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Chicago Director Uses His Bold Style to Stand Out in the Film Industry

By Amy Ross

Chicago film director Jason Knade sees his name as a brand. And as with any brand, success is all about standing out: having a clear identity, consistency and boldness. “As for building brand awareness, my manager and I put a lot of time into my social media presence, and I’m always reaching out to new people and making new connections,” Knade said in an email.

This year, he was voted Best Filmmaker of Chicago by the Chicago Reader, a title he had earned once before in 2011. For Knade, attending events and investing time in face-to-face networking are crucial components to a successful career in the film industry. The efforts of this young director appear to be paying off. His narrative films have screened at over 50 festivals around the world, winning multiple awards. Aside from receiving attention from local news outlets, Knade’s work has also made it under the radar of prominent national media such as The Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times, who have described it as “intelligent” and “heartbreaking.” In July of 2013, Knade got the most unforgettable telephone call of his career from an Associated Press reporter.

“He wanted to talk about a music video that I directed. The most exciting part was how excited he was; he told me the video was going to be huge and to expect lots of news coverage and success,” Knade said. The journalist’s comments were referring to the “All American Boy” video clip Knade directed for artist Steve Grand, which has been viewed more than 3.5 million times on Youtube. Other successful projects include the short “Cyclicity”, and Knade’s first narrative feature with an upcoming release, Searching for Venice. Striking a balance Although he has done work as a cinematographer and a producer, Knade identifies the most with directing, which he also feels is the most difficult to sustain financially. “Prolific narrative film directors are lucky if they do a project or two a year, just because of the massive time commitment required during the development stage all the way through the film’s release,” Knade said.

Knade doesn’t live entirely off of his artistic endeavors. While narrative film may be his biggest passion, much of his paycheck comes from his long list of commercial clients, including the Joffrey Ballet, Subway and Jos-Cacciatore & Co. Striking a balance between the two is an enormous challenge, as they both require large amounts of time and energy. However, in his view, they aren’t as distant as they may seem at first glance. “Actually, it’s that storytelling background and passion that sets me apart and makes me so good at other types of projects. I also just enjoy fast-paced, dynamic commercial environments.

The whole business atmosphere,” he said. Knade shoots in over a dozen cities a year, although most of his projects are developed in his hometown of Chicago, where he has built his career. He considers the film scene to be small and intimate in “The Windy City,” but recognizes that the opportunities are rapidly expanding. “It’s great and keeps getting better! We have Cinespace, up to a 30% tax credit, talented crews and actors, and great statewide locations,” Knade said. “I’m very excited about the future of Chicago filmmaking.” For more details on Jason Knade’s work or to keep up his career, you may visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Speaker Series Continues Dec. 3 With Gaming Industry Talk

By Jacob Nelson

The Masters of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises’ (MSLCE) speaker series continues on Dec. 3 with Matthew Schwartz, who will speak about his career in the gaming industry.

Schwartz has worked as a games producer at Adult Swim Games, the game publishing arm of Adult Swim Digital, which is part of the late-night comedy programming block of the same name. He also worked as a content designer at Cartoon Network New Media. He’s worked with independent developers around the world.

Read about MSLCE’s last speaker series, which included a conversation with a successful television agent.

In a post about his job at Adult Swim that he wrote in February, Schwartz wrote that his job was “maintaining the vision of the game.” Before he started working in the gaming industry, Schwartz worked for MTV as an original animation developer.

I also spent a number of years as a location scout and manager for independent films in New York. And before that even, I was just like you, wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life,” Schwartz writes.

Schwartz graduated from Northwestern’s Radio, Television, and Film department in ’95, and writes that he is eager to offer his perspective and guidance, “especially to those willing to sign a liability waiver absolving me of any culpability when things go horribly awry.”

The event will takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle Building, 3-417 on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. A networking reception will immediately follow. Click here to RSVP.

TV Agent Tells NU Crowd How to Make It In Hollywood

By Jacob Nelson

Hollywood is an a business of apprenticeships. If you want to make it as a writer, producer, or actor, then get a job working for someone who can teach you how it’s done.

