2 of Lauren Musgrove’s projects screen at Sidewalk Film Festival

For the eighth year in a row, filmmaker and new Grady College faculty member Lauren Musgrove had projects shown at Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Musgrove, an assistant professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies, had two projects with her company, Purple Magnet Productions, screen at Sidewalk: a music video for the song “Hold on Savannah” by Nashville artist Charlie Argo, directed and co-produced by Maggie Brown, and a short film “Yellow Wallpaper,” a Planet Froth film directed by Ricky Rhodes, based off the short story with the same name by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 

Lauren Musgrove (right) poses for a photo in front of a Sidewalk Film Festival sign with her business partner Maggie Brown and director of Yellow Wallpaper, Ricky Rhodes.
Musgrove (right) with her business partner Maggie Brown (left) and director of Yellow Wallpaper, Ricky Rhodes. (Photo: Jaysen Michael)

The “Hold on Savannah” music video was co-produced and edited by Musgrove. Purple Magnet was in association with the production of “Yellow Wallpaper,” and Musgrove was an editor of the film. The film premiered at the Oscar and Bafta qualifying Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival on July 24, 2023.

Both projects were shot in Alabama, but her production company, Purple Magnet, is now based in Georgia. She founded the company in 2020 with Brown, who was formerly Musgrove’s undergraduate classmate at the University of Alabama. 

“I tell all of my students here that story now,” said Musgrove. “‘Look around you, these people could be your forever collaborators!’” 

Over the past three years, Musgrove and Brown have produced eight music videos, numerous short films and three features. They’re currently in pre-production on a documentary feature. 

“We founded the company because we had a slate of music videos that we were doing,” Musgrove explained. “With music videos, it’s always really fun to collaborate with musicians and come up with a vision together. You can be more experimental. I really like that about them, that you can be more fluid with the storytelling and not be so plot-driven.” 

Musgrove is an eight-time Southeast Emmy-winning filmmaker with an MFA in Film and Media Art from Emerson College in Boston. She has a number of productions to her credit including serving as co-producer and director of “People of Alabama” documentary video series which received an INMA Global Media Award, and “A Day in the Life of America,” which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and is available on PBS. 

But, as a native Southerner, the Sidewalk Film Festival holds a special place in her heart. 

“Sidewalk was the first festival that I was ever a filmmaker at,” said Musgrove. “I think I just fell in love with it. Sidewalk does such a good job making filmmakers feel welcomed, appreciated and valued. I always want to go. Sidewalk has now grown beyond just the festival. It has become a cultural staple for Alabama and the South as a whole.”

Neither “Hold on Savannah,” nor “Yellow Wallpaper” are currently publicly available, although a trailer for “Yellow Wallpaper” is available on Planet Froth’s website. “Hold on Savannah” will be released on YouTube in October of this year.

Booker T. Mattison writes and directs “Twisted Marriage Therapist”

“It is a psychological thriller, and it is indeed shocking,” Booker T. Mattison, an associate professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, said about his newest film, “Twisted Marriage Therapist.” 

A photo of Marija Abney as Dr. Yo. that reads "Nurturing Relationships for Lasting Connection. Grow with Dr. Yo."
In “Twisted Marriage Therapist,” Dr. Yo is played by Marija Abney.

Set to premiere on the free streaming service Tubi on Sept. 7, “Twisted Marriage Therapist” tells the story of a celebrity marriage counselor who gets the husband of a couple she’s counseling committed so she can steal his wife.

“I like thrillers, but the psychological thriller I particularly like because it allows the protagonist to manipulate and to use her mind to impact the minds of other characters in the film,” said Mattison. “And if you control someone’s mind, ultimately you can control their body. So it was a lot of fun both writing the film and directing it.”

Shot in late spring of 2023, from May 14 through June 2, and starring Marija Abney as Dr. Yo, Pha’rez Lass as the husband and Jennifer Sears as the wife, “Twisted Marriage Therapist” is markedly different compared to previous films Mattison has made. 

Mattison has a background in dramas. Last year, he stepped slightly outside of his comfort zone while writing and directing “The Sound of Christmas,” a holiday movie about a widower who falls in love with a music teacher who brings love and music back to the family during the holidays. It debuted on BET+ Thanksgiving of 2022. 

