“Our professors showed us how films touch on every aspect of the human experience, why certain films have such cultural relevance, how they inform how we live.” —Jane Miller ’04, playwright and screenwriter
Film and media studies majors pursue diverse careers that draw upon the ideas and concepts they discussed and debated over their four years of undergraduate study. Their creativity and critical thinking ability, which they developed through their course work, has prepared them to address real world challenges.
Here are some of the many extraordinary alumni of Johns Hopkins University’s Program in Film and Media Studies, in their own words.
Zach Baylin, 2002
Zach Baylin, 2002
At Hopkins, Film and Media Studies is much more than an academic program—it’s a thriving, collaborative, artistic community. When I was a student there (twenty years ago!) I met amazing teachers and advisers who taught me, not just how to think critically (and creatively) about film, writing, and story, but gave me the support, skills, and courage to pursue a real career in film development and production. The film community at Hopkins, and wonderful teachers and mentors like Lucy Bucknell, John Mann, and Linda DeLibero introduced me to films and techniques I still rely on and return to in my work today. Through classes and special events, I met amazing filmmakers like John Waters and Guinevere Turner and explored the unique, thriving, independent art and cinema scene in Baltimore. For a young filmmaker, or for anyone just inspired by cinema and story, FMS at Hopkins is an incredibly nurturing community I’m proud to be a part of.
Zach Baylin is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and co-founder of Youngblood Pictures. His script, King Richard, about the father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, was #2 on the 2018 Blacklist and is currently in production at Warner Bros., starring Will Smith, Jon Berenthal, and Liev Schreiber, and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. He is currently writing Creed III for MGM and has written projects for Lionsgate, Imagine, and TNT, and for filmmakers James Grey, Jeremy Saulnier, Francesco Munzi, and Jonathan Levine, among others. A father of two, Zach also worked in the props and art department on dozens of film and television projects in New York, including Boardwalk Empire, Mildred Pierce, The Blacklist, A Walk Among the Tombstone, Gossip Girl, Side Effects, and Dave Chapelle’s Block Party. A two-time Academic All-American on the JHU football team, he is represented by Grandview Management and CAA.
Max Bowens, 2015
Max Bowens, 2015
Being a part of the Film & Media Studies program permanently altered my conception of filmmaking – film became less about “medium,” and entirely about a way of being in the world (as Professor John Mann would say). This was a vital and formative shift, and in essence it’s what made me want to make films. It is also paradigmatic of the particular way that film is understood and taught at Johns Hopkins, as opposed to more “industry” oriented programs around the country. FMS coursework in history/theory with Linda DeLibero and Meredith Ward, and in film practice with John Mann, Karen Yasinsky, and Matt Porterfield concretized into an incredibly rich and interdisciplinary film education. “Films” became sites of labor: aesthetic, political, cultural, phenomenological. The FMS faculty’s guidance compelled me to pursue film from vantages both practical and theoretical. Since graduating I’ve worked as an editor for filmmakers such as Terrence Malick, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, and fellow alumna Diana Peralta, and continued to maintain a tether to academia in Film & Visual Studies at Harvard University. I still return to the notes, books, films, even syllabi, from my undergrad years, and am reminded of the great debt of gratitude I owe to this remarkable program.
Max Bowens is a filmmaker and Ph.D. Candidate in Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University. Before joining the AFVS Department, he worked extensively as a film editor for Terrence Malick and Amiel Courtin-Wilson. His theoretical work has been published in Film-Philosophy, Film Criticism, and The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform, with research on new materialist phenomenologies, sensory ethnography, dissonance (musical/filmic), and music visualization technologies. Max is a current fellow at Harvard’s Film Study Center and holds a M.St. from The University of Oxford and a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Alexandra Byer, 2011
Alexandra Byer, 2011
The most important thing about the Film & Media Studies Program at Hopkins is that its professors care about and believe in their students. My teachers were not just my educators, but also my mentors and friends. They challenged me when they knew I could achieve more, supported me when I became frustrated, and most importantly, had enormous trust in my capabilities as a filmmaker. Since graduating from Hopkins nearly a decade ago, I have continued working with those who were students alongside me as we make movies professionally, and I continue to be supported by those educators who nurtured me as a student. To have my alma mater still be a meaningful part of my career nearly ten years after graduating is deeply important to me. I am now in the fortunate position where I can begin to give back to the program that launched me into the work I do today, which is one of the most rewarding feelings of all.
