He received his master of fine arts in cinematography in 1986 from the UCLA College of Fine Arts, the first cinematography degree awarded by the university, and then joined the faculty for three years as head of the first-year graduate production program. Thereafter, McDonald served on the faculties of various film schools, including American University, Loyola Marymount University and, from 1992-1997, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he was a senior lecturer in cinematography. He returned to UCLA TFT's Department of Film, Television and Digital Media in 1995 as a visiting assistant professor, and was tenured in 1998 as head of cinematography.
For his success in the classroom, the UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Teaching selected McDonald for the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997. He was the first member of the film production faculty to receive this award.
As department vice chair for production from 1998-2003, one of McDonald’s major accomplishments was leading the effort, with help from a strategic alliance with Apple Computer, to convert UCLA TFT’s post-production facilities from analog to digital technology. This resulted, at the time, in the largest Final Cut Pro fiber-connected network in the country, only to be surpassed by CNN. Additionally, McDonald worked with numerous companies, including JVC, Panavision, DTS Sound Systems, Technicolor/VidFilm International Digital, Deluxe Laboratories and FotoKem Industries, in the creation of student product and service awards that allowed UCLA students to complete their projects at a lower cost.
In academic year 2004-2005, McDonald was appointed chair of the UCLA Graduate Council, the Academic Senate body that oversees graduate education policy on the UCLA campus. In academic years 2008-2012, he served as department vice chair of Undergraduate Studies, overseeing the film major and the film minor, which was established under his leadership. McDonald’s numerous credits as a cinematographer include both documentary and dramatic films, and he has won numerous film festival awards. With his wife, filmmaker Pamela Beere Briggs, he has produced and photographed independent documentaries. Funny Ladies: A Portrait of Female Cartoonists, profiles four of America’s most popular female newspaper cartoonists. The film won film festival awards and aired on U.S. and international television. Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction blends dramatic and documentary forms, and delves into justice and crime in novels by Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. The film inspired a highly popular film and book discussion program in public libraries across the country. Their Mysterious California: Four Authors launched one of California Center for the Book’s newer “Book Discussions in a Box” programs. Their most recent documentary is Something Like a Sabbatical, which follows the story of Sue Mitchell, who long ago wanted to be an artist but instead became a successful businesswoman. After 35 years, she decides to take a 52-week sabbatical to pursue her dream.
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