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A Move from Filmmaking to Learning the Film Business

Brianna Matthews ’16 always knew she wanted to be involved in filmmaking. Her father was an actor, and she had her sights set on a hands-on, conservatory-style undergraduate program that teaches students how movies are made.  

As a film production major at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she learned the ins and outs of how each motion picture studio department works together to create a film. 

As she replicated sets from Hollywood movies, learned software, and studied filmmaking fundamentals, she realized there was still a lot she didn’t know about the film industry. After graduation, she was completing internships and doing freelance production work on television and movie sets like American Idol, Bird People, and Love is in the Air. 

“I didn’t really have a pathway to something long term,” she explains. “After a while, I realized this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to move to the business side of the industry—to something a little more stable. I wanted to learn how movies get to the set stage in the first place.” 

As she did some online research for business- and finance-oriented graduate programs that also focused on the arts, she discovered Northwestern’s MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program. “It was the perfect middle ground between the things I have experience in already and the things I wanted to learn,” she explains. She also liked the idea of taking classes alongside professionals who had different media interests beyond the film industry.  

The concepts she learned during her time in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program have also proven to be valuable in her career. “I had zero knowledge of or experience in finance,” says Matthews. “Even what I learned in terms of accounting basics gave me knowledge that has been very helpful in my full-time job.”  

After graduating in 2016, she landed at Highland Film Group, where she assisted in closing financing on dozens of star-studded films for nearly two years. 

In April 2018, she joined Los Angeles-based Cinema Management Group, where she worked her way up from account manager to senior executive of business affairs. Matthews now helps films move from pre-production to worldwide distribution. She spends her time drafting contracts and completing finance work, ensuring that the deals her company makes will translate to revenue that goes back to filmmakers.  

“My role is a great fit for me and combines a lot of the things we learned in class, like legal concepts, pitching, and finances,” she says. “I’m happy to be doing something I love and working for this company, which focuses on unique projects that my master’s degree helped me really appreciate.” 

She references Cinema Management Group’s work with the film Loving Vincent as one of her most favorite projects so far. The movie combines different artforms and is the world’s first fully painted feature film. It showcases more than 120 of Vincent van Gogh’s greatest paintings, with the plot derived from letters he wrote. 

“If you’re considering a career in arts or entertainment, the interdisciplinary nature of this program and all the different perspectives you gain from other students provides an invaluable experience,” says Matthews. “I never thought I’d be going to grad school, but it worked out really well. The program was a great fit for me.” 

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