Lights, Camera, Alumni! Breaking In & Moving Up in the Entertainment Industry | Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School

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Lights, Camera, Alumni! Breaking In & Moving Up in the Entertainment Industry

Photo: Julian DeGuzman '05 (front row, left) on national tour of Disney's Broadway smash hit, Newsies.

Movies, music, television, theater, dance, writing, media – creative jobs in storytelling are growing and ever-changing. Billboard magazine projects that in 2017, the U.S. is expected to account for $632.09 billion of the worldwide $2.152 trillion global entertainment market, which shows no signs of slowing down.

Many are often surprised to learn how many SJND alums are working successfully in the entertainment industry—the field of storytelling— from A-list stars to lesser-known (but equally gifted) behind-the-scenes talent.

In this feature we interview four alumni who have made an impact within the entertainment industry, who share about how they started from SJND, and what advice they have for students today. We appreciate their contributions to our enjoyment of entertainment, from soundtrack, to script, to screen and everything in between.
 

Allison Loring ’01
Account Manager at CitizenNet, Contributing Writer at Film School Rejects, former Account Executive at Vanacore Music

How did you figure out what type of career path to pursue?
I figured that out in high school, in my sophomore or junior year. I was starting to prepare for college and I wanted momentum working toward a career. I was in the SJND band, always had interest in music, took piano lessons since I was a little kid, and going to concerts was a fun outlet with my friends. I always thought of the adage “Do what you love, and you'll never work another day in your life.”

Once, I had the opportunity to go to a band’s sound check at a show. I not only got to meet the band but everyone in the crew, and I became interested in all of the aspects of putting on a live show – sound checks, lighting, all of the tech aspects. I gravitated toward those people, and the whole industry behind shows sparked something in me. So I carved my college path toward Los Angeles and the recording arts program at Loyola Marymount’s School of Film and Television.

How did you break into the industry during and after college?
At school I learned things like how to run the sound board in the studio environment, but also about the film environment and the sound elements that go into film and TV. I did a lot of internships, including at MTV and Capitol Records, and tried to absorb as much as I could to find a good fit for me. I got a part time job at a boutique booking agency (which booked tours for Elton John, Jimmy Buffett, Chicago, and Stevie Nicks among others) and was hired on after I graduated. I worked there my first two years out of school and worked my way up from assistant/receptionist to ticketing manager, in charge of ticket sales and contracts. After a few years on the legal/negotiations side of things, I missed the creative aspect I experienced at school – being in the studio and bringing music to life.

I did something crazy and left that job to focus on finding the next step; I relied on a lot of network connections from school and my internships. I really liked the area of placing music in film and TV for revenue – trying to find music for a particular scene or script. I got lucky in my pursuits and a recruiter found me, and I was hired at APM Music. It was a lot of lesser-known or stock music, but when placed, it had a recognizable impact on the scene (like the NFL theme, for example). It was a great company with a cool vibe and people excited to learn about placing music. It taught me a lot about film and TV working hand in hand.

How did you become involved in the film industry writing film reviews?
I had a good friend starting to write music reviews and publications online, who threw my name into the hat because I knew and loved music. That led to opportunities for me to attend festivals like The Los Angeles Film Festival and Sundance and get into the movie aspect of the entertainment industry. It was a lot of working my “day job” all day, going to festivals at night, and using my vacation time to go to more festivals. But it showed me the full spectrum of everything that goes into marketing a movie and seeing it come full circle. I saw how small the industry is of creative collaborators coming together.

How did you decide to pivot to working at a marketing company?
I was ready for a new challenge and saw music present a challenge from a marketing perspective because it was becoming free in a lot of ways. I ended up coming to the company I now work for, doing social marketing for promoting movies, concert tours, and products – not always necessarily entertainment. Instead of forming a product, we get it out to the public. Making a pivot seems scary – it’s change, and you feel a little crazy. As long as you’re not burning bridges, jobs are more fluid now and people ebb and flow every few years.

You recommend internships for college students to try on different roles.
Some people get into college and just want to focus on school, but for me in entertainment, you don’t always know what you love doing on a day to day basis. There was a stark change from going to class here and there, to working nine-to-five. Why do something you don’t enjoy every day? Interning was such a great way to make connections in a safe environment for a couple months.

What has been the value in connections throughout your career?
Entertainment has a reputation of being elitist and climbing over each other to get to the next level, and that can be true, but not if you go into it wanting to help people. I am all about LinkedIn, responding to anyone who reaches out, keeping people in mind, and facilitating introductions. I’ve done many networking events, conventions, talking to random people – it can seem like a waste of time, but sometimes one person you meet knows someone else and it might pay off five years later!

