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Alumni Stories

Compass College alumni are passionate and driven leaders, prompting change in the global film and digital media industry. Together they form a powerful network of professionals working around the world in a variety of areas, such as marketing and commercial video, episodic television, news broadcast, feature films, film and digital production studios, acting and casting agencies, social media, church media, documentary filmmaking and more.

We’re proud of the accomplishments of all our graduates and hope the stories of these alumni encourage and inspire you.

Alumni Highlight: Alex Craig

Alex Craig graduated in 2011 and began his career in New York City. Now, he has co-founded his own NYC-based production company named We Are Films, and his clients include the likes of Microsoft, Nike, and Squarespace, as well as music artists like Sufjan Stevens, Andy Mineo, and more.

When did you know you wanted to go into film and digital media? What sparked your interest?

I knew film was what I wanted, and something that I had to do when I was 12 years old. My brother and I made short films back then with all of our free time. It’s what we loved doing then and it’s what we love doing today.

What has your journey into the industry looked like?

It’s been a crazy journey. It’s not like a normal job where you put in time and hope to get a promotion. There have been all kinds of twists and turns to get me to where I am today, and I’m sure there are going to be lots more turns.

So many things happened after I graduated from Compass and moved to New York City. I started as an intern at a camera rental house. After that, I worked as a Production Assistant on Law and Order, followed by Men in Black 3, and some other shows. Then I started doing assistant camera. Then digital imaging technician, which transitioned me into coloring. I colored ten feature films, including one that won the grand jury prize at SXSW. (Also did VFX on five feature films, but that’s a whole other story.) While doing all that, I was shooting small things here and there. One day, I got hired to shoot a McDonald’s TV spot because they liked my reel. After that, I transitioned out of color and basically freelanced full-time as a Director of Photography. At the same time, my brother and I started a production company named We are Films. Now, we have a full-fledged production company where we direct together. Also, I still freelance as a Director of Photography. I shot my first feature film in 2015. That’s finally coming out later this year, called REM. It’s been a crazy ride so far, and I’m loving it.

What has been your favorite part about working in the industry so far?

It’s all a blast. I just love making things. And it’s nice to get paid to do that.

What has it been like to have your own production company?

It’s a huge undertaking, but it has been amazing. Because of it, I have been able to travel to all parts of the world. It’s great to “be your own boss.”

How did the hands-on education at Compass help prepare you for life after college?

I knew I wanted to “do film” before going to Compass. While at Compass, I worked on every single project I could, and it was nice that we got to learn what each role on set was. After attending, I knew more about what I wanted to do. I learned that there are a lot of different jobs within the industry.

Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates or someone considering a career in film and digital media?

If you want to work in film, do it. But you have to be all in. It’s a lifestyle that some people love, but it’s not for everyone. If you want to do it, commit to it and don’t look back. Also, you have to make a living. Don’t be afraid to work on commercials and corporate videos here and there. Make them better than anyone else would. Learn from those, and you can apply what you learned to narrative films or anything else you are passionate about.

Alumni Highlight: Jeremy Landers

Jeremy Landers is a 2008 graduate of Compass College living in Los Angeles. He currently works at Stereo D, the leading company in high-quality conversions of 2D theatrical content into stereoscopic 3D imagery. Jeremy has worked on a variety of major motion pictures, such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and The BFG.

When did you know you wanted to go into film & digital media? What sparked your interest?

When I was a teenager. I had a story in my mind that I wanted to tell through film, and I knew that I had to do it.

What has your journey into the industry looked like? Which productions have you worked on?

It started in 2009, a year after I graduated from Compass with an internship at a reality TV company in Los Angeles. While that particular genre of work didn’t interest me, it was the first time that I actually considered living in LA. By the next summer, my wife and I had come to the conclusion that we were indeed supposed to move to LA. So without any previously arranged jobs, we packed up our car and drove from Holland, Michigan, to Los Angeles. My first gig in production was as a Visual Effects Production Assistant on Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked in 2011. After that, I temped for a bit and then landed at DisneyToon Studios, where I first worked in operations, and then moved into development. In 2015, I was hired at Stereo D, where I started as a Production Coordinator and am now assisting our Chief Creative Officer.

