Teaching the Business of Media

You might know of the Radio-Television-Film (RTF) department merely for our excellent instruction in writing, shooting, and editing stories for film and television. However, RTF’s curriculum does not stop with hands-on production coursework: to prepare students for a range of career paths and professional opportunities in the evolving media industries, we continue to expand the breadth of course offerings on the business of media.

Through innovative methods and experiential projects, courses like Producing Film and Television, Script to Screen with Matthew McConaughey, and Writer’s Room Workshop are training students for all aspects of media production, including development, financing, marketing, and distribution. Moreover, media studies courses like Global Hollywood, Transmedia Storytelling, The Business of Hollywood, and Media Industries and Entrepreneurship introduce students to the global scope of operations and careers beyond the more obvious professional roles in film and TV production and post-production.

“Educating students on the landscape in which they’re operating is really crucial for their success,” stated Professor Richard Lewis, Associate Chair of the RTF Department.

The research and analytical practices that such business-oriented media studies courses emphasize are more than just academic enterprises: potential employers often value these skills.  Nora Bess—a Plan II Honors and RTF alumna who now works on the digital and social media team at HBO —stated, “A lot of folks in RTF may think technical skills are the most important, but all the jobs I've had in the media industry appreciated my interdisciplinary background. ‘Sure, she knows about TV, but she also knows how to put together thoughts and look at data intelligently.’”

“Educating students on the landscape in which they’re operating is really crucial for their success,” stated Professor Richard Lewis, Associate Chair of the RTF Department.

A number of media studies courses use specific concepts as focal points to teach broader industrial processes and trends. Dr. Shanti Kumar’s Global Hollywood, for example, traces the historical development of international markets for US film and media production, distribution, and exhibition. Meanwhile, Transmedia Storytelling, designed by Dr. Suzanne Scott, focuses on this widely adopted narrative model—demonstrated by franchises like Star Wars and The Walking Dead—to chart the complex dynamics among global conglomerates, media creators, and audiences. As an experiential project, students are asked to collaboratively design a transmedia extension for a contemporary media property.

The Business of Hollywood, developed by Dr. Alisa Perren, maps out opportunities, issues, and challenges that professionals face in the contemporary media landscape. Testifying to the value of this class, Bess explained, “It helped me identify potential spaces, like digital and emerging media technology, that I want to work in.” Each week, guest speakers share their career trajectories and discuss their day-to-day experiences working in a range of professions. Course lectures and materials frame their roles within larger topics like financing models, distribution practices, government policies, labor conditions, and globalization strategies. Guests have included production and post-production professionals (writers, directors, and producers) as well those with more managerial and executive roles (talent management, acquisitions, creative development, and marketing) for diverse film, TV, and digital outlets. A past speaker, Luis Ribeiro, is a managing partner and executive producer of the New York branch of a Brazilian post-production company, LOBO, which specializes in digital techniques and effects. Another, Raymond Mansfield (Partner, QC Entertainment, Executive Producer, Get Out [2017]; Producer, BlacKkKlansman [2018]) co-founded QC Entertainment—a one-stop company for production, financing, distribution, and everything in between.


Dr. Wenhong Chen’s Media Industries and Entrepreneurship surveys global media organizations and entrepreneurs operating in diverse sectors that range from film and TV to gaming to digital and mobile media. Students learn about how both legacy and new players have responded to new technologies and evolving industrial conditions. “I gained an understanding about how the industry works internationally,” stated Bess. “At HBO, our content and businesses have such global reach, and Wenhong's class taught me a lot about how global markets consume media on mobile and digital platforms.”

Moreover, the department’s production and screenwriting courses increasingly emphasize the interplay between the creative and business sides of media production. “Students need to move beyond thinking, ‘I have this creative vision and surely people will flock to see it,’” says Lewis; they should also “think about where this movie or show is going to sell and who is going to see it.”

Producing Film and Television, as designed by RTF Lecturer, Micah Barber, is structured around one major project in which each student shepherds a film or TV idea through development, budgeting, financing, producing, marketing, and distribution. The most crucial thing for production students to understand, according to Barber, is “how to galvanize a project and create a shared mission that inspires money to flow and creatives to attach themselves to this project.”

While Barber’s producing course focuses on developing film and TV projects, it also imparts skills valuable to a broader spectrum of professions—in the entertainment industries and beyond. RTF student, Cailin Hollins—a recent intern for the Austin-based digital production company, Rooster Teeth—cited the course as critical in preparing her to work with large-scale event planning. “I developed budgeting and scheduling skills and really became drawn to the logistical aspects of a position in live events at Rooster Teeth, which is like film production because you have to focus on small details while considering the big picture.”

Similarly, Professor Cindy McCreery’s graduate course, Writer’s Workshop, emphasizes the highly collaborative and business-oriented aspects of TV writing and showrunning. In addition to its focus on screenwriting, McCreery explained, the class “digs deeper into the production side of creating a TV show.” Students work together to develop and write an entire season of an original series with a known Hollywood showrunner. “They learn the hierarchy of a TV series as far as who different players are,” stated McCreery. In other words, students learn firsthand how staff writers deal with network and studio executives, standards and practices, and even marketing departments.

To get a taste of working with executives, students in McCreery’s course work in conjunction with a different producer or network each semester. One semester, for example, Robert Redford of Sundance Pictures provided feedback on students' episodes and helped shop the series around to networks. Another year, NBC bought a pilot and then sponsored the class’s entire series. Ultimately, by emphasizing the balance between creative and business sides of the TV industry, the course, according to McCreery, teaches students “how an actual TV production works.” 

In her screenwriting class, “Hollywood Trailblazer” (Forbes) Felicia D. Henderson blends theory and practice, critical thinking and practical know-how. Her students benefit from Henderson’s ongoing experiences as in industry insider—a working writer, producer, and director for hit shows The Punisher, Empire, The Quad—in addition to her background in business and cinema studies through her work earning an M.B.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D.               

The 21st century media landscape is undergoing rapid transformations both nationally and internationally. To prepare our students to be leaders in these dynamically evolving industries, we will continue to innovate our courses as well as provide unique opportunities beyond the classrom. In addition to the courses available to RTF majors, the department offers a minor in Media and Entertainment Industries through which undergraduates from all disciplines can survey the histories, structures, and contemporary work practices of the media and entertainment industries.

Anne Major
PhD Student
Elana Wakeman
Communications & Programs Coordinator