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Track 8: Media Parks - The Cinematic and Televisual History of Theme Parks

In this two-week intensive program, students will explore theme park history, and the evolution of the relationship between moving image media (film, television, and video games) and theme parks. The course will examine the contexts and shared histories of theme parks and screen media, explore theoretical, industrial, and cultural issues surrounding them, and investigate how these cultural phenomena are shaping one another in today’s media landscape. The program will include lectures, screenings, discussions and guided site visits to Disneyland, Disneyland California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood. In class, students will study case studies of theme park rides and theme park "lands" by researching and analyzing scholarly texts, reference films, television shows, and video games. Each guided site visit will also include an on-site behind-the-scenes lecture.

Through these topics, students will be introduced to the fundamental skills of college-level academic writing, practice reading comprehension on college-level academic sources, and be challenged to practice critical thinking and observation skills through several reading and writing assignments.



This program carries 3 quarter units of UC credit. Students in this track are enrolled in the following class:
FTV 18: Media Parks – The Cinematic and Televisual History of Theme Parks (3 Units)


Guided Site Visits

During the course, students will embark on three curated visits to Southern California theme parks: Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood. Visits will be structured around on-site behind-the-scenes lectures and instructor-guided experiences as well as required visits to select attractions and park “lands.” The required attractions/lands and will be the springboard for writing assignments and require students to connect their observations, critical media analysis, and argumentation skills to lecture concepts, assigned readings, and screenings. Students will choose specific attractions or lands as case studies for two short papers and one final paper.

These site visits allow students to have a firsthand educational experience and learn directly from the interactive aspect of theme parks. By studying the historical, cultural, industrial, and theoretical issues surrounding these spaces and attractions in-depth before encountering them, students will be well-prepared to approach these experiences from a critical and analytical perspective. Ultimately, this hands-on investigation provides students with a sense of how these interactive spaces and rides work together to create unique media experiences. While these excursions will no doubt be fun, they are first and foremost active learning experiences and sites of analysis.



Admission to the program is by instructor consent only. Students will be asked to answer several questions on their application to determine their academic readiness for a rigorous college-level course, as well as provide their transcript and a letter of recommendation.

This track is open to high school students enrolled in 10th - 12th grade in Spring 2022.


Meet the Instructor

Heather Lea Birdsall's current research traces the changing relationships between film, television, and video games and the American theme park. Her dissertation considers how modern-day theme parks are increasingly becoming "media parks," or physically and virtually immersive cinematic, televisual, and game spaces. Using Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California as a paradigmatic case study, her dissertation examines these spaces and their story worlds as significant sites of narrative and spatial exchange, of cinematic and televisual presence, and of embodied and interactive experience. She served as a UCLA Collegium of University Teaching Fellow during the 2019-2020 school year and was awarded the UCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship in 2020.



View the program layout for:
Session A (July 10 - 23, 2022)



Register Online. In order to secure your spot, a nonrefundable deposit is due upon completion of your application for the program. Deposits will be applied towards your balance once enrolled in the program.


Grades and Transcripts

Program participants will earn units of credit on a letter grading basis and will be recorded on an official University of California transcript. Please note that official transcripts are not automatically sent to students. To request a transcript, please contact the UCLA Registrar’s Office.



Due to the rigorous and intense nature of the program, the residential plan, which includes a meal plan, is mandatory for all participants. Participants will be housed in one of the UCLA residence halls, comfortably furnished and conveniently located within easy walking distance of classrooms, libraries, and recreational facilities.


Nicholas Endowment TFT Summer Institute Scholarship

The Nicholas Endowment TFT Summer Institute Scholarship for Film & Television is a need and merit-based scholarship opportunity for underserved/ underrepresented high school students enrolled in grades 9-12 who would benefit significantly from a Summer Institute experience. Both partial and full scholarships are available for high school students enrolled in UCLA Film and Television Summer Institutes including Digital Filmmaking, Writing for TV: Big Ideas for the Small Screen, Cinematography, Traditional Animation, and Media Parks: The Cinematic and Televisual History of Theme Parks. For deadlines, eligibility requirements and application information, please visit the Nicholas Endowment TFT Summer Institute Scholarship page.


Summer Scholars Support

Scholarship support may be available for continuing California high school students with a family annual adjusted gross income of $115,000 or less. For deadlines, eligibility requirements and application information, please visit the Summer Scholars Support page.



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UCLA Summer Institutes
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Tel: (310) 825-4101
Fax: (310) 825-1528
E-mail: info@summer.ucla.edu