By Hugh Finlay
The new low-residency MFA in screenwriting is off to a strong start, with 18 students coming to campus from around the U.S. last month for their initial 10-day residency.
Hollywood filmmaker Peter Farrelly was on hand to give guest presentations, filmmaker David Lynch connected via Skype for 45 minutes to answer questions from each student, and international script consultant Dara Marks gave lectures on transformational narrative.
Students in the two-year program do their coursework online and come to campus at the beginning of each semester for a residency.
"It's an amazing group of students," said Dorothy Rompalske, who heads the program. "We were selective in who we admitted. They already have a basic understanding of how to create a story. And they're interested in developing their spiritual side – which is what makes us unique."
The students learned the Transcendental Meditation® technique early in their residency, and heard from Professor Fred Travis how it changes the brain and fosters greater creativity.
The theme of the residency was learning to access deeper levels within oneself. The students discussed David Lynch's notion of "catching the big fish" – latching onto and manifesting ideas that come from deep within.
Mr. Farrelly spoke about his films and about how learning the Transcendental Meditation technique in recent years has affected his work. Along with his brother Bobby Farrelly, he is best known as the creator of such films as "There's Something About Mary," "Dumb & Dumber," "Shallow Hal," "Hall Pass," "Stuck on You," and "Me, Myself & Irene," among other hits.
"We're thrilled to have a filmmaker of Peter Farrelly's stature joining our team," Ms. Rompalske said. "In addition to sharing his vast knowledge of screenwriting and the film industry, he embodies our program's unique objective."
The program's website includes a video of Mr. Farrelly talking about how Transcendental Meditation has affected his creative processes. See www.mum.edu/mfa-in-screenwriting.
When not in residence, the students take self-guided instruction online. They also connect weekly with a mentor, as well as meet online as a group once a week. Workshops, in which they read and comment on each other's work, are also an important component.
Three different mentors who are experienced screenwriters are guiding the students: Roz Sohnen and Adam Nadler in New York, and Antonia Ellis in Los Angeles.
In addition to focusing on generating ideas, keeping a journal, and developing their creativity, the students will work with their mentors to create highly polished scripts.
Then their final residency, at the end of the program, will be held in Los Angeles, where they will meet with David Lynch and other Hollywood professionals and learn how to pitch their work.