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Feb. 24, 2003 -- No. 117
Photo note: To download a photo of Sontag, see end of the release.
Writing for screen and stage to become a minor at UNC
By DEE REID
UNC College of Arts and Sciences
CHAPEL HILL -- David Sontag, an award-winning motion picture writer and producer, has been a senior executive at major studios and broadcast networks. He has managed the careers of big-name movie stars.
Now he's using his Hollywood expertise to launch a new undergraduate minor in writing for the screen and stage at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The minor degree program will start this fall; plans call for expanding the curriculum later to add a major in the field.
"The new program will tap the universityís historic strengths in dramatic art, communication studies and the English department's creative writing program," said Sontag, a UNC communication studies professor.
Sontag has worked on developing the new program in writing for the stage and screen since joining UNC three years ago. In 1998, alumnus Michael Piller, co-creator of two Star Trek television series, pledged $500,000 to launch a nationally distinctive screenwriting program at his alma mater. Piller, a 1970 graduate, also was screenwriter for the 1998 movie "Star Trek: Insurrection."
"Carolina is ideally suited for this kind of program to prepare students to write intelligently and creatively for both film and theatre," Sontag said. "This is the only undergraduate liberal arts program that I know of that will encourage students to write in both arenas, something that is becoming increasingly relevant today."
The minor will require courses in creative writing, screenwriting and playwriting, the history of film and play analysis. Students also will take electives in acting, directing and other related topics.
Courses will emphasize the craft of writing while including social, political and cultural history as explored in film and theater, Sontag said. The program is designed to help students develop skills in critical thinking and analysis as well as creative techniques for written and visual communication.
Thatís a formula for success, said Carolina alumnus John Altschuler, executive co-producer and co-head writer for the hit television series "King of the Hill."
"What distinguishes UNC from all of the budding film schools is its tradition of great writing programs," Altschuler said. "The university is creating an artistic space for young writers to learn their craft, combined with access to people who are in the business."
Students also will work with Carolina faculty who have expertise in writing, adapting, producing, directing and acting for film and theatre. Sontag, the program's director, has written and produced films and television programs for 35 years for Columbia Pictures, MGM, Hollywood Pictures and other major studios.
He was a senior executive at Twentieth Century Fox, ABC-TV, CBS Films and NBC TV, and he continues as president of David Sontag Productions Inc. He also has managed the careers of stars including Steve McQueen, Mel Brooks and James Coburn; he has taught or consulted at the American Film Institute, the universities of California and Colorado and the Institute for American Indian Art.
UNC faculty who have helped Sontag shape the new curriculum and will advise or teach in the program are:
- Joan Darling, visiting professor in communication studies and dramatic art, an accomplished director and actress and two-time Emmy Award winner. She directed an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" that TV Guide named the "number one television episode of all time." She also directed major television series including "M.A.S.H.," "Magnum P.I.," "Phyllis" and "Rhoda," and she has taught for years at the Sundance Film Institute.
- Ray Dooley, professor and chair of the department of dramatic art, an accomplished actor and director and a member since 1989 of the PlayMakers Repertory Company, a professional theater company based at UNC. He has performed in more than 20 regional theatres nationwide and in Canada. In New York, he worked on and off Broadway, winning an Obie Award for Distinguished Performance in "Peer Gynt." His television appearances include those on the daytime dramas "One Life to Live," "Guiding Light" and "Another World."
- Paul Ferguson, associate professor of communication studies, winner of seven teaching awards. He has written, adapted, directed or performed in dozens of theatrical productions of literary works. He also has scripted and directed the work of well-known Southern writers including Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton and Doris Betts.
- Marianne Gingher, associate professor of creative writing, author of four books and dozens of short stories. Her novel "Bobby Rexís Greatest Hit" became an NBC Movie of the Week, and her short story "The Hummingbird Kimono" was produced as an independent film. She has won two Best Book citations from the American Library Association and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and two of her stories were cited for distinction in the anthology "Best American Short Stories."
- David Hammond, dramatic art professor, playwright and artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, who has directed productions at Carolina for 18 seasons. A Shakespeare specialist, he also has coached productions or conducted workshops for the American Conservatory Theatre, The American Shakespeare Festival and other major theatrical institutions. He has taught at The Juilliard School, the Yale School of Drama and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
- Joanne Hershfield, associate professor of communication studies and womenís studies, an expert on critical and feminist approaches to national cinema. She wrote four books on Mexican film, including the recent "The Invention of Dolores del Rio," and produced and directed video documentaries including "Nueva Comunidad: Hispanics in North Carolina."
- Bland Simpson, creative writing program director author, composer, lyricist and musician. A member of the string band The Red Clay Ramblers, he has collaborated on five lauded musicals including "Fool Moon," a Tony-Award-winning, three-time Broadway hit. He also contributed to "Pump Boys and Dinettes," a Tony nominee for Best Broadway Musical. His five books include last year's "Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering."
- Bill Svanoe, visiting professor in communication studies and dramatic art and a screenwriter, playwright and songwriter. He wrote the hit song "Walk Right In" for The Rooftop Singers, which he co-founded, and has written for major television series including "The Six Million Dollar Man." His feature-film screenplays include "Extreme Measures " (released as "Fatal Beauty") with Whoopi Goldberg. His first stage play, "The Newsstand," won him an Outstanding New Playwright Award in New York City and the Outstanding Foreign Playwright award in Holland.
- Francesca Talenti, assistant professor of communication studies, a specialist in live-action narrative filmmaking and animation. Her animated short "The Planets" won honorable mention at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. Her feature film, "Snake Tales," has been shown worldwide in 18 festivals, won eight awards and been distributed on cable television through Warner Brothers. Her animation series "Poetry in Motion" is funded by the Independent Television Service and will be seen on PBS.
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Photo url: http://www.unc.edu/news/pics/faculty/sontag_david.jpg
Contact: Dee Reid, (919) 843-6339, email@example.com