Master of Fine Arts

The M.F.A. in Cinema is intended for individuals who wish to pursue independent film and media production. A 60-unit terminal degree, the program offers student the opportunity to focus on any/all of the following areas: documentary, experimental and/or fiction.

Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 in the last two years of undergraduate study. Applicants with degrees in areas other than film who show exceptional potential will be considered for admission to the program.

Applicants must meet all general university requirements for admission. Prior to admission, all candidates must have completed two courses in cinema studies beyond the introductory level. One of these courses must be in critical theory, stressing critical approach or methodology; the other must be in cinema history. One introductory course in film production and a basic course in non-linear digital editing, or equivalent experience is required. Students will be expected to use Adobe’s Premiere Pro for initial course work.

Application Procedures

The School of Cinema accepts new M.F.A. students for the Fall term only. The application opens on October 1, 2017. Deadline for the M.F.A application is January 15, 2018.

To apply to the M.F.A. in Cinema Studies, you must complete a two-step application process. Part One is the university application submitted to the Division of Graduate Studies. Part Two is the academic department application submitted to the Graduate Coordinator for your intended degree program. You must submit Part One and Part Two of your graduate admission application simultaneously by deadline to be considered for admission. Applicants may only apply to a single graduate program per application term.

Two step process:

  1. An application form for the California State University system and
  2. A separate application for the School of Cinema.

Please note: you must complete both steps of the application in order to be considered.

STEP 1: Complete the application through Cal State Apply.

  1. Apply online through Cal State Apply for a Graduate Program. The Office of Graduate Admissions no longer accepts paper applications to graduate programs.
  2. Pay the 55.00 USD application fee. We recommend that you pay online by credit card at the moment you submit your application. If you selected the option to pay the application fee by check or money order, make the check payable to “San Francisco State University”
  3. Send all required documents noted on your online SF Gateway Portal “To Do List” to the Division of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Admissions
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave., ADM 250
San Francisco, CA 94132

STEP 2: Complete the School of Cinema application. Materials needed for your application include:

  1. A resume (1-2 pages) summarizing the applicant's education, awards or recognition, work experience, travel, languages, and special skills
  2. A personal statement (3 page maximum) discussing aesthetic influences, creative interests, and professional aspirations as a filmmaker, including comments on: the areas of film on which the applicant would like to concentrate, how theory informs his/her work as a filmmaker, and the goals he/she intends to pursue upon completion of the M.F.A.
  3. An example of academic writing (7-12 pages) which illustrates the applicant's ability to make and support a thesis as well as familiarity with scholarly form and expository style. Papers from the film discipline are most useful, but other academic work is acceptable. No journalistic "review” essays or scripts are accepted
  4. An example of creative, moving image work submitted on VIMEO, Youtube or other online link is required (five minutes maximum). One example of moving image work is required. This sample can be a single work, or excerpts of several of your works, whichever you feel best represents your creative vision. If a sample of work submitted is longer than the five minute, it may not be viewed in its entirety. Please do not submit trailers. Examples of other creative work, such as photographs, paintings, or creative writing are accepted. Please email the Cinema Department office with any questions at
  5. Two letters of recommendation from individuals who can attest to the applicant's creativity and aptitude as well as to the quality of past work and potential of future achievements. One letter from a former professor is recommended. The department does not provide official recommendation forms. Your recommender will receive an email with a link to upload a reference letter once the School of Cinema Applicaiton letter has been completed.
  6. Official transcripts: Send two official transcripts to the Division of Graduate Studies with the CSU application. Please note, the GRE is NOT required.

Questions about the application process and materials can be directed to the School of Cinema graduate advisor at and/or to the Division of Graduate Studies: Domestic applicants: or International applicants:

Program Specializations


Along with having the option of producing documentaries for the first-year and thesis projects, students interested in documentary are encouraged to enroll in our innovative Social Justice and Visual Anthropology programs, as well as a yearly summer exchange program making documentary films in Shanghai.


Experimental filmmaking has been a cornerstone of the School of Cinema since San Francisco’s film avant-garde movement in the late 1960s. Experimental techniques or modes inform many students’ productions, and faculty encourage any and all alternative practices.


Our program’s electives include diverse screenwriting opportunities (adaptation, short feature and feature length) as well as advanced courses focused on producing and directing, including working with actors, shaping mise-en-scene and controlling visual and auditory composition for dramatic effect.


