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School of Visual Arts Takes Hollywood with Second SVA Premieres

School of Visual Arts returned to Hollywood on June 1 to raise the curtain on SVA Premieres, an annual showcase of student films held at the Linwood Dunn Theater at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study. The screening featured a curated selection of work by 21 new graduates from nine SVA undergraduate and graduate programs in film, animation and visual effects.

SVA Premieres debuted in Hollywood last year with the goal of providing recent grads with the opportunity to show their talents to top film-industry professionals. This year’s screening drew more than 150 attendees, including some of SVA’s most prominent alumni, says Adam Natale, director of SVA Theatre, who organized the event with Angie Wojak, director of career development. Among those in the audience and at receptions before and after the screening were Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar (BFA 2009 Animation); Chris Prynoski (BFA 1994 Animation), co-founder of Titmouse; Academy Award-winning composer Michael Giacchino (BFA 1990 Film and Video); renowned animator and historian Tom Sito (BFA 1977 Animation) and RPG World creator Ian Jones-Quartey (BFA 2006 Animation); as well as representatives from Industrial Light & Magic, Magic Leap , Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Television, United Talent Agency , Gotham Group and The Molecule. For SVA department chairs in attendance, including Reeves Lehmann, head of BFA Film and BFA Animation, it was a proud and gratifying moment of recognition for the College and the talent it yields. “It was a such a pleasure to see so many of our students working in the industry,” he says. “There is no doubt that SVA is being noticed as a great resource for talented, smart and creative minds by the West Coast entertainment industry.”

The program kicked off with a half-hour spotlight on animation, which included Flipped Out, Jae Bae’s (MFA 2017 Computer Art) 2D film about an old flip phone being replaced by a fancy new smartphone; To Be Fiona, Fiona Lu’s (BFA 2017 Animation) poignant kitchen-table interaction between a woman and a younger version of herself; and Verge, Chingtien Chu’s (MFA 2017 Computer Art) portrayal of a newborn sea turtle navigating the challenges of a modern polluted waterway. The main hourlong screening of narrative, animated and documentary films covered a broad range of subject matter and sensibilities, from long-distance love to the passage of time to the impact of war and crime on survivors and family members. The lineup included Under Your Spell, Mikey Asanin ’s (MPS 2017 Fashion Photography) ethereal, sun-dappled slo-mo film capturing lovers’ obsessions; Dykes, Camera, Action!, Caroline Berler’s (MFA 2017 Social Documentary) history of female queer cinema incorporating interviews with pioneering filmmakers and clips of early efforts and inspirations; Fishy, Joseph Sulsenti’s (BFA 2017 Animation) short about a sailor’s encounter with a drag-queen mermaid; and Professional Cuddler, Mika Orr’s (MPS 2017 Directing) short film about new love fueled—and challenged—by new forms of digital communication. This year, SVA Premieres debuted a Virtual Reality component with two exploration games for guests to experience in the Pickford Center lobby: Continuum, by Chi Su (MFA 2017 Computer Art); and Maya, by Benjamin Cone (BFA 2017 Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects).

SVA Premieres was bookended by two busy days of networking brunches and studio tours around L.A. For graduate Caroline Berler, the chance to speak to industry professionals in person about her documentary project was as valuable as experiencing their live-audience reaction to her work at the screening. “Being forced to explain my film over and over was great practice and helped me to perfect my elevator pitch,” Berler says.

The studio tour itinerary for new animation and VFX alumni touched down at 6 Point Harness, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Television Animation , The Third Floor and Titmouse; while film students made stops at Deutsch, Sundance Institute, Buzzfeed and NBC Universal. At nearly every location were alumni to greet them and share their work experiences (and sometimes, their storyboards). “The private tours of studios around L.A. (populated with SVA alumni) grounded them in the reality that success at the highest levels is out there waiting for them,” says Terrence Masson, chair, MFA Computer Art. “And the path to that success was described in detail by those same alumni: networking, hard work, exploring different many artistic styles, finding and listening to mentors. It was also gratifying to hear from these professionals so many of the same well-told ‘sound bites’ I know that [students] heard over and over again in the SVA classrooms.”

Beyond the importance of creating new connections, graduates were reminded of the usefulness of the vital network they’ve already established. During a panel discussion about film industry opportunities with Angel Kristi Williams and Francisco Velasquez of Film Independent, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown and Alonso Duralde of OutFest, which covered funding, breaking into festivals and careers in production and programming, Williams reminded grads of the talent surrounding them at that very moment. “I can’t stress enough the importance of you all connecting with each other,” she says. “Value those relationships because you never know who can hire you or who you can collaborate with down the road.”

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