Successful alumni of Los Angeles City College's Theatre Arts program came back to campus last week, sharing their showbiz wisdom with film students as part of the program's 65th anniversary.
In a forum titled, "Is There Life After Film School?" five directors and editors fielded questions from aspiring filmmakers who wanted to know how they got their big break. The speakers included 22-year-old Albert Hughes, who directed the critically acclaimed "Menace II Society" with his twin brother, Allen.
"Anybody can gain what we have in a year and a half or two years of film school," Hughes told the students.
He and his brother, who started out in the business directing music videos, first began shooting amateur films with a video camera as young as age 12.
"We would edit using two VCRs," recalled Hughes, who attended LACC in 1990-91. "All I learned here were really the technical things."
Hughes made his first show business contact while at LACC through a classmate who knew Tamra Davis, an alumna who had already achieved success as a director. Davis gave him some pointers on pitching his ideas, and by the time Albert finished two semesters, he and his brother were working.
Davis, who also spoke at the forum, attended LACC in the early 1980s. She has since directed music videos and feature films, including the recent comedy "Billy Madison."
She urged the students to make as many contacts as possible.
"I went on every lunch imaginable and just kept following all those leads," she said. "I sent scripts everywhere."
Davis warned students that they might have to do their first projects without pay. She said she was "discovered" after making a music video for a band she knew, and she encouraged students who might know an up-and-coming band to make a video for them and use the opportunity to showcase their filmmaking skills.
Those who have good student films might also consider sending them to independent film festivals to garner exposure, she said.
The alumni, who also included film editors Kevin Tent and Dan Bootzin and animation supervisor David Koenigsberg, were rounded up for the forum by current film students, said Tom Stempel, who teaches classes in the film department. Students tracked them down through old phone lists.
A few days prior to the forum, actress Jeanette Nolan, who graduated in 1929, related some of her experiences in the film industry to students.
Sophomore Robert Morales, who one day hopes to write and direct his own films, said he was encouraged hearing from people who achieved success after attending LACC.
"I'm glad they took the time out of their schedules to come here and tell us there's some hope," he said.
With the exception of Koenigsberg, who transferred to Cal Arts in Valencia after leaving LACC in the mid-1970s, none of the other forum panelists received additional film education after leaving LACC.
"A lot of people say they want to transfer to USC or UCLA," said Nay Dorsey, an actor attending classes at LACC whose 12-year-old son is featured on "Fudge," a Saturday children's show. "But a 16-millimeter film is a 16-millimeter film. The knowledge is the same."