To the faculty of the Northwestern University Media Arts program,
I’m taking a moment while I prep for my first feature length documentary to write this letter to you. This documentary is about education in the Prison system, and how these remarkable men and women are creating change and agency by pursuing education. Most of these people were locked up when I graduated from high school for violent crimes. They were sentenced when I entered Northwestern.
I interned in Los Angeles the summer of 1999; I was 19 years old. Miramax offered me a job as an assistant, and I turned it down because I was one of 12 students selected in the Creative Media Writing program – I wanted a chance to direct a student grant film. My senior year, I was accepted into the directing sequence due to a schedule conflict with CMWP. (Was our Frasier episode still the best episode?) My only hope to direct was through a student grant film.
I minimized my course load to reduce my tuition cost for my 3rd and 4th year, worked part-time, and immersed myself in the student life experience at Northwestern. I had a weekly show on WNUR, I produced a couple of plays and films for my peers, co-chaired the Flickr Film Festival, sat on the Board for several student groups and received two grants from Studio 22 and Niteksool.
I graduated Northwestern University in June 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in Radio/Television/Film, a certificate in the Creative Media Writing Program, student loans and approximately $23,000 of credit card debt for all of the enthusiasm of film production and folly of youth. After a summer of self-reflection working as a Cherub counselor and as the ashes of the World Trade Center settled, I set out on my personal journey to Los Angeles in a Toyota Camry with all of my worldly goods in my car. My colleague from Northwestern, Ashley Rice, had a room for me in Los Angeles.
I wouldn’t have known Ashley, who was two years older, if it wasn’t for the countless hours we worked on plays and films. I wouldn’t have known how to tack stitch curtains together if I wasn’t an Art PA on Lenore for Jennifer Parsons. It was my first film – and I was hooked. I wouldn’t have painted amazing circus tapestries for The Need next to Karen Lisondra until 2 in the morning at Lewis if I wasn’t on the crew for a Studio 22 film.
My greatest asset as a young production assistant in Los Angeles was not my Northwestern degree or the mere fact that I wrote a paper on Vera Chytilova’s Daisies, but that I was a collaborator, had the stamina for sets, a good listener, was able to balance a petty cash envelope and take a coffee order. All of these attributes, I learned as a student filmmaker and still utilize today.
I chose not to pursue directing or writing for multiple reasons. I didn’t have the privilege of working the wages of a nascent director, I didn’t have the patience to work as a writer, and I chose the lucrative path of production. I had to pay my loans off.
Through my career working in music videos and commercials, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with amazing directors like Frances Lawrence, Spike Jonze, Mike Mills, Jason Reitman, Melodie McDaniel, Kahlil Joseph, Fredrik Bond, etc. I got to shoot around the world. I got to produce run-n-gun doc style pieces and Super Bowl commercials. Now, I’m working with up-and-coming talent like Matty Brown, Anderson Wright, and Salazar – all of whom learned to shoot on their own, and all of their skills came from experience on sets.
I owe my entire career to Studio 22 and Niteskool because I literally worked in every department. Crew members respect me because I knew all the grip equipment and how to use it. I remember those NYU and USC kids that I rubbed shoulders with in my early years as a production assistant, and they were the worst (although not as bad as the Harvard kids).
As a producer of multiple short-form formats, I can tell you a $1500 grant will only get you a truck rental, crew meals, gas and some props. The films that Studio 22 and Niteskool produces aren’t necessarily award winning, but the experience of the pitch, the scale of the crews, the knowledge of running a budget, and the camaraderie of a working crew — that is the fundamental part of the program that is not taught in 380. We were able to branch outside of the classrooms and form friendships beyond.
Nothing prepared me more for my career at Northwestern than student-led arts boards, and as a former donor, I always donated to “student life.” In light of what has transpired, I am sorely disappointed that the funds have been seized by the department for the Media Arts Grant. There should be more transparency with the allocation of funds that are donated and that money dedicated to the grants should dedicated for the students.
If it is a matter of access to equipment, I’m sure the alumni would rally forth and provide a subset of equipment for the Cage. But to discredit the process of the student film grants, and immediately revoke access is untoward and not constructive. Maybe there should be an implemented process of complaints and egregious actions?
The struggles of funding for a student filmmaker is real and restrict the NUWFA from the raised catalyze raised funds is sheer power grab by the faculty.
June Nho Ivers
Class of 2001
Radio TV Film, Creative Media Writing Program
Niteskool Grant recipient 2001
Studio 22 New Media grant recipient 2000