Film executives speak about careers

On Tuesday night, the Southern California Business Film Festival organized the Creative Development Panel at USC, where creative individuals from the entertainment industry discussed the nature of their jobs and the creative development process.

The two guests were creative executives Christopher Ceccotti, Gidden Media and Shary Shirazi from Lucas Films.

Daniel Sussman, a lecturer at USC, moderated the panel. Sussman is also the chairman of all missions to Israel for the Los Angeles Jewish Foundation and the Valley Alliance. He teaches at the Tel Aviv University Film School each June.

The event started off with Ceccotti speaking about his life and beginning into the film industry. He graduated in 2009 with plans to attend law school, but realized the only reason he wanted to practice law was to defer reality.

“I got stuck [in Los Angeles] in a good way,” Ceccotti said. “I happened to fall in within people who were supporting me. One or two relationships would begin other relationships. I had always been interested in movies and storytelling. I didn’t really want to learn the studio part of things.”

Shirazi, however, realized her passion earlier. She went to the University of California, Los Angeles for her undergraduate degree and by her sophomore year realized she wanted to do something with film. Shirazi’s first internship was with Paramount Pictures.

“Most people go with an agency or a production company,” Shirazi said. “I was really good with development and how to develop stories. Understanding the business was something new. I reached out to my different coordinators for interviews.”

Sussman asked the panelists what they were most proud of from their work, as well as the pros and cons of the industry.

“I’m proud to be at a company that is forward thinking,” Ceccotti said of Gidden Media. “It’s a herd mentality in the industry. Whenever a writer or director is hot, everything tends to follow what the latest trend is. To be at a place where they encourage to think outside of the box is very empowering.”

Shirazi stated that Lucas Films concentrates on keeping the integrity of storytelling, rather than creating profit.

“I was proud that the company I worked for wasn’t profit-driven,” she said.

Sussman also asked about the worst aspects of their job.

“You’re going to be working with people who have been in the industry for so long, they are tired,” Shirazi said. “You’re going to be dealing with people who are having a bad day.”

Cecotti noted working in the film industry requires always being in the know.

“You have to be aware of everything that is going on in town. You need to know about all of those projects, about the jobs you might need to fill,” Ceccotti said.

Sussman also asked the panelists their specific philosophies toward succeeding in the industry.

“Don’t get out of context,” Ceccotti said. “You can be taken advantage of and be perceived of as naive. If someone asks me to do something and I don’t want to, I will tell them upfront.”

Shirazi stressed that importance of being passionate in one’s field.

“You need to believe in projects and the people you’re working with,” Shirazi said.

Sussman continued to speak about the importance of forming relationships for this business.

“In this business, this university has the advantage of connections, but you have to start the relationships,” he said.

The event was followed by a question and answer session by those in the audience.

When asked about internships, Ceccotti and Shirazi stressed that preparation is important for exploring what you like as well as for forming relationships and connections.

“There isn’t one right way to work in this industry,” Ceccotti said. “One is putting yourself out there. It’s easy to do the minimal amount because it’s mind-numbing, but doing whatever extra you can do to stand out, to interact with clients, executives, they will remember that.”

A student from the audience asked what the panelists wanted to achieve in the future.

“I want to be able to look back and see movies that made people think and feel,” Ceccotti said. “In terms of the broader corporate scheme, I don’t really care.”

“I think the most exciting aspect is working in an industry you’re passionate about,” Shirazi said. “As long as that continues to be, I’ll enjoy my job.”

Students had differing ideas about the panel, with some wishing there were more panelists.

“I liked the event,” said Yidegar Santiago Zuniga, a junior majoring in public relations. “I wish there would be more attendees, which would bring more concepts.”

Patrick Ivison, a sophomore majoring in film production, enjoyed hearing people speak from the film industry.

“I always think it’s cool hearing from the people in the industry I’m trying to get into,” said Ivison. “I like hearing about the whole spectrum and hearing their stories of getting to where they are.”

Nicole Morrison, a senior majoring in business and cinematic arts, was part of organizing this event and found the panelists’ discussion compelling.

“Daniel Sussman teaches a class for BCA,” Morrison said. “He has a ton of experience in the industry so we thought he would be a great moderator. The fact that the panelists could talk about working at a big-name company and a small company was very interesting.”