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DCE Magazine

Picture This: A New Film & Media Studies Program Led by an Award-winning Hollywood Insider

Spring 2019

Adam Leipzig has built a wildly successful career as a Hollywood innovator, disrupting expectations with an array of hits such as “Dead Poets Society,” “March of the Penguins” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” From his early days as senior VP at Disney to being president of National Geographic Films, Leipzig's films have won or been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and two Golden Globes.

With decades of experience, Leipzig knows the business from the ground up — and now he'll be sharing his insights through DCE's forthcoming Film & Media Studies certificate program. Produced by his dynamic new enterprise MediaU, it “pulls back the curtain on how Hollywood really works.”

“Unlike traditional film schools, it's designed to be very practical,” said Leipzig, who developed the program with learning expert Tiska Wiedermann, and will be one of its instructors. “Through the years, I've found that film school graduates don't know enough about how the industry really works to find steady employment. There's a gap in their real-world experience and knowledge, and our MediaU courses are designed to fill that gap and prepare them to find employment in film and media.” Leipzig found that far too many talented newcomers were forced to support themselves with jobs outside of entertainment. Well-paying opportunities are simply too scarce.

“There aren't many good options,” he said. “You have to start with low-paying or no-paying jobs to get needed experience, and it's just too difficult, especially if you're saddled with massive student loan debt. We have too many terrific, talented people who aren't able to share their gifts with the world because they're too busy making lattes for a living.”

Filling that practical experience gap is where the Film & Media Studies program comes in, a highly focused, hands-on experiential program that gives an in-depth look at how the entertainment industry works in 2019.

It's the brainchild of Leipzig and his colleagues at MediaU, which aims to be a leader in world-class, distance-learning programs, delivered by accredited academic institutions that cost a fraction of traditional media or film school degrees.

“Most people aren't able to spend four years getting a degree while piling up a fortune in student loan debt,” Leipzig said. “I know people in their 50s who are still paying off their loans.”

The DCE program is designed to target three types of learners, he said: “Those who want a career in Hollywood but can't afford a film degree; graduates who have a degree but need to gain practical experience; and people who have always been interested in pursuing entertainment but were pressured by their families into other careers.”

Lights, camera, cloud

Still in development, the Film & Media Studies certificate program will be offered entirely online, utilizing cloud-based course work and peer-to-peer experiences that bring participants together through immersive distance learning. It's an approach that's perfectly suited for the way today's film, streaming and TV content is being developed, Leipzig said.

“A good example is ‘A Plastic Ocean,’ a recent feature documentary of mine that's streaming on Netflix,” he said. “Our production team collaborated and put it together entirely in the virtual world, through cloud-based applications — we had a producer in London, our director in Hong Kong, and editing in Silver Lake. You don't need to be based in L.A. or New York anymore.”

It's important to note that 80% of content being produced today doesn't involve traditional movie or TV productions at all, but rather other digital platforms, he said. The Film & Media Studies program is perfectly positioned to prepare students for the new media.

The program's initial beta course, Directors & Actors: Casting!, builds a solid foundation, training actors and directors to strategize the audition process and build a fulfilling creative partnership. Led by industry pros and mentors, participants will learn the six stages of casting and decision-making — actors, by crafting effective audition strategies, and directors by planning and executing real auditions.

Through a series of “live” sessions and asynchronous lessons that can be accessed anytime, participants will analyze and critique audition techniques and strategies, as well as engage in practical experiences themselves.

“This beta course will take it a step beyond traditional film school,” Leipzig said. “Actors will be able to learn from experience, witnessing auditions in front of a director with more than 40 credits to his name. Participants will learn exactly what's expected of them before walking into auditions, and after walking out.”

Other, forthcoming courses from MediaU will provide a deep dive into the business and ethics side, the art of storytelling and more, including My Creative Career, a special course designed to guide individuals to be creative entrepreneurs for their unique talents.

“It's all about taking control and becoming the CEO of You, Inc.,” Leipzig said. “The course will teach learners how to craft a creative career in 2019 by tapping into the gifts they have that no one else can offer.”

All of the courses will be administered through MediaU, taught by experienced, successful professionals such as Leipzig and Peter D. Marshall, who has been the first assistant director or director for a number of high-profile projects, including “Happy Gilmore,” “Dawn of the Dead” and “Legends of the Fall.”

Getting a foot in the door

MediaU is a natural extension of Leipzig's mission to educate and develop talent — an endeavor that benefits participants as well as industry professionals.

“Yes, it's accurate to say that our program can be an excellent way for people working in the industry to identify and nurture talent that can be utilized for future projects,” he said.

Through a partnership with the Slamdance Film Festival — held in Park City, Utah, the same week as the celebrated Sundance Festival — MediaU is seeking to bring a select film event to UC Irvine, as a way to showcase the certificate program's best student work.

Similar to its prestigious festival in Utah, proposed Slamdance events at UCI would offer outstanding opportunities to gain recognition and network with industry notables. Some of the events would feature Slamdance's deep roster of film and media talent as on-campus guest lecturers, as well.

“It would be an excellent way for students to meet other filmmakers and gain access to people working in the industry,” Leipzig said. “Slamdance is a major event that can provide career breakthroughs for top indie talent. In the past it has paved the way for Christopher Nolan, the Russo Brothers, and lots of others. It's something we're working hard to make happen.”

Stay tuned. The Film & Media Studies program is just getting started.

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/film