That was the advice given by Kevin Crotty (WCAS92), a partner and board member at the major literary and talent agency ICM Partners, at the second speaker series event hosted by the Masters of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises (MSLCE) program on Nov. 5. Crotty spoke to a packed room during a talk moderated by RTVF senior lecturer and screenwriter Bill Bleich. MSCLE program director Pablo Boczkowski introduced the event.

After graduating from Northwestern in 1992, Crotty graduated moved to Los Angeles with no prospects. He found a job as a runner, taking scripts to people around the city. Eventually he got a job as a production assistant, and from there found his way to an agency, where he sold books and television.

“It was a great job I had material to sell… and I did it very well,” Crotty said.

Now, Crotty is a partner and board member at ICM Partners, one of the largest talent and literary agencies in the world. His company represents “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, “House of Lies” creator Matthew Carnahan and “The Blacklist” creator Jon Bokenkamp.

I don’t want to represent Coke, I want to represent writers, directors, producers, actors,” Crotty said. “We want to be known as the place an artist can go and spend their career.”

Corti said that his years in the business have taught him what works towards success and what works against it.

“My blanket advice… if you want to work in the entertainment business, you have to be in the entertainment business,” he said. “Get a job in the business, that’s the best way to learn.”

Crony explained that even good writers need years to improve their craft, and that often the first script from a writer is not the one that turns into a television show. The creator of the new character-drama “Kingdom,” for example, started as an assistant to Crotty. One day he handed him a script. Crotty said it was brilliant, and got him a job working on the Showtime program “Huff,” which Crotty said “got his career going.” Now “Kingdom” is airing on DirecTV.

Crony also encouraged people interested in working in Hollywood to work hard and, equally important, be unafraid to be themselves.

“I’ve been more successful the more authentic I’ve become,” Crotty said. “Work really hard be likable, be pleasant to deal with and have a point of view.”

The next event in the MSLCE Speaker Series will take place Dec. 3, featuring Adult Swim Games producer Matthew Schwartz (C95), at 5 p.m. in the Frances Searle Building, 3-417. It is open to the public. For more information, email or RSVP here.

Fifth Eyeworks Festival Celebrates the Creativity of Experimental Animators

By Amy Ross

Far from the confines of Pixar and DreamWorks, unusual looking characters and unconventional stories will come to life this week at the annual Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation. Surreal narratives and abstract animation don’t have it easy in the competitive markets of major studios. However, independent showcases like Eyeworks allow artists to bridge the gap between their creative techniques and audiences curious to try something different.

The fifth Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation will kick off this Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 6 p.m . in a free screening of shorts at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Chicago. The selection includes animations from 1992 to the present. The following screenings will each have a cost of $10 each or $30 for a full festival pass. These will be held at the Nightingale Cinema (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on Friday, November 14th at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 15th at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Festival directors Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré selected around 30 pieces from all over the globe and for the four screenings. The lineup includes films by Australian artist Neil Taylor, the classic “69” by avant-garde master Robert Breer, “Eager” by Allison Schulnick, which was awarded Best Experimental Animation at Ottawa earlier this year, and “Jeu de Paume” by Joshua Mosley, which was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Eyeworks’ mission is to showcase experimental work of both amateur animators and professionals whose productions often fall outside the boundaries of the commercial realm. According to Stewart, this avenue is particularly important in the field of animation since most festivals in the United States tend to be oriented toward sales rather than art.

“Animation is very time consuming and much is done in studios and teams, but we are responding to animation expressing the individual creative vision,” Stewart said. For Stewart, there is an important difference between visibility and commercial viability. However, having an avenue to display particularly original or compelling creative work can potentially open doors to new opportunities. “Visibility through festivals or online distribution can give artists momentum in their careers. I know many animators who have started with experimental films and have used it as a springboard to the industry, especially in LA.” For more seasoned animators, spaces like Eyeworks also provide a creative outlet that enables them to go back to the basics of the craft and rediscover their singular style, albeit in an alternative setting.

Frequently in the industry, the most basic and elemental animation is shipped overseas and in that sense, animators get “promoted out” of tasks like drawing and 3D modeling. “I have many friends who work in industry and get burned out. Some do this work on the side, although it doesn’t fit the industry expectations,” Stewart said. Aside from exhibiting modern experimental animation, Eyeworks will include classical films like John Whitney Jr’s”Terminal Self” (1971). The festival also encompasses a broad range of animation techniques from paper cutouts and stop-motion to 3D computer animation.