The M.F.A. in Cinema program's learning objectives are designed to enable students to:

Required Courses

All M.F.A. students must complete 42 units of required classes and 18 units of electives over three distinct years. During the first year, students build a foundation through the study of technical crafts, aesthetics, theory and creative conceptualization — enabling them to express themselves in the language of images and sounds. In the second year, students take advanced courses that lead to the production of creative work demonstrating original thinking, conceptual clarity, technical skill and the refinement of a personal aesthetic. In the third year, students complete a creative project that is a culmination of previous work and a reflection of the development of the student’s creative voice.

First Year Required Courses
Course Title Units
CINE 701 Creative Process I 3
CINE 710 Production Practice I 3
CINE 711 Production Practice II 3
CINE 7XX Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below) 3
CINE 712 Production Practice III 3
CINE 852 Directed Teaching Experience in Film Education (may also be taken in the second year) 3
CINE 7XX Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below) 3
Second Year Required Courses
Course Title Units
CINE 702 Creative Process II 3
CINE 7XX Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below)  
CINE 770 Seminar in Film Production Research 3
CINE 726 Cinema Theory II 3
  (In addition, students must complete two of the following production courses in the second year)  
CINE 761 Writing and Directing for Cinema 3
CINE 762 Advanced Cinematography and Lighting 3
CINE 763 Projects in Advanced Editing  3
CINE 755 Feature Screenwriting 3
CINE 713 Animation Workshop 3
CINE 715 Cinematography Workshop 3
CINE 730 Experimental Cinema Workshop 3
CINE 740 Workshop in Documentary Production 3

First- and second-year required courses must be taken in sequence. Advancement to second and third year of the program is contingent on faculty review and approval by the M.F.A. coordinator. Completion of CINE 852 is the prerequisite of taking any paid position.

Third Year Required Courses
Course Title Units
CINE 894 Creative Work Project 3

M.F.A. Theory Requirements

In addition, M.F.A. students must take four critical theory graduate courses, according to the following guidelines:

Not all courses will be offered each semester. Please check the School of Cinema schedule information for the relevant semester for availability.

Theory Requirement Electives
Course Title Units
CINE 720 Critical Paradigms and the Cinematic 3
CINE 721 Cinema Documentary 3
CINE 723 Cinematic Forms and Aesthetics 3
CINE 727 Cinematic Styles 3
CINE 728 Cinematic Histories 3
CINE 741 Cinema and the City 3
CINE 743 Sexuality in the Cinema 3
CINE 747 Post-Colonial Cinema 3
CINE 748 Cinema and Cultural Studies 3
CINE 749 Critical Practices 3
CINE 820 Seminar in Critical Theory 3
CINE 821 Seminar in Documentary Cinema 3
CINE 823 Curation and Cinema 3

You can find course descriptions and details about these courses in the University Bulletin.

Additional requirements

In addition to required courses noted above, each student must meet departmental requirements for periodic reviews, as follows:

  • Formal script review at the end of the first semester.
  • Formal progress review at the end of the first year.
  • Formal presentation and faculty evaluation of the creative work project proposal at the end of the second year (upon which advancement to candidacy is contingent).
  • Documented public screening of the student’s creative thesis project.

Some recent thesis films include:

  • Circles of Confusion, 16mm documentary short (winner, Student Academy Award, Golden Gate Award) directed by Phoebe Tooke (Jennifer Hammett, thesis chair)
  • Mothersbane, 16mm experimental short, directed by Jason Jakaitis (Karen Holmes, thesis chair)
  • Twilight, 16mm dramatic short, (winner, Princess Grace Award, Telluride Film Festival), directed by Victoria Gamburg (Britta Sjogren, thesis chair)

Advancement to Candidacy

Students must also meet all general university requirements for advancement to candidacy, and receive a “B” or better in all required courses for the M.F.A. degree, as well as successfully pass all formal reviews (first-year script review, first-year progress review, thesis proposal review and thesis committee review).

  • Produce individual creative film works utilizing techniques that span a range of genres.
  • Demonstrate mastery of technical skills necessary to expressing themselves cinematically.
  • Demonstrate the realization of a personal creative vision in the medium of film.
  • Demonstrate the ability to locate their personal creative practice in the context of history and traditions of cinema.
  • Produce coherent critical essays using appropriate source materials.
  • Demonstrate skills in teaching undergraduate film courses.
  • Students must take two critical theory courses from the following list by the spring semester of their second year.
  • Students must take CINE 726 during the spring semester of their second year.