Alexandra Byer is a producer and the co-founder of Rathaus, a production company based in Brooklyn, New York. She most recently produced Tim Sutton’s fifth feature, Funny Face (Berlinale International Film Festival 2020), and Cedric Cheung-Lau’s debut feature, The Mountains are a Dream that Call to Me (Sundance Film Festival 2020). She was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards for Tom Quinn’s Colewell (Gravitas Ventures) and participated in the 2016 Cannes Producer’s Workshop as well as the 2015 Berlinale Talents lab. Byer has produced many short films and frequently works in production on commercials and music videos. She previously worked as a program coordinator at the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP).
Class of: 2011
For my first two years as a blue jay, I was a Writing Seminars major. I loved my classes, my professors, and the fact that I could escape into new, dramatic, interesting worlds simply with my words—and get academic credit for it! Even with all those “perfect” elements though, something was definitely missing.
So, in my junior year, I finally took the plunge—with only a few screenwriting courses under my belt, I added the Film and Media Studies major to my list of goals for my undergrad career. And that is when my experience at Hopkins came alive. To have ideas floating around in my head, then actually have the tools to produce those images for real so others could explore them with me – that was incredible. Almost immediately I looked at storytelling in a different, more complex, more personal way, all because of the new techniques and perspectives I learned in my film classes. Considering my raw passion for writing and entertainment, Writing Seminars/Film and Media Studies was the perfect pair for me to get the most out of my college experience. I still can’t believe how much I learned—and how much I grew—in just four years.
I credit the FMS program for helping me merge my interests into one fulfilling, creative college experience that continues to help me even today. After college, I moved to New York City and currently work in television. In the past year I’ve gone from being an executive assistant to working with writers and researchers, learning so much along the way from people who have “made it” and, thankfully, have not lost their sense of creative adventure in the process. Being present in the control room and on set during taping, plus working alongside the writers and learning what it means to write for a viewing audience? It’s finally the perfect mix of everything I love—and FMS at Hopkins helped me realize that these two passions really can go hand-in-hand.
Assistant Audio Engineer, Duotone Audio Group
Class of: 2008
I have to thank the Film and Media Studies Program at JHU for introducing me into the world of film and media production. The courses that I took provided me with both the tools for analytical discussion and the utmost appreciation for the craft of filmmaking. My favorite memories at Hopkins include spending long nights in Gilman Hall shooting my final project with a 16mm camera, a wide assortment of lighting equipment, and several of my dedicated classmates who were equally enthusiastic to stay up. This hands-on experience with film directly contributed to my passion for music in film and multimedia, which grew as I began to understand the role music plays in film. Although I have discovered my calling in the world of music production for movies, TV shows and advertisements at Duotone Audio in NYC, I have only my utmost appreciation and respect for the faculty members of FMS (Profs. Mann, DeLibero, Bucknell) that inspired me along the journey. Cheers!
I discovered my love of video editing thanks to the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. The major’s history and theory classes provided context for our production work, which allowed us to see what element of the filmmaking process we enjoyed most. For me, it was sitting down in the Digital Media Center with our footage to discover what kind of experience could be created. The university’s connection with Bloomberg and Motion Picture Enterprises in New York then facilitated in finding a post-production internship, which eventually led to work on shows such as LA Ink, Say Yes to the Dress, Jersey Couture, and House Hunters International.
Clients include NBC Universal, Discovery Communications, and Scripps Networks. Reel available at http://bfrazer.net.