For more detailed lineups, information, or to buy tickets, you may visit the festival website at

MSLCE Professor Talks About His Production of ‘Frankenstein’

By Jacob Nelson

Cory Sandrock had some important advice for the cast of his theatrical production of Frankenstein, now playing at Asbury Hall in Elmhurst.

“What I want is stunned silence,” Sandrock told his cast. He explained that, unlike comedy, where the cast gets a payoff in the form of a laugh at each funny line, it’s tougher for actors to read how they’re doing when performing a drama.

“It’s a tough concept to explain until you have a room of 90 people stunned silent,” Sandrock said, “They don’t breathe for a moment.”

That’s just what the cast received at the opening weekend performances, which began in October. After a few sold out performances, the show is now in its final week, with performances on Nov 5, 7, 8 and 9.

“What I wanted to do in writing this adaptation was make this story accessible to both ends of the spectrum,” Sandrock said, “People who never read the novel, seen the movie or at the other end read the novel before many, many times.”

The production is being put on by GreenMan Theatre Troupe, a community theater in Elmhurst that Sandrock has been involved with for years. He first got the idea to adapt Mary Shelley’s horror story about a man who creates a monster seven years ago, after adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe for the same theater.

“At the time we talked about what could be other literary works we could adapt that we think would work well for our stage,” Sandrock said. “Frankenstein came to my mind right away. I wanted to make it closer to the novel — less about the grunting guy with the bolts.”

A Northwestern alum who majored in theatre, Sandrock has always been interested in live performance. After college, he moved to New York and then Chicago to pursue a career producing, writing and directing plays.

“I always felt like I was not explaining the business part of it correctly, so a couple of years into that arc of my career I went to go get my MBA,” Sandrock said. “Interestingly, when I got my MBA I really liked the economics and finance classes, and so ever since then the quest has been how do I keep both sides of my personality happy.”

Sandrock, who now works as a vice president at Northern Trust, will be teaching an Masters in Science for Leadership in Creative Enterprises course this winter about finances in the creative industries. He wishes the MSLCE program had been around when he was in college. His advice for aspiring theater professionals?

“Continue learning and looking for new opportunities to do interesting work regardless of where that interesting work is,” Sandrock said. “You can always find a way to do the parts of your life you want to be involved in.”

To buy tickets for Frankenstein, click here. The show is now in its final week, with performances on Nov 5, 7, 8 and 9.

‘Blacklist’ Creator’s TV Agent to Speak at Northwestern

Kevin Crotty loves the television show “The Blacklist.” But why he loves it is different from why the network show’s millions of other fans love it.

“It’s going to pay for my children’s education.”

Crotty is a partner and board member at ICM Partners, one of the largest talent and literary agencies in the world. His company represents “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, “House of Lies” creator Matthew Carnahan and “The Blacklist” creator Jon Bokenkamp. Crotty will be discussing his career in television at Northwestern on Wednesday, Nov. 5 as part of the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprise’s speaker series.

On Thursday, I spoke with Crotty, who is also a Northwestern alum, on the phone about his experiences working in the entertainment industry, and how the world of television has changed since he first started.

“The television business as a whole has expanded,” Crotty said. “There are a lot more outlets to sell scripted television… it’s a very good marketplace right now for the creators.”

Referring to “new players” like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, companies that have recently begun creating original television programming, Crotty said that the advent of so many new outlets has made it easier for television show creators to get their material produced.

“For someone who is a very good writer, there almost is no excuse to not be able to sell it anymore,” Crotty said.

He was quick to point out that this doesn’t necessarily apply to new writers who have yet to be discovered. Though there is more opportunity for new shows, there are diminished learning opportunities for novice television show creators. What’s more, television networks have significantly less patience for a new show than they did in the past, which means cancellations occur much more quickly than they did before.

“They [networks] spend so much money on marketing these new shows now if it doesn’t break out of the clutter they have to move on to the next,” Crotty said. “It’s very hard to grow a show from low ratings to success.”

