College of Arts & Media
‘Sanction’ Gets a Screening of Distinction
Film written and produced by CAM students selected for Starz Denver Film Festival
By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER—With acclaimed cable shows such as “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective” and “Homeland” and alternative production platforms like Netflix and websites garnering huge audiences, the “second golden age of television” is demanding a wave of talented storytellers.
Craig Volk, MFA, associate professor of Theatre, Film and Video Production in the College of Arts & Media, says students in the BFA in Film and Television program are getting the kind of real-world experience that will help them succeed at this exciting time in the industry. “We have a rigorous production program—what I call a blue-collar program—with a goal of providing our students with an extensive apprenticeship making noteworthy short films and television programs,” he said.
The work they’re producing is high quality. The latest web-series produced by the conjoined classes of Writing for Episodic Television (fall term) and Producing Episodic Television (spring) has been selected to screen at the prestigious Starz Denver Film Festival in November. The series, titled “Sanction,” tells the story of a family triangle that revolves around two estranged sisters and their struggle to attain domestic peace as their mother battles a terminal illness.
The nine-episode series, which can be viewed here and runs a total of 50 minutes, was written, shot and produced by CU Denver students. In the new Film and Television BFA’s three-year history, this is the first episodic television series selected by the Starz Denver Film Festival. The class of 2012’s production, “The Mortal Coils,” won third place in the College Television Awards sponsored by the Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.
Student co-creators on “Sanction” were Megan Foster and Nikki Mahoney, while instructors Jessica McGaugh and James Phelan served as faculty co-advisors with Volk. “It takes a lot of devotion from everybody to get this done. It emulates that mad-dash, all-hands-on-deck approach that is required to complete a project in the real world,” Volk said.
Most academic film-TV programs focus on filmmaking, he said. CAM’s program, however, also emphasizes a rigorous exploration of television where, in their freshman year, students take six courses in both film and TV. “Television is leading into the new frontier of narrative,” he said. “It’s going through the second golden age right now and the web series is its new genre.”
Two-thirds of the revenue in film and TV is currently being generated by television, along with most of the jobs, Volk said. “Our program certainly replicates the experiences I had working on shows in Hollywood, working on deadlines and reams of script notes. So, after this program, our students are ready to hit the professional ground running.”
Or they are well-prepared to enter an elite graduate school. A recent CAM graduate in Film and Television was accepted by American Film Institute, one of the nation’s top graduate schools for film. “Our graduates are getting traction in the academic world as well,” Volk said.
Laurence Kaptain, DMA and FRSA, dean of CAM, said the Film and Television program is another example of how CU Denver is providing students with real-world knowledge that address trends in entertainment and the evolving creative economy. “The College of Arts & Media has the faculty, facilities and technology to provide students with the tools and experiences to enter the workforce with the specialized creative and production skills that are in demand,” he said.
The Producing Episodic Television class is supported in part by departmental funds that help pay for equipment, professional actors and other technical aspects of producing a web series, Volk said. He noted that students in the Writing for Episodic Television class pitch script ideas, then break into writing teams and produce about 10 scripted series. From those, the Film and Television faculty meet over winter break to choose a single script for spring production.
Students take on dual roles during production, such as producer and gaffer or director and production designer. The film poster is designed in-house. Also, students from other CAM programs, such as audio engineering and digital design, contribute their skills to the final web series for airing.
Additionally, at the Starz Denver Film Festival, the CAM Film and Television Department, both faculty and students, handle preliminary judging for the annual feature and short film script competitions.
“Again, it’s just more training that transcends the classroom—that, too, is part of the focus within our framework,” Volk said.