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New motion pictures major wants to draw hundreds

What started as a conservation in the middle of a Boy Scout camping trip has now turned into Belmont’s newest major – motion pictures.

Announced last fall, the film-making major housed in the Interdisciplinary Studies will begin accepting majors in the fall of 2013. The program will be led Will Akers, a screenwriter and former Vanderbilt professor he was hired last year to prepare it to open.

The major was something university officials always expected to introduce. So when Akers and Provost Thomas Burns had similar thoughts about the program while camping, they decided to create a proposal and introduce it to President Bob Fisher.

Once the program was approved, both Akers and Burns said they found a groundswell of support for the major on campus.

“When I first started meeting people, the people who were most excited to hear about the motion pictures programs were the admissions people because the high school seniors have been asking them,” Akers said. “They are very glad now that they can say yes.”

He and Burns envision a program with the potential to cater a couple of hundred students five or 10 years from its start next fall.

Like he has previously said with graduate programs, Burns said a niche in the area he believes a motion pictures major at Belmont. He and Akers both see potential for film in a local industry where making music videos and advertising spots are already common.

“We are a very attractive location for a variety of creative people, and film as part of that creative piece, is something Nashville hasn’t seen as fully developed as it could be,” Burns said. “Belmont sees itself as an institution of the size and knowledge that would be able to tap into that culture, that artistic climate, and serve that climate well.”

Both Burns and Akers cited programs like “Nashville”, the city’s music video industry and the potential for students to start their own business as potential local niches graduates could find.

“We’re the right city with the right environment and the right kind of people,” Burns said.

The program will not be the first to be established in Nashville, as Watkins College of Art, Design and Film and Vanderbilt University both have film or motion pictures programs. The university had previously partnered with Watkins for a film minor, and that partnership will stay in place even with the new major program.

Just by talking with prospective students already at Belmont, Akers has high hopes for the students and their work ethic.

“What’s fascinating to me is it’s so much work, but it’s so much fun for them,” Akers said.

Even as the program starts, the program will have several procedural goals to meet to get up to full speed. More faculty will need to be hired beyond Akers and the program will still need to get the final two years of the major’s curriculum approved. Akers also eventually plans to change the major to a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree instead of the Bachelor of Arts degree it will initially planned as.

Since taking his faculty position at Belmont, Akers has traveled around the country to film schools such as UCLA, USC, New York University and Sarah Lawrence to find out how he wanted to create his program back in Nashville.

“I took a little bit from each school,” Akers said. “Different places had different things.”

Akers plans to implement a handful of ideas he says will be unique to Belmont such as bringing in paid actors to work in student films and allowing graduating seniors to direct their own films for their senior projects. He is optimistic about what future students will be able to accomplish and learn when they complete the program.

“Because the knowledge they’re going to get is going to be pretty deep and profound, they’re going to make a lot of movies.” Akers said.

As part of the major’s recruiting push, Akers will host informational session about the program this week. He will be at Patton Hall Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and at the Wright/Maddox lobby Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

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