MFA in Film Directing, CalArts
Class of: 2012
The FMS Program’s greatest real world strengths are probably its perceived weaknesses. It’s a small program. It isn’t in a major filmmaking hub. It’s at a large, science-oriented research university. But these things actually help young filmmakers. They can build strong relationships with faculty mentors and talented classmates. They can build their own filmmaking identities in a great city that nurtures young artists. And they can engage in ideas outside of filmmaking and film theory with some of the brightest students and faculty in the world. Even though the program is now expanding into the Film Center, limited resources facing most smaller film programs can help students improvise and learn how to use the tools at hand to make the best product, a vital skill in the independent film world.
I would also say that there is an openness to experimentation for those who are so inclined. Students can feel free to subvert assignments, rules, and expectations. They are encouraged to do so actually. And they can know that they are safe in that process. They may fail, as I know I sure did on occasion, but daring to work in unconventional or non-traditional ways is always met with utmost encouragement and excitement.
Jonathan Groce, 2005
Jonathan Groce, 2005
The Film and Media Studies Program at JHU is an island of creativity, lifelong friends, and sage advisers. FMS really taught me how to think creatively, interpret the world with careful abandon, and analyze all problems with a certain appreciation for the creative and human process. We learned how to view the world of cinema through the social lenses of race, gender, and politics, and my world view was forever changed.
Practically speaking, FMS led to my first job out of JHU. My professors offered me the right contacts to those first few job interviews, and I would not have been afforded those contacts without proving myself as a person with integrity and taste. My devoted professors and mentors gave me a new way to discipline my thinking and my social skills. Today, I work at Bohemia Group as a Talent Manager, where I’ve built my career discovering new talent, with an emphasis on LGBTQ directors and writers. My life – and my clients’ careers – are better because of what I learned in the program, not to mention the incredible network of JHU alumni here in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Groce is a talent and literary manager at Bohemia Group, a full-service management company for artists. He has worked in talent and casting for 15 years in New York and Los Angeles. While in New York, Groce won several Emmy awards as casting director and producer for Ca$h Cab at Discovery, where he developed unscripted talent for companies such as Lion Television, Zero Point Zero, and Lucky Duck Productions. In 2009, he migrated to LA as Manager of Talent and Casting at MTV, overseeing talent on Awkward, Teen Wolf, and several scripted pilots until he was recruited as Head of Talent and Casting at Adult Swim/Cartoon Network in 2012. In 2015, he shifted from executive to manager and never looked back!
Dikega Hadnot, 2009
Dikega Hadnot, 2009
When I graduated from the FMS program in 2009, I found myself back home in Los Angeles before somehow stumbling onto the production of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, a cinematic masterpiece and arguably the genius writer/director’s most acclaimed work. During a defining moment that would either ensure my continued obscurity or spur a budding relationship with the philosophically oriented auteur, I mentioned The Wages of Fear, a film I watched in a philosophy & film class during my senior year at Hopkins, which turned into a brief talk about pre-Nouvelle Vague French cinema, Cahiers Du Cinema and the validity of Auteur theory. That formative talk changed my trajectory on set. I was allowed unprecedented access to Terry’s creative world that the other interns and assistants — some who were a bit older and MFA graduates of AFI and USC — didn’t have. He even treated me to dinner after a late-night run to search for obscure philosophy books. I watched cuts, delivered drives to Deluxe, gave notes, and before I knew it the film was over — I was wrapped.
After a stop on an indie film in Rhode Island, I flew to Oklahoma and joined the set of To The Wonder, where I split my assistant duties between Terry and DP Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity, The Revenant). It was a delight to chase the sun, try different camera formats, and even direct co-lead Olga Kurylenko in a scene. When I asked Terry what he wanted in the scene with Olga, my heart beating hard and fast, he instructed me “to be a cowboy,” and I understood. This cowboy philosophy is what John Mann taught in his production classes. From Mann’s spirited mentoring, production students learned that every shot and movement should have intent, which I saw in Malick’s unadulterated, lyrical cinema.
