DL:RP Series: Matt James (ft Tyler Cameron)

Hello, DeacLinkers! The DL:RP Series returns with a recent addition, Matt James and ABC Food Tours. The fantastic ex-football player has enjoyed a surge of support and activity in the charity program, most notably involving former Wake teammate and Bachelorette sensation Tyler Cameron on NYC tours. Congrats to both Wake athlete alums, we’re proud to share your story!


Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

image (11).png

ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL:RP Series: Marc Blucas

The DL:RP Series continues with another inspiring alumni account, written by WFU Magazine’s Carol L. Hanner.

Marc Blucas (WFU ‘94) came to WFU on a baskteball scholarship, earned a business degree, then banked left for Hollywood. Slam dunk.

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

Image source: Buffy Angel Show Online

‘I have to know if I can make it’ - Marc Blucas ('94) took the long shot from sports to Hollywood, and he nailed it

by Carol L. Hanner, posted 3/19/19

On paper, Marc Blucas says, he never should have made it to where he is now.

Blucas (’94) was a small-town boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, who played basketball on scholarship for Wake Forest, graduated with a business degree and played abroad, but he soon set his course toward law school. He also had a partnership with NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Sr. to start a company advising professional athletes on contracts, endorsements and financial planning, with the help of Bern Beatty (P ’88), now a professor emeritus of business.

Then Blucas got a phone call from John Justus, who was the University’s sports information director. A filmmaker needed a basketball player for “Eddie,” a 1996 movie that was shooting in Charlotte with Whoopie Goldberg (and a cameo by a guy named Donald Trump). “I went down and auditioned for this movie, and I got it. And then the cliché happened. I caught the bug.”

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Image from WFU Magazine original post

Blucas gave up law school, even though he had never acted. He gave up flying to races in Earnhardt’s private jet to work with him on the business plan. He gave up the world of sports that had been his passion since childhood. “On paper, I’m the dumbest person on the planet,” Blucas says, laughing. “I had everything you could want at that time coming out of college teed up for me, and I chose something where I had no experience, no relationships, where I knew no one.”

But it worked. He has a successful acting career. He plays the romantic interest of star Robin Tunney in a TV legal drama called “The Fix,” which premieres tonight on ABC. When we talked, he was in Connecticut, working until 4 a.m. every night in the bitter February cold for a Christmas special for Hallmark Movies, where he has had multiple starring roles. He has acted in numerous movies alongside such stars as Mel Gibson and Katie Holmes and in many TV shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” where he played Riley Finn.

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Blucas lived for about 14 years in Los Angeles but moved seven years ago to a 15-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife, Ryan Haddon Blucas. She is a former producer who recently turned years of volunteer counseling into a practice as a hypnotherapist and life coach. They live with their two daughters, 4 and 7, and Ryan’s two teens from an earlier marriage. Blucas gets his workouts through chores and renovating their 300-year-old farmhouse, which he much prefers to slaving in the gym in L.A.

He says he loved Los Angeles after the first difficult year. “From 25 to 35, it was a great place to be. I was single. It’s the heartbeat of the industry I was in, and I needed to learn it and make the relationships.”

But after five years, an exit strategy already was bubbling in the back of his mind. “It’s Groundhog Day in L.A. … It’s 70 and perfect all the time. But you can’t really mark time. There’s no cycle of life and death. The leaves don’t fall off the trees. After a while, you blink, and five years go by, and you don’t even know it because the trees don’t grow.”

Tax credits and technology dramatically changed the industry, he says. “It used to be just Harrison Ford could leave town and live somewhere else.” But Blucas says in his last six years in Los Angeles, he filmed there only one day because his locations were spread out across the globe, from Atlanta to Capetown, South Africa.

He met Ryan in L.A., and she, too, was ready to move to the East Coast to be near family. Today, they have a rule — no more than two weeks apart, even if it means Blucas flies home for just a day. “My family’s always going to be more important to me than my career, and right now my kids are at an age where they want to be around me.” He even negotiated to appear in fewer episodes of “The Fix” to ensure that he had time off to go home.