How did your time at SJND impact your career?
My main thing at SJND was being in the band, it was a great program. But beyond the band, I remember the community aspect of the school, the teachers, and the smaller classes. Some people say a school of a few hundred is a detriment, but I saw it as a positive, we were a small community that built each other up and watched each other grow. I knew that if I went to a large university or a large company, I could find my community and be supported. L.A. has a much faster pace than Alameda, but because of my high school foundation I felt safe and grounded enough to travel to New York, Italy, and Los Angeles to pursue my dreams.
 

Dale Taylor ’94
VFX Producer at Atomic Fiction

How did you end up in Special Effects?
After SJND, I attended Diablo Valley College for two years, and then went to Sonoma State University where I majored in communications and received minors in business and theater arts. During my last semester I did an internship for Lucasfilm with their THX division.  After I graduated I reached out to the HR contact I made during my internship, interviewed, and got a job at Industrial Light and Magic in 1999. I worked at ILM from 1999 - 2012, and then took a job with Atomic Fiction in Jack London Square.  I’m a visual effects (VFX) producer for the company and have worked on films including Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, War of the Worlds, Evan Almighty, Star Trek Beyond, and recently Rouge One: A Star Wars Story.

What led you to your current role in production?
I started out at ILM in the resources department, the communication hub between the artists and information technology. We were in charge of rolling out software updates, upgrading machines, and so on. After a couple years I wanted to make the move over to production, because I wanted to work on the movies themselves and be a part of the creative process. Moving over to production allowed me to use my communication and organizational skills to run various departments on projects, and then eventually to produce projects which is what I’m doing now.

What were some of your favorite projects to work on?
Some of my fondest memories were working as a stage manager at ILM, being the one to coordinate various shoots – whether it was blowing up a miniature set or shooting miniatures which would be used as elements in shots. My first project in production was Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. I was always a big Star Wars fan so it was a big thrill for me when George Lucas would come into our trailer twice a week and we would present him our work.

I also worked on the stage for the project War of the Worlds (starring Tom Cruise) which had some amazing VFX on a quick four-month schedule. There was a shot where a tanker truck flies off of an overpass and lands on a house. The model shop built a miniature tanker truck, and the FX guys rigged it to flip and land on a miniature house rigged with explosives. It was so fun to see it all come together and look amazing with just one or two takes. On this film I worked with Dennis Muren who I believe has the most Visual Effects Academy Awards in Academy history, and working with him was really special. I made print once in a visual effects magazine named Cinefex; in the photo I was standing around one of the War of the Worlds miniature sets with Dennis and other crew. That was exciting for me.

What is the most satisfying part of being a producer?
The most satisfying parts are being able to deliver a show on time and on budget, and keeping the client happy. I like being an integral part of all stages of the project, and in production you get to make decisions along the whole creative process instead of just one specific part of the VFX pipeline.

What advice do you have for graduates starting out in the industry?
Do your best to find a career that makes you happy. In this age of electronic communication, don’t forget to continue to communicate verbally with your co-workers and clients, as speaking can really help clear up questions and resolve issues. Always treat people well and don’t burn bridges, as you never know whose path you’ll cross on future projects. Finally, do your best to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life - which due to delivery deadlines in the VFX industry – is challenging!

 

Meagan Miller Finnerty ’99
Estate Manager at Puma Springs Vineyards, Former Associate Production Manager and Casting Coordinator at Lucasfilm Animation

What’s a strong memory you have from your time at SJND?
An English teacher at the time, Mrs. Dempsey, was the best teacher. Her love of classic stories and writing inspired a lot of her students. When a story is well-written it stands the test of time and is always relevant. Our senior year she wrote a song to the yearbook staff (she also was the yearbook moderator) based on the song “Can’t take My Eyes Off of You” by Frankie Vallie. She sang it in front of the entire senior class. You can tell when you have a teacher that just loves teaching and their students. I also went to St. Joseph Elementary K-8 and am still friends with many of my friends who went there.

Did you know you wanted to go into entertainment while you were at SJND?
I actually had no clue what I wanted to do when I graduated. I thought I wanted to be an attorney because I worked at a law firm in high school, but really wasn’t sure. I went to Diablo Valley College for two years to figure it out, and while I was there I got a job at Pixar as a receptionist. I decided that I wanted to major in political science (I always loved politics) so I transferred to Cal State Hayward because they taught the entire major at night. I worked full-time at Pixar during the day until 6:00 pm, and then took night classes at Hayward from 6:30-10:00. My entire college experience was at night!