Even after I left Terry and Chivo to pursue my own path, the education, rigor, and philosophies I learned in FMS were still guiding me. I called on the chaotic, kaleidoscopic work of Stan Brakhage when a Hip Hop artist at Interscope asked for a surreal aesthetic for his new music video. Character arcs that I learned in my screenwriting course with Lucy Bucknell informed my notes on client scripts as a young creative executive. Suzanne Roos’s seminal semiotics course is seared into my brain. Because of her love of Saussure, signifiers and signs abound in anything I direct. FMS gave me the same voracious appetite for knowledge and rhapsodic devotion to human triumphs and loss we see amongst cinema’s greatest creators. Of course, there are many other aspects of film that have to be learned through trial and error in the field, but the education provided a base that allowed me to jump headfirst into filmmaking.
I always loved history, and thought maybe I would study that . . . I remember Linda DeLibero, illuminating the importance of film history to me. In her Introduction to Film History course in my freshmen year, she screened a tracking shot from a German film from the 30s that stuck with me from that moment on. I knew then that I was going to direct a shot like that and make someone feel the way I did in that course. I’m still on my path with many other courageous women and men, absorbing everything around me, attempting to transcode emotions, philosophy, art, and human whims into magically imbued celluloid – or data if you prefer. Without the mentoring I received at Hopkins, I don’t think I could follow the path that I’m on now. FMS gave me my initial direction, so to speak, and equipped me with the basic tools to follow in a prestigious lineage.
Digital Production Coordinator, Sesame Workshop
Class of: 2010
Currently, I am employed at Sesame Street as a Digital Production Coordinator, a job I love, and I still make films with my former classmates whenever we get a chance. But with just a few years of insight, it is easy for me to identify what was most valuable about my experience at Hopkins. The Film & Media Studies Program breeds a spirit of collaboration and energy, not isolation and conformity. I think differently than many of my colleagues, and it has afforded me creative opportunity. For that, I am sincerely grateful.
Andrea Massaro, 2015
MFA Producers Program at UCLA
Andrea Massaro, 2015
I remember like it was yesterday when Film and Media Studies professor John Mann told me, “You’d make a great producer.” FMS was crucial in giving me the confidence to pursue a career in film and television. With amazing instructors, creative challenges, and incredible support during my four years in the program, I felt prepared to tackle anything the industry threw my way. I was fortunate to attend the MFA Producers Program at UCLA, have turned in the first draft of my thesis, and am set to graduate in June 2017. In the last two years, I’ve produced six projects ranging from a feature to a web series to a music video, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with several high-level producers. I currently intern in development and production at 2.0 Entertainment on the Sony lot, working for a producer I admire who, in turn, admires my ability to take on anything he asks with a positive attitude. I’ve also started a filmmaking collective with three other FMS graduates here in Los Angeles. We focus on producing content we’re passionate about. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities without Hopkins Film and Media Studies. Because of FMS I have a strong sense of who I am and what I want to do, and I still hope to become a great producer one day.
Senior Vice President of Development, Maverick Television
Class of: 2004
Being a film and media studies major at Hopkins was a huge differentiator for me when moving out to LA to work in television. Agencies, networks, and production companies knew of the intellectual prowess of the school and it was Professor Mark Friedman who helped me to get my first job through his own Hollywood agent. Close production work with Professor Mann and analytical writing and reasoning with Professor DeLibero helped me to excel in such a creative business. There’s simply no replacement for being given the chance to cut actual 16mm film on a flat bed and tape it back together to tell a story.
Playwright and Screenwriter
Class of: 2004
I’m a bi-coastally produced playwright and screenwriter. My full-length play Feedback is currently being performed at the Lyric Theater in Los Angeles. And, I’m working as a Communications Writer at Avon Products.
Besides being generally inspired by my FMS classes at Hopkins, I learned critical skills that translated to every discipline. Our professors showed us how films touch on every aspect of the human experience, why certain films have such cultural relevance, how they inform how we live. In particular,I loved learning why and how films made me feel a certain way. We became attuned to how cinema was working on us, without losing the pure joy of watching a good movie. Our professors were passionate and that passion translated to us. I loved my production classes because they were really tailored to my vision and goals, and no one tried to push me to make commercial films. I also felt a part of an artistic community. Some professors let us in on the work they were doing as artists and that was amazing and special–to be treated as equals with valuable insight. Also, feeling a part of their lives as people. I will always remember having dinner with John Mann and his family.
