Dave Tolchinsky’s Reply to Our Request for Information

Mike –

Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well. I consulted with Dean O’Keefe about your letter and am responding on both our behalf. It sounds like there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. Hope this clears things up–

Yes, there’s a school-wide mandate for the funding structures of co-curricular projects in RTF and Theatre to change. This was an idea that was actually initiated by students on our SoC Dean’s Advisory Council, who felt that the system for supporting student work—including involving faculty in shaping and mentoring projects—was broken. So that was the origin.

The truth is we are expanding opportunities for student filmmakers, not reducing them. When the Dean arrived at NU in 2000, Studio 22 dominated the student film scene, and the School of Communication provided relatively little funding for student films, either those made in class or those made outside of class. As we’re sure you are aware, equipment and sometimes studio time has also been a significant constraint on what student filmmakers can do.

In the face of these scarcities, Studio 22 filled the gap with fundraising, renting equipment, organizing film teams. This has been a tremendous help to many student filmmakers, and we greatly appreciate what was accomplished by that group. However, Studio 22 doesn’t meet the needs of every student, and the majority of our student filmmakers don’t work within Studio 22, nor should they be required to, since Studio 22 is a voluntary student organization. We have been very happy to see many new groups being established, and we would like to see more. We believe that it is important to have a range of options in an era that respects diversity, so that students who want to speak in a different voice will find a place that nurtures them.

The changes we are making in funding for student film are all tied to this maturation and diversification in the student film scene. First, we want to make it possible for many groups—not just Studio 22—to be able to check out equipment, reserve spaces, etc. So we are creating a process that will allow a group to be established as a producing agency and serve as the producing partner for a student film project. Second, we want to make the student project, not the producing partner, the recipient of the project funding. We believe that this will create a more level playing field so every student, regardless of what producing group they might choose to work with, has an equal chance to secure funding for work they want to do. The Media Arts Grants are designed to provide a fair and uniform process for awarding funding to student projects. Purposely, the MAG committee is rotating and comprised of faculty AND students, as much as possible.

While we are still fine-tuning the way this works, it already appears to have produced a better grant process with and increased faculty engagement in working with student projects, both things our students have been asking for. And yes, it continues to evolve. This week: With URSA reps, I’m talking about how to better organize crew; schedule projects; and creating a week-long festival of films to better showcase all the great work students are doing, both co-curricular work and work produced inside of classes. We’re thinking about developing a “crew” app. And trying different ways to get the best info about MAG out there (website, email, etc.).

And we can assure you these changes were not made quickly or capriciously. Per the above, the idea came from the SOC student Dean’s Advisory Council, to create a school-wide change in how co-curricular projects are funded. The faculty in RTVF spent two years talking with URSA representatives and members of student groups to design the new system.

We might note that these administrative changes are accompanied by increases in funding and equipment. The School has put quite a bit of new money into expanding the Cage, buying new equipment, improving the checkout process, and funding student projects. I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback from students. And again, it all continues to evolve.

From my perspective, Assoc. Chair Zayd Dohrn (and before him Assoc. Chair Bill Bleich and Acting Chair Mimi White) and I have been meeting with student group execs (including Studio 22 execs, NUWFA execs, and URSA execs) to apprise them of the changes, and to fine tune the process with their feedback. I’ve been impressed how everyone’s been working together to make MAG the best it can be. Just saw the latest batch of films – they’re GOOD! And you can see from our newsletters – the department is thriving. As to the student groups – we just gave out a bunch of money to the groups and see them continuing to play a critical role in the department – partnering as producers with MAG applicants and recipients (they actually have checks from us to “plus up” the budgets of MAG applicants/recipients), and adding to the culture of the department in other critical ways – workshops, speakers, foregrounding diversity, female filmmakers, etc.

So yes, things are evolving. As you know, always, our desire is to make the department the best it can be. Please don’t hesitate to reach out (or have other alumni reach out) if you would like further information. Happy to chat. And I hope you and your family are well.

Dave Tolchinsky
Chair and Professor
Director, MFA in Writing for Screen+Stage
Department of Radio-TV-Film
Northwestern University
1920 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
(847) 491-2252