I asked Crotty if he believed in the hype around Netflix’s programming model. The company famously said it relied on algorithms about it user preferences in deciding to make its hit show, “House of Cards” with director David Fincher and actor Kevin Spacey.

Crotty gave a resounding no.

“I don’t believe the hype from Netflix,” he said. “I believe in the right time with the right script and the rest of it is, ‘Does the audience respond?’”

Crotty believes there will always be a place for talented programmers making gut decisions about what should and should not be made.

“The reality is Netflix is going to have stinkers and so is everybody.”

When asked about his favorite shows (besides “The Blacklist”), Crotty listed off “Breaking Bad,” “Kingdom” (a new show on DirectTV about Mixed Martial Arts), “Modern Family” and “Homeland.”

“I also love Shonda Rhimes,” Crotty said about the creator of the hit shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and, most recently, “How to Get Away With Murder.” Rhimes is also represented by Crotty’s company.

“She pays for everything here.”

Crotty will be speaking on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle Building, 3-417. The event is free, and a networking reception will immediately follow. Click here to RSVP.

Northwestern Faculty Directs ‘Frankenstein’

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out a new production of ‘Frankenstein’ produced by the Greenman Theatre and going on at Asbury Hall at First United Methodist Church at 232 S. York in Elmhurst.

Directed by Northwestern Finance Faculty Cory Sandrock, the show debuts Friday and goes through Nov. 9. “When adapting the new script I tried to remain true to the novel, so this production focuses on the tragedy of Victor and his family instead of rehashing the typical horror-movie-stuff,” Sandrock said in an email. “The actors are doing a great job creating a fast-paced show that I know will provide an enjoyable evening of theatre.” Below is Sandrock’s Director’s Note:

Most of us have found ourselves carried away at one time or another. We worked late at the office because we “just had to send one more email,” we “accidentally” watched 3 more episodes on Netflix instead of going to bed, we spent all weekend working on a project that should have taken “only 20 minutes, tops…” A little bit of mad scientist lives inside each of us, and it only takes the pressure of a deadline or passion for an activity to narrow our focus and exclude any other needs. The quintessential example of this archetype, Nikolai Tesla, spent hours testing his theories and often chose scientific purity over lucrative opportunities. He once said “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” I gave this quote to Victor in my adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN because it highlights an often ignored aspect of the original novel: Victor is a college kid when he brings the Creature to life. He is not the greying scientist we see in movie versions of this tale, he is simply a student pursuing his new passion for discovery with the blind intensity of youth; with each accomplishment he pushes a little farther, pursues another idea, and attempts one more experiment.

After his creation comes to life, the real tragedy of FRANKENSTEIN begins when Victor chooses to run away and abdicate his responsibility. Are we to blame the Creature for striving to find his way in the world without guidance? Should we blame Victor for trying to ignore the Creature and reclaim a normal life? Why do seemingly small decisions often lead to horrible and unforeseen consequences? We all think we know this story, but I encourage you to experience FRANKENSTEIN today with fresh senses: see each face transformed by pain as the tragedy races to its conclusion, hear each debate between Victor and the Creature, and feel each impact as the emotional bonds between characters are ripped apart. Only then can you answer the key question: who is the man and who is the monster?

For tickets and more information about the show, click here.

MSLCE Professor Interviewed About Media Audiences

By Jacob Nelson

Northwestern professor James Webster, who has a new book out that focuses on the effects of a proliferation of media choices in the digital age, talked about media audiences in an interview with the American Press Institute published last week. Webster, who is teaching a course this quarter about media audiences in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, talked about media audiences from both the perspective of people who consume media and the companies that create it.

“The media environment itself is way more active than people realize,” Webster said. “Pragmatically, if you’re a media maker, then you’ve got to think, ‘How can I harness some of these forces to my advantage?'”

The interview, which was done by API’s Millie Tran, is a fascinating look at what elements go into building an audience. This includes things that are outside of the control of the media producers. “All you have to do is create something that the right people will like and they’ll just come back again and again. I think while you’re doing that, you also have to be mindful of these structural forces that we’ve been talking about, though,” Webster said. “So it’s not, ‘if only I make my editorial content better,’ or ‘get just the right mix’ that’s all  you have to worry about. You also have to worry about things outside of the editorial content of the paper or the outlet or whatever medium you’re talking about.”