Production Credits Include:

At Rhythm and Hues

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Production Assistant)

 

At DisneyToon Studios

  • Planes (Operations Clerk)
  • The Pirate Fairy (Development Assistant)
  • Planes: Fire and Rescue (Development Assistant)
  • Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast (Development Assistant)

 

At Stereo D

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (Stereo Production Coordinator)
  • San Andreas (Stereo Production Coordinator)
  • Ant-Man (Stereo Production Coordinator)
  • Truth (VFX Production Coordinator)
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Assistant to the CCO)
  • The BFG (Assistant to the CCO)

 

What has been your favorite part about working in the industry so far?

I love working on projects that are known around the world. It’s cool to be a part of something that global audiences have the opportunity to see and enjoy.

What is it like working for a 3D conversion company like Stereo D?

The great thing about Stereo D is that we touch so many projects every year. It’s awesome to be able to work with clients, such as Marvel, LucasFilm, Fox, Universal, and DreamWorks. The quality of our studio’s work keeps opening up more doors for us as a studio, and I am excited about what the future holds!

How did the hands-on education at Compass help prepare you for the industry?

Compass compelled me to make choices and act on them. Often in life, you think about doing something, maybe dream about doing something, or plan on doing something. Compass made me ACTUALLY do something. Also, Compass connected me to my internship in Los Angeles, which opened up my mind to making the move out west to pursue my calling.

Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates or someone considering a career in film and digital media?

Make sure it is something that you are called to do. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to test you in ways most people never want to be tested. So you have to KNOW that this is what you HAVE to do. Knowing your calling will get you through the hard times that all people who try to make it in this industry face.

Alumni Highlight: Elizabeth Nelsen

What began as a love of photography, has developed into an exciting career working on the production-side of network TV shows like Top Chef. In this interview, 2011 graduate, Elizabeth Nelsen, talks about her journey into the film industry, the truth about working on reality TV shows, and more.

When did you know you wanted to go into film and digital media? What sparked your interest?

I loved photography from an early age, and I had an affinity for understanding how things worked. My Grandpa gave me his old 35mm SLR camera, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Eventually, I served on the media team at my church. We had to make a lot happen with a little and really teach ourselves as we went along. I enjoyed that process and wanted to learn more, and that is what led me to Compass.

What has your journey into the industry looked like? Which productions have you worked on?

I started out working on anything that I could – paid or not – local or not. I just wanted to get experience and a feel for how productions worked. I focused on finding work within the Camera Department, but if I couldn’t find it, I would do anything just to meet people and learn. I ended up briefly working at Birns & Sawyer Camera House in North Hollywood, and I learned an incredible amount in that time. Afterward, I worked on indie features like Old Fashioned and Short History of Decay …and a number of random super low budget features, shorts, web series, and commercials.

Eventually, I fell into Reality TV. I had never focused on that part of the industry, but I grew to like the multi-camera style and frenetic nature of the format. Things change quickly because the story is developing as you go, and you have to facilitate for multiple crews. I love multitasking, so it was a great fit. I’ve worked on several seasons and variations of Top Chef, and working with the same company has allowed me the opportunity to work in both Production and Camera.

What has been your favorite part about working in the industry so far?

There is always an opportunity to learn something new. If you’re bored, you’re doing something wrong!

How does working on a show like Top Chef differ from working on a feature film?

Reality TV is very different. I find that the pace is much quicker, and the scheduling is a lot more aggressive. There are several cameras to manage as opposed to one or two. There are complex wireless systems. Setting up a control room is much more involved because there are so many camera feeds the Director and DP need to see. Depending on the show you need to incorporate tools from the live broadcast world, and I enjoy the constant puzzles and problems to solve.

