Studying Film and Business at NYU: The Stern–Tisch Dual Degree Program

In this dual degree program, students learn how to create—and finance—films

Dual degree alumna Natalia Bell.

 

Have you ever wanted to study the financing side of the film industry? Do you want to create your own films and stories and have a strong understanding of the business? Would you like to graduate college with two bachelor’s degrees encompassing both the arts and business in only five years? These are all possibilities at NYU, thanks to the Stern–Tisch dual degree program. 

In this article I interview Natalia Bell, an alum of the program. We discuss her experiences during the program and after. Spoiler alert: she’s worked for Reese Witherspoon and NYU alum Martin Scorsese, conducted analytics for the New York Times, and presented NYU alum and current professor Spike Lee his Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards!

What Is the Stern–Tisch Dual Degree Program?

This program is designed for students who have a passion for film and television and are interested in the business aspects of these industries. The program takes approximately five years (10 semesters) to complete. Upon completion, students graduate with two undergraduate degrees from NYU: 

  1. A Bachelor of Science in Business from the Stern School of Business
  2. A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television from the Tisch School of the Arts

How to Apply

While you can express an interest in this program on your application to NYU via the Why NYU? essay, you cannot apply directly to the program as a first-year applicant. For admission to this program, you must first apply and gain admission to either the Stern School of Business for the Business major or the Tisch School of the Arts for the Film and Television major. 

Applicants must be first years or sophomores currently enrolled in either program at Stern or Tisch to begin the application process. This means that, once admitted to one of those programs and attending NYU, you can express interest in pursuing the dual degree program. Then your academic adviser will assist you with the application process. Students must achieve excellent grades in either of those schools for consideration. The program is competitive and few spots are available. 

The application requirements differ depending on your current NYU school:

  • Film and TV applicants must provide standardized test scores OR quantitative coursework completed at NYU. 
  • Stern applicants must provide a four-part creative portfolio based on the same criteria used for incoming Film and TV applicants:
    • Tell Us About Yourselfie Video
    • Tell Us a Story
    • Short Essay
    • Creative Submission

Interview with a Stern–Tisch Dual Degree Alum: Natalia Bell

Both the Stern School of Business and the Tisch School of the Arts house two of the world’s top programs in their respective fields. As a result, the dual degree program provides students with an unparalleled education in both business and film. Students have access to extraordinary opportunities, internships, professors, and alumni networks during their time at NYU and beyond.

Natalia Bell is one such alum of the Stern–Tisch dual degree. She is a highly impressive friend of mine who has worked in both the film and business spheres. Her credentials include Focus Features, Sikelia Productions, Hello Sunshine, the New York Times, and the Academy Gold Rising Program. The latter led to her attending the Oscars in 2019 and presenting fellow NYU alum and current professor Spike Lee his award.

Natalia is also a remarkable filmmaker herself, writing and directing the short film Pasos de Valor/Steps of Valor in her final year of NYU. Valor has since been featured in many festivals and distributed by PBS on television. She is currently writing her first feature-length film while working as a data analyst at the New York Times.   

On top of all this, I also learned that Natalia helped start Meet NYU! She was the intern for Joey Schmidt, the NYU executive director of marketing and communications, one summer. She even remembers debating the Meet NYU name in his office. So interviewing her for Meet NYU was a rather full-circle experience! I had the pleasure of chatting with Natalia about her experiences before, during, and after the Stern–Tisch dual degree program. 

Natalie and Spike Lee at the Oscars.

Let’s start at the beginning of your NYU journey. Did you intend to apply to the dual degree program once you were admitted?

Actually, the program did not exist when I first applied to NYU! I was in the first class of students to be part of the Stern–Tisch dual degree program. When I applied to college, I knew I wanted to go somewhere that offered a really excellent artistic education as well as excellent academics—particularly in the business space or from a business perspective. Therefore, I only looked at schools I thought could meet that crossover. NYU was one of them. 

Earning a double major between Tisch and Stern was my dream, but it wasn’t possible at the time! But then they announced the dual degree program in the winter of my first year. I knew immediately it was exactly what I wanted to do. There was that moment of recognition: “That’s me! I’m whom that program is for!”

What was the process of applying to the dual degree program like? Was it highly competitive?

I think you go into it knowing that it’s a small and rigorous program. Only five students were admitted into my cohort. It’s intended to be small because it’s for a certain type of person. As part of the interview process, they want to get to know you better. They also want to help prepare you for what the program and commitment is really like. So you go and try to express the best version of yourself. 

If you’re a Tisch student, you’ll need to emphasize your analytical abilities and demonstrate how you’re going to be prepared. Whereas Stern students need to showcase their artistic side. For example, your film or artistic submission should elaborate upon what would have been part of your application from the beginning while adding on to it to demonstrate another dimension of yourself. 

What is being in the program like? How did you schedule all your classes over the five years?

I think a common misconception is that you “add on” another major as if you’re double-majoring. That’s totally wrong! You’re connecting the two together as opposed to pursuing two separate degrees. Stern is really good at teaching you how to support a business and eventually lead a business or entrepreneurial effort. Tisch is really good at teaching you how to be an artist, hone an artistic voice, and understand how artists think. 

