Program Description


Program Producer, Sarah Lawrence Filmmaking Faculty

E-mail Jay

Cinema Sarah Lawrence is a full 15-credit “semester away” program open to Sarah Lawrence students and those from other accredited colleges and universities. The program runs every other spring semester. The 2019 semester will kick off with a week at the Sundance Film Festival before moving to Nantucket, Massachusetts, for 12 weeks of hands-on learning in the form of producing a feature-length film. The film slated for production in the Spring 2019 semester is Martin Eden, an adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel of the same name.

Week 1: Sundance Film Festival

Cinema Sarah Lawrence begins with a weeklong visit to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, from January 24-31, 2019. Students stay at the modest but conveniently located Chateau Apres Ski Dorm, just a minute walk from the Park City Library festival venue and two minutes from the Sundance shuttle that connects to each theater, where they will enjoy a daily routine of screenings and special events. Students keep diaries that discuss the films they’ve seen and the experiences they’ve had, and write a narrative account of their Sundance experience.

Student with camera

Weeks 2-8: Classes, workshops, and pre-production

Students and key faculty/mentors travel from Sundance to the film location—the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. For six weeks, students are immersed in classes, film department workshops, screenings, discussions with visiting artists, casting, and hands-on pre-production. The essential professionals who populate this period include director, director of photography, producers, screenwriters, production designer, art director, costume designer, line producer, assistant director, and editor. A literature studies teacher also joins the program, as do recent alumni, now working in the field, who will assist in the production department. Approximately two weeks before the start of production, other professionals begin to arrive to help lead classes and make final preparations for production.


Cinema Studies

This course will focus on films thematically related to Martin Eden. We’ll specifically look at themes of Consuming Love, Inspired Art, the American Dream, and the Social Dynamics of Class. Film titles currently under consideration include The Great Gatsby (Clayton), Bright Star (Campion), Edvard Munch (Watkins), Jungle Fever (Lee), Six Degrees of Separation (Schepisi), Reds (Beatty), La Ceremonie (Chabrol), They Shoot Horses Don’t They (Pollack), Glengary Glen Ross (Foley), There Will Be Blood (Anderson), The Servant (Losey), Howard’s End (Ivory), The Go-Between (Losey), Lacemaker (Goretta), Bonnie and Clyde (Penn), American Honey (Arnold), Jean de Florette (Berri), Germinal (Berri), Monster’s Ball (Forster), Blue Valentine (Clanfrance), American Dream (Kopple), Moonlight (Jenkins), and West Side Story (Robbins, Wise). Students will meet three times a week for six weeks in three-hour classes/screenings.

Literature Studies: Jack London and Friends

The proposed list of books we’ll study includes Jack London’s Martin Eden, Edith Wharton’s Bunner Sisters, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. We’ll explore characters, themes, and settings that parallel Martin Eden. Students will read, write, and discuss the novels to enlarge our consideration of the book we’re adapting. Literature Studies meets once each week, for three hours, for six weeks. Two of the novels will be assigned for reading prior to the start of the semester.

Screenwriting and Directing

This class closely examines the screenplay that we bring into class. We critique, debate, and revise scenes. We explore themes and details of character that we later connect to our search for actors. Our brainstorms and discussions prompt a variety of changes to the script and lay the groundwork for the film’s direction, but the overriding goal is to fully immerse students into the world of the script. Through extended dialogues and tight focus on every scene, students come to know the script intimately and can therefore help shape and recognize each added layer, through casting, locations, costumes, cinematography, design, and direction as elements that bring the story to life.

This screenwriting and directing class provides the home base for students to fully discuss the project. This class meets twice a week for three hours. We also convene a weekly production meeting for three hours, where students observe the department heads in their discussions, deliberations, and decisions—and students chime in on specific progress in their departments.

Students involved in casting present to the class audition videos of professional actors who are considered finalists to play leading and principal supporting roles. Casting decisions are based on these screenings and discussions.

Actors and Directors Master Class (optional; noncredit)

This weekly master class will include scene studies and performances along with conversations, readings, and screenings that explore the many facets of effective performance. Students will direct—and they will perform. Students require no previous experience to participate and learn more about the intensive collaboration between actor and director that lies at the heart of the filmmaking experience. No matter what position you occupy in production, this exposure can be valuable. This class will meet once per week for two hours.

