Saturday marked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ second annual Careers in Film Summit and the day-long event consisted of six panels where directors, actors, cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, editors, and more entertainment professionals discussed what it takes to make a career in the film industry. The six panels focused on a range of topics including getting your foot in the door, production, post-production, animation, and the business behind the film industry.
The Academy’s goal for the 2016 summit is to educate high school and college students about “how to direct your dream, how to figure out what you might be good at, your strengths, and how you can fit them into a career in the film industry,” according to Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s managing director of preservation and foundation programs.
The first panel, “Above the Line,” centered on entrepreneurship and featured director Catherine Hardwicke, production executive James Lopez, writer-producer-director Ted Melfi, and actor Tyrese Gibson as keynote speakers. It was moderated by music producer Mike Muse of The White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. The discussion touched on the panelists’ beginnings in Hollywood and trials and tribulations encountered along the way to stardom, as well as the driving forces behind their decision to keep plugging away at their dreams.
“The key to this business is the story. Everyone out here has a story and your story is just as interesting as the next person. Your story is what lives inside of you, it’s what needs to be heard and that’s what this business is all about,” said Melfi.
A key theme of the panel was developing the ability to pivot in one’s career. Melfi recently worked on the film “Hidden Figures,” coming to theaters Jan. 13, which centers on three African American women who worked for NASA in the ‘60s during a time of severe segregation and discrimination. He explained to the audience that when the script for the movie was initially brought to his attention, he was already set to direct the next Spider-Man film. However, instead of doing something that has already been done time and time again, he pivoted his career and chose to drop one film for the other.
“We have a responsibility to do something different with our entertainment, something that has an impact on society and on women and men. These movies are what make this country great again,” Melfi added.
Another central theme of the panel was escapism. Gibson encouraged the students with his non-stop motivation belief: “As crazy as it may sound, food is the reason I’m on the stage right now and food is the reason why I will stay on this stage. Everyday you wake up hungry and everyday I’m reminded why I work so hard.”
He went on, “Growing up I was always trying to escape my reality and I’m a firm believer in escapism, representing what seems to be impossible.”
Despite each panel’s unique message, Haberkamp said that he hopes for everyone to walk away from the summit with some clarity. “I really want students to come away, even if they say ‘This doesn’t sound like anything I’m interested in.’ That’s fine. I think it’s not a matter of our jobs having to be glamorous or exciting, or anything like that, but if you’re doing the right job it’s because you get some kind of enjoyment out of it.”
2016 is a year of firsts for the Academy’s Career in Film Summit. This year marks its first time live-streaming the summit for millions around the world. During its inaugural year the Academy chose against live-streaming the summit as it was so new, and they were unsure of how it would pan out. It is also the first year the summit will go international with its London office holding a panel of the same nature.
The Academy will be presenting its Careers in Film Summit–London on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Regent Street Cinema in London. Presented in partnership with the UK-based film education charity Into Film, the half-day event will feature three hour-long panels (panelists to be announced at a later date) and is in part of the Into Film Festival, the biggest youth-focused film festival in the world.
The Los Angeles summit concluded with six panels, which centered on a number of industry topics, including production, agency representation, music, and animation.