A group of five Oberlin alumni working in the entertainment industry met via Zoom last Wednesday to talk about their experiences in the field and offer advice for current students pursuing a career in film or television. Hosted by Career Exploration and Development, the panel was affiliated with Obiewood, the alumni network for Obies working in film and television.
“Obiewood is the name of the alumni group called ‘Obies in Hollywood,'” said Kyle Farris, associate director of career readiness. “It’s a casual type of alumni association for people who are in the entertainment industry or looking to get into the entertainment industry.”
Obiewood works primarily in Los Angeles, where panels, mixers and other events allow alumni of all years to network and cultivate relationships that can lead to employment opportunities.
“The idea is to provide graduates with a community that provides support and connects them to other resources,” Farris said. “It focuses primarily on the alumni side, so I’m really glad they were kind enough to come over and talk to the current students. But I know that sometimes people out there try to organize mixers or networking events or just help each other out.”
Farris, who also serves as an advisor to Oberlin’s arts, communications and creative careers community, is the driving force behind the panel. They said that when students who want to go into the entertainment industry come to him, he takes a less traditional route to prepare them for the job search.
“I make sure they are very knowledgeable about the industry because it is a very difficult industry,” they said. “To be honest, it’s very rare for someone to graduate and get a job straight away. There’s usually a time when you go looking for work, do some freelance work, or organize a few gigs.”
Farris said he tried to represent a diversity of experiences on the jury because there are so many ways careers in the entertainment industry can manifest themselves.
“We are lucky because we have people who come from all different backgrounds,” they said. “We have someone who has experience as a writer, this is Liam Oznowich; Kendra James has tended to be on the journalism/reporting side of a lot of entertainment; Fiona Brennan has documentary film and other production experience, and Sarah Goodstein has production experience as a camera assistant. We tried to bring together people who not only come from one part of the industry, but can also talk about the situation in different areas.”
Oznowich, a panelist who currently works as personal assistant to Ed Helms, OC ’96, met Helms several times through Obiewood networking events before working for him.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Obiewood. So I’m very grateful to this group for organizing these events and creating spaces – not just for graduates moving to LA or New York for the first time, but also for…” It also provides a space for people who are already there were outside,” Oznowich said. “I am so grateful to Obiewood, and hopefully there will be more movement to create more resources for current students, alumni and people who have lived here for a while to create a real community. I’m really excited to see what Obiewood does and how they expand in the future.”
Farris points out that the biggest obstacle to breaking into film and television can be the industry’s emphasis on connections and networking, a hurdle that Obiewood helps overcome for Oberlin alumni.
“More than any other field I have ever encountered, film and entertainment is a familiar industry,” Farris said. “You know, they post internships and job openings, but to be honest, it’s a contact-based thing. A large part of the workforce is moving there, but with film it is much more intense. You need a resume, but it’s all about networking. That’s a big reason why I wanted to do this – so a lot of people can meet some people.”
Sarah Goodstein, OC ’21, another panelist who works in various positions in camera departments on sets in Los Angeles, agrees that a lack of connections and competition can make it difficult to succeed in the industry.
“The most important thing about the industry is that it depends on who you know,” she said. “The other thing is the sheer number of people trying to do what I’m trying to do. Right now there are maybe a million people in the exact same place doing the exact same job, and there aren’t a million jobs. It was very difficult and I had to do a lot of research, marketing and networking on my own and absolutely nothing I did at Oberlin prepared me for this.”
Oznowich noted that Obiewood can help bridge the connection gap for Oberlin alumni who struggle to find work in the industry, as established older alumni can give newer graduates a head start.
“Because this is a company that focuses so much on relationships, people you know, and personal recommendations, the Oberlin label alone is a huge blessing in knowing someone – knowing they’re capable and is smart,” said Oznowich. “The benefits of a liberal arts education are really noticeable now, especially as I get older, because I feel like Oberlin students can write.” They know how to be creative, and they have unusual ideas and interesting things to say. “
Oznowich hopes for the opportunities for connection and community that the Obiewood and Oberlin career communities can provide.
“I didn’t really know about Obiewood when I moved here, and I think that’s because it was still developing,” he said. “When I graduated there, we didn’t have any professional communities; We didn’t have the resources they have now; They have just started an early version of Oberlink. Seeing these services expand and build more alumni connections will be really exciting because ultimately we want to give back and help people get jobs. Every single assignment I got, except for the agency, was through word of mouth. Creating networks like this between Oberlin alumni, older Oberlin alumni, younger Oberlin alumni and students – that’s the real takeaway – cross-generational connections and networking opportunities that are so important to this company. I think Oberlink makes that easier, and future Obiewood events are just a place for people to meet and mingle.”