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STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: OLIVIA

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What is your double major/ minors and why did you choose it to coincide with Cinema?

I chose history and creative writing for my minors because I’ve always been interested in both subjects, and felt they could help me grow as a filmmaker. I knew I wanted to take every Cinema screenwriting class, and the creative writing minor allows one Cinema screenwriting class to carry over, so that was two birds with one stone. I’ve also taken some non-screenwriting courses, like creative nonfiction, that I’ve really enjoyed and learned from. I picked history because I’ve always enjoyed the subject, and the narrative aspect tied to retelling the stories across time has always been really fascinating to me. I’ve always been interested on how events we learn in history affected people on an individual level as well as a global level. That’s where interesting stories really emerge, stories that could be shown on screen.  I’ve also taken some really interesting courses like History of West Africa and a Nazi Germany class (with my good friend Katie Kemp), which is another plus. A lot of Cinema students have these minors and so I’ve gotten to take classes with my friends which makes learning even better! 

Goals after graduation?

I’m looking into moving to L.A. or New York, but most likely L.A to try to get into writers’ rooms. Cinema offered a pilot writing screenwriting class last semester, and I absolutely loved that class, so going into television writing is a new fascination of mine. I’d definitely like to give that a try. If that’s the route I’m going with, I’d like to eventually be a creator and show runner of an original series. I’d also like to write/direct some shorts and eventually features one day too. I love writing, but I also really enjoy being on set. I’d like to work on friends’ projects as well so that I can keep working on my technical skills, but maybe not devote my whole life to being a camera assistant. Either way, I’d absolutely love to be successful working alongside my peers from Cinema, and hopefully get to work together in the future – maybe in L.A., maybe before I go, who knows. I’ve created such strong friendships and collaborating partners here in Cinema, I’d love to continue to make movies with these people. The whole thing is kind of terrifying, but also really exciting.  

Favorite Filmmaker/ Film and how have you been inspired or influenced by this in your own work?

One of my favorite films of 2019 was The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang. I just absolutely love everything about that film because its cinematography is beautiful, but it doesn’t detract from the beautifully crafted narrative. I believe in strong characters and cinema as an empathy machine, and I think The Farewell embodies that with the richness of each of the characters. It also brings in very interesting subjects revolving around differences of ideology in the east and in the west, and subsequently how that affects Billie’s relationship with the idea of death, and how it shapes her own identity. Also, I’m just a sucker for Nai Nai and narratives involving grandmothers. I’m super close with my grandma, and versions of her have definitely inspired what I’ve written so that’s been an interesting journey and experience as a writer. Yeah, I love that film.

How have you liked the program during your time at VCU/ what have you learned that you feel has impacted you the most?

The screenwriting classes have seriously impacted me as a filmmaker. The most important takeaways I’ve gotten from those classes is that creating characters who are three dimensional and who we can empathize with make a better story and a more impactful one, and that your voice is unique and powerful (and yes I know it sounds extremely cheesy.) I wrote a film last summer called The Women of Shady Pines about two best friends who deal drugs out of their Assisted Living Facility. I was also 1st AC on the film, so I got to be up close and personal, and watch the film I’d written get made right in front of me. The actresses we found to be the drug dealing ladies loved talking to me on set which was really cool. When we were about to go for a take, the actress playing Astrid hugged me and said, “thank you for writing this, I don’t get to play characters like this, there aren’t always roles for people like me, thank you.” That was such an inspiring/heartwarming moment for me. I never want to give up because of what she said. It was a moment where those ideas from screenwriting class became embodied and it was really powerful for me. That situation perfectly embodies my time here: I’ve learned how to become a better writer and I’ve also gotten to try technical jobs that I never thought I’d do and really enjoy, all while continuing my passion for storytelling.

What advice would you give incoming freshmen or anyone who is interested in film school?

Don’t be afraid to try, and don’t be afraid to fail. I think people are really scared to fail or be judged by their peers, whether it’s in a screenwriting class where you’re receiving (helpful) criticism on your ideas, or just being generally intimidated by technical departments. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from trying because you might find something that you absolutely love. Or if you try something new and you absolutely hate it, now you know, and you can focus on finding what you are passionate about and become an expert in that department. Although screenwriting is my focus, I hadn’t written a screenplay before coming here. I submitted a screenplay for my freshman summer intensive, and it got picked. That was really intimidating because I was putting myself out there, but I gained so much from that experience and I’m so glad I took that chance on myself. I’m also a camera workshop leader, which I never thought would happen. If I hadn’t been confident enough to go to workshops consistently or go for camera jobs during in-year shoots or summer intensive, I wouldn’t have known that I also love being in the camera department. That’s my best advice I think: do not be afraid to try and put yourself out there because there’s much more to gain than there is to lose.