Kelly FitzGerald: Operations Coordinator, UCLA
WFU Class of 2017
Major: Communication and Media Studies
Minor: Film Studies
Kelly FitzGerald's interest in film was sparked after entering the Team Oscar film competition on a whim.... and winning! We recently had the chance to chat with Kelly about this experience, working on set, and the unique nature of the film industry.
DeacLink: Can you tell me about your career path from Wake Forest to now?
Kelly FitzGerald: When I first came to Wake Forest, my interests were quite broad. It was not until the end of my sophomore year that I became seriously interested in film. In December 2015, I saw a social media announcement for a film competition called Team Oscar. I entered on a whim, having no prior film experience, and was selected by the Academy as one of six winners. Suddenly, the entertainment world didn’t feel so out of reach.
I returned to Wake, feeling energized from the experience, and tailored my remaining years around film. I added a film studies minor and during my senior year, began to focus more on production design. I wrote a grant proposal to the Provost Office of Global Affairs and received funding to attend the Sundance Film Festival in 2017. At the end of senior year, I was admitted as a Dean's Scholar to an MFA program for Production Design at SCAD. Once June rolled around, however, I made a gut decision to move to Los Angeles for the summer and apprentice with Production Designer, John Richoux, who I met at a party of a mutual friend. I ended up declining my graduate school offer after making so many connections in LA, and worked with the art department for 9 months on a variety of film, TV, commercial, and music video projects. I recently started working as an Operations Coordinator for UCLA.
DL: What was your favorite part about working in Production Design?
KF: The best part about working on set is that every day is an adventure. Nothing is predictable, you’re always working with new people, and you have to learn to think on your feet. It keeps you sharp. The best part about production design, specifically, is seeing the director's vision come to life...and knowing you helped accomplish that.
DL: How did your studies at Wake Forest impact or drive your career path?
KF: The classes I took in the film department provided me with a theoretical lens through which to understand the social impact and responsibility of filmmaking. In real life, once the camera is set, it’s like “quick, find something to hang on the wall in that awkward white space!” In such a moment, I could throw just about anything up on the wall to achieve a better composition, but I always try to take an extra second to consider how the viewer might interpret this new visual in relationship to the narrative. Establishing mental checks and balances between pure composition (what simply looks nice) and critical interpretation (what impact this choice might have) is something my studies trained me to do.
DL: On the other hand, what do you think that Wake could have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?
KF: I could have benefited from more hands-on experiences and opportunities outside the classroom. I think it should be a requirement for every film studies student to PA before graduating. Theory is important, but technical skills are invaluable in the working world.
DL: What has your job search and application process been like throughout your career? Do you have any tips for students about networking or applying for jobs in the film industry?
KF: Networking is everything! The application process isn’t formal (it’s very referral based) and every film job I’ve gotten has been through networking. Don’t worry about trying to get an official internship with a big, prestigious company. Just get on set in any capacity, and the opportunities will multiply from there.
DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in LA?
KF: Los Angeles is an amazing, multicultural city with endless things to do. I’m currently learning to surf, dancing tango, and working on writing a screenplay in my free time. I really like the anonymity of being in such a big city. If you are looking for opportunities in the arts or any creative industry, this is absolutely the place to be!
DL: What is next for you in your career?
KF: While I’m currently not working in the film industry, I always want to make the arts a part of my life. Finding the right balance between work, creativity, and travel has been (and still is) an ongoing process. Establishing my creative voice without becoming a cog in the machine is perhaps the biggest challenge. Luckily, my new job comes with a lot more free time, so I am finally able to work on personal projects and get my thoughts on paper. I’m no longer coming home after 12 hour shoots feeling like I got hit by a bus.
DL: Do you have any advice that you would like to give to current students?
KF: Don’t compare yourself to friends who have full time job offers before graduation. The arts are inherently unique, so you’re playing an entirely different ballgame. Don’t expect to be asked for your resume, be prepared to show what you’ve worked on. Be friendly, always willing to help, and don’t forget to check your ego at the door.