Blucas knows his pursuit of acting seemed crazy when he started. He had tried for small theater roles at Wake Forest, but the sports arena always trumped the stage. “We’re playing Duke, and I’m ‘Hey, (theater) guys, I can’t make it. I got to go get my (butt) kicked by Grant Hill tonight.’”

Acting psyched him up in the same way basketball did. “It’s just an energy and the excitement of having the pressure to perform certain things,” he says. Live sports events change spectators’ emotions, and so does storytelling. “You want to enter a theater and leave it changed, somehow.”

Both were big challenges. Acting is “one of the hardest businesses in the world to break into,” Blucas says. “It was almost the same decision that I had coming to college. … I wasn’t the Rodney Rogers (’94) and Randolph Childress (’95, P ’20) where you know you’re going to be a star. My choice to come to Wake Forest was, ‘Look, I know I’m going there to be a role player at best, but I have to know if I can make it.’”

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie.  - Source, WFU Magazine original post

Marc Blucas with Katie Holmes in "First Daughter," a 2004 movie. - Source, WFU Magazine original post

He pushed through the steep learning curve in acting. “I went from being sports and math and science to suddenly literature and stories and characters, and I wanted to succeed.” He treated his acting coaches like his basketball coaches, urging them to tell him if he didn’t have “the quality, whatever IT is.”

He got a call from a casting director who flew him from his hometown to Los Angeles for his first big audition, for “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise. Blucas didn’t get that part, but he got enough encouragement to keep his focus, dedication and work ethic revved up.

If acting ever becomes tiresome, he’ll stop. He approaches it just as he did basketball workouts. “If I didn’t like getting up at 5 in the morning for two-a-days and going through all that stuff for practice, I would have quit it. It still has to be fun.”

He has other skills he can employ. He says Wake Forest prepared him through its commitment to a liberal arts education, exposure to diversity and a concern for “turning out good human beings.”

“I always felt that sense of community at Wake. I had a very specific platform for that on the basketball side, and I had another one in the fraternity world (Sigma Phi Epsilon) because I wanted to make sure I had a ‘normal’ college experience other than just locker room friends.”

He loved the small classes and professors who were never condescending to him. He learned “the best way to solve a problem or to have success is through communication and surrounding yourself with the right people, and all those things I feel like were so cemented at Wake for me.”

He hopes his kids will find the same inspiration. “Wake athletics does a really cute thing, and when a former player has a kid … you get a national letter of intent,” Blucas says. “They think it’s a joke, but I’m holding them to it.”

Spotlight Interview: Matt James

Matt James: Founder, ABC Food Tours

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Economics

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ABC Food Tours founder Matt James recaps his journey from Winston-Salem to NYC, including major lessons about networking, giving back, and hitting your stride after graduation.

DeacLink: Walk us through your path since graduation day, up to the founding and fruition of ABC Food Tours.

Matt James: Man, where to start! I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months. Fortunately, I had a support system back home in Raleigh (Mom) who allowed me to stay at her house and train while I figured out my next steps. By the end of that first season in 2016 I had moved on from football and off to Pittsburgh for a Corporate & Institutional Banking role in Pittsburgh with PNC. After a 1 ½ years in Pittsburgh, which I loved and still cherish, I spread my wings a flew up to NYC where I felt like I was missing out on life. My first six months were spent couch surfing, navigating the new NYC landscape and deciding if this new role in advertising as a media planner was for me. Ultimately, I left that job (just in time as the company went belly up 12 months later) and took a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.

Four months into my CBRE role, I began to realize how much I loved food. I was eating out virtually every meal! I also really missed interacting with kids, since at Wake I was very involved with programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin through SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). I met a group of “kids” who were students from a local neighborhood elementary school P.S. 188- where 50% of the students are homeless- hanging outside my favorite restaurant in the Alphabet City…. way later than they should have been out. We joked on each other for a few minutes then parted ways; they didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the last they saw of me. I reached out to their principal the following morning to set up a time where I could take their students to my favorite restaurant called Bob White’s. Although it was located right in their back yard, the kids had never been inside! This occasion marked the first food tour… the rest is history!

