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May 19, 2010

2010 School of Cinematic Arts Commencement Day

Class of 2010 is go for launch

By Cristy Lytal

“Launch control, this is Houston. We are go for launch.” These words from 1995’s “Apollo 13” boomed over the sound system of the Shrine Auditorium on Commencement Day 2010 as the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), along with industry friends Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jon Landau, celebrated the new graduates on the eve of their coming journey.

“Each year, there’s a magical moment for me, and it’s when I get to look out at all of you who are about to graduate, filled with extraordinary potential, and get to imagine what you’re going to do next,” said Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. “In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never been disappointed by what you do. And as you leave here today, you will join the ranks of many alumni, and they will be there to welcome you into the profession just as they welcomed you here and supported you while you were here in so many ways.”

The first alumnus to extend a warm welcome was Jon Landau, who took the stage to accept the Mary Pickford Foundation Alumni Award for extraordinary achievements bringing special distinction to the school and industry. As the producer of the top two highest grossing movies of all time worldwide — 1997’s “Titanic” and 2009’s “Avatar” — Landau has won an Academy Award, a DGA Award and countless other honors.

He graciously deflected the spotlight and encouraged graduates to explore the new frontiers stretching before them.

“People oftentimes say that college is the best time of your life — I’m going to tell you it’s not,” he said. “The future is. We live in a world where truly anything is possible. So I think the future is very bright for you and very exciting.”

He added, “Keep in mind that fear should never be an option, but failure is. Be daring, take chances, go out there and enjoy.”

Landau has taken his own advice, and so too has keynote speaker Katzenberg in a career encompassing both the revival of blockbuster animation and 3D filmmaking.

Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, shared what he called “script notes,” pragmatic words of advice intended to lead him and the graduates to a satisfying “Act Three” of their careers.

First, he advised graduates to “sweat the small stuff.” While entry-level jobs in the film and television industry can be low on glory and high on grunt work, he advised them to always exceed expectations.

“If my first boss knew the coffee shop was a 10 minute trip, I’d actually do my best to have his coffee back in eight,” he said. “That meant sprinting down the back stairwell, dodging cabs across Fifth Avenue and returning without even a trace of sweat on my brow. This attitude would make even the most mundane task an interesting challenge, and it gave me the chance to stand out.”

At the same time, Katzenberg did not advocate a policy of being a pushover, instructing the graduates to “just say ‘no’ to ‘no.’”

“When people tell you ‘no,’ try to coax out of them a different response, for example — ‘not now,’ ‘not yet,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘some other time,’ ‘I’ll get back to you,’ ‘give me a week,’ ‘let me think about it,’ any of those answers other than ‘no.’”

Lastly, Katzenberg told the members of the class of 2010 that, as they entered the next phase of their careers, “don’t be scared of being scared.” He recounted some of the seismic shifts in his own career — from his arrival at Disney to the formation of DreamWorks to the rise of 3D.

“It was 2004,” he recalled. “I attended an IMAX screening to see ‘The Polar Express’ in 3D by one of your more illustrious directors, alumnus Robert Zemeckis. Initially, I was overwhelmed. Our studio had just completed a very costly conversion to all CG production. Now, we would have to make another major investment and learn a whole new cinematic language. But the reality is that 3D is the biggest thing to happen to the movie business since the arrival of sound and color. It’s a phenomenal opportunity with giant implications for our industry and for each and every one of you.”

Adrian Acevedo-Smith, who graduated magna cum laude from the bachelor’s in film and television production program, called the ceremony “very beautiful, very unique.”

“When I walked into the Shrine, it really did feel like a movie premiere with the lighting and how it was all decorated,” he said. “And Katzenberg’s advice made a lot of sense: Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Take ‘maybe.’”

Mika Pryce, who received her master of fine arts in the Peter Stark producing program, can already apply Katzenberg’s script notes to her own story, since she’s started a job at Creative Artists Agency. “He was really great and very inspirational,” she said. “He made me feel like I should roll into CAA tomorrow with a big smile on my face. I’ve been working there for a month, and right now, I’m just tired. But on Monday, I’m going wipe my eyes and enter the world.”

Sounds like the class of 2010 is go for launch.