Alumni give game design, film production career tips
Six IU alumni visited virtually Friday in the fourth and final installment of a yearlong series of career chats with students.
Friday’s panelists spoke in two sessions about careers in visual/game design and film production.
The virtual chats replaced the annual daylong Media Career Day while in-person events were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Careers in Visual + Game Design
By Meredith Struewing
Max Lancaster was a marketing major at IU while Raymond Stump studied informatics. Their paths crossed at GameDev@IU, they both graduated in 2016, and now they both work for ArtCraft Entertainment in Austin, Texas.
The duo spoke virtually Friday about their IU experiences and career paths. The two alumni said the path to ArtCraft required networking and flexibility.
Lancaster started at ArtCraft first, as a game producer. Even though Lancaster never worked with Stump directly when they were both involved in GameDev@IU, Lancaster said Stump had a reputation for giving 100% on every project and being a hard worker.
So when Stump reached out to Lancaster about a position at ArtCraft he wanted to apply for, Lancaster was happy to recommend him. Stump started in quality assurance and eventually worked his way up to a game designer position.
It’s an example of why the two alumni said it’s important for students to maintain a good reputation and be able to live up to it.
“Ask yourself if your peers have a lot of respect for you. If the answer is yes, you’re going to find success eventually,” Lancaster said. “If they say no, ask yourself why.”
While Stump and Lancaster at least knew one another in their new city, getting there had its uncertainties.
“I moved down to Austin on a whim,” Lancaster said. “For me, the people at ArtCraft became my family in that area. I used meetups.com and looked for things I’d be interested in to do just around town. I treated it like I was looking for a college club to join.”
Lancaster and Stump encouraged students to start networking by attending as many game events as possible.
“If I had to challenge you, I would challenge you to participate in the online gaming events that are happening at the various large gaming cities all summer long,” Stump said. “Taking one or two hours of your time to chat with the gamers will help them at least see your name and you’ll be able to tell if you like the conversations you’re having with people. You don’t even need to be in a big city to do that.”
With the semester winding down and summer internship and job opportunities being posted, Lancaster and Stump stressed the importance for students to continue to develop their skills, even during their break.
“Try to get a summer internship to get real-world experience,” Lancaster said. “That’s going to be a huge resume item for you, and you’ll learn a ton. That’s an invaluable stepping stone.”
Lancaster also recommended students familiarize themselves with producing and project management tools such as Jira, Trello, Asana and Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet and checking Game Devs Classifieds, for jobs and internships.
Careers in Film Production
By Chris Forrester
Media School alumni working in the film industry offered job-search wisdom, day-in-the-life walkthroughs and shoutouts to the IU alumni community at Friday’s Media Career Chat: Careers in Film Production.
The conversation, moderated by senior lecturer Susan Kelly, featured director and producer Jessica Petelle, BA’00; assistant director Josh Stickler, BA’02; screenwriter and showrunner Aaron Waltke, BA’06; and post-production manager Lainie Mumbrue, BA’90.
“Everything on set is a trust fall,” Petelle said, speaking to the need for collaboration in the film industry.
Petelle has produced and directed for both film and television, including “Hawaii Five-0,” “Age of Dysphoria,” and the Indiana-shot indie horror film “Joshua.” She met Waltke at a school-sponsored career event similar to Friday’s, the summer before she set out to work on “Joshua.” He asked to get involved. She said yes.
Waltke said his experience on “Joshua” was a testament to the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the giving spirit of Hoosiers in the industry. He started out an intern and wound up a dolly grip, too.
Post-graduation, Waltke moved to Los Angeles, where he knew “a total of maybe four people,” he said. They included Petelle and Stickler, who were in the process of starting Hollywood Hoosiers, a semi-formal organization for IU alumni working in the film industry. In Hollywood Hoosiers, one person’s connection becomes everyone’s, and mutual kindness and support help carve out a place for Midwesterners in the hustle and bustle of Hollywood.
And the same goes for couches, if needed – Stickler said he slept on Petelle’s couch when he first moved to L.A.
“We meet you, we find out a little bit about you, and we pass your resume along,” Petelle said.
That is, unless it’s too good of a resume to pass along, as was the case of an IU alum who happened to share the perfect resume just as Petelle was looking to hire an assistant.
“It really is and hopefully will continue to be a chance to connect with fellow IU alumni,” Waltke said.
Mumbrue paved herself a path to Los Angeles well before Stickler, Waltke and Petelle. Having moved in with her parents and gotten a job in local news to save money, she sent resumes everywhere she could in anticipation of her big move to L.A.
Her first job was with Steven Bochco, a prolific television writer whom she had studied at IU. Bochco’s work included writing and story editing for “Columbo” and “Hill Street Blues.”
She said working in Hollywood often entails a great deal of work. There are inevitably going to be some 12-hour days, she said. And there might even be some 16- to 18-hour days, as there were for her when she worked for Lifetime Television for three years. For her current job, she begins her day answering emails in her pajamas at 9:30 a.m. and finishes around 6 p.m.
Stickler explained the ins and outs of long days in detail. As an assistant director, it’s his job to make sure everything on set is ready to go for the crew’s call time, and that everything stays streamlined throughout the day.
For a 7 a.m. call time, he wakes up between 3:30 and 4 a.m., showers, drives 15-45 minutes to work (depending on the location of the shoot) and starts getting various balls rolling for the day ahead as cast and other crew members start to arrive.
It’s his job to rally everyone together at crew call time. At some point, he’s handed a breakfast burrito to replace the meal he forgot to eat before he left home in the morning. And through the day, as production inevitably falls behind schedule by the 12-hour mark before wrapping up somewhere in the ballpark of 13 or 14, it’s his job to help the production work through whatever troubles may come its way.
When everyone else goes home, he starts planning for the next day.
“I stay in the future,” Stickler said. “I’m always trying to plan out what we’re doing the next day, and the day after that.”
Waltke, too, emphasized the collaborative nature of film production. In animation, where he often works, there’s an added need for clear communication, he said. With a range of different teams working on writing, designing and animating stories that exist only on computer screens, coordination is imperative.
“I have to be the brain at the top of the nervous system that helps everyone communicate,” he said.