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: You were an athlete at Wake (on the football team). What impact did this have upon your undergrad experience, and did it influence the moves you made upon graduating?

MJ: Being an athlete, I grew to appreciate everything that had been granted to me closer to the end of my time at Wake. Some random person decided it would be a good idea to give Wake over a quarter million dollars to support someone like myself going to college! I’m close to the benefactor, Dr. Stan Rogers, to this day. He changed my life!

Going to Wake also cultured me. I know that sounds crazy as most students would say that a majority of the kids a Wake are pretty similar. It was a chance for me to see peers from across the country all aspiring to be different things; see how being brought up in different areas of the country had quite an influence on the type person you became. It inspired me to want the best for myself and question why I would allow anything less than the very best for myself, why couldn’t I be just like these kids at Wake?

DL: Away from athletics, how much did your studies and general classroom experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

MJ: Looking back, my favorite teachers were professors I had before I even knew I wanted to major in Economics. I have always been business minded, so Econ made the most sense (since I would NOT be taking accounting and making a run at the business school). I would say students, parents, and my interactions with individuals associated with Wake, validated that you didn’t need to be an athlete to be successful. An important mentor for me in this case was Mr. Leak, who was a wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and invited me to intern with him my senior year.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various jobs you’ve held since graduating? Do you have any tips or suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

MJ: The best networking I’ve done was during undergrad at Wake! That being said, it’s never too late. Wake Forest is a family, and alumni are more than willing to help introduce you to the right people and steer you in the right direction. My first job was through a connection I made with a baseball player at Wake (who is one of my boys to this day!). His father put me in contact with someone who linked me to another person, who eventually offered me a job in Pittsburgh! That opportunity came from my willingness to be flexible through the process… like, I would have taken a job in Montana. Nothing is permanent, living experience is invaluable.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

MJ: From a student-athlete perspective, I didn’t realize that although being eligible to play GPA-wise was great, that GPA isn’t close to high enough to be competitive in a job market. Good grades matter initially- they can get you seen in a competitive pool. I would also encourage undergrads to connect with as many students as possible. Figure out what their parents do and ask lots of questions because you may be in class with someone whose parents do something super interesting! I’ve found that parents are more than willing to talk to a current college student as opposed to a college grad who is “desperate” for a job.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in NYC? What is the most interesting thing going on in the food scene, in your opinion?

MJ: I love lots of things about living in NYC! Top things being:

Diversity – you have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed! You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city.

Opportunity – You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves.

DL: What is your favorite part about running ABC Food Tours? What are your hopes for the future of the program?

MJ: My favorite part of running ABC is working with kids! They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives. Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t’ have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour.

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: How can Wake Forest alumni or current students support ABC?

MJ: The biggest way they can support is by joining us for a tour! We strive to surround our students with individuals who are nothing like them (typically upper middle class, white male/female). This allows them to see for themselves who these people are and not be influenced by their parents and the media on what certain demographics represent. You can also go online and sponsor a tour on our website allowing a student or entire classroom the opportunity to experience these restaurants (and fitness classes now!).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

DL: What and where is next for you?

MJ: I’m headed into brokerage (with CBRE) in a few months so I’m stoked about that! We’ve also launched ABC Fitness which takes students on fitness tours of local gyms in NYC focusing on health and wellness in 2019. We also recently hosted our first international tour in Brixton, London!

DL: That’s fantastic- long may this expansive effort continue! What piece of advice would you like to leave with the readers?

MJ: Be a good person. A smile can go a very long way.


Support ABC Food Tours by visiting their website here.

Follow ABC on IG to keep updated on the latest food and fitness tour activity (Matt’s IG is pretty great too).