And then you moved up at Pixar.
As a receptionist, I got to meet everybody. I did that for six months, and then took a production assistant position that opened up. I started working on Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall-E which all won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. I started as a PA in the main production office and then became an animation coordinator, and did that for a couple years. Then I got a phone call from a friend at Lucasfilm, sharing a job opportunity in a new division they were starting and asking if I wanted to come over. I was interested and looking to move to the North Bay anyway.

At Lucasfilm we were making an animated TV series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. We ended up making six seasons of the show, a feature film, and we won a couple of Emmys along the way. It was a fun and different experience coming from Pixar/Disney. I was executive assistant to the show’s director, and also casting coordinator for the show. I worked directly with George Lucas for six years and he was heavily involved in the show; it was his passion project as he was transitioning into retirement.

What was your favorite part about working on Skywalker Ranch?
The people and the environment. Skywalker Ranch, very small and isolated in Marin County, is amazing. The entire group was about 200 people, figuring it all out in this little incubator with no distractions. I really enjoyed doing it.

You manage a vineyard in Healdsburg now – what made you shift paths?
It was kind of a different path. First, Lucasfilm sold to Disney (following Pixar, this was the second time my workplace was sold to Disney!). I had the opportunity to move to Glendale to work on the new Star Wars section of Disneyland; I could have also gone to Disney in Shanghai or Orlando. We had stopped making The Clone Wars show, and I was ready for a change after 15 years in the film and television industries.

The family who owns Puma Springs Vineyards (in the Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg) came from high-tech. It was rare that they were willing to take a chance on someone with no idea about vineyards. But I had a willingness to learn, and I jumped in. I’ve been here 3.5 years and use a lot of my tools from the industry like scheduling, logistics and flexibility.

Any words of wisdom for people considering a career change?
Always jump in. When you see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to walk into your producer’s office and say “I want that job. I can do that job. Just give me time to learn and prove myself to you.” In my casting role, when a previous employee had left, I walked and said “I can do this. Give me a shot.” The worst you can hear is no. Once you build your reputation on a willingness to learn and then translate that knowledge into series of successes, it will benefit you in the long-term.

What from SJND has carried forward into your life today?
Having so many incredible teachers that really want you to succeed. As long as you took advantage of the tools made available to you, there was no way you would fail. I carry that forward into my career. Companies don’t want you to fail because if you fail, they fail. If you take advantage of everything that you can, it benefits you down the line.

I also remember the first film class I took was at SJND. Mr. Hooke, also one of the greatest teachers I ever had, taught a class called Religious Themes in Film and Literature. I think we watched every horror movie that ever came out - it was so fun! He taught us how to analyze film and journalism, and I had no idea that it would benefit me so much.

 

Tom Stohlgren ’70
Senior Research Scientist at Colorado State University, Novelist and Screenwriter

What were your educational pursuits after graduating from St. Joseph’s?
I graduated in 1970 in the lower third of my class. I met the love of my life Cindy at Laney College, and ended up graduating from U.C. Berkeley in forestry in 1976. I landed a job as a wilderness research technician in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which was unusual for an inner-city kid from Oakland. I continued my education with a Master’s Degree in biology from Fresno State (1982), and received my Ph.D. in ecology from U.C. Davis when I was 39 and a father of two.

Can you describe your jobs in academia and entertainment?
My “day job” as a scientist has lasted 36 years. I’ve been teaching and training graduate students in ecology at Colorado State University for the past 24 years while remaining happily married and, now, a father of three. I wrote over 200 scientific papers and a textbook, and became a leading scientist in the field of biological invasions. For the past nine years, I’ve added the night job as a novelist and screenwriter. I’ve written six novels and 19 screenplays, selling my first screenplay last November.

What is the most satisfying element of writing for you?
I write with a conscience, often creating lead roles for strong, smart women and minorities. My screenplays “Rescue me Twice,” “Rock Springs,” and “Becoming We” are emblematic of social injustice stories dealing with human trafficking, mistreated laborers, and tolerance for Muslims, respectively. The script that sold first was “Twelve – My Age of Reason” an autobiographical comedy based on my short novel with the same title.

What advice do you have for SJND graduates?
Follow your heart first. “All you need is love” - my lovely bride and I have been together 45 years. Be a life-long learner. Volunteer to get your foot in the door. Get connected (check out www.Stage32.com to network with other film, television and theater creatives). And never give up!

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