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February 23, 2018

SCA Alumni Stories: Gwydhar Gebien

Gwydhar Gebien ‘16, a graduate of the School of Cinematic Arts production program discusses her own story at USC, her career in film production, as well as her current role with the Jacobson Group, an accounting firm that provides services for major entertainment organizations.

What is your most memorable experience as a student in the USC School of Cinematic Arts? I got Kanye-d once. It was the end of the semester and I was standing at the front of Norris to introduce the team behind the film we just produced. It had been a difficult production, fraught with every kind of obstacle including, but not limited to, having to change directors within two weeks of the start of production. Before I could introduce our director, a fiery little woman with a chip on her shoulder marched up to the podium and loudly proclaimed that the production had been STOLEN from the original director. It's likely she said some other things too. Mostly I found myself thinking: "some people have nightmares about this kind of thing." I waited until she seemed to be finished, then acknowledged that it had been one crazy production and introduced the new director. Apparently people were impressed. I can't really fault the gal: USC is a community of deeply passionate people, which is what makes it great. Sometimes, those passions run high and turn into conflict, but the drama belongs in front of the camera, not behind it.

What has your career journey been like since graduating from USC? I graduated from the film production program in the spring of 2016, and emerged into the world with a host of new skills, a burning hunger to get to work, and zero job prospects. This, I believed, was normal, and if I set to work applying for jobs then the right opportunity would present itself. I'd done all the right things: I had internships, I cultivated a relationship with a mentor, I volunteered for festivals, I gigged around doing craft services and character design, and I applied and applied and applied for job after job with almost zero response. After a while I was just trying to keep myself busy. At last, I got temp work as a receptionist (that auto corrected to 'rebel provost' btw, which would make for a much better story) at the Jacobson Group. 

What can you tell us about working for the Jacobson Group? Here's the thing, guys, I'm a deeply creative person, but I need structure in order to do my best work. I began as a receptionist. The work was not the stuff of legends, but I did my best to not suck at it. Once I proved that I was not an idiot, the company decided to bring me on for six months to test payroll software. I asked myself if this was why I'd just gone back to school to get a graduate degree in film production and then said 'yes' to the job because I enjoy eating. The work was tedious and detail oriented, but not difficult: practice running batches of old payroll through the new system and find the places that the numbers didn't add up. It was meditative. At the end of the day, my logical, editor brain would be happily worn out and my creative, writer brain would come online and suddenly I would find myself more inspired and motivated than I'd ever been. 

Eventually, I graduated from running test payroll to cutting checks for live payroll. I mean, if you have to have a day job, then there are worse places to be than working close to the money. The Jacobson Group chiefly provides payroll services to live tape events: award shows like the Grammys, the  Academy Awards, and the Superbowl Halftime show. It's a boutique, woman owned financial services company with a family of the most dedicated, hard working people that anybody could hope to work with. Coming from a producing background, I was aware of some of the elements of payroll from trying to build production budgets, but it wasn't until I began cutting checks that I really got a sense of the range and scope of rates and fees and fringes and taxes and insurance and dues that go into every paycheck. 

What are some of your biggest challenges in your current role? So, remember how I was hired to test a new system of payroll software? Well, we're just now going live on the new system, just in time for awards season and taxes. You've never heard such durm und strang. 

What advice would you give those interested in you line of work? Payroll is not the business I expected to work in, but it is good and necessary work that supports other professional production workers every day. The bottom line is that there are many paths to the top of the mountain. Whatever dream you're chasing and whatever job you do to keep body and soul together in the meantime, do it with the same dedication and commitment as your pursuit of the dream.   As long as you're still moving towards your goals, there's zero shame in working a day job that supports the people who will one day support you. Full. Stop. 

Aside from your work in accounting, you also have experience in film production. What can you tell us about that part of your Career? I am a writer and a director and a producer. At present, I'm focusing on my writing and, in the past year, have written two features, a half hour television pilot, and about half a novel, so... Yeah... It's pretty serious. I'd be happy to talk about this ad infinitum about any of these projects to anybody interested in knowing more. My current hope is to find representation and to get paid for some of this writing (I've seen what writer's get paid
Like I said: creativity flourishes in structure. You can reclaim a lot of time by commuting on public transit. 

What advice would you give aspiring producers? You're going to be giving years of your life to the projects that you choose to work on, so choose the projects that are worth it. If you're a filmmaker remember that the stories you tell are more than just entertainment: they have an effect on reality, so choose to do work that you believe in and stand behind. Also, eat breakfast. No one likes a hangry producer.