Especially at a school that has a reputation for being so science and numbers oriented, I was blown away by how strong the program was. FMS takes film seriously, and at the same time, the classes didn’t suck the life out of films by overly-intellectualizing them. In fact, they did the opposite. I graduated feeling invigorated by the professional world I was entering into.
Coordinator, Entertainment Conde Nast
Class of: 2007
I chose to attend Hopkins because of its Film & Media Studies Program. I was drawn to the variety of classes that JHU offered, each dedicated to such a specific world of film: an exploration of Tim Burton, the seduction of Film Noir, the classic Gangster Film, the Femme Fatale. The FMS program brought film to life; movies were no longer a static idea or generalization, but rather each was a world to become a part of, characters to empathize with or admonish. The faculty were true scholars who taught us film can be more than entertainment; they taught us appreciation. I spent four years learning everything from the development of story and character to the physical production of a film, but I realized that I wanted more—more time within these worlds, more time with these stories and characters. The FMS professors challenged me to find my own niche. My journey started in Professor Bucknell’s class, as I watched my first screwball comedy (Bringing up Baby), and led me to where I am today, working in television.
Emma Needell, 2012
Emma Needell, 2012
FMS was the perfect blend of traditional film school and independent study, where I learned the fundamentals of filmmaking without feeling beholden to academic bureaucracy. After completing the introductory and intermediate courses, I had access to equipment and tools to bring my ideas to cinematic life; the only limitation was my own motivation. The support from professors and staff is tremendous. They are enablers of ideas and creativity, and the program is intimate enough that your professors become mentors, even lifelong friends. My ability to pursue independent study in the program has proved crucial to my success as a screenwriter-director in Hollywood, where the ability and confidence I gained from JHU to be a self-starter launched my career. In my time at JHU, I supplemented my film studies with classes at the FAMU film school in the Czech Republic, an endeavor the FMS faculty helped me achieve. Since I’ve graduated, the program has expanded in exciting ways. The new space on North Avenue is incredible, with state-of-the-art equipment, mixing booths, sound and stage studios, computer labs, and green screens. I wish I could go back!
Emma Needell is a screenwriter and director who champions original storytelling in a time when Hollywood has become obsessed with reboots, sequels, and IP-driven content. Her talent caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films, which produced her breakout script, The Water Man, when Needell was 24 years old. The Water Man was featured on the 2015 Blacklist, and in 2019 was made into a feature-length film directed by David Oyelowo. Needell has since worked with Oscar-winning directors and producers, and has projects at MGM/Orion, Netflix, and Anonymous Content. Most recently, she was featured on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Kim Parker, 2007
Kim Parker, 2007
The foundation of my film career was built at Johns Hopkins. The Film and Media Studies faculty gave me an enduring education and generous guidance, which I am still benefiting from to this day. The combination of film theory and hands-on production classes is ideal, and it mirrors my current work as a creative producer in the independent film space, where I develop scripts with auteurs and also lead physical production. In addition to skills and knowledge, Johns Hopkins has also given me the life-long resource of the FMS community, which I continue to enjoy in Los Angeles. Some of my favorite JHU memories were within FMS classrooms. I highly recommend this program for anyone considering a career in film.
Born in Seoul, but adopted and raised in Baltimore, Kimberly Parker is a producer based in Los Angeles. Currently, Parker is lead producing the sophomore feature film of Josef Kubota Wladyka (Narcos, Manos Sucias). Parker was Executive Producer on A24’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Best Director, Sundance 2019) and produced I Am My Own Mother, one of two American shorts in Cannes’ Cinéfondation 2018. Parker also produced Katie Says Goodbye (TIFF 2016), starring Olivia Cooke and Christopher Abbott. Parker produced an interactive, gaze-controlled virtual reality film, Broken Night, starring Emily Mortimer (Tribeca, Cannes Next 2017). Her first feature as a producer, Those People, won Audience Awards at Outfest and NewFest, and was nominated for Outstanding Film (Ltd. Release) at the 2017 GLAAD Awards. Parker was a 2016 San Francisco Film Society/KRF Producing Fellow. She participated in EPI’s Trans Atlantic Partners, Berlinale Talents, and the Sundance Women in Film Financing Intensive. Parker is a three-time IFP alum, and a member of the Producers Guild of America. She graduated with a Film M.F.A. from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a B.A. in Film and Media Studies and the Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University.