There is a lot of flexibility in the program. You work slowly with your academic advisers to meet all the requirements. In fact, you work even more closely with your advisers to craft your schedule than you might as a single degree student because it’s one big puzzle piece. During some semesters, I was making films. Filmmaking is pretty all consuming! So if I was making films one semester, I had to make sure I wasn’t also taking my hardest classes. The program allowed me the flexibility to ease up during those semesters.

I chose to separate Tisch and Stern classes across semesters. My film semesters taught me a lot about myself. They promoted an incredible amount of personal growth and insight into my perspective. I learned that I wanted to see and traverse the world. My Stern semesters then gave me a lot of the tools to achieve those goals. They were invaluable, grounding semesters.

Was it difficult handling the workload for both the Business and TV and Film majors?

There are times when the workload will be quite heavy and you’ll have to be your own advocate and gatekeeper of your time. But there are ways to manage it. You pick and choose semesters when you’re going to really dial in. Then others when you’re going to have little more air to breathe. 

Using the Summer Session to take some classes is also helpful. If you want more time and space for things, you can do some of the work over school breaks. Jessie, one of my advisers, used a lot of creative strategies to help me make sure I met the credits in a way I felt comfortable with. 

What NYU opportunities did you also squeeze in while at NYU alongside your academic schedule?

A lot! I interned and took classes as part of the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology minor. What’s more, I made films outside of class, which is a full-time job!

As a resident assistant on campus, I learned how to build and nurture communities. I was also part of the Residential College, a program that makes your whole living experience a learning experience. It brings a greater sense of learning into where home is and how to do that alongside your peers.

I was also an Admissions Ambassador, which is an amazing community where I met some of the smartest people I know. It was a group that made me better because it exposed me to all kinds of different pursuits and studies and perspectives across the University. I found a lot of my good friends there.

Natalie Bell at graduation.

You’ve had a million impressive internships over the years. What opportunities did the Stern–Tisch program provide you with?

My first internship was during my sophomore year when I started the dual degree program. I worked at Sikelia Pictures, which is the office of NYU alum Martin Scorsese. His office called a counselor at the Tisch Career Center about the position, and she told me to meet at the producer’s office without revealing his name. When I was there, I recognized a lot of the movie posters on the wall, and I slowly put the pieces together! 

I loved the experience. It was such an honor to be around someone who is so incredibly talented and who created the industry I then joined. 

Next, I worked for Chicken & Egg Pictures, a nonprofit that helps support and finance the work of women documentarians. That taught me a lot about how early- and late-career filmmaking works from a very independent lens. I learned that I wanted to focus on women’s stories and the means of telling them. This drove me headfirst to Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s company. At the time, it was a start-up trying to change the narrative and culture. Now, of course, its success is momentous!

I also worked for Annapurna Pictures, which is very woman-led. Sorry To Bother You, a film I love, came out while I was there. When I gained admission to the Academy Gold Rising Program, I requested placement there. The Gold Program is part internship and part classes. For me, it was an education in how Hollywood works and how Academy members think about their craft.

How did the Academy Gold Rising Program lead to you attending the 2019 Academy Awards?

It was a blur! There was a long interview process, and then I was planning a trip to the Oscars rehearsals! I have so many incredible memories from that night. I’ll never forget Spike Lee winning his Oscar. I was so proud that BlacKkKlansman won. It was an incredible piece that meant a lot to me. Plus, it was really cool to be on stage at that moment and have him mention NYU! I held the Oscar he would hold. It was an amazing experience. 

We chatted at the Governors Ball afterwards. Lee has collaborated with Sam Pollard, an acclaimed director, editor, producer, and also the NYU Tisch professor who mentored me through the production of my thesis film. It was very cool to have this connection.

Natalie and Spike Lee at the Oscars.

Tell us about your thesis film. What was that process like in your senior year?

It was a film that I wrote with the mentorship of Nic Tanis, an esteemed professor at NYU. I wrote it during the fall. Then, I shot it in the spring a week after the Oscars! Numerous festivals including NYU’s First Run Film Festival and the Reel Sisters Festival, which is an Academy-qualifying festival, screened it. PBS then invited it to be part of a special called The Latino Experience, which resulted in the film’s TV distribution.

What have you been up to since leaving NYU? Has the program helped your postgraduation career as well?

I think the dual degree program really stands out on my résumé. It’s a great way to launch your career and open up other doors. After graduation, I applied for a job at Focus Features. I’m so appreciative to Joe Pichirallo—my mentor, dual degree Tisch program adviser, and former Focus executive—for recommending me and adding a personal touch to my application.

Now I work at the New York Times as a data analyst for story analytics. In this role I provide data and strategic insight to help shape the formats available to journalists to tell the most pressing stories of our times. After a historic year in news, I’m working with a team that’s innovating the shape of journalism and how these stories reach millions of people. It’s really inspiring! 

I am also writing the screenplay of a feature film right now. It’s a women-led road trip drama. My career will probably always be long, dynamic, and multi-hyphenated. I’ll always pursue both business and creative ambitions. In that way, I know the Stern–Tisch dual degree program has set me up for success!

Natalie in her graduation cap and gown.

Thank you so much to Natalia Bell for chatting with Meet NYU. As you can see, the experiences a dual degree student can have are extraordinary! You can keep up with Natalia’s incredible journey via her website.

More information on the dual degree program can be found on the Stern and Tisch BS/BFA web pages. You can also subscribe to the undergraduate BS/BFA email list. In addition, interested prospective and current students can always contact the department with any questions they may have at admissions.ugftv@nyu.edu.