August 29, 2014

Accomplished Alumni Share Advice

Accomplished Alumni Share Advice
October 3, 2013

Students at the College got to peek behind the scenes of the film and publishing industries recently when two distinguished alumni spoke on campus.

Animation film producer David Lovegren (US’73, C’77) visited theatre and mass communication classes and spoke with students during lunch. His main message to them was to start thinking about their careers now! “Don’t wait until graduation to practice what you want to pursue,” he said. “Utilize this campus as a laboratory to practice your craft. Hollywood producers would love to have this beautiful location to shoot films. Plus, you have creative people all around you. Gather other students who want to write, shoot video, act, and sing. You can even shoot a full-length feature film on your smart phone. By practicing your skills over and over again, you’ll be prepared to be productive in the professional world.”

After working on Disney’s Fantasia/2000 and the direct-to-video feature The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, Lovegren formed a new animation studio for the production of Hoodwinked! From these experiences he learned the importance of starting with a good story. “Your audience must be invested in the characters,” he noted. “Create emotion. Hoodwinked! was successful because viewers cared about what was happening with the characters.”

Lovegren, who has sponsored Principia students for one-week externships, commented that one of the most important qualities he values when hiring is a willing spirit. “You want to say, ‘Yes, I can do that!’ to a potential employer, and [you need to] be willing to learn,” he emphasized.

Though more narrowly focused on craft, the message from Barry Wightman (C’75) was equally eye-opening. Wightman visited English classes and read from his debut novel Pepperland during an evening gathering in Holt Gallery. Set in the 1970s, which he considers the golden age of rock ’n roll, the story plays out during the dawn of the computer age. Wightman’s characters face the turmoil of the times—the energy crisis, political upheaval, the Vietnam War—while looking ahead to the Internet age.

Emphasizing the importance of character development, Wightman shared that his novel’s characters are an amalgamation of people he’s known. “Principia College makes a cameo appearance as Newton College,” he noted. “I’ll always be grateful to a couple of Principia professors who encouraged me to write.” Readily admitting that he’s a “rock ’n roll snob,” Wightman included numerous lines from songs and discography in Pepperland, and he still plays in a band. He also strives to make his language lyrical. “I worked to convey musicality in the prose, incorporating rhythms and rhymes,” he explains.

Of course, arriving at that kind of prose isn’t easy. Wightman cautioned students that writing is just plain hard work and that the revision process is especially difficult. “Writing a novel is like running a marathon,” he said. “Editing is tough. I had to be brutal at one point and cut about 50,000 words. I basically rewrote the entire book from the beginning, moving parts of the story around.”

When professionals like Lovegren and Wightman come to campus, students pause their busy schedules and listen. Both alums spoke to full audiences.