Notably, “Twisted Marriage Therapist” is a sharp turn from a family holiday movie. But Mattison always welcomes a challenge. 

“I was hired to do a psychological thriller, and I did it,” said Mattison. “It allows me to showcase my diversity as a storyteller, as both a writer and a director.” 

“People often ask me, ‘What type of films do you like?’ or ‘What type of stories do you tell?’ My answer is always ‘good ones,’ Mattison added. “I’m not a person who favors one particular genre.”

This approach, of being a diverse storyteller, also influences how Mattison teaches his students at Grady College.  

“My initial objective is to create an environment where students can discover their voice,” said Mattison. “My second objective is to train students to refine that voice and then use it to tell stories that matter to them, independent of genre or subject matter.”

Those interested in taking a look behind the scenes of the production of “Twisted Marriage Therapist” can visit Mattison’s Instagram page.

Students serve as production assistants on World War II documentary

For fourth-year student Xander Chiaramonte, the opportunity to help film interviews with World War II historians on location in France created some incredible summer memories.

“I think the benefit of seeing other areas of the world is something that you just can’t even put into any metric…it’s just the most important thing for perspective,” Chiaramonte said. “And, to be able to do that and learn about what I already love doing was the ultimate package deal for me.”

Chiaramonte was one of five UGA students who spent ten days in France and Switzerland working on a documentary based on the book, “Scholars of Mayhem,” by Daniel Guiet and Timothy Smith. The book is a true story about Guiet’s father who was recruited by one of the Allies’ top spy and Resistance units. The crew was scheduled to interview Guiet for the documentary, but he died shortly before filming began.

Sophie Ralph frames a shot. (Photo: Elizabeth Wampler)

“That’s one of the World War II Foundation’s main goals is to make sure they retain stories before people pass away and stories get lost,” Chiaramonte said of the documentary, which is expected to air on PBS next spring.

The trip is part of the International College Documentary Film Program sponsored by the World War II Foundation, and this is the first year that Grady College students participated.  The experience was thanks in part to a donation from Glen and Clay Jackson, whose father, Edward Jackson (ABJ ’47), was Grady graduate and a World War II veteran.

Paris; Limoges, France; and Geneva, Switzerland, served as home base stops for the crews which traveled by bus from each of the city hubs. Each morning, the bus took students and the production crew to film significant historical locations and interviews with WWII  historians.  Between stops, the director and camera operator briefed students about the history of the location they were traveling, discussing how they made filming decisions and what could be learned from the shoot. Once there, the students would assist the crew in setting up cameras, preparing those to be interviewed and helping with lighting, among other tasks.

“I was excited that the trip was more hands-on than I expected,” said fourth-year student Sophie Ralph. “Getting a chance to do it yourself is so valuable in learning skills.”

Jay Hamilton, head of the Department of Entertainment and Media studies and the faculty representative on the trip, said the lessons on the trip were invaluable.

“One of the biggest lessons learned is that despite all of the planning ahead of time, constant adjustments were needed,” Hamilton said. “It’s a stressful schedule…you’re awake and up early, you’re traveling, you’re on a bus, you’re figuring stuff out, you’re trying to get things done, you’re working with other people, the sun’s going down…but you’ve got to be 100% professional. The adjustments that need to be made, and how professionals still make it happen, is an important lesson.”

In addition to juggling a demanding schedule, there were a lot of personal growth lessons, too.

Xander Chiaramonte listens as a tour guide at the La Roche Guyon Castle outside of Paris talks about the Nazi occupation of the area. (Photo: Jay Hamilton)

This trip appealed to a variety of interests for Ralph, who aspires to work in documentary production following graduation. Ralph is a journalism major with minors in film studies and European studies and she not only loved the interviews and rich history of the area, but she also appreciated applying production skills she has learned in class.

“I learned that anything is possible,” Ralph said. “I would never have imagined that I would be able to work on an international documentary in France. It was a really valuable experience.”

The impact of touring different sites from an international perspective was key, as well. Hamilton noted that the cemeteries and museums like the Suresnes American Cemetery and the French Resistance Museum were especially meaningful.

“What they suggested about the sacrifice that the French government and nation made and the recognition and appreciation by the French of American sacrifices was fully recognized and appreciated,” Hamilton said.  “World War II is still a live thing for France, as it is for all European countries. To see the extent to which it’s still actively memorialized was really something.”