How did the hands-on education at Compass help prepare you for the industry?

The experience was invaluable because they really put you out there and let you go for it. Afterward, you dissect the experience and evaluate what should have been done differently. Sometimes we made decent films. Sometimes we made terrible ones. Each experience was worth something. The pace of Compass was pretty intense, and I think that was helpful because the industry will require you to run a little bit faster than most other work. You have to put in effort and be a self-starter. Compass structured the program this way by design.

Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates or someone considering a career in film and digital media?

Get out there and work. Even if you are settled on a certain position or direction, be open to other opportunities even if they seem beneath you. Each experience is an opportunity, and you have to keep yourself in that mindset. Work hard and work honestly. Do things that other people aren’t willing to do. Do what needs to be done before someone has to tell you to do it. Don’t just be looking out for your own interests and goals, make sure you are focused on helping others succeed as well. People are looking for the self-starters and problem-solvers— be that person! It’s all the basic stuff, but if you do it, you will stand out from all the others in your same position.

Alumni Highlight: Seth Steele

Seth Steele is a 2011 Compass College alum working in broadcasting at Fox 17, TV.

When did you know you wanted to go into film and digital media? What sparked your interest?

I always had an interest in movies and storytelling. But I think it was watching the behind-the-scenes on the Lord of the Rings DVDs that made filmmaking something that I needed to do.

What has your journey into the industry looked like?

My journey into the industry has been one of the best, most interesting aspects of my life. I have worked on a few small budget films, dozens of short films, hundreds of commercial shoots and three years (and counting) worth of television stories. There were plenty of times that I thought about trying something else or going back to school for something different, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied (in my work or with myself). Somehow, there’s always been something for me to do. I’ve been incredibly blessed in my journey, and honestly, I owe all the glory to God. He’s the one that’s been guiding my tiny, adrift ship, pointing me towards the next harbor.

What has been your favorite part about working in the industry so far?

My favorite part of my journey has been finding creativity within myself. Yes, I will always remember the nights that I stayed up until dawn on the set of a feature film, the days spent hammering out scripts in pre-production, and the people with whom I worked and loved; but it’s finding that bit of myself I can love and appreciate I feel has made me a better person. I know that’s cheesy and cliché, but hey, clichés are rooted in truths.

What is it like working in broadcasting in comparison to working on a feature film?

Broadcasting is 1000x faster than working on a feature film. There is no hurry up and wait. If you’re waiting, you’ve missed your shot. When I first started at Fox 17, this was a huge shock to me; and I had to quicken my pace to properly shoot for TV. However, once I got used to the fast-paced, non-stop feel of live TV, I found that it suits me perfectly. I am never bored, I get to travel, my schedule is amazing, I have creative control over the finished product, and I always know what’s going on around town and in the news. There are days that I will go out and shoot three segments in three different cities before I come back to the studio, and then I’m still done by 3:30-4:00 in the afternoon. My coworkers have, over the last few years, become something of a second family to me. We’re a tight-knit group that works together to find interesting stories and cool places to go. When I first started in TV, I wasn’t sure if it would be for me, but I’ve found I love this aspect of storytelling just as much as filmmaking.

How did the hands-on education at Compass help prepare you for the industry?

Compass, more than anything else, taught me to work hard or get left behind. This is 100 precent true in every industry, but filmmaking and broadcast are cutthroat trades. Why? Because we love what we do, and we want to continue doing it. But, if you’re lazy, you’re not going anywhere; there’s another kid on deck waiting to take your spot. Do what you do well, and with a great attitude, and people will notice. Slack off and joke around, and people will notice that, too, you just won’t work anymore. Compass also taught me how to develop a good eye for shot composition, how to set up basic lighting, and it helped me develop my skills as an editor, all of those things I use on a daily basis.

Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates or someone considering a career in film and digital media?

