May 4, 2012

SCA Student Stories: Olivia Bonin

The Trojan Vision Producer gives advice before leaving SCA

Olivia Bonin ’12, made the most of her time at SCA. The graduating senior not only completed degrees in Critical Studies and Neuroscience, but she found time to work at Trojan Vision, work with a theatre group and land a job.

Olivia Bonin '12

Before exiting SCA, Bonin sat down with SCA Family Stories to talk about her time and to give advice to incoming students on how to navigate the tricky job market.

Let’s start off with your name, your concentration and your graduation year. My name is Olivia Bonin, I’m a double major in Cinema Critical Studies and Neuroscience and am graduating this year, May 2012.

So you’re graduating next week. Do you have any plans arranged for life after school?  I’m currently finalizing the details of working with YTM, which is a digital media startup company that does social video marketing on YouTube. Basically the company works with big brands, movie studios, TV networks, etc. to bring attention to their online videos.

There’s so much content on YouTube now that it’s hard for any video to get noticed by itself.  YTM helps videos go viral or helps optimize channels to create more of an ongoing presence and social buzz around the videos. It’s a very new space, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What brought you to them? One of the big things I was very involved with at USC was the Trojan Vision television station. I had a number of tasks throughout my time there, including serving as executive producer of a show (Platforum), managing promotions, and directing/producing live broadcasts. One of the people I worked with closely at the station introduced me to YTM.

It’s a startup company that is growing quickly, and he had started working there when it was very new.  He loved it and recommended that I apply for an internship.  The company sounded like exactly the kind of thing that I was interested in – combining a lot of my interests —and I knew he and I worked well together.  I applied, worked as an intern last semester, and was very impressed. It’s a really collaborative, adventurous environment.

So the Trojan Family really came through for you. I would not have found out about YTM or thought to apply for an internship there otherwise. The people that you work with at USC are a great support system and working closely with other students on films, projects, and activities like Trojan Vision helps you get a feel for what kind of environment you like to work in and what kinds of people you work well with, which is a huge factor in figuring out how you want to spend your time.

Also, the conversations you have with your peers are very important. Everyone here is doing such interesting things, and many of them aren’t traditional paths that just involve working your way up through a pre-defined system. Learning about the exciting things my peers have been doing and discussing my own experiences with them has helped me get more ideas about the specific opportunities that are out there and how I can fit in.

Let’s talk about Critical Studies. How did studying with Critical Studies help you get ready for the industry? The reason I chose Critical Studies is that I wanted a really well rounded education and that’s exactly what I got.

Critical Studies helps you see the big picture of how the entertainment industry works, but it also helps you see that the big picture is made up of several smaller pictures and details that add up to create the movies and TV shows we see.

Olivia Bonin on set

You learn how the production elements work together, but you also get to see how they interact with the business side of things and how it all fits into a larger history.  This helps you wrap your head around the whole thing-- it’s such a big, interconnected system. I feel like my Critical Studies classes made me value the people who have been innovators and start to think about where the future of the industry might be going. The classes really develop your critical thinking skills.

Having a wide range of skills and the ability to adapt to new types of projects is important no matter what you might go into and has been really important for me in my experiences at YTM. It’s especially important for leadership, I think, where you have to deal with completely different types of problems every day.

I took classes like Buddhism in Film, Niche Marketing, and Digital Media and Learning, which relate bigger concepts and ideas to film and media. This is so important to me. Critical Studies has helped me develop my perspective on the world, see how many disciplines interact, and discover what I can bring as a whole person.

Do you have any advice for prospective students? It sounds cliché, but “do things.” I was always very busy in college, and I got something out of every experience. I remember Dr. Casper said on the last day of CTCS 190, “Make mistakes on the level of excess rather than omission.”  I have that quote on my wall. Getting involved helps you learn, meet people, find new interests, figure out what you like to do and what you’re good at.

That being said, there are so many amazing things to do at USC that it is easy to over commit.  Make sure that you do a good job on anything that you undertake. Even if it’s something as simple as being really involved in a class project. You will get more out of it, your teacher will remember and your peers will remember and it will go forward with you. Otherwise, it’s a waste of your time. Don’t do something if you’re not going to do a good job.

Has there been a class or teacher that helped you through SCA? As I mentioned, I was really involved with Trojan Vision, and Joel Parker is the professor who helps guide students through their involvement at the station.  He provides resources for students and helps them think about what they want for themselves. He’s very encouraging and helps you think about your goals in very concrete ways. Trojan Vision in general is a really wonderful opportunity, and he helps create an environment where you can act on your own ideas, experiment, and get what you want out of the experience. People are there to support you and help you succeed without telling you what to do. There’s a lot of respect for students.

That respect is something I really valued in my SCA professors in general. I also took two classes with Professor Whittington and I loved both of them. It was the same dynamic where he has a lot of respect for the students and assumes they’re in class to learn rather than to just get a grade.  Both classes, I thought, did a great job of bringing together the intellectual and the practical approaches to things and exploring how they interact, which is exactly what I think Critical Studies should be. He also took an interest in students and encouraged them to go to office hours. At the end of our Buddhism and Film class, he gave every student a book related to the course. I got Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is now one of my all-time favorites.

You double majored with neuroscience; did that affect the way you want to work within the industry? I think that studying Neuroscience really helped frame the way I look at the world. If you’re going to be a filmmaker or anything else really, you need to have a perspective on things, and I think Neuroscience has helped me develop that and to not get too caught up in a specific mindset or approach to the world.  When you boil it down, Neuroscience is about how people think and how people work, which is something that filmmakers and business people are constantly trying to reveal or figure out. It’s just a different methodology.

The set of TV8

Neuroscience takes things that are very technical and predicable and examines how they build up to make something much bigger. From synapses and nerves, you get a person – a consciousness. In film, you might be starting with specific technical elements of production, but when you put all the little elements together, it makes a film, which is much bigger than the smaller details.

What would you say to your peers who are graduating next week? I’m excited for what comes next! I’m very happy with where I’m going, but I don’t want to really give advice and be the person saying, “I’m doing it right!”

Personally, I guess my philosophy of moving forward is very similar to how I approached college. I did things that I loved. I loved storytelling and film. I loved Neuroscience. I loved Trojan Vision. I helped start a classical theatre company, which I loved.  But I was an undeclared major coming into school, and just took opportunities that excited me as I found them and threw myself into each. Ultimately, it built into a very satisfying and full experience. 

After school, I’m going to keep doing things that I love and hopefully I’ll end up similarly satisfied, with a similarly diverse and balanced set of experiences.