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Photo courtesy of abcfoodtours.com

Spotlight Interview: Alfredo Rodriguez-Allen

Alfredo Rodriguez-Allen: Director

Freelance Filmmaker, Los Angeles CA

WFU Class of 2012

Major: Film, Cinema, Video Studies

Kodak Portra (400)37 copy.jpg

Alfredo Rodriguez-Allen came to Wake Forest to play for its legendary Men’s Soccer team. During undergrad he dove headfirst into another passion of his, film. Now a freelance director in Los Angeles, Alfredo walks us through his path since Wake including the realities of working in the entertainment world and invaluable lessons he’s pick up along his journey thus far.

DeacLink: How are things right now for you in the film industry?

Alfredo Rodriguez-Allen: They’re going very well! I’m on the grind of getting my own work off the ground as a director so it’s exciting. Fortunately, I’m a freelancer so I can take jobs when I need them and work on my personal projects the rest of the time. It’s a lifestyle that suits me because it allows me to go to the beat of my own drum.

DL: What’s your path been like from Winston-Salem to LA?

ARA: At the end of my junior year I knew I wanted to get into film, no question about it. Senior year I began reaching out to virtually anybody and everybody online. I used Craigslist and contacted every single posting for jobs that could guide me to directing movies or commercials in Los Angeles. Finally, a woman, Elda Bravo, replied to me after my relentless bugging, and confirmed that I could work as a PA (production assistant) for her once I graduated. I drove out to LA after graduating and was fortunate enough to crash in a spare room for a couple of months while I got my bearings in the city. My role as a PA for Elda included all sorts of odd tasks, but that’s par for the course in the entertainment racket. During this time I was constantly on the lookout for other side gigs, and was able to be a 2nd AD (assistant director) on a low budget movie, which then led me to a job as a script reader. From there, the person I read scripts for ended up hiring me as a full-time assistant at his talent management agency. I didn’t want to work on the business side, but it was massively helpful to work under him and learn the nuances of that branch of the entertainment industry. Luckily, now I’m making a living off of my own work as a freelancer, but that’s after six years of working for others whilst gaining my footing and stability in the city and in the business.

On my off time, I did a short film and a short documentary of my own. Even though I can’t stand watching the short film these days, it got into the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival. It was a pivotal moment for me and provided unbelievable exposure. I was surrounded by some of the masters I had idolized since gaining an interest in film, and although I was a part of this prestigious film festival, I realized I had a very long way to go. The experience woke me up to the realities of what it takes to be a great filmmaker and it motivated me to work even harder to pursue this crazy dream of mine! I hit the ground running after that point.

Off the back of the festival, I committed to watching 20 new movies a month, to be a true student of cinema. With streaming services these days, there’s no excuse to not watch movies all the time. I didn’t go to film school, so essentially I am working on a self-taught film education. Learning everything from theory to trade on my own has been essential to my progress toward my objective...and I still have a ways to go. If you ever think you know everything about movies, find an interview with Martin Scorsese and he’ll humble you.

Going back to the timeline; after completing those two projects, I needed to make some dough and wait for the right opportunity to continue my path towards directing. I took a job at a talent agency where I worked for Robert Arakelian, who represents “below the line” talent such as cinematographers, production designers, editors, etc. He was constantly sharing knowledge with me about his clients’ craft and the business behind it. The key to his success is that he cares about the work and that’s why he’s the best in the business. He was and is a true mentor. He added to my business education, which is crucial because you need to know how to sell yourself, your movies, and who to get to champion your work.

Robert then got me the opportunity to serve as understudy to director Fredrik Bond. As far as directing goes, the three primary categories are: film, TV, and commercials, and Fredrik is a living legend in the commercial world. I worked alongside him for three years, which was hands down the best education I could receive in this field. I traveled the world, collaborated with crews from five different continents, was connected to and worked with Oscar winners, and was learning at every turn about all aspects of filmmaking… the entire process from start to finish. I was essentially executing all of these facets myself and that was a massive learning opportunity. It was exhausting and definitely took a toll on me, but the experience set me up to go at it alone. Since April 2018, I’ve been making a living as a freelancer; directing and writing treatments as well as designing them. I’m writing my own narrative scripts and hopefully will be able to realize one of them in the near future.

