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Hollins Program Cranks Out Hopeful Filmmakers

Jeff Bossert

Many college students may spend their summers taking odd jobs, or taking couple classes to meet requirements in areas like math or science. 

But for a few busy weeks, a handful of them at a private school in Roanoke County are solely focused on making a movie. 

The Masters of Fine Arts program at Hollins University gives students a chance to quickly write and develop a script, and see the finished product.

For this episode of one web series, the cast and crew have a pretty confined space – a dorm room in French House, Hollins’ smallest residence hall. 

Amy Roskelly –Shiovitz is one of 35 students spending part of their summer at Hollins.  She was the director for one episode of her class’ web series, called 'Failure to Adult', in mid-July.

“So I like all the parts of filmmaking,” she said. “But writing is my favorite, because it’s the idea of making something from absolutely nothing.”

Her path to Hollins was not a simple one.  Before earning a bachelor’s degree in film from Brigham Young University, she went through seven different majors, including biology and English. But taking a film class changed everything.

“I realized that the reason that I wanted to do all these other careers  - I looked into med school for a while too-ugh- but it was because of all the movies and shows I had seen about them that influenced me,” she said. “I realized that – ‘oh, I like movies – that’s what I like!”

Everyone in the class pitched script ideas – they chose one of them, worked on it together, rotating roles behind the camera for each episode.

The screenwriting students range in age from their early 20’s to their 50’s.

And many of them are in the Roanoke area only for the intense 6-week process of writing, shooting and editing – completing their master’s degree in three to five summers.  Hollins also offers a master’s of arts degree in screenwriting and film studies over that period.

Most of the year, Roskelly- Shiovitz lives in Detroit, where she’s a freelance writer for marketing firms. Classmate Christie Collins, who was assistant director on the shoot in July, spends most of the year in Chicago, where she’s a trainer with a Fortune 500 company.

“With this program, and the ease of this program at Hollins university – I’ve had a chance to fulfill that dream and that passion by coming here in my summers,” she said.

Jeff Bossert
Roskelly- Shiovitz and another student prepare for their film shoot at Hollins' French House.

Even the director of Hollins’ graduate program – Tim Albaugh - spends most of the academic year at UCLA, where he’s taught film for more than 20 years. He’s also a writer and producer.

“We bring a piece of LA to the Roanoke area,” he said.

Hollins, a women’s university for undergraduates, has offered film courses for 46 years.  Albaugh says the co-ed master’s programs in screenwriting and film studies, which started in 1999, serve as a compliment to Hollins’ successful undergraduate programs in creative writing.

He says when his students are asked to write a script, they should be realistic in terms of budget, and something only they can do.

“(They should do) something that is widely unique and original to them,” he said.  You don’t want be writing the next Marvel movie – because you’re never going to get that gig as a beginner.  The way you’re going to get a Marvel movie is by writing that personal film that is important to you, that showcases your voice.”

Hollins student Maisie Deely has some practical experience – she’s been an extra in a couple of Hollywood movies.  She’s also worked in marketing for a non-profit, which Deeley says was all about storytelling.   

But she says Hollins has helped her develop contacts while working on the degree over a few summers.

“Tim really creates an atmosphere where you’re not only connected to your classmates in the current program, but also creating opportunities for alumni to come back, so it’s really exciting to see folks who did the same the same program of study I did who are now working in the industry,” she said.

Deely hopes to complete her MFA by 2020.

While six other universities in Virginia offer bachelor’s programs in film studies and similar programs– only one, Regent University in Virginia Beach offers a master’s degree.

Tim Albaugh wants to continue teaching courses at Hollins after retirement.

“I love doing it,” he said. It never seems like work. I’ve kind of reached the point too for me where – it’s all about, I know is sounds cliché, but it is really all about other people.  I get a lot more satisfaction now helping a student launch their career than I do with any of the professional work that I do.”

Hollins University wrapped up another summer of master’s classes in screenwriting this week.    

Jeff Bossert is Radio IQ's Morning Edition host.
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