Standout students

From award-winning grad helmers to those committed to careers behind the scenes, these 10 pupils could teach their peers a thing or two.

From award-winning grad helmers to those committed to careers behind the scenes,

these 10 pupils could teach their peers a thing or two.

J.J. Adler
Class of ’09

While still working on her MFA, New York-based filmmaker J.J. Adler became the first recipient of an A&E IndieFilms-sponsored development grant, which led to the making of “Unattached,” her Student Academy Award-winning doc short about the singles crisis in the modern Orthodox Jewish community.

For her graduate thesis at Columbia, Adler put her self-proclaimed “dry, weird sense of humor” into narrative form with “New Media,” a short that was not only accepted into Sundance this year but earned her the fest’s Women in Film award, a prize that included another grant, film stock and free processing.

Adler’s primary gig today is as the main director and post-production supervisor of the Onion News Network, a Web series in the same comic voice of the fake-news brand, which will be expanded into a weekly skein for IFC in early 2011. Could Adler be any more diversified in her pursuits?

“It’s probably bad to be all over the place, but my dream career is one in which I’m working in a bunch of different disciplines,” Adler says. “I really love documentary and narrative filmmaking, TV, working on the web and in animation. What’s most interesting to me is the story.”

— Aaron Hillis

Eric Desatnik
Class of ’10

Eric Desatnik tried the whole Hollywood thing. He spent a couple years working as a junior publicist at BWR, then did a stint at Management 360. But something was missing, so he went back to school, seeking a masters degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Rather than leave his film industry experience behind, Desatnik bent the flexible, interdisciplinary program to suit his interests. His first order of business: launch the Environmental Film Festival at Yale. Pairing with like-minded classmate Mary Fischer (who’d worked for a PBS affiliate before enrolling), they raised the money, sought out polished issue-conscious films and programmed a week of screenings and related panels on campus.

With EFFY now in its second year (unspooling this weekend with 10 features, including “GasLand,” “The Cove” and Disney’s “Oceans”), the pair is tasked with finding a successor (they’ve tapped former TV producer and first-year student Chandra Simon).

As if that wasn’t enough work, Desatnik also agreed to assist the docu “Saving Luna,” an award-winning killer whale tale which was languishing without distribution.

“I signed on as executive producer and sales agent, and now I’m repackaging the film with a new title (“The Lost Whale”), new cut, some work to the script and a celebrity narrator attached,” he says.

— Peter Debruge

Dodge College, Chapman
Allison Del Franco
Class of ’09

Known as a heavy-hitter among her advisors, Chapman senior Allison Del Franco makes use of most every film-school-related connection that comes her way, which means meeting-and-greeting, emailing and interning almost nonstop.

Twenty-one-year-old Del Franco, a double major in broadcast journalism and PR/advertising, has held internships with NBC Universal, Zucker Productions, Reveille LLC, Headline Talent Agency, National Banana and Silktones Entertainment.

“Chapman provided such credible speakers to come to the film school to talk about what they’re doing,” Del Franco says. “Most of the time I would make it a goal to go up to the speaker at the end of the presentation, introduce myself, get their business card…”

A native of Smithtown, New York, Del Franco transferred to Chapman from St. John’s in Queens because she wanted a more professional film program.

Through Chapman’s local television, Del Franco recently exec-produced a one-hour drama called “Rising Above,” written with Kirsten Moore and Mac Brown. The budget: $17,000.

“A lot of universities don’t give students a budget like that,” she says. “It’s something that will definitely help me get a job, and I really want to expand on the project.”

— Betsy Boyd

Whitaker Lader
Class of ’10

Whitaker Lader is taking a road less traveled in her ambitions to take on the film industry. An aspiring producer (she’s interning at a studio this summer), Lader champions Brown for giving her a great deal of freedom in having influence over her education and extracurricular activities.

Concentrating on Urban Studies, a field she calls “characteristically Brown” in its encouragement of a multidisciplinary approach, Lader felt she could attain a considerable grasp of the world around her, rather than simply an in-depth understanding of film. She supplemented this decision by getting involved with the school’s Ivy Film Festival, the world’s largest student film festival run entirely by students.

Lader says her work at the fest — first as a member of the programming staff and now as its executive director — has given her both a great deal of cinematic comprehension and a strong network among her like-minded peers. It also allowed her to initiate the fest’s popular Ivy Filmmaker Series, in which the fest screens independent films that have been successful at large festivals such as Sundance or Cannes, but have not been picked up for major distribution.

— Peter Knegt

Pasadena City College
Chelsea Matthews
Class of ’13

Chelsea Matthews has been a working actress since she was a toddler, but she says her most important role is playing herself as host of the “Teens in Action” program, a topic-based newsmagazine-style show produced annually “for teens by teens.”

Working on the Los Angeles-area Emmy-winning series for the past two years cemented Matthews’ ambition to become an on-air reporter. The idea first popped up when she anchored her high school’s morning announcements show as a senior.

“I realized this is a lot like acting. I get a script, I am working on camera and putting myself out there,” says 18-year-old Matthews, who is currently a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism at Pasadena City College. “I think there are very similar skills involved in both careers.”

According to Matthews, her background as a professional actor and school news anchor has allowed her to coach some of her less experienced “TIA” peers about getting comfortable in front of the camera.

“It’s a bit like a workshop. We all feed off of each other’s strengths,” she says. “Acting helps with confidence, being able to talk to people, and that makes you a better broadcast journalist.”