In addition to the Grady College students, the program also included film students from Syracuse University and University of Rhode Island, and students studying history from Davidson College.

Ralph, who also took a hands-on production class before the trip, and traveled to Australia within 24 hours of returning to cover the Women’s World Cup, said her biggest advice for students is to just apply.

“Apply to anything that seems interesting to you,” Ralph said. “I am really glad I seized all the opportunities I could and the trip to France was definitely key in defining expectations after graduation. Since I would like to work internationally once I graduate, this was just perfect.

Students and crew on a stairs.
Students and faculty from Grady College join others on the trip, including students from Syracuse University, University of Rhode Island, Davidson College and crew from the WWII Foundation working on the documentary. (Photo: courtesy of Xander Chiaramonte)

Recent EMST grad wins a top award at Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition

Jonathan Hyman (AB ’20), a recent graduate of the Entertainment and Media Studies (EMST) Department at Grady College, has received high recognition in the 2023 Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. His script for a feature film titled “Freaknik” has been named one of the festival’s three winners.

“To win a competition like this is just awesome for Jon,” said Matthew Evans, an assistant professor in EMST, who worked with Hyman to help develop the script. “To put it in perspective, the Atlanta Film Festival gets thousands of submissions—so it’s extremely competitive. It means that Jon beat out a lot of really good scripts.”

A quote car that reads: “I think the best thing about Jon’s screenplay is that it’s authentic. It’s authentically funny. It’s authentically sweet. And it’s authentically fresh, in terms of its point of view,” said Evans. “But more important than the recognition is the industry support and mentorship that Jon will get as a winner.” Hyman’s script takes readers to Atlanta’s Freaknik festival during spring break of 1993 and follows a tight-knit circle of friends that matures over a weekend full of parties, love and drama. 

“Being one of the feature winners for this year’s Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Award feels a little surreal,” said Hyman. “For the most part, though, it feels like a challenge to keep pushing forward. There’s so much about the craft of writing itself and the entertainment business as a whole that I still have left to learn. I am very grateful and appreciative that the script was so well-received by the Atlanta Film Society, and my hope is that one day I’ll be able to share ‘Freaknik’ with audiences as a feature film.”

His whole life, Hyman explained, has been full of stories from family and friends about how exhilarating Freaknik was. That, along with a desire to center his writing around Atlanta-based stories, inspired Hyman to write his award-winning script. 

“There were other ideas that I had (and still have) in mind, but Freaknik had yet to be explored in film, and I had a treasure trove of stories from my family to pull inspiration from, so it felt right,” said Hyman. 

The origin story for Hyman’s “Freaknik” goes back to the fall of 2019, when he asked Evans to supervise an independent study. In early January of 2020, Hyman brought three feature film ideas to Evans, “Freaknik” being one of them. Over the following months, Hyman wrote a synopsis, then an outline, and then each subsequent act, piece-by-piece. Evans provided thoughtful feedback and honest critique each step of the way, Hyman explained. 

“I think the best thing about Jon’s screenplay is that it’s authentic. It’s authentically funny. It’s authentically sweet. And it’s authentically fresh, in terms of its point of view,” said Evans. “But more important than the recognition is the industry support and mentorship that Jon will get as a winner.” 

For his award-winning script, Hyman will receive a cash prize and accommodation at the festival, plus an all-access badge, invitation to the exclusive Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriters Retreat and an opportunity to take part in a staged reading of an excerpt of his winning screenplay during the Atlanta Film Festival, conducted by Atlanta SAG/SAG-Aftra actors. 

“These are the connections that can help take Jon’s career to the next level, such as finding literary representation and getting ‘Freaknik’ read by producers,” Evans added. “Those are the first steps to getting this movie made. Anybody who wins a competition of this caliber will definitely be seen as a new writer to pay attention to, so lots of people are going to want to read this script. And ‘Freaknik’ is a spectacular calling card.”

6 EMST students, recent grads take home 2023 BEA Awards

Work created by students in Grady College’s Department of Entertainment and Media Studies (EMST) earned high recognition at the 2023 Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Festival of Media Arts competition.

