CalArts School of Film/Video MFA Thesis Guidelines

Preparing for the thesis takes some time. Please read these guidelines for specific information on preparation and requirements. 

Students are expected to work with their faculty committee members and other Film/Video faculty and staff to design their thesis project’s method, schedule and viable production and post production pathways. Additionally, the student is expected to convey to the committee any significant changes to the project’s content, form, method or production schedule, and work with faculty and staff to update production strategies accordingly. 

Thesis Committee

Students meet with their mentor and other faculty early in the MFA-2 year to discuss ideas for the thesis and develop a faculty committee. Each Film/Video program has different recommended timelines for thesis preparation and committee members, as below: 

Experimental Animation 
3rd semester
Minimum 3 members
• mentor
• 2 additional EA faculty 
Film Directing 
3rd or early in 4th semester
Minimum 3 members
• mentor
• 1 additional FDP faculty
• 1 additional FDP or other Institute faculty
Program in Film and Video
3rd or early in 4th semester
Minimum 3 members
• mentor
• 1 additional PFV faculty
• 1 additional PFV or other Institute faculty

Preliminary Review

The Preliminary Review (“Prelim”) is designed for the student to propose their MFA thesis project for evaluation and feedback from their faculty review committee. It’s important that the Preliminary Review defines the standards by which the student and their committee will evaluate the completed thesis. 

The Prelim is also the context where the student will outline their project’s technical pathway and use of Film/Video facilities. Both the academic and technical aspects of the proposed project will be discussed and evaluated for their artistic merit, scope and feasibility. At the Prelim, the proposal is either approved or the student is required to develop the proposal further and present that at an additional preliminary review. A Preliminary Review Report is then reviewed by the mentor and the Dean and posted to the student’s academic record on Hub Helper.

Scheduling the Preliminary Review

Once the student and mentor have agreed on the thesis proposal and committee, students book a review date and time using one of the form links below. The review calendar gets full quickly, so it’s good to book as soon as you are ready.  

  • Experimental Animation Review Scheduling Form
  • Film Directing Program Review Scheduling Form
  • Program in Film and Video Review Scheduling Form

Once your review is booked, it cannot be rescheduled except in case of emergency.

Preparation for the Prelim

4 weeks before Prelim: Complete technical paperwork & meet with faculty/staff

  • Formstack MFA Thesis Paperwork 2022-2023 Form
  • Facilities Supervisor Authorization, PDF for printing (also available at the F/V Cage, also called the “technical paperwork”)

In the month before the Prelim, students should arrange to meet individually with faculty and staff who manage each of the facilities they’ll use for the thesis, to gain a clear understanding of the technical processes necessary to complete their thesis project. Be sure to complete the MFA Thesis Paperwork 2022-2023 Form before meeting with faculty and staff. In addition, please bring these 2 documents to each of the meetings with facilities supervisors:

  • Written description or summary of the proposed thesis project
  • Facilities Supervisor Authorization

2 weeks before Prelim: Turn in Technical Paperwork

Please turn in the Facilities Supervisor Authorization to the Film/Video office.

1 week before Prelim: Provide review materials

Please provide your committee with items below, by email, link or faculty mailbox:

Experimental Animation • storyboard
• written and visual materials that illustrate the proposed thesis
Film Directing • project outline, synopsis or script
• line-item budget
• production timeline from prelim to completion
• optional: visual and sound references, sketches, or other materials
Program in Film and Video• project outline, description, synopsis or script as appropriate
• line-item budget
• production timeline from prelim to completion
• any other relevant materials (optional)

Changes to Your Thesis

If there is a substantial change in the nature of your thesis or its size, you must discuss the changes with your mentor and present a new written proposal to your committee. The mentor may decide that a second Prelim is needed. Any substantial changes in the technology used or in the length of the project must be accompanied by a new “Facilities Supervisor’s Authorization” form.

Graduation Review

The MFA Graduation Review occurs before the end of the student’s last semester. Students present the thesis to the committee for evaluation and feedback. The committee determines if the project meets the expectations for completion.

For all programs, if the thesis is not complete at the scheduled graduation review, the student is not approved for graduation. A second review will not be possible until the thesis is complete and not before the beginning of the next semester.

For a thesis project to be considered complete, it must have a finished output with sound mix. In the case of a thesis finished on film, complete is defined as a final edit and mixed soundtrack. A silent thesis must be presented either as a film print or a finished output. An installation, performance or interactive project is defined as complete once it has been exhibited in a gallery or other public setting. 

Students are required to give a copy of their thesis project to the CalArts Library.

Review Reports

Either a staff note-taker or the mentor will create reports to document both the preliminary and graduation reviews as a record of the committee discussions and decisions. This will go to the Dean for review and be available via Hub Helper.

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