Kevin Feige wants to tell graduates to ‘dream big’
Film producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige will return to his alma mater May 12 to give the keynote address at USC’s 140th commencement ceremony.
Feige graduated from the School of Cinematic Arts in 1995 and currently serves on the School of Cinematic Arts Board of Councilors, which he joined in 2019. In 2017, he started the Kevin Feige Endowed Fund for Creative Producing, which helps support classes at SCA for aspiring filmmakers.
The Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media spoke with Feige in an interview Thursday, during which he discussed his upcoming commencement address and his relationship with the University.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Trojan: Tell us more about the connections you’ve made with students over the years
in your time here at USC.
Kevin Feige: The connections were the friendships that I made when I attended there. And then it was the people, once you graduate, that form your little familiar USC alumni group, which was strong. That was made up of people that I admired and were the reasons I wanted to go to USC, many of whom I now serve with on the USC School of Cinematic Arts Board. I still can’t quite get over being either in the room or on Zooms with these icons who were the reason I wanted to go to USC in the first place.
So, those were the people that graduated before me, I had the team of people that I graduated with. Most notable is Rick Famuyiwa, who now is a very big director and does a lot of the Star Wars Mandalorian stuff. He was in my class.
And then it’s the people that graduated after me. And there are a lot of people — Brad Winderbaum that I work with here at Marvel, and even people like Ryan Coogler: He and I have gone back to the school together. And he graduated long, long, long, long after I did. But it’s that shared experience of going to this place because you have a dream of going into a career in film, and there’s no better place than SC to at least set you up for that — both when you’re going there and after you’ve left.
Annenberg Media: What does it mean to you to be speaking as the keynote speaker at the commencement at USC?
KF: It is an honor. I want to be self-deprecating and funny about it and say that there must have been some mistake or somebody else wasn’t available at the last minute, but they actually asked me a long time ago, so maybe it wasn’t last minute. It is amazing and it does make me think of my early days walking around that campus and right there between the Bovard Auditorium and Doheny Memorial Library.
I did have dreams of making movies. I never had dreams or expectations of wearing an honorary doctorate outfit and speaking to 70 trillion people, or however many people are going to be there. That is above and beyond anything I dreamed of when I first stepped through those gates. Now, I just don’t want to embarrass anybody or myself. I just want to be honest and straightforward. And my USC journey has been nothing but optimism and potential, and I want to be able to impart that to everybody.
AM: During your speech, what is something that you want to particularly highlight or emphasize to the students?
KF: I don’t know if any of this will be specifically in the speech, but the intention of the speech and the intention that I want to impart is the notion of ‘dream big’ — which is generic, but true — and the notion that if I could do it, anybody listening to that speech could do it. I did not have a lot of contacts in the business. I didn’t have a parent that ran a film studio — not that, if you do, you can’t also do good work — but I didn’t have any of that stuff.
I was a kid from New Jersey, who luckily got into the school and served as a production assistant on student films, and then worked on my own student films and my friends’, and then was an intern, and then was a receptionist, and then was a production assistant, and then was an assistant, and then was an associate producer and really climbed the ladder, and I’m proud of every rung. It must be nice to jump right to the top and that works for some people. I think even though ‘reality ends here’ is the motto of the film school, I think people, especially kids now, have a relatively firm grasp of reality. You don’t just go there, make a student film, then get a deal with a studio to make that student film into a feature and then make Star Wars.
I thought those were the steps when I was a kid, reading the legend of Mr. Lucas, but it wasn’t for me, and I didn’t bemoan that. I enjoyed it because I enjoyed every step along that climb up the ladder. Because, at every part of it, I was participating in the industry I had always dreamed of being a part of.
And the speech will probably be as equally long-winded and aimless as that little preview for you.
DT: What are your memories from your commencement ceremony and what was your experience like? Will that in any way impact the way that you will be approaching the keynote speech?
KF: This will be my first attendance at the giant graduation ceremony at USC. I did not attend the giant ceremony on the campus there. My first attendance at the School of Cinematic Arts graduation ceremony was — I don’t know when it was — about 10 years ago or so — nine years ago, when I was very honored to get the USC Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award because I was working at the Donners’ Company on the Warner Brothers lot. I sort of graduated mid-year, so it was a little different. I would have had to go back and I missed the opportunity then because I was focusing on the work at that time.
My parents now, nearly 30 years after, over 30 years since I graduated, are very excited to attend the commencement address with me so they can actually see me in a graduate outfit at USC for the first time.
AM: What are your hopes for USC and SCA for the future?
KF: When I was there, from ’91 to ’95, the film school campus was still relatively new. It was a new, beautiful area. … I get to work on every studio lot and every time I come back to the USC film school campus, I can’t believe how beautiful it is and nicer than many actual movie lots. I hope we continue to grow like that and continue to bring as many different types of kids from around the world as possible because we need the storytelling and we need those storytellers from everywhere.
I think USC is the best place that they can come and train and learn how to tell stories. I talked with Dean Daley about this a lot. Yes, it’s about everybody imparting information to them. What I’m particularly interested in is them getting that information and reinterpreting it and teaching us things. There are a lot of new technologies that we want new eyes and new minds to teach us how to utilize. To me, the more people that go through those gates at SC and at the School of Cinematic Arts, the better, so they can come into our business and keep it as cutting edge as it is today.