Syd Cohen (AB ‘22), a recent EMST graduate originally from Atlanta, earned an Award of Excellence in the Original Television Series Pilot Category for “Pat The Missile.” Likewise, Shiyan Dowling (AB ‘22), a recent EMST graduate originally from Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Abbe Piccolo (AB ‘22), a recent EMST graduate originally from Decatur, Georgia, also won an Award of Excellence in the Original Television Series Pilot category for “Cinema 13.” 

Hyde Healy, a current EMST student from Covington, Louisiana, and Cam Kreitner, a current EMST student from Alpharetta, Georgia, earned third place in the Original Television Series Pilot category for “The Winner’s Circle.” And Meli Nunyakpe, a current EMST student from Conyers, Georgia, won third place in the Narrative Feature category for “Put on a Happy Face.”

Much of this award-winning work was created in a Writing for Television course taught by Matthew Nolte Evans, an assistant professor in the EMST Department. Many of the student and recent alumni award winners credited him for helping develop and improve their projects.

“Professor Matthew Evans (Fellow BEA Winner) gave extensive notes in the Writing For Television class that helped move the pilot along and challenged us to strive for a pilot we were proud of and wanted to share around,” said Kreitner.

“He guided me as I brainstormed my idea, provided ample notes and encouraged me to submit to festivals and fellowships with my newly finished sample,” added Cohen about Professor Evans. “I can officially say I learned from the best!” 

Each year, this competitive challenge receives more than 1,500 submissions from students and faculty from around the world. The BEA, a nonprofit organization, focuses on driving insights in media production and career advancement for educators, students and professionals around the globe.

Cohen’s “Pat The Missile”

After a fall from grace in which she is accused of killing President Reagan’s dog, Cohen’s “Pat The Missile” follows Dr. Elena Cohn, a foreign policy advisor, as she struggles with her career, relationships and herself. While navigating her first day in the chauvinist environment of the Department of Defense’s Nuclear Deterrence Agency, the agency receives its biggest wake-up call in years: confirmation from various global intelligence agencies that the Vatican has acquired nuclear weapons. 

“I am beyond excited to have received this award for my first ever pilot,” said Cohen “I feel so honored to be awarded in the same category as some of my closest collaborators and friends. Hopefully this isn’t the last award I win, but I am so grateful that it is the first!”

Dowling and Piccolo’s “Cinema 13”

Dowling and Piccolo’s “Cinema 13” is a workplace comedy that follows Willow Anderson, an anxious over-achiever who left behind her small town for the Ivy Leagues. But when Willow has to return to her old minimum wage movie theater job after dropping out, she has to re-navigate quirky co-workers, corporate policies and customer catastrophe. Will she be able to figure out her future before the building implodes? 

“The initial idea came from our experience in the service industry as teenagers,” said Dowling. “I worked in a movie theater for a few years and Abbe had a variety of customer-facing minimum-wage jobs under her belt. We shared some of the more ridiculous moments with each other and decided that our experiences would make for a fun show!”

“It was nice to see all of that hard work pay off,” added Piccolo. “It was also nice to see a lot of familiar names on the winner’s list.” 

Healy and Kreitner’s “The Winner’s Circle”

Healy and Kreiner’s “The Winner’s Circle” is an irreverent half-hour college comedy about Sam Walters, a sports-obsessed, intelligent but reckless college student, who, after being stripped of his position as University mascot and the full-ride that came with it, must resort to starting a sportsbook to pay his tuition.

“Cam and I worked very hard on this script and put a lot of hours in, so it’s a wonderful feeling to see our efforts rewarded in this tangible way,” said Healy. “BEA is a great organization, and the festival always has a ton of impressive entries. It’s an honor to be recognized amongst such a pool of talent.” 

Nunyakpe’s “Put on a Happy Face”

Nunyakpe’s “Put on a Happy Face” tells the story of a teenager who, after tragically losing her father, opts to ignore her grief and instead fakes being happy to appease everyone, including herself. 

“I was very inspired by the grief and emotions I felt after the loss of my father and brother,” said Nunyakpe. “I wanted to write about a teenager experiencing those feelings while also trying to reject them as I haven’t really seen that before in film.”

“I feel very honored and excited about being accepted to the BEA Festival of Media Arts as it’s my first time entering the festival,” she added. “I encourage any budding writers to submit their work to the festival.”

