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Ready, Roll, Cut: J.D. Moran

The MPTV alumnus shares his creative journey to his current post-Academy career

Alumnus J.D. Moran graduated from Academy of Art University’s School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPTV) in Spring 2014. His talents and skills learned at the Academy, while studying production design, have taken Moran to Cannes, Rome and currently New York City, where he enjoys a career full of creative opportunities. 

Moran recently spoke with us about his early days at the Academy with the Pre-College Art Experience, how he decided to “squeeze out the most” of his time at school by getting involved and how networking has led to some great opportunities in his post-Academy career.

Are you originally from the San Francisco Bay Area?

I grew up in the East Bay and Santa Cruz County. I was always a very dramatic child. I was always very particular about arranging my room and rearranging the furniture in my whole house.

I also loved movies and TV. I was sort of a class clown; I loved telling stories and found that more interesting than algebra, so I ended up having to go to summer school for algebra.

The students who did well in summer school got a field trip to San Francisco, so I made up my mind to do well, so I could get out of class. Our group went to the Mission District and the Academy of Art University. We toured the school, saw the Spring Show and were told about their pre-college program. At that moment, I knew this was the school for me! I had no idea what I wanted to do yet, but this is where I wanted to be.

What was it about the Academy that affected you so strongly?

Everything! There was energy and the magic that comes with a big city and all of the art! I felt like, when walking around Spring Show, that I had found my people. I knew [that] I just had to come to [the Academy]. Unfortunately, I was too late for the pre-college program that year. So I went online and began researching [the school].

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What is the pre-college program?

It’s for high school students; they live [on campus] and take four pre-college program courses. [It] was the most incredible semester of my life during that pre-college summer course at [the Academy]!

I was still on the fence about interior design or film, so for my pre-college program, I took acting, voice, screenwriting and interior architecture and design (which is where I learned to make models). I made friends there that I still keep in touch with today.

After participating in the summer pre-college program, what was next for you?

I went online and researched every four-year degree and classes, and I created my own four-year schedule for every track, because I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to major in. I saved the MPTV track for last, and I didn’t know what production design was, so I Googled it, and that was the moment I knew it was exactly [what] I want to do! I’d found the name for it!

Production design was the combination of my passions: storytelling, acting in its own form, writing, architecture and interior design, graphic design, combined with fine arts. Production design was everything combined, all in the MPTV track at [the Academy], and I didn’t even know it existed!

So I applied and was accepted to [the Academy]. I took that four-year opportunity to take classes in every single department. Fashion design, architecture, industrial design—I took classes in everything I loved.

That education, as expensive as it was, was so priceless to me, because I was able to squeeze out the most and take advantage of everything the school has to offer.

What do you mean by “squeeze out the most”?

I immediately got involved in school leadership; I joined ARC (Academy Resource Center. It’s academic support or academic coaching). I was [a] part of the founding team of Academy Orientation Leaders (we welcomed first-year students to [the Academy]), which evolved into a part-time, paid work-study position where I worked with at-risk and academic probation students. I taught them time management skills, which I still use to this day.

Did you continue your course schedule for all four years at the Academy?

I had just finished a spring internship at S.F. Opera and was ahead in credits by the end of my junior year, so over that summer, I did an internship at Cannes Film Festival with a talent agency, a study abroad program in Rome and had some adventures in Paris and Barcelona before finishing my last year.

Were any of these paid?

No. I [was working for] credits.

Do you still keep in touch with your Rome and Cannes connections?

Yes! We talk all the time; some of them are in S.F., L.A., N.Y.C. and Texas.

Do you use them for networking?

Most of my production jobs have come from my network of contacts and friends from [the Academy].

My senior year at [the Academy], I took all production design classes, [and had] a great time learning. I did everything; I just wanted to learn, even if it didn’t pay (long hours on projects outside of class time). I would get “screen credit.”

What was your first job following graduation?

I had been doing student short films and videos. A friend of a friend of a friend was looking for a PA (production assistant) for an actor who was in town. I applied and we connected. This was [with] Anna Deavere Smith. I felt totally prepared to work for Anna, because of my experience and training.

Were you paid?

Yes. There I was in S.F. at YBCA, working with Juilliard, NYU, theatre and dance, and Broadway people. At the end, I was invited to continue working with them in N.Y.C.

Was it a good experience?

Yes! All but a few of my jobs in N.Y.C. have come from those early Anna connections.

What have you learned from these opportunities, networking or otherwise?

It is critically important to do your research and to be prepared, and also to know what is “appropriate” and when...timing. It’s a professional thing; you have to know when to make them feel great and when not to have a conversation at all.

Just be a good person—you’re not using them, not a name-dropper, not posting selfies, etc. The impressions of professionalism you create while you’re in school directly impact the future of who you’ll be working with after school. If you do well, you’ll be asked back.

Where have you worked during your time in N.Y.C.?

I’ve worked in various positions at Amazon Studios, NBC (Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris), NBC Universal Short Film Festival, Anna Deavere Smith, Joe’s Pub at Public Theater, Juilliard, ABC (The View), Jimmy Kimmel Live in Brooklyn, off-Broadway fundraisers withthe Hamilton cast, VH1 (Big Music Festival) and Christmas in Rockefeller Center.

It’s been like a graduate course in people skills. I’ve worked as production coordinator, event planner, audience coordinator, costumer, art department for online video shoots, executive assistant and more.

What would you say is the secret to your success?

I treat everyone the same. [Everyone] gets the same respect, no matter how famous they are.