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Faculty Spotlight

Richard Ness Film Professor

Chris Ginn

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 Richard Ness is a professor teaching film in the English Department at Western Illinois University; however, he was hired in the Department of Communication at Western in 2000 as part of the Broadcasting division.

 Ness taught for four years at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and prior to that, he taught for four years
at Iowa State University.

 “My background is in film,” Ness said. “My undergraduate and master’s work at Iowa State were geared towards film. My master’s was actually in journalism and mass-communication, but my main emphasis was on film. At Wayne State I did my doctorate, and that was again in film studies within  a communication department.”

 At Western, once broadcasting separated from communications and became its own department, the film studies interdisciplinary minor was created.

 “There was one years ago, but over the years faculty members left and the class got dropped,” Ness said. “There was only an intro Film course and Women in Film course that the Women’s Studies department offered. So, we created a curriculum with the English Department to do a Film minor and that was around 2007. We started work on it in 2006.”

 With his extensive teaching experience in film,  Ness designed an original course to introduce students to film history and out-of-the-box creative thinking.

“An elective that we offer is one that I created, the Studio System course, the Hollywood Studio system, which I set up like a semester-long role-playing game,” Ness said. “Students are divided into groups and each group is a different studio and they have to design a film that they would create.

 “The beginnings of the Studio System course was at Iowa State years ago, and I’ve developed it over the years,” Ness said. “So that is my personal course. No one else teaches that.”

 Sometimes called the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studio system was a method for a small number of predominate film studios to produce and distribute films through a network of theatres across the country.

 “It was supposed to be a course on American film genres and the Studio system,” Ness said. “I would do three or four weeks on Westerns, horror films and musicals. But then for the studio system component, I designed this project where basically
students draw a name of a studio out of a hat, and they work in groups. So, I had an MGM group, a Universal group and things like that.”

 Combining the studio system and a role-play component created a healthy and competitive atmosphere.

 “When I first started doing it, we did it for about three or four weeks and students came up with an idea for a film they would make,” Ness said. “I picked a year out of a hat sometime between 1934 when the production code went into effect and around 1948 when the studio system started to break down.”

 Reaching for the future, Ness intends to expand the Film minor.

 “We’re hoping to build the Film minor,” Ness said. “We’ve talked about possibly a major or what they call an option. The big problem we’ve got right now is of course the problem everybody has, which is the budget situation. I’m optimistic. These things go in cycles, and I think Western will swing back again. We’re proceeding as though we’re going to build a
film program.”

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Faculty Spotlight