#ProfilesofTenacity: Demi Lehman

Fourth year entertainment and media studies and theatre double major Demi Lehman is creating her own path in the pursuit of her passions. Her involvement in UGA short films and theatre shows as well as her time with various internships and clubs have helped prepare her to follow her dream of becoming a professional actress.

What does “tenacity” mean to you?

Tenacity to me means strength, grit, and persistence especially when the odds seem stacked against you. It’s surpassing people’s expectations and proving them wrong with your work ethic when they say something is impossible or can’t be done.

Why did you choose your major?

Coming into UGA, I knew I wanted to major in Theatre to be able to take advanced acting classes open specifically to majors. However, my parents wanted me to major or minor in something additional to theatre to have a “backup plan” for acting after I graduate. To give them credit, I agreed with their logic. Initially, my plan was to double major in Business with a Management degree. I quickly discovered at orientation, though, that a Business degree was not for me. My mom revealed to me there was a major in Grady called Entertainment and Media Studies geared towards the film industry and film production. Since I’m interested specifically in acting for film and television, this was the perfect major to learn what working behind the camera was like and fill in the gaps about acting for film that my Theatre major didn’t cover.

What motivates you?

Storytelling. As cheesy as it sounds, I believe stories have the power to change the world and make it a better place. Stories can educate, enlighten, and entertain, and it’s my hope as an actor/storyteller that a viewer or audience member leaves a story a little different than they were before they experienced it.

Who is your favorite Grady professor and why?
Lehman smiles with her cast and crew members after wrapping the short film, “Truth,” which she directed for Professor Mattison’s Directing for the Screen class. (Photo/submitted)

It’s hard to pick a favorite professor I’ve had in Grady since all of them have been so insightful and successful in preparing me for the entertainment industry. I am especially appreciative of Professor Mattison who was my Directing for the Screen professor last semester. I first met Professor Mattison, not through a class, but because I was cast in a short film he was directing called American Triptych. I mentioned in my submission to the project that I was a UGA student, and he recognized me from acting in his former students’ films. He had me audition, and I ended up booking the role. By the time I had my directing class with him in Fall 2022, he already knew about my acting background. The way he teaches that class is great because he focuses specifically on what it’s like to give direction to actors. He makes the entire class perform monologues the first 2 weeks of class just so they can understand what it’s like to be in the actor’s shoes. Over Thanksgiving break, I found out I booked a supporting role in an upcoming Lifetime movie called A View To Kill For. I was ecstatic but worried how I’d finish out the rest of the semester and finals since the movie was filming the last three weeks of school. Professor Mattison was very supportive in me pursuing my acting career and graciously let me finish out the semester remotely from Atlanta where we were shooting. I’m still so thankful for that and for all he’s taught me to this day!

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about bringing more of the film industry to the Southeast and Atlanta. After living in LA this summer, I’ve grown fonder of Atlanta being the city I grew up right outside of, and I really think it can compete with Los Angeles as a hub for the entertainment industry. There’s already so much production done here that now I hope for pre-production and post-production work to start making its way here, as well. I have friends who want to be producers, writers, or editors and with the way the industry is currently structured, a lot of those jobs are still done out of LA. If we can build up Atlanta based production companies, writers’ rooms, and post-production houses in the Southeast, there’d be even more opportunity for people wanting to work in the industry here.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?
Lehman hikes back down the mountain in Malibu to get to Neptune’s Net with fellow Grady LA students. (Photo/submitted)

During the Summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in the Grady LA program where students interested in working in the entertainment industry intern and take classes in Los Angeles for eight weeks. The program really pushed me out of my comfort zone since I’m an in-state student, and this was the longest time I’d been away from home without any family nearby. However, I’m so thankful to have been on the program because I got to meet so many amazing people, build my professional network and experience, and form close friendships with other students on the program. One of my favorite memories is that a large group of us students and our program leader, Dr. Bernabo, decided to go hiking in Malibu on what was supposed to be a 6 mile hike. However, after walking a mile straight up a mountain and reaching the top, we decided to turn back and eat at a well-known seafood shack across the street from the beach called Neptune’s Net. The food was deliciously greasy and satisfying after that hike, and I don’t think any of us had any regrets about turning around.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?