DL: Congratulations on reaching this point! What is it like working freelance?

ARA: It’s fantastic. As I mentioned, I like working intensely on a job for a few days and then spending time on my own material when I’m not booked. At the moment, most of the jobs I’m getting are as a treatment writer and designer, which is a great way to keep my creative juices pumping. Getting to write and/or design for directors like Fredrik Bond, Martin De Thurah, Rupert Sanders, Harmony Korine and others is amazing. For someone like one of them to call me up and pick my brain by asking, “Hey - what do you know about Brutalist architecture in mid-60s Liverpool?” keeps me on my toes. I’m constantly teaching myself new information from all disciplines of subject matter. Through this I’m able to learn about the different creative processes. If any of these directors’ techniques speak to me, I take them and put them in my toolbox to mesh with my own. After all, as a director, I want and need to find a distinctive voice and style that I can call my own, and in this day and age, it will inevitably be influenced by those that I’ve been hired to work with. It’s great when I’m asked my opinion by these directors because I can confidently express my approach, and at times, I can also flat out disagree with their stance. The ultimate goal is to implement my unique style on my own projects with autonomy but that takes time, and I’m building toward this point little by little, slowly but surely.

DL: Let’s rewind to the Cannes experience. It’s a huge deal to get picked up by the world’s most prestigious film festival! Talk about the application process and the experience of attending.

ARA: To be clear, there are different levels of competition at Cannes. So saying I got into the festival and that’s it, would be misleading. My short film was featured in the student category (despite no longer being a student, technically!). But the application is as simple as uploading your work onto their site and they review it. If they dig what you made, you get invited… and I did. I’m not sure what the odds are but I do feel luck had a role in my selection. I’ve always been a lucky person.

DL: They do say luck is when chance meets opportunity! Either way, well done. So how does treatment writing work? This is your primary task for freelance, right?

ARA: Yes - treatment writing is hard work but it comes naturally to me… it’s so much fun! As a random and generic example, let’s say a massive company like Coca-Cola wants to make a Christmas commercial featuring snowmen. Every company has an ad agency which represents them and creates their campaigns, so Coca-Cola will call their agency describing the sort of campaign they have in mind. From there, the agency will write a deck presenting Coca-Cola with specifics; for example, the snowmen going around the world handing out the drink to everyone. Once Coca-Cola approves the concept, the agency takes their deck to three or four directors asking how they’d do it. If the director engages, they take a call to go over the agency’s deck in detail then turn to the person writing the treatment (that’s where I come in) to break down everything in their vision, from casting to cinematography and music, etc. It’s then my job to synthesize all these aspects into visuals and text, creating a treatment. This has to reflect the director’s voice and vision accurately and can either secure or lose the gig for the director. The treatment goes to the agency who select the most suitable version, and if selected, we proceed in executing the project. Fortunately, I have a good track record from writing treatments, and if you secure one job, another one usually comes from referral down the line. I personally love writing these little stories and doing the research for whatever the project requires - the fact that I get paid for it is super exciting as well!

These cats are some of the best in the business so being able to work for and learn from them is a privilege. It’s also a lot of fun because each director is so different. Fredrik has an eye for humor and fun storytelling that is second to none. Harmony’s approach focuses mainly on underbelly cultures and he has a masterful ability to make people who may be totally different feel relatable. Rupert approaches filmmaking more from the artistic side. He’s an art school grad whose medium is film. He’s an incredibly visual director, and his work is stunning. Martin’s work, meanwhile, is breathtaking, and his versatility and taste are impeccable. It also helps that they’re all really nice and cool dudes.

I love writing treatments because it allows me to continuously learn about each person’s creative process and letting it filter into mine, hoping that it develops into something original.

DL: What would you say impacted you most while studying at Wake? Did you feel prepared for the LA film industry upon graduation?