This industry can be difficult, but it can also be the most amazing thing in your life. Be sure you want to do this, search your heart, know yourself. If this is the road you want to continue down, don’t let anyone stop you. Develop your own projects, try new things, meet new people, think for yourself, read, read, read, and learn to enjoy yourself and the life you’ve been given. We only get one.

Alumni Highlight: Paul Rice

Paul Rice, a 2017 graduate of Compass College, is an editor living and working in Los Angeles. He recently completed his internship at Toy Box Entertainment, an LA-based motion picture advertising company. Now, he works at ProGuides as an editor working on gaming tutorials and more.

When did you know you wanted to go into film and digital media? What sparked your interest?

I don’t think there was really a single moment when I decided film was what I wanted to do. It sort of just happened organically. I made some videos and said to myself, “that was fun,” and a few years later I had a nice little skill set. Since I enjoyed the work I thought, “why not go to film school?”

What has been your favorite part about working in the industry so far?

This is probably not true of all entry-level jobs, but my favorite part has been my ability to be creative. ProGuides has given me a good amount of freedom to take things where I want with projects. I can put little goofs or gags in the videos because it spices things up. A little seasoning goes a long way when it comes to tutorial videos and guides. Also, the money is nice.

What’s it like working as an editor for ProGuides?

Working at ProGuides is awesome. It’s crazy and lots of work, but because it’s a start-up, I think that’s expected. It’s fun working in such a relaxed environment where everyone has similar interests as well.

How did the hands-on education at Compass help prepare you for the industry?

I learned a lot about production at Compass. It is nice to know that I can use, or easily figure out, whatever equipment is thrown at me. However, since I’m mainly an editor, I don’t get to use my production knowledge too much. I also learned a lot of useful theory. Before Compass I would always just do what I felt would be cool for the video, but now I try to give everything I do in a video reasoning. It shouldn’t be cool just for the sake of being cool, at least most of the time.

Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates or someone considering a career in film and digital media?

My advice to graduates is work hard. If you go above and beyond and do good work people will notice. Just keep trucking along and getting better at whatever skill you are learning. Make sure to put conscious effort into improving your skills. Skills pay bills, and it feels even better to pay bills doing something you enjoy.

Alumni Highlight: Nate Driesenga

Written by: Andrew Furstenberg and Jessie Hollett

Nate Driesenga is a 2017 graduate of Compass College. He recently completed his internship at Magnet Management, a Los Angeles-based company that manages writers. While he was there, Nate did script coverage writing synopsis of screenplays and offering his thoughts on them to executives and potential agents.

“It was nice to read what other writers have written and see how they communicate their ideas,” said Nate. “Also, I found it interesting that Magnet didn’t just want my input on the stories, but also on the mindsets of the writers themselves. Magnet represents writers, so they wanted my take on whether a writer would be worth representing or not.”

Since completing his internship, Nate has worked as a production assistant on multiple projects and continued pursuing writing in his free time.

“I think attending Compass has given me a leg-up on others freshly out of college,” said Nate. “I’m thankful for Compass’s emphasis on learning multiple roles, not just writing.”

During his time at Compass, Nate had the opportunity to write, act in, and direct a number of short films, commercials, and other projects. In his Adaptation class, Hollywood writers like Todd Komarnicki (Sully), Derek Kolstad (John Wick) , and Anne Rosellini (Winter’s Bone) Skyped in to discuss their experiences writing for Hollywood.

“It’s amazing how eager they were to speak with us,” Nate said. “Some of them even helped us hash out our own projects and ideas. They were so kind and humble; it made me realize, ‘I can be that person someday.’”

Well, “someday” may be closer than he thinks. This fall Nate Skyped in to the Adaptation class to talk about his work at Magnet and his experience transitioning to Los Angeles.

“I feel leagues away from where I was when I first came to Compass,” said Nate. “I’m thankful for the nurturing environment at Compass that developed me into a better filmmaker and gave me a head-start in the industry.”

