College of Arts and Letters, Cal State L.A. | July 22, 2013 | Spotlight

Award-winning grad student tells stories via film, theatre

MFA in TVFT program offers a competitive advantage in the entertainment industry

Examples of student success in MFA program:

Special Award or Recognition
Barbara Ishida
* Finishing editor, Pop-Up Video, Daytime Emmy Nominated, June 2012
* Editor, Fandango Frontrunner, Webby Nominated, Jan. 2013

Cynthia DeCure
* Award of Merit from KCACTF for Playwriting (Miss Quince), August 2012
* CSULA Graduate Equity Fellowship and CSULA Emeriti Fellowship, 2012/2013

Garen Mirzaian
* Quitter (short film), part of the Official Selection at the Daytona Beach
* Blue Whiskey (winner of Best Cinematography), part of the Arpa International Film Festival

Evan Manning
* Second Place Short Script Award, The Ghost of Fairmount Heights, at the CSU Media Arts Festival

Erik Boccio
* Rosebud Award (1st place), Red Letter Day music video, “Northern Lights,” at the CSU Media Arts Festival

Naomi Bennett
* Director, Tearing the World Apart (play), Hollywood Fringe Festival , June 2012

Barbara Ishida
* Co-Writer, Tearing the World Apart (play), Hollywood Fringe Festival, June 2012

Diego DiGiovanni
* Actor, Little Treasure (short film), Mar. 2013

Randee Trabitz
* Director, I am My Own Wife (play)
* White Like Me, A Honky Dory Puppet Show (play)

Jekyns Pelaez
* Performer, Nixon in China (opera), June 2012
* Moby Dick (opera), November 2013
* New Year’s Eve Gala Performance, San Francisco Symphony, January 2013
* Director, On Tidy Endings, LATC, May 2013

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni
* White House Operator in Argo, (2012) Best Picture Oscar and SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture 2012
* One Drop of Love (one-woman show), University of Maryland, March 2013 and UC Santa Barbara, May 2013

Debra Faulk
* No One Does it Alone (one-woman show), University of Kentucky, April 2013

Conference Presentations
Cynthia DeCure
* Empowering Underrepresented Voices via Performance, Voice and Speech Trainers Association (part of ATHE) Conference, Washington D.C., August 2012
* Finding your Voice through Fitzmaurice Voicework/Voice for the Actor, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, February 2013

Kelly Grandjean
* Women and the Theater: An Experience of Non-Traditional Casting in The American Pilot, 9th Annual CSGS Student Research Conference

Heather Fipps.
Heather Fipps.

From a very young age, Heather Fipps has loved hearing, reading and constructing narratives. She grew up surrounded by, what she described, as creative ways to re-imagine old stories, tell new tales, and revel in nostalgic favorites.

“Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and meet so many different kinds of people,” said Fipps, a Cal State L.A. graduate student. “This instilled a strong desire in me to tell their stories, as well as some of my own on screen or on stage.”

Fipps—who works professionally in Los Angeles as a director, scenic designer, props master, and set dresser—is currently completing a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Television, Film and Theatre (TVFT) at Cal State L.A.

“What inspires me about film and theatre is that you get to create an entire world in so much detail, and you can be as fantastical or realistic as the story demands,” she said. “I love being a part of every detail and creating the world for the characters to live in.”

Launched in 2008, the MFA in TVFT program at CSULA is the only one of its kind on a college campus in the nation that brings together three creative arms of the entertainment industry—production, dramatic writing and acting/performance. The program’s emphasis on collaboration with the three cohorts gives graduates a competitive advantage in the industry.

“The MFA program at CSULA is unique,” said Fipps, who is a member of the graduate program’s production cohort. “The option to have a degree that encompassed television, film and theatre was very important to me, because my career prospects and skills are applicable to all three. I am equally interested and passionate about each.”

The 88-unit, three-year curriculum includes 10 core courses, selections from 20 elective courses, and the production of major creative projects. Most classes are structured as collaboration projects, where every student gets to find their strength and contribute their asset to the group.

“In this style, we operate much like a real production crew; each member contributing his/her skill in cinematography, lighting design, sound mixing or costuming,” said Fipps, who also earned her bachelor’s degree in television, film, and media studies at CSULA. “Not to mention we are fortunate to be located in Los Angeles—the entertainment capitol of the world—so it is very easy to gain industry work experience as we attend school, which is something I really appreciate as well.”

Recently, Fipps won numerous awards, including a Best Shorts Award, for directing and designing the web trilogy, Pan. Co-written by Fipps and her brother, James (a CSULA English major), Pan is a dark retelling of the classic tale of Peter Pan. The story is set in a “steam-punk” world where Pan is the villain and Hook is the hero of the story. The original soundtrack for Pan was also selected to be played live by the Cal State Northridge Orchestra.

“I am proud of this project, because I used it as a vehicle to challenge my design skills—it is very visually ambitious and the last episode is even filmed on a pirate ship!” said Fipps.

Heather Fipps as director.
Heather Fipps co-directing the web series, Weather or Not.

Fipps’ background also includes designing theatre productions for CSULA, The Hollywood Fringe Festival, and the Los Angeles Theater Center. Her design for the CSULA production of No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre resulted in her invitation to the 2013 United States Institute of Technical Theatre Conference in Milwaukee.

For this year’s MFA final project, Fipps and her classmates created a quirky web series, entitled Weather or Not, about a reality-style competition with goofy characters competing to be the next big meteorologist. Fipps, who designed and co-directed the web series, will present this production as a curricular accomplishment alongside television and film professors at the upcoming University Film & Video Association Conference.

Fipps has also worked as a teaching associate for an undergraduate Introduction to Film class (TVF 200) at CSULA last year. This experience gave her the opportunity to pass on knowledge to CSULA students from her professional experience and education.

“My experience at CSULA has been very positive and involved,” said Fipps. “Since the MFA program is still growing, us students are given the opportunity to have honest conversations with the professors about what we want to achieve. They in turn have done an excellent job of taking those conversations into consideration and incorporating them into the program.”

Upon graduation next June, Fipps will focus on a career as a production designer for film and theatre.

“I will continue to pursue directing my own works as I come across projects that I am passionate about,” she explained. “Eventually I would like to return to teach, as I have also enjoyed that during my time here at CSULA.”

Slated for a grand opening in October, the new Television, Film and Media Studies Center at CSULA will offer students access to state-of-the-art technology along with innovative creative opportunities. The Center will house the undergraduate and graduate programs in the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies, including access for the MFA in TVFT program. For a photo gallery of the building: /academic/al/TVFMSC/photos.html.

Find out more at the following links: