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IFF Hosts Film Industry Leaders in Weekend of Career Chats

Online webinars discuss the importance of finding and pursuing passions, building relationships and asking the hard questions

This weekend, the Ivy Film Festival held a “Weekend of Career Chats”: a series of webinar workshops and conversations on entry points and opportunities in the film and television industry. Guests, including screenwriters, directors, producers, film critics and talent agents, took part in the event and shared insights into their respective fields. 

The weekend kicked off with a conversation on the making of the recent documentary “Time” with producer Davis Guggenheim and director Garrett Bradley, followed by a discussion with Film and TV Coordinator for Hello Sunshine Josie Craven on production and development. Later in the day, IFF invited Casey Sunderland to speak on his experience working at leading talent agency Creative Artists Agency, and Michael Simkin to discuss his work as Zac Efron’s producer. On Sunday afternoon, IFF held webinars with film editor Henry Hayes, screenwriter and podcast host Dana Schwartz ’15 and film critic Elizabeth Weitzman. 

While all of these speakers come from different sectors of the entertainment industry, they each encouraged students to be courageous with their work and take advantage of any and all opportunities.

Moderator and member of IFF Georgia Salke ’23 expressed great excitement at Friday's conversation with Bradley and Guggenheim. “‘Time’ is definitely my favorite film I’ve seen this year,” she said. The film follows Fox Rich on her campaign to get her husband released from his 60-year prison sentence after an attempted bank robbery they both participated in during the early 1990s. The documentary combines footage Rich took herself with the footage shot by the filmmakers. “I wanted to show what it means to incarcerate 2.3 million people,” Bradley said. “The magnitude is unimaginable. I wanted to give an example of what it looks like.” 

Bradley “is the perfect role model for young filmmakers who want to make their own path and tell stories that are important to them,” Salke said, expressing deep admiration for her “as both a filmmaker and an artist.”

Saturday’s talks with Craven and Sunderland were more focused on the behind-the-scenes aspects of the industry. Sunderland works at CAA as a part of the Media Finance team, and Craven is currently a part of Hello Sunshine, a production company created in 2016. 

“Everyone in this industry has their story of how they rose up,” Sunderland said. Both Sunderland and Craven began their careers in the CAA mailroom. “There’s a whole book on it — ‘The Mailroom,’ he said. “Sure, you sort mail, deliver client packages… (but) the real purpose of the mailroom is to bring a bunch of like-minded people in your realm together. … Plus, you never know — when you’re assigned to drive a client around or deliver a package — if it’ll lead to something crazy weeks or years later.” Sunderland’s last piece of advice from his experience in the mailroom was to “never treat it as a mailroom, treat it as a starting point.”

Craven also emphasized the impact of the connections she made working at CAA. She encourages all her interns at Hello Sunshine to apply to CAA. Working at a production company, she knows that they rarely hire people without experience in the industry. “A lot of (former interns) end up in the mailroom, like I did,” she added.

Craven often advises her interns to be proactive and ask questions, rather than making assumptions just “because it’s easier.” “It’s not just checking off boxes to get to the next thing. That’s where mistakes are made,” she said.

Simkin offered similar advice to young people seeking jobs in production. “Don’t be shy… ask questions and reach out to people if you like what they’re doing. It never hurts,” he said. “Don’t necessarily be aggressive, but follow your passion and give your input.”

Hayes also told students to be assertive and highlighted the importance of experiential learning, working on real films outside of the classroom. Hayes studied film at New York University, “but it’s no substitute for doing real work … under someone with real experience and a real vision,” he said.

He also recommended that students try to keep themselves busy. “Spread yourself as thin as possible, build relationships because that’s how you’ll get rehired,” he said. 

Schwartz reiterated Hayes’ advice to students that they make the most of the opportunities they find in college. 

“There’s this moment in college that all students have, or hopefully have, when you realize you can do whatever you want,” she said. “So if you want to make a movie, write a novel, direct a play, do it,” she said. 

“You have access to all these people — the best in their field — who’d love to help you if you only ask,” she said, recalling her first experience directing a play with the University’s Shakespeare on the Green club, which was the first time that she felt competent in a leadership position.

Weitzman also credits much of her success to her academic explorations. After taking a class at the New School with author Sue Shapiro, she was able to connect with a number of influential editors who had come to visit the class, working her way from the Village Voice and Interview Magazine to a full-time position at the New York Daily News. 

In recent years, film journalism has changed considerably and has expanded its online presence. While IFF Co-director Sasha Pinto ’21 pointed out that some lament the loss of prestige formerly held by famed critics, Weitzman views these changes as positive. “It’s democratized (film journalism). Anyone can do it now and there’s so many different ways, places, websites focusing on different things,” she said. “You don’t have to fit one set of criteria anymore and you don’t have to compete with so many others for the exact same position.”

Jessica Dibble ’21, IFF co-director, said that she found this weekend’s chats to be highly impactful. “The distinction between the success the world demands of us as humans and the challenge of finding our voice and purpose as individuals” stuck out to her as she moderated Friday’s event with Bradley and Guggenheim. As shown through this weekend’s events, the most important criterion for entering the film industry is finding “what our passion is and what we want to contribute to the world,” Dibble said.


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