Alums teach UCSC film students about life in the movie biz

From left, filmmaker Mo Perkins; Director of WorldWide Acquisitions for Universal Pictures Group, Dylan Wilcox; UCSC Film and Digital Media Department chair, Shelley Stamp; producer, editor, and director Tamara Maloney; and Vice President of Production for Warner Bros. Pictures, Sarah Schechter. (Photo by Scott Rappaport)

Four successful alums in the film industry returned to campus on February 2 for a roundtable discussion on how to succeed in the business of making movies.

The panel featured Sarah Schechter (Porter '98), Vice President of Production for Warner Bros. Pictures; Dylan Wilcox (Cowell '98), Director of WorldWide Acquisitions for Universal Pictures Group; Tamara Maloney (Merrill '97), an independent producer, editor and director; and Mo Perkins (Kresge '97), an award-winning filmmaker.

Together, they engaged in a freewheeling conversation for nearly two hours in front of a rapt audience of more than 40 UCSC film students. All four guests were extremely knowledgeable and heavily immersed in the fine art of writing, directing, producing, distributing, and promoting motion pictures.

"What a wonderful opportunity it was for our current students to hear from recent alums about the range of experiences they've had in the film business-whether working for Hollywood studios or going the Indie route, working in film production or in distribution and marketing," observed Film and Digital Media Department chair Shelley Stamp. "They all drew such thoughtful connections to the work they did here at UCSC too, so it made me feel like we're really doing something right in nurturing an intense passion for cinema," she added.

Schechter now oversees more than 20 films in various stages of development and production at Warner Bros. They range from Spring Breakdown, a comedy starring Amy Poehler and Parker Posey, to an upcoming film about Nelson Mandela set to star Morgan Freeman and be directed by Clint Eastwood. Before joining Warner Bros, Schechter was a Creative Executive at Barry Mendel Productions at Universal Pictures where she oversaw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and worked on films such as Munich and The Royal Tenenbaums.

"I didn't think when I went to UC Santa Cruz that I wanted to be a studio executive; I don't even think I knew what that was," Schecter noted. "But the reason that I've done well in my job is that I'm able to clearly articulate an opinion about films-both artistically and commercially."

"The best thing I did in college was to see a lot of movies and talk about them critically," she added. "Because you learn the language of filmmaking and it helps on sets and in talking to people in the business; it's the best groundwork for working in film and a way to make connections with filmmakers that you're excited to meet."

Wilcox spends his days looking for independent films to distribute domestically through Focus Features and Rogue Pictures-both divisions of Universal Pictures. He also searches for movies that Universal International can distribute overseas. Wilcox advised students to get as much experience as possible in a wide variety of jobs as they make their way through the film world.

"When I went to school here, I didn't realize there was a job out there where you watch a lot of movies and go to film festivals," said Wilcox. "There's no need to put all of your eggs into one basket-think of each project as a stepping stone. Stick to something that moves you and use it as a building block for your next job."

Perkins took a different route to moving up in the business. After graduating from UCSC, she earned a masters degree in directing at UCLA, where she was the recipient of numerous awards. In addition to directing short films, Perkins began writing screenplays. A Quiet Little Marriage, now in post-production, is her feature directorial debut.

"It's a tricky road because there's not really a direct path to success in this business-we all make our own way," Perkins said. "After grad school at UCLA, I made it my mission not to get a job; my major focus was to write feature scripts. As a director or writer, you need to have something to show-nobody will just give you a project, there's too much money involved. So my advice is to create things-put your heart into it."

After graduating from UCSC, Maloney did an internship at Lucas Films, worked for TV Guide, collaborated with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler on his documentary feature Who Needs Sleep? (Sundance 2006), and edited American Zombie, which will hit theaters in March after a successful festival run. Her experience even includes a stint working on reality TV.

"I did casting for Survivor and I learned so much from that job," said Maloney. "It's important to do all sorts of jobs and try new things-it all adds up to your experience and develops your communication skills."

"I really thrived at UCSC--on the passion and love for what we were doing here," she added. "I spent so much time watching movies in the library. We would just eat, breathe, and live film."