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Finding their way back home

Molly Griffin | Thursday, September 15, 2005

Film, Television and Theatre majors from around the country and from a wide range of graduating classes will gather on the Notre Dame campus for a series of lectures, concerts, a Michigan State tailgate, and many other activities.

This is the first time a reunion of FTT majors will occur on campus.

“It was an idea I had about six months before they opened the Performing Arts Center,” said Prof. Ted Mandell, who helped organize the event, “With a new building celebrating the arts on campus, it just seemed like the perfect time to reach out to our alum, to bring together their talents under one roof and to show off this fantastic facility.”

Events will include screenings of alumni films like “Keys of Life,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Trip to Tehuacan” and “Intelligent Life.” There will be lectures by individuals such as Bill Carter, who wrote the book “The Late Shift,” which detailed the late-night talk show wars that followed Johnny Carson’s retirement.

There will also be lectures that focus on the business side of entertainment, including one entitled, “The Business and Art of Film & Television Workshops: The Developers: Who Decides What We See and Why We See It?” Each lecture will feature a panel of alumni who have experience in the particular arena.

Other events not involving Notre Dame alumni but dealing with entertainment and included in the list are an Actors From the London Stage performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and a performance by singer Bruce Hornsby. A complete schedule of events can be found at http:/ /www.nd.edu/~ftt /reunionevents.shtml.

Attendees hope the meeting will be a chance for people with careers in the entertainment industry to make connections with each other and with current students. Prof. Ted Mandell feels that: “It’ll be a great networking opportunity for everyone attending. There’s some real truth to the notion of ” it’s who you know” in these areas, especially for our undergrads. The opportunity to meet and learn from so many Notre Dame grads in the business at one time is truly unique, and could be career changing.”

A few attendees agreed to be interviewed and their experiences reveal the wide range of careers in the entertainment industry that Notre Dame graduates pursue.

Bob Souders, class of ’72, has worked as a film editor on such successful television shows as “Murphy Brown,” “The Wonder Years,” “Seinfeld,” and “Dallas.” He currently resides in Los Angeles and has been nominated for 3 Emmy Awards.


What excites you most about returning to Notre Dame for the FTT reunion?

Seeing the new performing arts center, which is a big change coming from Washington Hall. Since I don’t know too many other people going, I am also looking forward to meeting the other people who will be attending. Can I also say the football game? That is definitely a favorite event of mine.

What did you major in and how has it helped you in your career?

I majored in FTT and theatre and I learned a lot about telling stories and about how stories are put together.

What challenges have you faced as a film editor?

Film editing is much more difficult than people think, especially sitcoms. With television you are always working against time and trying to tell a story in a certain amount of time. People think that because an episode is a half hour that it only requires a half hour of work. Much more effort goes into it. I’ve worked a lot of 80-hour weeks.

What is the most interesting thing that happened on a show you were working on?

I used to do trailers for television shows, and I was working on the show “Dallas.” We did a trailer that showed J.R.’s wife possibly getting blown up in a car, but due to time constraints the scene was cut so it didn’t make any sense. We got a lot of letters about that.

What do you consider the greatest success of your career?

While it’s not the most important thing, being nominated for 3 Emmys means a lot. Also, being able to do what I love as a career.

Jilanne Klaus, class of ’90, has done film, television and TV work in New York and Los Angeles for the last 15 years. She has also worked as an actress in commercials for products such as Anheuser Busch, Gateway Computers, Kodak, MasterCard, Dell Computers and Purina Mills.


What excites you most about returning to Notre Dame for the FTT reunion?

Hearing the different experiences of other Domers in the business.

How do you think having students see successful Notre Dame FTT alum can change their views about getting jobs in the entertainment industry?

I think a lot can be said about keeping the faith as you follow any career path. There are many “good” people in this industry and I am hoping that the students will hear success stories and paths to success from people like this; people who treat others with respect and dignity and who follow their hearts and dreams with honesty and integrity. At the end of the journey, in the middle of it, or every time the lights go out, you are left with your priorities, your compromises, your sacrifices, your family and friends … and ultimately your self. Rejection and success cannot be taken too seriously.

What about going to Notre Dame do you think helps graduates in the entertainment industry?

A strong sense of faith, community, and family.

In what ways did going to Notre Dame affect your career choices? How does it affect your work now?

We are always challenged with choices, some easy, some not. I’ve learned to be true to myself and the people whom I love.

What is your best memory about Notre Dame?

There are so many from quiet moments at the grotto to the roaring crowds at the stadium … I could never choose just one.

What event are you most looking forward to seeing and why?

Other lectures … learning about the different areas and choices of my colleagues

What piece of work/experience are you most eager to share with the Notre Dame community?

How acting is just my day job … my family is my real dream come true.

Jeff Spoonhower is a ’99 Notre Dame graduate who has found success in the realm of computer animation and in video games. The short film he made as a graduate student, “Intelligent Life,” has won awards at several film festivals including the South by Southwest Film Festival, the Tambay International Film Fest the Cincinnati International Film Fest and the Vancouver Island Film Fest. He has also worked for Electronic Arts and THQ, which are video game companies. He currently directs, edits, and animates cut scenes and cinematics for THQ.


What excites you most about returning to Notre Dame for the FTT reunion?

The most exciting thing for me is going to be meeting all the other alum and sharing experiences. I graduated in ’99 so nothing like this really existed like this for us where it was possible to kind of meet the people coming back. At the time when I didn’t really know who was doing what in the industry so now it’s kind of cool to come back and see all of these people doing exciting things.

What did you major in and how has it helped you in you your career?

I was a film student at Notre Dame. I would say it had a direct affect on my career. I took a lot of live-action production classes and video editing classes, so that was really my first exposure to filmmaking, so I learned a lot about how to tell stories visually. I do that every day at work doing animation and filmmaking at work.

What challenges have you faced in working with video games and with animated films?

As far as video games go, they’re a lot different than traditional film and pre-rendered animated films. Movies have to play in real time in the games, so the difference between that and animated films like DreamWorks or Pixar is that those films will be completely pre rendered. They will be completely done and they can do what they want with the film. In a game, we have to create movies and animations and they kind of have to be channeled through what’s called a game engine so that they run properly in real time in the game. There’s all kind of specialized programming and code and tools to get these things to work in real time.

What is your best memory of Notre Dame?

I would have to say being a member of the marching band. Memories of running out of the tunnel on Saturdays.

What event are you most looking forward to at the FTT reunion and why?

I’m leaning toward a couple of things. I’m looking forward to the panel I’m going to be speaking on. I’m looking forward to meeting the people I’m going to be speaking with to the audience. There’s going to be a bunch of editors that are going to be with who work for a bunch of FTT companies that will be fun to talk with them. I’m also looking forward to the tailgate before the football game. All the people showing up are invited to that before the game. I think that it will be a good opportunity to network with some people.

What piece of work or experience that you’ve had are you most eager to share?

Talking about my career and how I’ve gotten here and what I do. I’m probably one of the younger alum so hopefully some questions will come up about what I did when I graduated and how I got where I am. I can relate to their situation. I know what they’re feeling about to finish school and looking for a job. I always feel good helping students get where they want to be.

Are there any video games that you’ve worked on that students might recognize?

NFL Street and NFL Street 2. The project that I’m working on is Saint’s Row for the X-Box 360. We still have a ton of work to do but it’s going to be awesome. Its capabilities, its graphics are going to be pretty cool.