the others. I made it my goal to compare myself with the best, not just among my peers, but also with great journalists and professors.” she said. She also advised the students to not hesitate to ask for help from fellow students and BU’s amazing faculty. Claire herself moved to Boston from Rome.

Prim Chuwiruch, another third-semester Journalism student from Bangkok, advises new grad students to relax. “ I know that it sounds like the most easiest piece of advice but it’s true. Once you take a breather and get yourself accustomed to everything in this new city, things will fall into place on their own and you’ll look back and wonder why you ever stressed out so much in the first place.”

A couple weeks ago, Melanie Lidman, an alumnus from the University of Maryland, visited Daly’s international class. Lidman now writes for The Times of Israel and the Global Sisters Report. The entire section pepped up when Lidman told stories about her reporting experiences in troubled parts of the world including Egypt and Israel. She also offered some sound advice for those pursuing a career in the journalism industry: “You will make mistakes along the way. It’s a long journey to grow as a writer and move your career forward,” she told the class.

Are you an international student looking to apply to BU? Find out more about the application process here.

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Inside TV graduate course: Production 1

By Nikita Sampath
MS Broadcast Journalism ’16
BU College of Communication 

Production I is an introductory class that every Television graduate student takes in their first semester at BU’s College of Communication (COM). Professor Geoffrey Poister, who has 15 years of experience in the film and TV industry, teaches the course.

In Production I, students start off by learning how to use a basic DSLR camera and what different lenses are used for different effects. Next, they move on to the more advanced Panasonic camcorder, which is used by professional TV crews and is good for shooting interviews. Students learn to record sound using various microphones such as the wireless, lavaliere and shotgun. They also touch upon lighting techniques and learn how to use Avid, Hollywood’s editing software of choice.

For their first assignment, students produce a silent film. The script for this project must be highly action-based. After the script is complete, students learn how to add sound to their film. Students choose to either record new music or select from the available media libraries on COM’s computers located in all the labs on each floor.

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Their second assignment is a group assignment in which students have to work on a documentary—one with real people and characters. This semester, one group chose to work on a story about Professor Poister himself, as he is part of a band. “This is the course I have most fun in. Professor Poister is very funny! I was really surprised to know that he was part of a band,” said Maggie Shuting Cao, a first semester television graduate student.

Professor Poister gives his students creative leeway while giving them hands-on instruction for learning the techniques of film production. Students learn to differentiate between producing say, a more dramatic, fictional movie and one that is more ground in reality, a documentary kind of production. This way they learn two different ways to narrate stories, all in one semester.

Mohammad Behroozian, a student from Afghanistan, who took the class this semester said he really appreciated the “opportunity to test the edges of [his] creativity.” For his first project he produced a stop-motion animation. Beginning right from scratch, he built a set on his study-table. He created mannequins and gave them costumes and lit it artificially. Check out his work here!

Mohammad Behroozian says he would like to work on producing educational television material for children back in Kabul once he graduates from BU’s College of Communication.

Want to learn more about the programs offered by COM’s Film/TV department? Visit our website here and find out how you can apply to one of the graduate programs here at COM.