ARA: I picked up lots, purely from the variety of courses that a liberal arts education offers but also, I was fortunate to study under incredible professors such as Clay Hassler and Peter Brunette. Clay was the sort of teacher who encouraged us to just go out in the world, shoot, and then figure it out. In his course (‘Advanced Media Production’) he emphasized how there was no perfect piece of work, and you can’t be a perfectionist to the point that you hold off on doing something for fear of it not being 100 percent perfect. He didn’t care if 99% of your project was trash. He’d focus on the positive 1% and push you to keep improving. We learned basic shooting and editing skills in this class… not as much theoretical knowledge but the actual know-how and hands-on aspects of film. The theoretical aspects and all that jazz came from Peter Brunette’s classes. He was an absolute wizard when it came to theory. The films we watched in his classes blew my mind.

My process has remained similar to what Clay’s class taught - ‘throw lots at the wall and see what sticks’. I overwrite and over-research, because I believe it’s better to have more than less, and then I sift through the findings and pick out what is best and most relevant for the story, as opposed to finding the bare minimum and trying to make it work from there. People can always tell when your work is contrived.

At Wake, I engaged in a variety of disciplines. I jumped from subject to subject because so many different topics spoke to me, and I used to be insecure about the fact that I couldn’t simply focus my energy on a specific major like most other students. I’d go to the library and see peers with ten books on the same subject. Meanwhile, I had ten books on ten different subjects. Looking back now, I can see how my exploration of different fields only made me a more creative and well-rounded person. Like any other college student, I was immature, ignorant and still figuring life out, so I definitely benefited from my diverse course selection that allowed me to learn about so many topics. I can go back to my notes on Greek and Roman Comedy, or Spanish Poetry, to Economics, to Dance, to Urban Development, to Gender Studies etc., and find something that applies to a job that I may be hired for. What a younger me felt was foolish turned out to be exactly the way I should’ve been learning; gathering information about a lot of different topics that genuinely interested me. I loved that about my Wake education! Also, I have to give a shout out to the ZSR because the film library that they had and hopefully still have is phenomenal. My roommate, Sam Redmond, and I would check out movies all the time, and watching them helped me acquire a wealth of cinematic knowledge outside of class.

In another vein, my stint at Wake was also interesting because I was one of very few Latinos. Since I’ve graduated I’m sure the student body has further diversified, but during my time as an undergraduate, I was able to really embrace my individuality and identity as a Guatemalan and an American, taking pride in both.

As for being prepared for the film industry upon graduation, I’d have to say yes because I’m here now and things are fortunately going well.

DL: What resources would be useful for Wake to offer students aspiring to careers as a director? Did you feel prepared for pursuing this path upon graduation?

ARA: Wake isn’t a film school like NYU Tisch or USC. I knew I wanted to do film but I got recruited to play soccer at Wake which ultimately dictated my final choice of colleges. Although I came in with soccer as a priority, I realized during undergrad that it wasn’t going to be my future. Film took the prime spot from then on, and I dove headfirst into preparing myself before leaving Wake.

I took classes with Peter Brunette, who was a fantastic film critic. When it came to theory and knowledge of film he was unreal. Sadly, he passed away during my junior year, but learning from him was truly inspiring. Luckily, I took classes with Mary Dalton and she was another great teacher on the theoretical side. Above all though, I still think Clay’s teaching impacted me the most, even down to little stuff that helps you get your foot in the door like knowing what a gaffer does, or what to reach for when someone asks for the apple box on set. The hands-on and terminology aspects are crucial when starting out.

Anyway, I can’t fault the University for not having a better production course, because that’s not the kind of school you sign up for if you go to Wake. I learned a lot about film at Wake mainly from my determination to do so. And that’s a life lesson in itself; if you generally want to be successful, then you have to be the person who watched the movie for homework, and then watched three other films to understand that one movie better, and then watched the movie with the director’s commentary after that. Wake certainly does give you the tools, but what you do with those tools is more important than anything!

In the future I would of course love to see Wake bring in new resources like a physical production class, or even offer pop-up style workshops across the year where alumni working in film come back and teach little units. Those could be immensely beneficial and encouraging for students.

DL: How do you get your freelance gigs? Word or mouth, cold calls, applying straight online, other means?