Students around desk

Film Department Workshops

Workshops generally meet three times a week for three hours each. It is in these workshops that students learn what they will need to know and do for production, and begin to move into the positions they’ll fill.

Each student chooses one workshop. Students who wish to switch from their initial choice are permitted to do so within the first couple weeks of class. Similarly, students who wish to rotate into several positions during production are given due consideration and support, where possible.

Camera, Lights, Sound

Students work with the Director of Photography to review and understand camera and lighting practices and theory. They also build shot lists for scenes and plan strategies for camera moves and lighting specific to our scripted scenes. A sound recordist reviews and teaches sound techniques. Students in this workshop filter into positions as camera assistants, grips, electrics, boom operator, sound mixer, slate clapper, and second unit camera. They also rotate between camera, grip, and electric departments.

Producing and Production Management

Students learn the jobs in this department by supporting the Line Producer, First Assistant Director, and Production Manager in the work of researching costs and vendors, arranging transportation and logistics, managing housing, organizing casting sessions, creating budgets and schedules, etc. Student positions include Script Supervisor, Second ADs, Second Second ADs, Production Office Coordinator, Casting Coordinator, Key PA, Assistant Coordinator, and more.

Production Design

Professionals include Production Designer, Art Director, and Prop Master. Students start work immediately to break down the script and serve pre-production needs that include visual research, source research, and acquisition of props, scenic painting, set construction, and more.

Costume Design

Emmy-winner Sarah Beers is our designer and she’s fabulous with students who take on huge responsibilities in this essential department. Students break down the script, conduct research, shop for costume elements, and go on field trips to pull costumes in New York and New England. On set, students dress actors and organize everything, including “last looks.” Students have been able to fully operate this department—with one adult mentor.


This group typically makes a behind-the-scenes documentary, shoots stills, assembles dailies, synchs and digitizes material, and produces a first assembly of the film. Some students continue on into summer work as assistants/apprentices. Sarah Lawrence may offer an ongoing summer project for student editors who want to add this intensive additional workshop to their experience. Students will work hands-on to develop a rough cut of the feature film, guided by a professional editor and the director.

Student working on film set

Weeks 9-14: Martin Eden Film Production

Following the seven weeks of class time, all students will work with an expanded group of mentors/professionals to launch final pre-production and production of the planned film, Martin Eden. The production runs on a schedule of six five-day weeks.

Students work each day in their departments under the supervision of their department heads. The emphasis continues to be on their development as part of a team undertaking an ambitious project. We’re making a real movie! Many students say they come away with a profound sense of accomplishment, having taken ownership of a substantial part of the narrative of production.

Some students will also present workshops to the local communities where we shoot. They explain our process and show examples of costumes, sets, props, and camera strategies. By teaching, they also learn and develop leadership skills.

About Martin Eden

The film slated for production in Spring 2019 is Martin Eden, based on Jack London’s intensely personal autobiographical novel. Set in the early 1900s, it tells the story of a rough-hewn, impoverished, and unschooled young sailor, Martin Eden, who unexpectedly meets Ruth Morse, a magnetic but modest young woman of means and education. Their unconventional attraction upends both lives and propels timely themes of impossible love, the confines of class, aspiration to The American Dream, survival as an artist, and the quest for a comfortable place in an inconstant world.

The screenplay for Martin Eden is currently in development by Sarah Lawrence College students in Jay Craven's class, The Art of Adaptation: Screenplays and Films Developed from Other Forms of Literature. Further screenplay development and revision will take place during Cinema Sarah Lawrence's pre-production period on Nantucket, as well as in online and in-person workshops with admitted students in fall 2018.


Students earn a total of 15 college credits for Cinema Sarah Lawrence, broken down as follows:

  • 6 credits for required classes (Cinema Studies, Literature Studies, and Screenwriting and Directing)
  • 3 credits for one hands-on production workshop
  • 6 credits for six-week production period

The credits earned are fully transferable back to non-Sarah Lawrence students’ home institutions, with allocations based on each institution's policies and preferences.