Theatre and film professors partner to give students comprehensive film production experiences

Filmmakers and screen actors often rely on each other to make a production work. This symbiotic relationship is driving a growing collaboration between Missouri State’s department of media, journalism and film, and department of theatre and dance.

Student Becca Thompson works behind the scenes on the set of “Counting to 1000.”

Overlap in theatre and film

Kurt Heinlein
Kurt Heinlein

Kurt Heinlein, professor of theatre and dance and acting program coordinator, said despite the departments offering a different range of degree and course options, there is a lot of opportunity for overlap in theater and film. Each area teaches skills that are needed in the film production process.

“The logical trajectory of that has been more crossover work. Some of this was already happening, but we’ve formalized it a bit to benefit the students in both departments.”

The collaboration also comes, in part, as a result of a changing dynamic in MSU’s acting program and the acting profession — less emphasis on stage acting and more in on-camera work.

“Our department heads, as well as the dean’s office, have been really supportive about these crossover initiatives,” Heinlein said. “Every time I approach someone to say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this,’ the answer I get is, ‘Yeah, let’s figure out how we can make it happen.’ That’s so huge, so important for the students.”

‘Demystify the production and acting processes’

Andrew Twibell
Andrew Twibell

One media, journalism and film faculty member with whom Heinlein has partnered is Andrew Twibell, assistant professor in digital film production.

“One directing class … was designed to give students in both of our departments additional opportunities to not just work together, but to get to know each other,” Twibell said. “It’s our hope that these opportunities will help demystify the production and acting processes.”

Recently, the College of Arts and Letters has explored combining course work across departments with the idea that the collaboration will result in the creation of a film.

This innovative, combined curriculum may shape the future of both departments in years to come.

Testing skills learned in the classroom

Student projects, department-produced films and web series, and other locally filmed productions are examples of resume-building opportunities offered to students in departments across COAL. Here are a few created in the last year.

“The Weight”

This project had strong ties to Missouri State. It’s director, Thomas Rennier, is an MSU alumnus Thomas Rennier. “The Weight” was filmed in 2015 in nearby Greenfield, Missouri. Several COAL alumni and students participated as cast and crew members. Heinlein was the film’s stunt coordinator.

“Counting to 1000”

Seniors in electronic arts are required to complete a senior thesis project. “Counting to 1000” is one such project created by Josh Pfaff, Samantha Rhode, Logan Sparlin, Joshua Moore and Andrew Westmaas. Since its spring 2016 debut, it has been accepted into several national film festivals and won numerous awards.


The media, journalism and film-produced web series “Limbo” was initiated as a way to bring students in theatre and film together for a large-scale project, said Twibell.

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