I was cast in my first ever professional feature film over Thanksgiving Break for a Lifetime movie called A View To Kill For. Getting that phone call from my agent was such a surreal experience, and even now I have to remind myself that it really happened. Working on set almost every day for three weeks confirmed for me that acting is what I want to do, and being in a large supporting role gave me proof that I have the capability to actually do it. I feel like I’ve already grown more as an actor since the shoot wrapped, so it will be interesting to watch the work I did then compared to how much more I know now. I don’t have many details I can share on when it’s coming out or what it’s about, but I’m excited to see the finished product.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other Grady students?
Lehman takes a mirror selfie in hair and makeup while filming “A View to Kill For.” (Photo/submitted)

If you’re having trouble finding a major or class that is specifically about what you want to do, create your own path. I knew coming into UGA that I wanted to be a working actress primarily in film and television. However, my Theatre major currently only offers a single Acting for the Camera class that rolls around once every two to three years, and my Entertainment and Media Studies major teaches you how to work in the industry in about every job except acting (writer, director, producer, editor.) So I double majored in both and took advantage of student films and campus organizations to fill in the gaps. By being a Theatre major, I’m able to keep my acting “instrument” fresh and also gain experience performing in professional level theatrical productions. By being an Entertainment and Media Studies major, I’m able to learn the lingo of the other side of the industry and what each job needs to be successful. Now that I know the specific things a director or editor is looking for when doing their job, I know what I need to do as an actor to make their jobs easier. This served me well when I was filming A View To Kill For because some of the crew members noticed I understood what they were doing for a shot and why. This gained me some respect and even let me form friendships and connections with the people working behind the scenes.

What are you planning to do after you graduate?

After graduation, I plan to move to Atlanta to continue working as an actress in the film industry. When I’m not acting, I would love to work behind the scenes as a casting assistant. I interned with a casting office called DK Casting when I did the Grady LA program, and I learned that it is another area of the industry I love. It lets me use my performance background to acknowledge good performances and helps me uplift other actors in the community. It also teaches me as an actor what makes a good audition and inspires me to continue working to be a better artist.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To just go for it. I’m graduating in May, so as you can expect, the post-grad jitters have been starting to get to me. I’m grateful for my family, friends, and professors who have been an incredible support system and the piece of advice I keep hearing from all of them is to just go for it. Wanting to work as an actor professionally can feel very daunting, especially when you’ve grown up in a society where people (who usually aren’t in the industry) tell you it’s a risky idea and constantly ask about the “backup plan.” However, my parents, close friends, and mentors (all people who would be brutally honest with me), haven’t told me to hold back. They’ve told me to go for what I am passionate about, and if it ends up not working out, they’ve got my back. I’d much rather give my all at trying and fail, than not try at all and always wonder, “What if?”

UGA Mentor Program Profile: Rylee Barfield and LeLoni Smith

It didn’t take long for recent graduate Rylee Barfield (AB ‘22) to experience the value of a good mentor. During her first week at UGA, eager to enter the field of entertainment, Barfield was seeking guidance to help her navigate the then-unfamiliar industry. When a friend in the introduction to Entertainment and Media Studies class mentioned the UGA Mentor Program, Barfield was immediately intrigued. 

Soon after, Barfield applied to be the mentee of LeLoni Smith (ABJ ‘14), an independent producer who, from 2018 to 2022, worked for Netflix, first as a creative assistant on the Netflix Original Documentary team and then as manager on the Netflix Documentary Films team. 

The UGA Mentor Program is a student-centered online platform that allows students to form long-lasting mentoring relationships, regardless of geographic location. Students can also utilize the Quick Chat function to briefly meet with UGA mentors, including alumni, faculty and staff, for informational interviews that can help make their futures a bit clearer. 

Below are two Q&As, first with Barfield, followed by another with Smith, about their mentoring relationship through the UGA Mentor Program. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

A conversation with Rylee Barfield

GC: Tell us about yourself. 

A headshot of Rylee Barfield.
Rylee Barfield graduated in the Fall of 2022. (Photo: Submitted)

I graduated in the Fall of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment and Media Studies and a minor in Korean Language and Culture. I’m currently in the process of getting a visa to work in Seoul, South Korea. I want to live and work there in the entertainment industry, but I will teach English until I become more comfortable with the language. 

RB: What inspired you to participate in the UGA Mentor Program?