Diana Peralta, 2011
Diana Peralta, 2011
When I first started at JHU as a freshman, I had no idea that the school even had a Film & Media studies department. As fate would have it, I sat in on an Introduction to Film Production class for fun and it changed the course of my life and career. The faculty were extremely passionate and generous with their time and resources. Not only did I get a great foundation in film theory and history, but I also received tons of hands-on production experience on student films and professional feature films. Learning to shoot on 16mm was such a unique education. With the practical skills I learned in the program, I’ve been able to establish a career as a filmmaker and a producer in advertising in New York City. The program cultivated a tight-knit community of students. My peers from the program are still some of my closest friends and collaborators. In fact, a few of my fellow alums worked with me on my first feature film De Lo Mio (2019). Without the Film & Media Studies program, I would never have found my tribe.
Diana Peralta is a filmmaker, producer, and writer from New York City. Her debut feature De Lo Mio (HBO) had its world premiere as the closing night film of BAMcinemaFest in June 2019. The film was awarded “Best Narrative Feature” at IndieMemphis Film Festival in 2019 and “Best Film” at Riverrun International Film Festival in 2020. Diana was featured in Filmmaker magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2019. She currently works as a Senior Producer at Revlon, Inc. Her work as a producer on the short documentary LA Feria Concreta was screened as part of the Dominican Republic’s first pavilion installation at the 2014 Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Justin Ryu, 2020
Justin Ryu, 2020
Through the FMS production track, I found a way to tell the story that I had been seeking to tell ever since I left Seoul to study in the US at age 11. Though I didn’t begin my studies at Hopkins as a film major, my real undergraduate education started when I took my first film course – Introduction to Film Production with Professor John Mann. I still remember the sense of awakening I felt on the first day of class when John handed us copies of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Eighth Elegy” and urged us young filmmakers to see the world “openly.” Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this moment was indicative of just how influential FMS has been in shaping me as a person. FMS professors have become my mentors not simply through teaching us about great films and great filmmaking, but in shaping the way I view life. Through the knowledge I gained, I was able to gain the confidence necessary to make my senior capstone Mother Tongue, a 15-minute bilingual musical film about a Korean international student’s strained relationship with his mother/motherland.
For me, the FMS Program is like home away from home. Even when I took a hiatus from Hopkins between my junior and senior years to complete a two-year compulsory military service near the 38th Parallel bordering North Korea, the FMS faculty continued to nurture me through email exchanges about their concerns and thoughts on films and film theories. In a way, my military service was the perfect excuse to remain a student of the FMS faculty longer than most. And for that, I consider myself extremely lucky.
Justin Ryu, native to Seoul, South Korea, is passionate about purposeful filmmaking and hopes to make a mark in the film industry by showcasing unseen stories on the big screen. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 with degrees in Film & Media Studies and International Studies.
MFA, Film Production, Florida State University
Class of: 2007
I started out at Johns Hopkins as a chemical engineer. It took me a very quick year and a half to realize it wasn’t the life for me. In my search for a new major I happened across a Russian cinema class. It changed my life. The Film and Media Studies Program was so kind in immediately taking me in and making me one of their own. Suddenly I was up to my eyeballs in screenings, experimental film, lost and found film editing, and shooting 16mm film. Hopkins isn’t where I fell in love with film, but it is where I realized that film and I could be in a long-term, loving relationship. There’s no sense doing something other than what you love in life. For me, the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program showed me that. The program cares, the faculty care, and your fellow peer filmmakers care. You can’t ask for more than that.