The CIM Visiting Artists Series (VAS) ― the CIM stands for Cinema and Interactive Media ― just finished its fourth year of bringing successful people in the entertainment industry to DePaul as guest speakers.
“We’ve had directors, producers, screenwriters, actors, animators, and a game developer ― people at the forefront of their creative fields ― all sharing their secrets of success with our students,” says Jonah Zeiger, assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), who started the series and has headed the faculty committee that oversees its programming. “At the same time, the series is one way we show the depth of the university’s commitment to building a first-rate cinema and media school.”
Since its launch in 2009, the series has hosted 34 events, each formatted like a TV talk show. The events take place in the CDM Theater, a 160-seat cinema with a high-definition projector, a surround-sound system and 20-foot movie screen. Guests have included directors Werner Herzog, Marc Webb, and Tom DiCillo; producers Paula Wagner, Christine Vachon, and Fernando Sulichin; executives Chuck Viane (BUS ’67), retired from Disney, and Jim McKairnes, formerly with CBS; animator Yuri Norstein; and actor/comedian Bob Odenkirk of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” In 2012, director Colin Trevorrow provided a pre-release showing of his comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed,” which won a screenwriting award at Sundance Film Festival.
Highlights of 2013 included an event with Steve Levitan, creator and executive producer of “Modern Family,” as well as a conversation with actor and director Tim Robbins and Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J. who discussed the challenges of adapting her book, “Dead Man Walking,” for the stage and screen.
“But perhaps our most popular guest this year was Danny Pudi from the TV show ‘Community’,” Zeiger says. “For that appearance, we had as many people outside the theater watching the live stream, as we did as inside the theater.” (The crew for this event is pictured above; Jonah Zeiger is front row, center).
While most events are open to the public, the raison d’être of the series is to give DePaul students a hands-on, close-up look at careers in the entertainment industry. About 20 students working on a production crew make everything happen — floor and stage management, projection, camera, audio, lighting and music — the way it’s supposed to. Students can also earn credit for crewing on the series by enrolling in the course, Live Event/Talk TV Workshop (TV 381/481). Each show is moderated by a faculty member, frequently the person who helped secure the guest―who connects the program to a class or makes the event a teaching opportunity.
Liz Chitjian, who expects to graduate in 2014 with a BA in digital cinema, served as a production coordinator for the 2013 season: “The day of an event was craziest because all our preparation had to come together by call-time in the morning. Each event ended up running smoothly — I am very good at keeping track of and organizing things — and the artists were always impressed by the professional quality of our work. Now, I’ve got a good idea of what it’s like to put on a show. Just as important, I met a lot of people; connections are really important to making it in this industry.”
Samantha Rodriguez (CMN ’13), who graduated with a BA in communication and media studies, got involved in the Visiting Artists Series through the Live Event/Talk TV Workshop: “I like hands-on work ― we did everything for these shows ― that’s what’s so great. One quarter I was an assistant stage manager: I worked on projection, lights and curtains. The second quarter, I was a floor manager, which means taking care of the guests: making them feel welcome and comfortable, attending to their needs and giving them cues throughout the show. Working on crew was like a job or an internship: I can put on my résumé. And now, I’m sure: I want to be a part of this business.”
“In the entertainment industry, success is a circuitous path, with a lot of trial-and-error and a certain amount of luck and unpredictability,” Zeiger says. “We always ask the artists to talk about their struggles: ‘How did you get to where you are?’ The students need to hear that, and they need to know that the ones who make it are the ones who did not give up.”
In the upcoming year, the series will be led by Wendy Roderweiss, a new faculty member in CDM. “Wendy has a wealth of experience in live event and multi-camera production. She’ll be great,” says Zeiger, who is using a research leave to pursue creative filmmaking projects. “I anticipate that the series will just keep getting better.”
Most VAS events are simulcast at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/test-depaul