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A Star Program Is Born

The dual MBA/MFA program debuts this fall with expectations of changing the faces in the industry

August 26, 2020

Faster and targeted is how Surjeet Baidwan, PhD, director of the graduate MBA program since August 2019, describes the new MBA/MFA (film/television) dual degree program launching this fall. The program trims one semester off both individual degrees and creates a producer-centric, business-oriented entry into the entertainment world.

Kelby Thwaits, MFA, director of the film program, says that the concept for the dual program goes back as far as 2015, but the master’s in film, television and photography MFA had to find its own firm footing first. Launched in 2014 as a one-degree program with just two electives, it has added concentrations in producing, directing, writing and editing.

Mount students had been struggling with how to merge their business prowess with their creative interests: do they get one degree and supplement with additional courses in the other discipline or do they somehow, over time, get two masters? “Instead of either/or,” says Thwaits, “let’s create a package that works for those students so they get an accelerated version of both.”

Surjeet Baidwan, PhD, director of the MBA program
Surjeet Baidwan, PhD, director of the MBA program

Baidwan admits that the entertainment industry has a deserved reputation for being difficult to break into, but there is always a need for people who can manage the process and the talent. A person with those skills can be successful. “I see a lot of people who are more business oriented who look at the creative fields and see lower barriers of entry than ever,” he says.

Prospective students who may worry that they’re not particularly drawn to -- or have a complete lack of background in – the technical side of filmmaking need not worry. “Screenwriters or producers coming into the film MFA may have a lot of the trepidation that there will be technology, cameras, and software that they will find daunting,” says Thwaits. “But the dual degree’s producing program is fashioned in a way that students get exposure to those elements but they don’t need to have excellent camera or editing skills. They will get rudimentary exposure -- what’s needed in order to understand the industry. They don’t have to come to the table with that.”

In short, he adds, “They need to have a love for the industry but not the kind of drive where they want to lock themselves away and write film scores or shoot little indie shorts all day.” Rather, they want to produce or direct, to use their organizational skills to pull together and manage teams of creatives and ensure the project gets made and the product gets distributed.

Baidwan explains that when he met Thwaits for the first time several years ago, they quickly fell into a discussion about what a dual degree program might look like; it was just the type of opportunity that appealed to Baidwan. Stealing a famous line from his co-director’s industry, Baidwan says, “Kelby, you had me at ‘hello.’”

When the laughter from both men died down, Baidwan’s tone became serious when he described the MFA side of the program, detailing the advantages that Mount students have working with real sets in real studios, in the heart of Hollywood. “For goodness’ sake, it doesn’t get any more real than that,” he says. “As a business person, to be able to connect with a creative partner who doesn’t just talk the talk but really is doing some applied industry stuff for these kids is fantastic.”

Because the two independent programs already existed and most of the classes were already established, it was a low-risk gamble for the university to move ahead with the dual-degree program. “We were able to launch this with a modest buy in from students at the outset,” says Thwait. “Whether we start this fall with five or 10 students to begin with, it won’t degrade their experience because the infrastructure and everything has already been set up.”

The student diversity that is expected can help change the face of what we see in media in the years to come. “This program is inclusive, it is diverse, and it has a real strong sense of community,” says Baidwan. “For that gamut of folks who do not traditionally have a seat at the table, this degree really gives them access to the corporate world, not to mention that hyper-competitive gauntlet that is the entertainment industry.”

The majority of applicants to the Mount’s MBA program are now younger than in the past with only a couple years of work experience. “The creation of the dual degree was a direct response to that younger group that is looking for something a little bit different and who aren’t just looking for a paycheck,” says Baidwan. “They want to do something that connects to their spirits and who they are as people, and for young folks who find that calling to entertainment, hopefully this is a way that they can live in the light of that passion but still keep the lights on along the way.”