Florida State
Gina Papabeis
Class of ’09

Less than a year after graduating from Florida State U., Gina Papabeis has the school’s forward-thinking Torchlight program to thank for providing the hands-on experience to land her first job.

According to Papabeis, FSU’s unique program, which focuses on figuring out new strategies for linking old-school distribution and marketing techniques with emerging platforms and technology, put “the business of the film industry into perspective” for her.

That meant a chance to work on online outreach programs for 14 different independent films, including Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.”

Inspired by the film and director Louie Psihoyos’ openness to outside-the-box strategies to spread the pic’s save-the-dolphins message, Papabeis did everything from managing the film’s website to conducting post-screening Q&As, working on the promotion through “The Cove’s” awards campaign and release in Japan.

Before graduating, Papabeis wrote a note to herself that began, “No matter what you do, it has to…” Listing her career goals, Papabeis insisted she would care less about a certain position and “more about what I want out of my job.”

Her work on “The Cove” so impressed Psihoyos that he hired her to work for his organization, the Oceanic Preservation Society, where she is currently involved in conceiving new projects.

— Peter Knegt

John Patrick
Class of ’10

John Patrick, 24, had been making animation since fourth grade. After graduation from the U. of Georgia with a degree in finance, he found himself working at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and wondering if he’d picked the right path.

“I was just a little too scared to take the plunge and do something creative for a living,” Patrick explains. A business trip to San Francisco and tour of Pixar changed his mind. He knew very suddenly he wasn’t ready to give up animation, so he sought the most expedient path to professional employment. Patrick is now completing his seventh and final semester at Gnomon in Hollywood.

“It’s a fast program and a good way to get connected to the industry. There are many events and always professionals around,” he says.

On Gnomon’s campus, Patrick recently worked six months on “9” director Shane Acker’s new animated film. He received the Sony IPAX Scholarship last July, earning $10,000, all of which he has put toward his tuition.

At Gnomon, Patrick has focused on character rigging, the process of assigning a 3D model the controls to move.

“Character rigging seemed like a natural thing for me, given my finance background,” Patrick says. “I do have something of a quantitative mind.”

— Betsy Boyd

Tariq Tapa
Class of ’08

Tariq Tapa’s CalArts thesis film, “Zero Bridge,” “a drama about daily life in Kashmir” which the New Yorker single-handedly shot on location, made quite a splash. Nominated for two Film Independent Spirit Awards, the film is also set for theatrical release this year. Tapa, who grew up making short films and all kinds of projects in his mother’s graphic design studio, says he always wanted to be a filmmaker and credits CalArts’ unique program with helping him realize his goal.

“First, they require all directing students to spend a year acting, which is terrifying but also invaluable, as you really get to understand actors’ problems and challenges,” he says. “Then they emphasize dramatic construction and the tools with which you can engage an audience – again, invaluable.”

Tapa was also exposed to “everything from painting and music composition to dance and experimental animation — all great influences and training. I’d go from acting class to a drawing class, then spend all night editing, and I don’t think there’s anything like that anywhere else.”

The 28-year-old’s next project? He’s shopping around a miniseries on J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, which he describes as, “a sort of ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ look at the man and the agency he founded.”

— Iain Blair

American Film Institute
Mattias Troelstrup
Class of ’10

When Mattias Troelstrup came to the American Film Institute in 2008, he was already one of Danish National Television’s leading documentary lensers. But after more than a decade of nonfiction work, the accomplished cinematographer wanted to try his hand at narrative filmmaking.

With its emphasis on narrative storytelling, AFI was a natural fit, and the school was equally eager to enroll Troelstrup, who had included a fictional short entitled “See You” (which would later be shortlisted for an Academy Award) with his application.

According to Troelstrup, he has “met the biggest d.p.s in the world” at AFI, helping him realize that they had at one point started out where he now finds himself. The experience also helped him win Kodak’s top student prize, the gold-level Eastman Scholarship, for his first-year project, “Nikki.”

“The most important thing for me is to continue to make films — interesting films, challenging films — to keep experimenting and seeing things differently,” says Troelstrup, who is now prepping his thesis film. With what he has learned, the d.p. hopes to “seize every opportunity to tell a great story, and at the same time elaborate upon the visual aspect.”

— Peter Knegt

Christina Zagarinov
Class of ’11

As a young girl in the Bronx, Christina Zagarino wasn’t allowed to play outside, so she loved being transported to the fantasy world of make-believe in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

On March 22, Zagarino’s devotion to the show culminated in her receiving one of three $10,000 Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarships given to students dedicated to children’s programming.

“Christina’s application, and she as an individual, was able to really communicate how Fred’s work had an impact on her growing up and how she wanted to emulate that in her own work,” says Terri Clark, executive director of the TV Academy Foundation.

Zagarino, who graduated from NYU’s program in educational theater and was then a teaching artist at Gotham’s New Victory Theater, plans to use the scholarship to produce five short interstitials that will encourage kids to exercise via circus-arts movements.

“I want to create something that could not only be a positive experience for kids while they were watching television but get them on their feet and active,” she explains.

Currently pursuing a master’s in child development at Tufts U., Zagarino says the program is doing something right, because two other classmates have also received the prestigious scholarship. “The Fred Rogers people are all over Tufts,” she jokes. “The department really allows us to bridge those gaps between media and child development.”

— Sandie Angulo Chen