Lights, camera, UWM alumni in Hollywood

As home base for UWM’s film program, the basement of Mitchell Hall might seem like a long way away from sunny California. But the journey from Milwaukee to Hollywood is shorter than you’d think for graduates of UWM’s Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres and other Peck School of the Arts programs. Prepare to be star struck and #Pantherproud as you meet a few UWM alumni working in the film and television industries today.

Screenwriter for “Empire”

Eric Haywood (’92 BFA Film) is on a roll with “Empire,” one of the hottest shows on television. Haywood is a screenwriter for the Fox series about a powerful family’s hip-hop music and entertainment business, which just wrapped up its first season. Haywood, who directed music videos and wrote screenplays at UWM, has also written for ABC’s “Private Practice,” Showtime’s “Soul Food: The Series,” and NBC’s “Hawaii.”

Studio brass

“I wanted to make movies,” says Katherine MacDonald (’04 BFA Film). As vice president of marketing and production at Paramount Pictures, MacDonald is the liaison between the studio’s production and marketing teams, working on films in varying stages of production. The summer 2015 release, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” is one of her projects. MacDonald transferred from UW-Madison to UWM at the suggestion of a friend at UWM who told her she’d get more hands-on film experience in Milwaukee.

Lord of the special effects

The name may not be familiar, but James Rygiel’s work sure is. Rygiel (’77 BFA Painting and Drawing) began his career at one of the first companies to use computer animation in ads and films. Since then, he has supervised visual effects for movies like “Night at the Museum” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” His work on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy earned him three Academy Awards.

Movies about Milwaukee

Milwaukee filmmakers Michael Vollmann and Chris James Thompson (both ’06 BFA Film) just scored a double win. After their short documentary, “The 414s: The Original Teenage Hackers,” was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, CNN bought the rights to premiere the film online in April. The two previously worked together on “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files,” which was picked up by IFC Films.

From PSOA to San Fran, LA, Australia

Owen Klatte (‘76 BS Architecture) and Angie Glocka spent a few semesters at UWM learning the basics of filmmaking and animation, then moved out to San Francisco to work in stop-motion animation on such films as “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Then came 15 years in Los Angeles working for major studios, plus five months in Australia on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” The husband-wife team returned to Wisconsin a year ago, but continue to work in stop-action animation. Klatte also teaches in UWM’s Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres.

An American classic in Mitchell Hall

In 2004, the New York Times named “American Movie,” by UWM filmmakers Chris Smith (’99 MFA Film) and Sarah Price (’98 MFA Film), one of the 1,000 best films ever made and the International Documentary Association named it one of the top 20 documentaries of all time. The 1999 film followed an aspiring horror filmmaker in Milwaukee and won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Smith directed and Price produced the film, which includes scenes filmed in the basement of Mitchell Hall.

Prime-time exposure

Brittani Ebert (’02 BFA Theatre)  co-starred on a recent episode of the CW comedy-drama “Jane the Virgin.” After UWM, Ebert worked with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company for four years. Now based in Hollywood, Ebert works regularly on television, in commercials and theater. She’s appeared on “Criminal Minds,” and is into her 34th episode as Debbie the Waitress on “General Hospital.”

Stop-motion to “SpongeBob”

Tina and Carson Kugler (’96 BFA Painting and Drawing) met in a stop-motion animation internship in the Peck School of the Arts. In Hollywood, they animated such shows as “SpongeBob SquarePants” (the TV show and first movie) and “Dora the Explorer.” Carson is currently storyboard supervisor at Nickelodeon, leading the team for “Harvey Beaks.” Tina spent three years at UWM, and has since found her dream job as a children’s book illustrator, including “In Mary’s Garden” and “Snail and Worm.”

International influence

Being able to mount shows for the public as an undergraduate at UWM gave Daniel Sherkow (’71 BFA Theatre/Honors) the confidence and experience to launch a Hollywood career. Today he is chief operating officer for Global Entertainment Holdings Inc. Sherkow also advises leading international media entities in Korea and China. He produced the 1991 film, “Impromptu,” which featured an all-star cast and aired on Masterpiece Theatre after its theatrical release.

Tech expertise distinguishes these Hollywood alums

A number of UWM graduates have moved into the technical side of television, film and computer animation. Just a few examples:

    • Gregg Lukomski (attended through ‘92) is CEO and founder of Slide Rule Inc. and a visual effects supervisor and consultant. He’s worked on such films as “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.” He currently focuses on immersive, virtual and augmented reality technology for computer games and motion pictures.
    • Sound editor Peter Zinda (’94 BFA Film) was nominated for a Best Sound Editing Award-Animated Feature by the Motion Picture Sound Editors for the 2014 film “Book of Life.” He has won other sound editing awards for his motion picture and computer interactive work.
    • Ben Wolfinsohn (attended through ’95) is a writer, director and animator. He produced the feature films “Nowhere,” “High School Record” and “Friends Forever.”
    • Steven Russell Wells (’09 BA Visual Art) is a character designer for Nickelodeon Animation studios. After starting as an intern on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” he became character designer for Nickelodeon’s “Sanjay & Craig.”

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