Students are often faced with doubts and negativity, especially in the filmmaking industry, a creative medium that is constantly in flux. Although there are best practices and methods perfected over the years, even Martin Scorsese can bomb at the box office. The more that students can hear, learn and understand what professionals have gone through and still found a successful path and career doing what they love, the more motivation it gives them. The Fine Cut Student Workshop was intended to break down the walls of being able to talk to industry professionals, taking the conversation out of an office or pitch meeting, creating a safe environment for students and mentors to give and receive guidance.
On a rainy early morning September 28, twelve roundtables were set up in a great room, right in the middle of the CBS lot. After a time, 70 expectant, sometimes hesitant students sat, placed intentionally in tables that emphasized one of three tracks: animation, narrative, documentary/unscripted. The students were here for the first “Fine Cut Student Workshop,” where future filmmakers from colleges and universities all over Southern California could gain valuable insight into their chosen fields from industry professionals, speed-dating style.
One mentor was placed at each table and a timer was set for 15 minutes. Students could ask mentors any questions that they wanted in an informal and relaxed atmosphere — well, as relaxed as one can be sitting across from someone that produced “Zootopia” or “Spongebob Square Pants in 3D”! After each 15 increment, mentors switched tables and by the end each student in their respective categories had the chance to pick the brains of four industry professionals.
Animation students from schools like Cal Arts and UCLA were given the chance to talk to mentors like, Jill Gilbert, the Head of Creative Affairs at Luma Pictures, Brendan Burch, Student Committee Chair Women in Animation/CEO and Executive Producer of Six Point Harness, Monica Lago-Kaytis, Producer and CEO of Frogbot Films and the producing team for some of Disney’s classics, and Arielle Rosenstein an animator at Dreamworks Pictures. Gilbert said she was impressed with the diversity of the questions, ranging from how to stand out with an online job application and understanding work/life balance.
Young filmmakers on the documentary and unscripted track had great conversations about women in media (with Tastemade’s Emily Mraz) and the financing side of production (from Chester Goodson of Tastemade Business Development). These students were given an extra treat when two of the mentors; a “Fine Cut” Alum from AFI, Editor at Pilgrim Media Group and documentary director, Adam Finberg and Melissa Hazlip, Producer and Director for “Mr. SOUL!” and “Contact High,” flew in all the way from New York to join students for this momentous event.
The narrative track unsurprisingly garnered the most attention with talent in specific fields of directing, screenwriting and cinematography. Some students specifically signed up for this track to talk to Matthew Rudenberg, Director of Photography for PBS SoCal series “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors,” documentary “This Is Not Normal” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” Students also learned what the best ingredients are for a story and a script from screenwriter Weiko Lin, author of “Crazy Screenwriting Secrets.”
Asked about what the students brought to the workshop, Lin replied, “Students embraced specific, authentic perspectives to empower their storytelling rather than thinking about the market,” he went on to reflect that “this is exactly what audiences today crave for instead of generalized notions of viewpoints.” Screenwriter and producer for some of TV’s favorite shows like, “Criminal Minds,” “Sleepy Hallow” and most recently “One Mississippi,” Melissa Blake, brought a wealth of knowledge to the students on how to balance writing and producing, including how to get in the writer’s room. Manila-born director, Tim Cruz, shared a story about how he was contemplating taking a break from directing until an opportunity came up that kept him pursuing his passion.
When asked by a KCET staffer one tip he would give film students who want to be directors, Tim Cruz said, "build your portfolio, build samples that show your unique perspective on story and how that you can tell a story and make sure that you're prepared when the time comes, be able to create a pitch deck, have a screenplay in your back pocket because you never when the opportunity comes."
After the four rounds, the students time with mentors was complete. Among other things, students said they learned the importance of LinkedIn, the professional networking site. A freshman from LMU said he learned that projects, even unscripted ones like documentaries, take a lot of planning. These are just some of the insights the students gained over the course of the workshop.
The students were then escorted on a tour of the CBS lot with Sandra Reed-Funnell, Vice President, Executive Client Services & Administration West Coast Operations & Engineering. During the tour, participants got to see the exterior of the “Big Brother” soundstage, learn about the filming of “Gilligan's Island” and got to see concrete stars honoring celebrities like Maureen O'Hara, Steve McQueen and Roy Rogers. Even today, the lot still sizzles with the energy and vigor of the many passionate people that have walked its halls over the decades. For many of the students, this was their first time on a working lot, seeing the plaques and signs of some of their favorite tv shows and then some shows that they are too young to even know about. (Thank goodness for the world of streaming, they can catch-up!).
By the end of the day, students were writing notes, engaging in conversations and email addresses were being swapped between mentors and mentees as well as the students themselves. In an industry where a lot relies on “who you know” or connections, as well as talent and vision, this access to industry vets is a crucial starting point for aspiring filmmakers who may one day be holding Emmys or Oscars in their hands.