In my first week at UGA, I took the intro class to EMST and made a friend who recommended the mentorship program. I think the entertainment industry felt rather daunting at first and impossible to make connections in, so the UGA Mentor Program was the perfect thing for me at that time. I wanted to talk to someone who had been in my shoes and could help me navigate an unfamiliar industry. I wanted someone who I could ask questions to and learn from. 

GC: What drew you to select LeLoni Smith as your mentor? 

RB: I just really wanted to be doing what LeLoni did when I graduated, so I decided to apply to be her mentee. First of all, she had the most stacked profile/resume. I was worried she actually wouldn’t select me. She was truly impressive and seemed like the coolest woman. LeLoni was working at Netflix at the time, which interested me, and was producing, which is my dream job. So she checked every box of mentorship I could ever want! It’s a gamble when choosing a mentor because you don’t know what their personality or interest will be, and you truly want to develop a relationship and feel like friends. However, I was fortunate to get LeLoni because she is very kind and personable. 

GC: What does this mentorship consist of? How often do you speak and what do those conversations sound like? 

RB: Our first call was longer and focused on getting to know each other. I learned about LeLoni’s journey to be where she is now. Then we talked about what I wanted from the mentorship, and at the time I really wanted guidance and someone I could bounce different questions off of. So we decided to meet monthly over Zoom and email regularly. LeLoni helped me create my resume, and I still use the template today! She helped me narrow down my experiences and show my strengths most effectively. LeLoni helped me to understand what it’s like to work at a global entertainment company, what it took to get there, and how I could start taking steps in that direction. 

GC: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience, having LeLoni as a mentor?

RB: For me, it was just the kinship of having someone to honestly tell you that your dream is possible and that there is a way to get there. I feel like I walked away from the experience more knowledgeable and confident. I think LeLoni is an amazing person, and I’m honored to have been her mentee.

A conversation with LeLoni Smith

GC: What inspired you to become a mentor through the UGA Mentor Program? 

A headshot of LeLoni Smith.
LeLoni Smith has had 8 mentees since 2018 through the UGA Mentor Program. (Photo: submitted.)

LS: I’ve always had an interest in mentorship. I served as a mentor during my UGA days at Clarke Middle School. When I was a student, I had very little knowledge of the entertainment industry and had to figure out a lot of things on my own, which resulted in a few twists and turns along my career path. If I could help provide some clarity to my mentee about my experiences then hopefully he/she or they will have a better sense of where to start after graduation. 

GC: What does your mentorship consist of? How do you help your mentees, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through this program? 

LS: I would like to think my mentorship process is easygoing but also transparent and direct. My mentees typically want to know about my career journey and how I got to where I am today, so I share the successes. But I also don’t sugarcoat the failures. Once I’ve shared my experiences, I love to hear what interests them and how we can set them up for success. My first task is to review their resume and make any necessary updates or changes. Once we’ve updated the resume, then the rest of the mentorship consists of open conversations about the industry and any advice I can share. Rylee and I shared a similar interest of engaging and programming for audiences outside of the United States, so we would discuss how to gain experience in the United States with aspirations of working outside of it. The best help I can give Rylee or any of my mentees is an honest conversation about my own experiences so they can decide their own path forward. 

GC: What has been the most rewarding experience of mentoring, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through the UGA Mentorship Program?

LS: The most rewarding experience of mentoring is always the look of relief from my mentees when they are reassured that it is ok to make mistakes and not know what exactly to do after graduation. The entertainment industry is great because there is no direct path, so you can start one way and finish in a completely different way. And that is okay. With Rylee, it was nice to talk through all of her experiences because it made her realize that she was more qualified than she thought. As her mentor, it was my job to simply remind her. 

Learn more about the UGA Mentor Program, including how to sign up, on the UGA Mentor Program page.

Podcast: The future of video game studies with Dr. Shira Chess

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The Grady Research Radio podcast recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Shira Chess, an associate professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, a game studies researcher, and the author of books including “Play Like a Feminist” and “Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity.” 

Over the summer, Dr. Chess published an introduction for an article in the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication titled “The future of media studies is game studies,” which shines a light on the significance of video games in the broader field of communication studies. 

In the episode, Dr. Chess discusses her writing, why video games may not get the attention they deserve, and what the future may hold.  

