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ALUM SPOTLIGHT: ALEX

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What class/professor impacted you the most and why?

I took Directing with Professor Bouchtia during my second to last semester of Cinema, and it really put into practice everything I had learned leading up to that point. Not only is Professor Bouchtia very personable, which made it easy to attain one-on-one advice outside of class– her class demanded I motivate myself to come up with original content, criticize my intentions as a writer, and concentrate on my technique as an independent filmmaker. As in many other cinema classes, I had the invaluable resource of collaborating with my peers, and while Directing is one of the more independent courses one can take, the discussions and critiques I’ve had in this class are some of which I miss the most out of my time in the program.


Tell us about your first real job out of Cinema/What was your first real job like?

Most of the connections I formed during Cinema persisted post-grad and put me ahead in securing jobs that may not have come so soon out of college otherwise.
My biggest job to date was working as a Video Assist on the set of Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird, set to air late this summer. Most of my duties revolved around setting up “villages” of monitors for the crew and producers, linking live camera feed to help people follow along with the scene. While my department head recorded scenes for playback, oftentimes I was near the director to ensure that the feed to their personal handheld monitor remained intact; since this piece of equipment prioritized wireless functionality, depending on the environmental conditions, this could be quite difficult. Considering it was my first full-time show, I feel incredibly grateful to have been placed in a role so proximal to more coveted positions on set. There were many other challenges to this set, including working
outside in the intense dust and heat, the ever-changing weather conditions, and making do under time crunches; however, the experience developed my skills as a filmmaker immensely and paved the way for me to join the IATSE Local 487 union.


What was your lightbulb moment in Cinema, when you realized this is what you want to do for the rest of your life?

I realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker for the rest of my life after my first Summer Intensive. The ability to take a project from conception to screening was so satisfying, and so much more so when creating with friends. Throwing all of my time and energy into creating 5 films in one summer tested my mental endurance, and when I came out on the other side I realized how much I was capable of pushing myself.


What was the most valuable thing you learned from Cinema/what do you think prepared you the most for the real world?

While there are certain things you simply have to learn on the job, and won’t encounter before stepping onto a professional set, Cinema does a great job at teaching set etiquette, which made me feel very prepared to work side by side with experienced industry professionals. Knowing that I at least had the basic ‘dos and don’ts’ of how to work on set, I went into jobs with a level of confidence I would not have had, had I not practiced it through the program.

Was there a film you watched in Cine Club, Cinematheque, etc. that impacted your style as a filmmaker?

Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas is one work that impacted the way I consume films as a writer and a filmmaker. Sitting in Cine Club, I remember feeling amazed by the colors and compositions and realized that I wanted to write stories that resonate with the humanity of viewers. I hope to emulate the slow burn of this film in my own, and write dialogue that swells in a meaningful way.

Did you study anything else at VCU? If so, how have those subjects helped you in the real world?

I have two minors in Creative Writing and Art History, and I feel that each inform my process as a filmmaker, mainly in brainstorming ways to add depth to a story. As a writer, I like to think of ways to incorporate art historical contexts within my work, which helps with world-building. I also find that weaving elements of poetry, creative nonfiction, and other forms of creative writing can help me to expand ideas within my screenplays. I like to write and direct my own films, so these minors certainly come into play throughout this process.

What department(s) did you focus on in Cinema and what department(s) do you work in now?

I taught Grip & Electric workshops every Friday alongside other Student Workers. This was my focus for the majority of my time in the program; however, by the end of my experience, I was prioritizing working within the Camera Department as an AC. Even though I’m now focussing my attention toward continuing to learn the ins and outs of the Camera Department and eventually join their union, I still often work as a Grip and gain something new with every job.

How did the skills you learned in Cinema help you in your line of work now?

The fact that the program is so technically-based propelled my growth as a
technician on set. Whether I’m working in the Video, Grip, or Camera
Department, there is always an understanding of equipment needed to do the job. I feel comfortable working with otherwise intimidating gear, and even when I come across something I don’t know, because of the practice I’ve had in workshops, practical exams, and class projects, I know how to keep my cool. Cinema achieves a standard that is only possible with a hands-on approach to learning.

What’s your favorite summer intensive memory?

I’ll never forget the Grip and Electric department tradition of going to Cookout after the last shoot day of each film. It was the best way to close out a project and bond with the people who worked so hard alongside me.

(Photo by Byron Koranteng)