ARA: My first jobs in LA were all Craigslist jobs. I was a real pain. I’d bug people until they gave me the job because I really wanted to work! You have to be persistent at the start and throughout, reaching out to anyone and everyone, and doing a great job when given the opportunity. Eventually it’s morphed to where most of my work comes from the word of mouth circuit. If I do a good job for somebody and was enjoyable to work with, that speaks volumes and can secure further business off referrals. Also, if people straight up just like your work, they’ll call you.

DL: What mantra do you go by, or a kernel of advice you want to impart with the readers?

ARA: Be aware that there’s always someone out there who is more talented and harder working than you. That should motivate you to work incredibly hard and sharpen the tools in your specific craft. If you want to direct, study the directors that speak to you and then study who influenced them...and then study who influenced them. If you want to be a cinematographer, don’t just watch Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki’s work, go back and learn about Nestor Almendros and Sven Nykvist, as well as Robbie Muller and their predecessors… You have to be a nerd!!

Also, be patient. Patience is an absolute virtue in this field because it’s all about the small victories. It really does take time unless you’re as naturally talented as Paul Thomas Anderson or Lynne Ramsay, and we can’t all be them. Let the small accomplishments sustain you on the path of progress. If you maintain your work ethic and stay patient, you will continue to improve. That being said, never get complacent. I could make a good living for the rest of my life from writing and designing, but my goal is to direct and I will not stop until I reach it. Don’t follow the money, follow the dream. Just be truthful to the way you intuit and head where your stock is high.

Having played soccer my entire life and for the Wake Men’s Soccer team, I often see analogies from the traits, lessons, and virtues I picked up in my sporting career and try to apply them to my filmmaking path. For instance, I’ve met a lot of cats who are way more talented than I am but they eventually quit for some reason or another. Do they love it less than I do? I think so. Then again, love and passion can’t be quantified… but it’s possible that they didn’t have the determination to succeed. You see it in sports all the time: There’s always a wunderkind with all the potential in the world who ultimately develops to nothing, and then the guy who wins the World Cup who was an average talent but worked hard day in and day out, harder than anyone else to become a champion. You have to commit to learning and working as hard as you possibly can to make progress. And you need to create your own luck, even though I admit I’m pretty lucky, I do believe that the better you are, the luckier you get. That being said, I’m well aware that there is no guarantee of success.

Another big thing... Do NOT have an ego. The best way to learn is by listening and allowing yourself to be humbled. At one point I thought I knew everything about everything, and it was detrimental for my development as a director and, more importantly, as a person. I’ve realized that, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers so eloquently put it, “the more I see, the less I know.” The more I learn about specific topics, the more I realize that I know nothing about them… but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to educate myself further. Being humble enough to know that you have much to learn is the only way to truly improve, but that’s a decision you make daily and it requires hard work. On the flip side, I’m fascinated by (and have suffered from) imposter syndrome. It’s the fear of not belonging where you are, even if you’re seeing success in that realm. Even Paul McCartney admitted in a recent interview, that as recently as five years ago he was waiting for someone to just tap his shoulder and say, ‘We’ve got you figured out - you’re a fake and a phony. You don’t belong!’ Don’t let imposter syndrome keep you from pursuing your dream with fervor. You have just as much right to try as anybody. Those who talk down to you are projecting the insecurities they have themselves. I should know because I used to do it… But I’ve learned and will keep on learning.

Last thing about film… If you commit to this life make sure you love it! If you don’t, know that someone else out there loves it more than you do and their odds of succeeding are far higher than yours. That’s guaranteed. Also, don’t join the entertainment business for the glamor. Doing it for the wrong reasons, such as a desire to be famous, is a recipe for disappointment. You may have watched TV shows or movies that romanticize the business, but it’s a tough racket full of twisted people (like any other business). You may think that you’d love to be an actor or a writer or a director, but it’s possible that you’re more in love with the idea of being one of those rather than truly doing it. All of these disciplines require you to pull up your sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty, often times with no reward. It’s a tough business, no matter what you want to do in it. But I love it.