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NXT Up Fest Panel Discusses Making Film Dreams a Reality

Film and television industry guests share advice with students and praise individuality

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The NXT Up Fest guest panelists: (L-R) Roy Langbord, Clare Kilner, Fred Seibert and Michael E. Goldman. Photo by Bob Toy.

Coffee, apple juice, muffins and a small panel on industry insight is on the very short list of things that can drag university students to school early on a Saturday morning.

But Palmer Mendelson, M.F.A. producing student, had no concerns about the timing of the panel, trusting in the School of Motion Pictures & Television’s (MPT) – specifically Jana Memel, MPT executive director – track record for bringing in top-notch speakers to the Academy of Art University.

“I knew today was worth coming to,” he said.

Mendelson was part of a small group of students and instructors that filed into the 79 New Montgomery theater on May 5, following the department’s NXT UP Fest, which dished out awards for excellence in film, storytelling and all its attributes.

Panelists included veterans with decades-long careers in a variety of film facets. Each had their own curvy, or circuitous, path.

Fred Seibert wanted to produce pop records, but the closest he came to music was as the first creative director for MTV. He jumped from there to Nickelodeon to branding for TV networks before founding his own studio, Frederator Networks. Seibert has consulted for branches of major channels, his most recognizable feat lately being The Fairly OddParents, Chalkzone and Adventure Time.

Clare Kilner was a temp secretary before directing romantic comedies such as How to Deal (2003) and The Wedding Date (2005). Of the four panelists, she was the only one who attended film school, the Royal College of Art in London, where she said, “I had two years to focus on finding my voice and creative process.” Most recently, Kilner re-shifted her directing focus to television, recently directing an episode of TNT drama, Claws.

Roy Langbord is a lawyer-turned-TV-executive, getting his feet wet in the early days of major networks and companies such as Showtime and Viacom. His work in the business eventually led him to produce a few sports documentaries and consultation. A long-time friend of Seibert, Langbord quipped to the students in the crowd, “You get to tell great stories and you find, as the business guy, working with the creative people like Fred, you can actually be a part of something, so that when it happens, you can feel pretty good about it.”

The fourth and quietest panelist, Michael E. Goldman, got his start in film as a carpenter on the set of Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Goldman was working at an architecture firm before he switched into working for independent artists, learning how to weld, do woodwork, home repair and other hands-on crafts. After Sleepless in Seattle, he moved to California, first working in Los Angeles on commercials then settling in San Francisco with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) doing early visual effects. He met J. Michael Riva on the set of The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) who brought him onto art departments for films such as The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).

It was a unique collection of experiences and perspectives, to say the least. When Sergio Mishchenko, M.F.A. cinematography and visual effects major, worried out loud if executives might steal scripts, Seibert was quick to dissuade the thought: “No one is going to steal your script, get over it.”

His greater point, which was an overarching theme in the discussion, was that no one can, inherently, mimic individual perspective.

“Every one of you can take the same script and each of you will shoot it different—no one can steal you,” he told the audience. “Everyone had a completely different story, yet all [of] us still got somewhere. We got somewhere because it meant something to us to do X, Y and/or Z. I don’t think there is [a] formula [to success].”

There were conversations of presenting a pilot versus a short (“Pilots are slow; shorts with great characters and a great story, people will pay attention,” Seibert said) and how to pitch to executives. When asked for pieces of advice, the panelists shared ideas of persistence, tenacity, ambition and individual voice.

“[The panel] gave me good assurance that our industry is just tough. There was reassurance that you’re able to pick and choose what you want to do, there isn’t a right or wrong way,” Mendelson said. “Be open to things you weren’t expected to get opportunities doing. You can’t be close-minded about it because those opportunities, good or bad, open up to new ones in the future.”

Salt Cebe, a B.F.A. film production student and recipient of the Best Documentary award, agreed the panelists’ viewpoints were valuable in that though he and his team have to go back to the drawing board, he thinks they were pointed in the right direction.

“It’s not every day you get to pick the brains of guys who have done this for decades and [have] seen in the in’s and out’s of this industry,” Cebe said. “We already know it’s tough out there, but this whole weekend has been reassurance that we all have a good shot at making this film thing real.”