Film - Policy Statement

July 24, 2020

Dear Students:


COVID-19 has impacted higher education as well as film and television production in ways that could never have been foreseen. As the Film Program continues to adapt production guidelines within national, state, city, and University health and safety recommendations, we have been working to support student production as thoughtfully and safely as possible while being as flexible as we can.


All rising third, fourth, and fifth year students who are unable to make their thesis productions due to COVID-related production restrictions may choose to submit a Virtual Thesis in lieu of the required thesis-level production to satisfy requirements for the MFA degree. See the section on Virtual Thesis Options, below, for further details. The availability of Virtual Thesis as a graduation option will be determined on a semesterly basis, depending on what level of production is possible.


We expect that Production Phase I will begin at the start of Fall B, on October 26, 2020, during which students will be allowed to complete exercises while adhering to strict health and safety protocols. Production Phase I will be a level at which first and second year exercises and 3-5 films can be made. Students can elect to make their COVID interrupted 8-12, 2nd year films, or thesis level projects at this level if they choose and their instructor or advisor approves. The production parameters and safety protocols for this phase are being finalized and will be sent to all students in early August.


If production has not moved beyond Production Phase I by Fall B to a level that faculty and production staff determine to be appropriate for required projects beyond the 3-5, including the 8-12 film, 2nd year film, non-Thesis, and Thesis film, the following will apply:


  • Rising second year students will be given an extension to make their 8-12 film or 2nd year film during Research Arts, prior to beginning their thesis level work, as safety and production conditions allow. The matriculation cap for rising second year students has been extended to 4.5 years (February graduation) with their advisor’s approval, due to production time lost during the pandemic.


  • All rising second, third, fourth, and fifth year students in good standing will be eligible to register for up to two consecutive semesters of Thesis Completion in their final semester or year of study with approval from their advisor. Students may not register for Research Arts status following a semester or year of Thesis Completion.


  • Students who have withdrawn from the program are not eligible for Thesis Completion status. They may reapply for admission to complete their 2nd year of study or for Research Arts status.


  • Research Arts students with planned Fall 2020 thesis level productions that cannot be completed due to COVID-19 production restrictions are eligible to elect a Virtual Thesis Option. Students who graduate with a Virtual Thesis and go on to make their Virtual Thesis film within 2 years after graduation may apply to show this film in the Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF) as long as it meets current CUFF screening criteria. Please read “Outside Film Eligibility for CUFF” below for more details.


Thesis Completion Status


Thesis Completion status is a special status created for students whose productions were interrupted due to COVID-19. Thesis Completion status grants students full time status with access to thesis advisement, equipment, and post production resources.

  • To be eligible for Thesis Completion status, students must have a script approved by their advisor that is ready for production.


  • During the Thesis Completion semester(s), students are expected to work solely on completion of their production.


  • Students in Thesis Completion status cannot take or audit any Research Arts classes except for Thesis Advisement or develop feature or TV scripts other than their thesis film (thesis Completion status cannot be used for faculty advising on feature screenwriting or TV Writing).


Thesis Completion Status Registration and Costs


  • As with any other registration, to be eligible to register for Thesis Completion, a student cannot have a balance of over $999.99, as such balances result in the placement of a registration hold by the University’s Office of Student Financial Services.


  • Students approved for Thesis Completion status will not be charged Research Arts tuition or the Thesis Fee. University-wide fees cannot be waived.


  • The University requirement to maintain health insurance will not be waived. Students who wish to request a waiver from being enrolled in health insurance through the University must do so through Columbia Health. Waivers require proof of comparable insurance.


  • Students in Thesis Completion status will not be eligible for service or instructional (Teaching Assistant or Teaching Fellow) positions funded by SOA financial aid.


  • Students must be registered continuously until graduation (students who have withdrawn from the program are not eligible for Thesis Completion status).


  • With full-time status, US citizens and permanent residents will be eligible for federal loans


  • Students will remain eligible to apply for casual positions at the University as usual.


Virtual Thesis Options


Students whose thesis-level production has been interrupted by COVID-19 may choose to submit a Virtual Thesis in lieu of the required thesis-level production.


Directing Concentration

The Directing concentration requires thesis candidates to submit a complete shooting plan for the thesis film which includes a lined script, shot list, location floor plans or storyboards (these last two, as the director deems appropriate based on approach). In addition, a look book or visual director's notebook should be delivered with a director's statement of between 250 and 500 words. Directing concentrates are also strongly encouraged to graduate with at least one feature screenplay and/or one television pilot suitable for submission to talent labs, producers and the industry.


As students consider their decision, please note that because a Virtual Thesis is in lieu of a Thesis-level production, students who graduate with a Virtual Thesis will not have access to production resources for any production completed outside of the program, including equipment, insurance, post-production resources, or Finishing Funds after graduation.


Directors: The virtual thesis replaces one Thesis-level production. Students who elect to graduate with a Virtual Thesis may direct only one additional film as an “Outside” director if it is a Producer’s Thesis. In this case, only the Producer would be eligible for academic credit and CU resources for that second film.


Screenwriters: The Virtual Thesis replaces the Portfolio film. Students who elect the Virtual Thesis will not be eligible to direct any further Columbia University productions.


Creative Producers: The Virtual Thesis (requirements in a separate CP FAQ) replaces the Thesis-level short film for which Producers would have received CU resources as Lead Producer. Producers may produce additional CU films (no cap) after graduation, but only the director, who must be a current CU student, will be eligible for CU resources to support the film.


Outside Film Eligibility for CUFF (for students graduating with Virtual Thesis)

Students who graduate with a Virtual Thesis and go on to make their Thesis-level short film after graduation may apply to show this film in CUFF as long as it meets current CUFF screening criteria. All students submitting a Virtual Thesis to meet graduation requirements will be eligible for $5K in Development Research Funds in lieu of Finishing funds, as long as the project meets CUFF short film criteria; they are not partnered with a CU producer director or screenwriter who is also collecting Development Research Funds for the project; and the student has not already collected “Finishing Funds” on another research arts film (one Development Research Fund or Finishing Fund per qualified project, per student).


As COVID-19 Impacted Alumni, alumni who submit a made Virtual Thesis film to CUFF will be eligible for a “post grad access” for a limited time period, which offers the following support during that time:

  • Post-production support (implementation to be determined)
  • Access to the Post Production Partner Program
  • Showcasing of student work at the 2021 or 2022 Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF)*


* To be eligible for the CUFF student showcase, students must also complete the Production Advisory Board (PAB) process for creative advisement and practical production best practices as part of their Virtual Thesis Requirements to graduate. The finished work for CUFF must meet the same deadline and requirements of all other CUFF 2021 and 2022 films. Detailed information about Development Research Funds and outside film eligibility for CUFF can be viewed here.