Cinema major Mo Stemen ‘07 is the assistant production coordinator for the new Disney production of The Lion King. She shares some insights from inside a major motion picture production.
How did you “break” into film?
I wouldn’t say I “broke” into film - I’d say I’m climbing into film. I’ve been working my way up since my first unpaid internship (that I landed on my own!) with Marvel Studios back in 2005. After I graduated in 2007, I moved to Los Angeles and have worked all sorts of jobs — everything from the coffee-fetching (that you often hear about) to inventorying custom wigs and facial hair or even facilitating international visas. It’s been a hard road — but it’s also often wonderful and strange and keeps things interesting,
Can you share a memory from The Lion King?
I grew up with the classic 1994 film, and I was able to find my original plush Simba and Nala toys at my parent’s house and brought them to the office in LA. Everyone was always so glad to see them.
The Lion King was a really fun experience - the technology that they are using is so cutting-edge and truly mind-boggling. I helped facilitate a safari to Kenya for the core creative team - which is always challenging with flights, visas, immunizations, and service companies - but you always learn something new!
What tips would you give a student today who is interested in cinema?
The biggest tip I would tell a student is WORK HARD — and get used to working hard. The harsh truth is that nothing is just handed to you, no one is ever just “discovered,” and nepotism is a dead end. You have to put in the time and effort to be the best that you can be and get where you want to go — and sometimes that means making coffee or knowing to write things down or following through on a task.
Never hang around video village when you’re on set.
Every job on a feature film or a television series - no matter how seemingly trivial - is important. They wouldn’t have budgeted a salary for that job if it didn’t matter. You can’t buy or schmooze your way into a career in this business, because sooner or later you have to do the work.
I would also advise students to have varied interests. You never know where life will take you or what skills you will end up using. Back in 2006, I had another internship in Hollywood and as luck would have it, the office forgot to get a colleague a birthday card. As the ever-prepared artist, I had my watercolor set with me and did a quick caricature and the problem was solved… Until everyone expected a tailor-made card for their birthday! I’ve been making cards ever since — and at the urging of my friends, I recently launched a website to sell them. I never imagined that I would have a greeting card business on the side?!
Lastly, I would tell students to be themselves. The entertainment industry is notoriously full of phonies — but that also means that the powers-that-be are usually quite adept at seeing through people’s facades. Being genuine can get you much further than pretending to be something you’re not.