Our M.F.A. program offers rigorous, professional training in cinema production in conjunction with an understanding of cinema history, theory and aesthetics. The faculty supports production practice in diverse forms — narrative, experimental, documentary, animation or hybrid, and our graduate writers/directors become skilled in both traditional cinematic and emerging digital technologies.
The M.F.A. program also prepares filmmakers to teach cinema at the college or university level. The School of Cinema’s creatively active faculty regularly share from their own production experiences, coordinate master classes with distinguished practicing professionals, arrange for visiting independent filmmakers to screen contemporary work and facilitate student connection with local cinema and arts organizations.
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 students the opportunity to focus on any/all of the following areas: documentary, experimental and/or fiction.
The M.F.A. in Cinema’s learning objectives strives to enable students to:
Produce individual creative cinematic works utilizing techniques that span a range of modes, styles and genres.
Master pre-production, production and post-production skills necessary for cinematic expression.
Realize a personal creative vision in the cinematic medium.
Write coherent critical essays using appropriate historical and theoretical materials.
Gain teaching-related experience.
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.
Questions about the application process and materials can be directed to:
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.
|Creative Process I
|Production Practice I
|Production Practice II
|Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below)
|Production Practice III
|Directed Teaching Experience in Film Education (may also be taken in the second year)
|Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below)
|Creative Process II
|Cinema Theory Elective (*See details below)
|Seminar in Film Production Research
|Cinema Theory II
|(students must complete two of the following production courses in the second year)
|Writing and Directing for Cinema
|Advanced Cinematography and Lighting
|Projects in Advanced Editing
|Experimental Cinema Workshop
|Workshop in Documentary Production
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.
|Creative Work Project
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.
|Critical Paradigms and the Cinematic
|Cinematic Forms and Aesthetics
|Cinema and the City
|Sexuality in the Cinema
|Cinema and Cultural Studies
|Seminar in Critical Theory
|Seminar in Documentary Cinema
You can find course descriptions and details about these courses in the University Bulletin.
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:
- Adam, (2020), dramatic short, directed by Pietro Pino (Venice International Critics’Week)
- Objector, (2020), feature documentary, directed by Molly Stuart (Selection, IDFA)
- Drip Like Coffee, (2019) dramatic short directed by Anaiis Cisco (Princess Grace Award)
- Shoe Shiner, (2017), dramatic short, directed Andrés Gallegos (Nomination, ASC Cinematography Award)
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 cinematic form.
- 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 by the spring semester of their second year (see a list under the “Theory Requirement Electives” on the M.F.A. Requirements page).
The School of Cinema accepts new M.F.A. students for the Fall term only. The application opens on October 1, 2023 and the M.F.A. Application will be due on February 1, 2024. Submissions are of course already being accepted, and early submission is appreciated.
To apply to the M.F.A. in Cinema, you must complete the Cal State Apply application for graduate admission and upload your unofficial transcripts and application documents to the Program Materials section of Cal State Apply. You must complete the entire graduate admission by deadline to be considered for admission. Applicants may only apply to a single graduate program per application term. Pay the $70 application fee. The School of Cinema is unable to offer any application fee waivers.
After reviewing the Application Procedures below, please visit Cal State Apply to apply for the M.F.A. in Cinema.
Your application for graduate study to SF State consists of a two-part review:
The Division of Graduate Studies reviews your application for general university admission requirements and requires you to upload copies of transcripts from every college or university attended, including study abroad coursework, community college coursework even if transfer credit appears on your degree transcript. Upload clear, legible copies of all transcripts to the Documents section of the Cal State Apply Application. Photos of documents will not be accepted. Make sure you resolve any financial obligations at previously attended institutions so they will release your transcripts.
Division of Graduate Studies
Administration Building, Room 250
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Phone: (415) 338-2234
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. 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. The GRE is NOT required to apply. Please upload additional required documents in the Documents section of this application.
School of Cinema
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Ave.
Fine Arts Building, Room 245
San Francisco, CA 94132
Phone: (415) 338-1629
Materials Needed to Apply
Prepare application materials in advance before starting the online Cal State Apply application. Please note that the School of Cinema Application Materials can be submitted on the Cal State Apply Application in the “Program Materials” section of the application. Please be aware that there are four tabs in this section of the application, Home, Documents, Evaluations, and Questions. Your Program Materials for the School of Cinema will be submitted within these tabs of the application.
Required Application Documents Breakdown
- A resume (1-2 pages) summarizing the applicant's education, awards or recognition, work experience, travel, languages, and special skills
- 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.
- An example of academic writing (7-12 pages, double space, 12 pt. font) 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
- A creative work sample, An example of creative, moving image work (five minutes maximum) is required - in which you had a major creative role. This sample can be a single work, or excerpts of several of your works, whichever you feel best represents your creative vision. The short film can be live-action or animation; fiction or documentary or experimental, but it should reflect your aesthetic taste as well as your intellectual and emotional interests. You must specify what role(s) you played in creating it. Submit only one video. It must be submitted on VIMEO, YouTube or other online venues. If a sample of work submitted is longer than the five minutes, it may not be viewed in its entirety. Please do not submit trailers. Examples of other creative works, such as photographs, paintings, or creative writing can also be submitted accepted as an addendum to the moving image work. Please note that other creative work samples would not be a substitute for the moving image work. Please email the School of Cinema office with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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 School of Cinema 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 Application letter has been completed.
- Unofficial transcripts: Upload two unofficial transcripts to the Cal State Apply application.
In addition to any documents required by your program, you are also required to upload legible unofficial copies of transcripts from each college or university attended. Including study abroad coursework, or community college coursework, even if this coursework appears as transfer credit appears on your degree transcript. Full academic disclosure is required. Photographs or screenshots of transcripts will be rejected. An incomplete academic history will significantly delay review of your application. The Division of Graduate Studies may request official transcripts from you at any point during the application review process.
If selected for admission, you will be required to submit official transcripts to the Division of Graduate Studies in order to secure your offer of admission.
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