SOLA Alumni Share Paths to Entertainment World

Three alums share their stories in the entertainment business.Students from all disciplines gathered in Hagerty Lounge last week to learn the ins and outs of the entertainment industry from a panel of three talented and successful liberal arts alumni—Erin Kinda, ‘14, a production coordinator at Pixar who worked on such films as Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2, Emilia Serrano ’95, a writer who began as a copywriter at advertising agencies before breaking into television in 2010 with projects like “Jane The Virgin”, and Wayne Billheimer ’94, a visual effects executive producer at Industrial Light and Magic who has worked with A-list actors and directors from Martin Scorsese to Michael Bay.

Many of the questions were aimed at tracking the alumni’s professional journeys, and exploring how they deal with difficulties during the collaborative creative process. As a producer who often has difficulty swaying more hard-headed directors (like Michael Bay, who he playfully describes as “a terror”), Billheimer is not always a die-hard fan of the movies that he produces, but said that he always manages to find one thing he likes about his projects. Serrano emphasized the difficulty of working in comedy television, which uses crowded writing rooms that are highly contested and collaborative spaces, and noted that although one writer may be credited with an entire episode, “You always know which jokes are yours.”

Kinda emphasized the value of amassing and combining a large amount of skills and interests, reflecting on her experience as an actress at children’s parties and fondly remembering being asked to make balloon animals for her Pixar interviewers after noting the skill on her resume. Kinda also praised Career and Professional Development Services, explaining that she brought in her resume as an alumna during the summer in a state of desperation, and credits the office with her success in applying to (and getting) her Pixar position. Serrano moved to Los Angeles with no connections, and said that many of her opportunities arose organically, as her friends and their spouses would offer to read over her scripts.

The three panelists provided an excellent cross-section of Saint Mary’s liberal arts alumni at different stages in their lives and careers. Kinda, a recent alumna at the beginning of her journey, was an example of someone who graduated without a definite career plan in mind, and spent some time waitressing while living at home before she was hired by Pixar. Serrano, who is from a working-class family and needed to focus on creating profitable content, has had success in her transition to television following her stint in advertising, and is now beginning her foray into feature films. Billheimer has already achieved blockbuster success, and was able to offer a peek into the production side of the industry, giving advice to an aspiring animation student. Long after the event was officially over, the alumni remained in the lounge talking to students, answering questions and giving advice even after the event leaders began dimming the lights.

The event was part of the Career and Professional Development Services’ new program centered on providing opportunities for liberal arts students, and will be followed by more career fairs and other information and networking events.