LSU is working to establish a new bachelor’s degree for screen arts with hopes it will become nationally renowned

(Todd Queen, dean of the LSU College of Music and Dramatic Arts, with Stacia Haynie, dean of the LSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Photography by Brian Baiamonte)

Stacia Haynie is a 26-year veteran of the LSU faculty, while Todd Queen has only been on the Baton Rouge campus for a couple years. But they’re both new deans—Haynie at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Queen with the College of Music and Dramatic Arts—and they began looking for new ways to work together shortly after taking the helm at their respective colleges in 2014.

“Both of us tried to look at how to collaborate, rather than compete,” Haynie says.

That urge led them to propose a bachelor’s degree program in screen arts, which they hope will become a nationally renowned program in the history, theory and practice of film and other media. Supporters hope the program is another step toward a truly indigenous Louisiana film industry.

LSU is not creating the degree from scratch. The university already has some 20 years of experience teaching in several of the relevant disciplines, but the classes have been spread out across various departments and colleges and have never been unified into a single degree path.

For example, students pursuing a theater degree already have the option of focusing on production, Haynie says, while her college had a film and media arts program which also had a production element.

“It just made sense to try to leverage,” she says, “so we could build a bigger, better playground for the students.”

Assuming the new degree is approved, a few new classes will be created to supplant existing courses. But for the most part, the idea is to take advantage of the assets already available at the flagship, from departments such as film and media arts, film and television, digital media, philosophy and religious studies, mass communication, marketing, music, theatre and more.

Also envisioned are internships and independent study opportunities from organizations such as Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Celtic Studios and the Manship Theatre. While a number of film-related programs exist in the Southeast, states contiguous to Louisiana produced only 104 degrees in 2012-2013, and none of those programs have the scope of what LSU is proposing, according to documents presented to the LSU Board of Supervisors in May.

In fact, organizers say it likely would qualify as what’s known as an Academic Common Market degree program, meaning students from 16 member states certified by the Southern Regional Education Board would be able to enroll and pay in-state tuition if their state doesn’t offer a similar program. That means the new degree would theoretically strengthen LSU’s ability to recruit out-of-state students.

“This program is being created in an effort to ensure that Louisiana can provide professionals living in the state with a skill set conducive not only to the film industry as it currently exists but, of at least equal and quite likely greater importance, to enable our students and state to engage in the creation of an indigenous film industry,” the proposal says.

Patrick Mulhearn, an LSU alum and executive director of Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge, has submitted a letter of support for the proposed screen arts degree. He says the program is “sorely needed and long overdue,” adding he certainly would have pursued it had it existed when he was in school.

Mulhearn says that while Louisiana has been successful in facilitating film productions for more than a decade now, it needs more homegrown content and a better educated industry workforce to stay competitive with other states and the rest of the world. He argues that the industry—and thus the new degree—are vital to the retention of the state’s creative class.

The LSU supervisors have signed off, but the program still must be approved by the state Board of Regents. Because it involves five colleges, it’s a rather complicated proposal. Haynie hopes to have approval from the Board of Regents by this spring. Once that happens, faculty can begin advising interested students about which courses to take.

“We want to ensure students will leave here with a rigorous educational experience that prepares them to be leaders in the field,” she says.

LSU isn’t the only place to study film in Louisiana, notes Dawn Arevalo, assistant business agent with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 478, which represents film industry skilled labor in Louisiana and southern Mississippi. She points to the University of New Orleans’ Nims Center Studios and the film production classes offered at Baton Rouge Community College. But Arevalo, an LSU grad herself, says LSU’s plan to incorporate so many elements into one degree is particularly promising.

“You’re seeing more of every aspect of what needs to go into it, as opposed to just focusing on one thing: ‘I’m a writer and that’s it,’” she explains.

Last year, Louisiana lawmakers imposed caps on the state’s film tax incentives, which Arevalo says created some uncertainty and confusion for the industry. While most states with similar caps limit the amount of credits that can be issued, Louisiana has taken a less restrictive approach that limits the amount that can be redeemed in a given fiscal year to $180 million.

“We are slowly starting to come back,” she says. “Hopefully we’ll be able to explain to these Hollywood producers how the caps are working.”

The incentive program remains robust, and the existing crew base is strong, Arevalo adds. LSU hopes the new degree will further strengthen the local talent and make the local film industry a little less dependent on those incentives.

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