We’ve designed our MFA around six core courses, which introduce you to the foundational concepts and techniques of documentary media production.

You’ll build a significant portfolio -- at least one short documentary, one narrative film, and one interactive project that either utilize documentary techniques or are rooted in actuality, as well as an advanced thesis project that employs any of the forms to which you’ve been introduced. You’ll understand not just the art and craft of media production, but also the business of media distribution and exhibition, including pitching, team collaboration, and fundraising. You’ll choose from a range of media topics, such as writing for documentary, civic engagement, producing, adaptation, story structure, cinematography, animation, and editing. You’ll meet artists and executives from TV, stage, film, and new media. You’ll also take media studies courses to give you a better sense of the relationship between your production practice and its theoretical/historical context.

Below are course requirements, a sample schedule, and other graduation requirements. Questions? Please contact us at or 847-491-4696.

Coursework Requirements - 18 Units Total

Core courses (6) Units

RTVF 551 - Documentary Techniques
Intro to basic camera and sound recording for traditional small-crew documentary filmmaking; interviewing; ethics; successful story structure that engages and innovates. Product: 6-8 minute documentary film.


RTVF 552 - Narrative Techniques
Intro to small-crew narrative sync- sound filmmaking; “hybridization,” narratives that use doc techniques, docs that use narrative techniques; advanced digital camera formats. Product: 6-8 minute narrative film.


RTVF 553 - Interactive Techniques/Emerging Forms
Intro to basic interactivity platforms and how to apply documentary methodology. Product: One interactive project.


RTVF 554 - Thesis 1
Development and production of documentary media thesis project. Product: concept, treatment, production begins.


RTVF 555 - Thesis 2
Continued production with emphasis on transitioning from fieldwork to assemblage. Product: Rough-cut or prototype.


RTVF 556 - Thesis 3
Finish thesis project; organize final public screening and exhibitions; intro to the business of documentary media production. Production: Thesis project, artist statement, and business plan.


Topics courses (5) -RTVF (300 level or higher) with director of MFA approval  
Sample courses include:

Lighting Cinematography
SFX Cinematography
Designing for the Internet
Directing Actors
Advanced Audio Production
Advanced Sound Design
Color Correction
2D Computer Animation
3D Computer Animation
Stop Motion Animation
Animated Infographics
Interactive Comics
Conceptual Design
Advanced SFX Recording
Approaches to Video Game Design
Gaming Narratives
Experimental Media Production
Placed Based Documentary
Problem Families/Family Problems
Secrets and Lies
Computer Code as Expressive Medium
Layout and Storyboarding
Sitcom Production
Romantic Comedy
Rebels, Misfits, and Losers
Making the Bromance
Making Reality TV
Love Hurts
Romantic Triangles

1 each, for a total of 5
Theory/history/culture courses (300-level or higher) (1)  

From Screen Cultures/RTVF, Performance Studies, Art Theory and Practice, Theatre, or other departments with approval of MFA program director. A course in the area of nonfiction media, documentary history/theory, or reality television is especially encouraged.


Electives (5)  

From Production, Screen Cultures, or Writing/RTVF, Performance Studies, Art Theory and Practice, Theatre or other departments with approval of MFA program director.

1 each, for a total of 5

Internship (1) RTVF 349 or equivalent at the discretion of the director of the MFA 1
Total credits: 18

Other MFA Degree Requirements

MFA students will be allowed to take a maximum of 20 credits.

Grade average: you must maintain a B average. If your average is not a B or higher by the end of the first year, you may be asked to leave the program.

First Year Review: The academic and professional progress of all first year MFAs will be reviewed in early June by the director of the program in consultation with production faculty. If weaknesses are identified, a formal interview with that student will be conducted by the director and production faculty to determine an appropriate course of action. Subsequent to that interview, at the discretion of the director, the grade for the spring core 500-level production seminar may be used to determine whether that student will be allowed to continue in the program, with a grade of C+ or below resulting in possible removal.

Final Portfolio Review/Defense: In consultation with the director of the program, you will choose a committee of two faculty members (both part of the Graduate School faculty) to review your final portfolio (20-45 minutes of edited material or 2-3 interactive projects created in classes -- including the 12-20 minute or interactive thesis project) and to assess your final defense of that portfolio, which will include a written artist statement and business plan.

"Northwestern has so many extraordinary resources. I was impressed with the setup for students, the equipment they provide. The university acts like a studio for them, carrying their insurance and offering an editing suite. It’s a wealth of riches for anyone who wants to learn about media and storytelling and filmmaking. The faculty is fabulous."

Maria Finitzo (GC08), two-time Peabody Award-winning social-issue documentary filmmaker, producer, associate, and board member, Kartemquin Films

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