His advice for those interested in pursuing a career or education in film and digital media is four-fold:

  1. Start creating things now. Write, direct, build your portfolio as much as you can. The more experience you have in the craft, the better that you will be.
  2. Be a team player. You are not the center of the universe, and you are not a prodigy; if you think you are, no one will want to work with you.
  3. Give yourself permission to fail. Be bad. It’s the first part of the process. When you make mistakes, you can learn and grow from them.
  4. Find your voice. Don’t be Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, or any other well-known creative. Tell your stories. No one else can.

Alumni Highlight: Jesse Harbold

Jesse Harbold is a 2012 alum of Compass College living in New York City and working in the post-production departments of award winning shows like VICE and Orange is the New Black for HBO and Netflix.

My sophomore year of high school, I received a video production class instead of all the architecture classes I had requested. However, after beginning the course, I realized I was having a blast and just seemed to naturally understand the concepts better than any of my peers. From there, it blossomed into more classes and independent studies. I researched film and story on my own and took a film history class. My life soon became consumed by it. I got into theater as well. I think what struck me was that, up to that point, I had nothing I could confidently say, “I enjoy this, and I’m good at it.” Sports were my thing, but never my thing. It was a little bit of a forced identity. Film allowed me to express myself in its purest form.

During my time at Compass, I started working professionally in the industry; primarily with Mark Baas, a connection given to me via Compass alum Karl Koelling of Taproot Pictures. I spent many weekends working on local commercials as a Production Assistant and creating my own projects for different classes. After completing the final thesis project, I received an internship with an independent production company in New York City doing script coverage.

In August 2012, I moved to NYC, couch surfed for two weeks, and then finally found an apartment. I spent two months at my internship doing script coverage, then was given the opportunity to work on Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH as an extra. Immediately following that, I was offered the chance to be a Production Assistant on a film the company I interned for was about to start shooting. That first feature introduced me to many people I would collaborate with over the next three years. From there, I worked on an additional 14 to 15 feature films, as well as various commercials and music videos.

In July 2014, I stepped into the role of Assistant Director on a half-million dollar movie. After that experience, I moved off set and into post-production. I worked as the Post-Production Assistant on season three of HBO’s hit show VICE. After seven months, I wanted to get back to scripted TV, so I moved into a facility doing dailies for network TV. While working there, I learned how to use Avid, which is a requirement if you want to work in network TV. A year and a half later, I moved on to work on season five of Orange is the New Black as their Post-Production Assistant. Following the season, I moved back to VICE as an Assistant Editor on their new nightly news show for HBO.

My favorite part of working in this industry has to be the flexibility to do anything I really want. I’ve dabbled in everything, from development through post-production. You can experiment while making a living and never be tied to any one company. I love that. It’s such a sense of freedom. Also, I enjoy the casual atmosphere of most work environments. A suit and tie, commuting to a 9-to-5 job, just isn’t me.

To clarify, I think this is an important note, the post-production departments at Netflix and HBO do not actually make the show. Their roles are usually administrative in nature, overseeing all of their shows. I work for the companies contracted by Netflix or HBO to produce the content; this is a privilege because they rarely deal with individuals outside of an established circle of trusted people and independent companies. Working on their shows is by far the best of the best. I’ve been fortunate, not just to be a part of the HBO and Netflix lineups, but also to have been a part of their Emmy Award-winning lineup. The extra level of care this entails is surreal. They both give thorough story notes and care deeply about the quality of material they’re producing. Learning set etiquette, story structure, and artistic vocation at Compass was so crucial to being able to keep my head above water starting out. Set etiquette was especially crucial in the early days. I’ve seen interns and production assistants get fired on the spot because they possessed poor etiquette. I also feel Compass gave me a humble view of the larger picture. This is fundamental, understanding how the small stuff impacts the larger stuff. Compass was terrific at showing how everything connects. I think the best advice I can give is to be patient and humble. They both will be tested greatly. Never lose sight of what you love about this business and art form. I have a core set of films I always go back to when I feel this happening. They re-inspire my joy and love. Don’t let negativity seep in.