Webster also recently discussed media audiences and big data with Stacey Lynn Schulman, who is the Executive Vice President of Strategy, Analytics and Research at Katz Media Group. The discussion was part of MSLCE’s first speaker series. Read the full API interview here.

NU Professor Talks Big Data with Media Expert

By Jacob Nelson

The MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises kicked off its first Speaker Series event last week with a discussion about media audiences and big data. Northwestern professor James Webster, who has a new book out that focuses on the effects of a proliferation of media choices in the digital age and is also teaching a course this quarter about media audiences, spoke to a full room in Frances Searle, located on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, with Stacey Lynn Schulman, who is the Executive Vice President of Strategy, Analytics and Research at Katz Media Group.

One of the first questions the two attempted to answer was whether or not the advent of many more media options had empowered media users. “These changes have promoted rhetoric of user empowerment,” Webster said about the increase in media that has resulted from everything from the Internet to an increase in television channels and programming.

“There’s no doubt people have more choice… but with that wealth comes bounded rationality.” Webster explained that people don’t make choices with all of the information necessary to make the best selection. For instance, a person chooses to watch a movie because they believe they will probably like it, when they might actually hate it. As a result, people are increasingly relying on big data-powered metrics, like recommender systems, to motivate their decisions. “Ordinary media users are now just as dependent on metrics as media creators,” Webster said.

An issues that comes up because of this reliance is that these big data aren’t wholly objective. In choosing to highlight some bit of information over another, a media metrics system conveys a point of view that many don’t realize exists. “These metrics are never neutral, they can never be neutral,” Webster said. “Google not only measures popularity, it creates it.” Schulman agreed with Webster’s assessment, and added her industry-specific perspective. She said that media companies are currently struggling to understand how to best use big data to help them reach audiences.

“We are in this moment of crisis… Trying to reconcile what we know with what we don’t know,” Schulman said. Schulman voiced some frustration with the glowing reception that the advent of digital has received by many in her field. Though she was quick to point out the advantages a digital world has provided, she said that “there is an irrational exuberance about the power of digital” and not as much thought about “about how technology is reimagining our humanity.”

“We used to make up and break up in person, now we do so on our cell phones,” she said.

She added that the increase in the importance of popularity metrics has brought the need for affirmation to the forefront for both media producers and consumers.

“There’s this constant need for affirmation that the media needs as well,” she said. “That creates a crisis for how we measure content.”

Webster and Schulman agreed that, even as the list of available media options continues to grow, there will always be a small group of media outlets commanding a majority of attention.

“There’s no evidence that the handful of media that dominate are going away anytime soon,” Webster said.

Schulman agreed, adding that popular culture is a good thing, especially in the face of audience fragmentation.

“Mass media has to survive,” Schulman said. “We need that cultural currency… We have to have a way to connect.”

Northwestern Faculty’s New Book Provides ‘An Exhaustive Look’ at Audience Formation

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

When you decide you want to watch a movie, how do you decide which one? Do you go to the recommendations on Netflix? The selection on Amazon Prime? Or do you ask your Facebook friends for suggestions? Perhaps a better question is: which method of choosing a movie is most likely to lead to the best choice? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.

And it’s that uncertainty that Northwestern professor James Webster gets at in his new book, The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age. Webster will be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His new book “takes an exhaustive look at the research about how such audiences form. Or rather, how audiences are formed,” according Ann Friedman, who reviewed the book for the Columbia Journalism Review.

She writes that what Webster “argues quite convincingly is that even if users do have some idea of what news and information they want (and it’s not entirely clear they do), they don’t know how or where to find it.” So what happens when users don’t know how to find what they want? They become easier to manipulate with the use of algorithms and the biases inherent in their social networks. “An audience,” Friedman writes, summarizing Webster’s argument, “is not something that exists on its own. It must be constructed.” Webster’s fall course will dive into the relationship media companies have with audiences, and how big data plays into that relationship.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, James Webster will discuss his new book with Stacey Schulman, Executive VP of Strategy, Analytics, & Research at Katz Media Group in New York at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle room 3-417 with a reception to follow in the third floor atrium. For more information, click here.