Below is a transcription of the episode, edited for clarity and brevity.

Shira Chess holding up a cake designed to look like her book Ready Player 2.
Shira Chess cutting the cake during a celebration for the release of “Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity” in 2017. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

Grady Research Radio: What is game studies? 

Shira Chess: A lot of scholars out there are studying video games and have been for a while now. It’s been an emerging field since around the late 1990s, when games stopped being considered toys and started really increasingly being considered media objects.

Grady Research Radio: You recently published an article titled “The future of media is game studies.” Can you explain what that article is, just a brief overview?  

Shira Chess: It was an introduction to a special issue. So, to back up a little bit, one of my academic heroes, Mia Consalvo, and I were talking about something we could work on together during the pandemic. And, you know, things were pretty glum during the pandemic, in general, for a lot of people. We were trying to think of a project that would really get us excited about what it was that we did again. 

The idea of the special issue wasn’t just about one specific topic in game studies, but was highlighting the potential in the future and looking to younger scholars and junior scholars to see where they see the field emerging. So, the article that I wrote was largely an introduction to that special issue. 

We did sort of have this provocation as the premise, you know, that the future of media studies is game studies. A big reason for that is, what happens in academic conferences a lot of times is that everybody kind of stays in their silos. You go to an academic conference or you read journal articles and you tend to stay in your little silos of what you’ve been studying and what everybody around you has been studying. And you sort of continually look at the same things over and over again. 

I’m making some broad generalizations. There are certainly academics who do not do that. But, at conferences, for instance, a lot of times what happens is you don’t end up seeing the scholarship and the changes in a specific subfield because you just haven’t been paying attention. 

So, we sort of started teasing out this idea — media studies folks could really learn a lot by stopping and looking at game studies, even if they’re not somebody who studies video games specifically or plays video games. And that is sort of a reflection of a larger problem, something that I’ve studied a lot, which is how people tend to be very dismissive of video games, you know, treat them like they’re a toy and like there’s no content there to study. Really, they are rich with content. They are overflowing with content. 

Part of my career has been trying to talk to people about video games, why they should reconsider them, and why we need to expand the market of video games. This article was very much trying to do the same thing within media studies, trying to convince people who are media studies scholars and maybe study television or film or other areas and say, “But wait, maybe you should look at some game study scholarship, some emerging scholars, and take a look at some things they’re doing, because you might be surprised.”

Grady Research Radio: So, why do you think there is this resistance to accepting game studies, or even video games in general, as a viable source of media and not just a game? 

Shira Chess: I mean, I think it’s changing. I think, in terms of resisting game studies, it’s just as I said. I don’t know that a lot of scholars are like, “ugh, game studies.” It’s more like, “That’s not for me.” 

But the problem is, with the way corporate conglomeration works and with the way that transmedia storytelling works, we all are studying digital games to some extent. Everything has gotten a little bit more fuzzy. That does matter, in the same way that television matters in a different way than it did a decade ago, with the advent of streaming services, right? Television is different than what it was. Video games are different from what they were.

In terms of why people are dismissive of video games — I started off by saying scholarship on games and violence, or scholarship on games and addiction, looking at those sort of salacious things creates a low-level moral panic sometimes. But the reality is that video games are a medium still figuring themselves out, and we’re only really just now starting to see what they are and what they can become.

Grady Research Radio: Absolutely. I don’t want to ask you to speculate too much, but what do video games have to offer that the general public may not necessarily see?

Shira Chess: So, a couple of things that I have written about in the past. 

This is not my specific area, but I know a lot of good scholars, such as Aubrey Anable and Katherine Isbister, have written about games and affect. Video games are particularly well situated to get us thinking about the emotions of others and put our subject in somebody else’s body. That’s pretty cool, right? It is in a way that films and television sometimes can do, but that reliance on action puts us in a place where we might empathize differently with different subject positions. 

One thing that I’ve written about a bit is video games and agency, or will to act. Video games are training machines. They teach us how and when to act on things and get us to think about our actions.

And then, in general, there are some video games out there that are just aesthetically beautiful. In the same way that books and film and television are beautiful, there are beautiful video games out there.

I am certainly not saying that somebody should dump all of the other media in their lives and replace it all out with video games. That would be ridiculous. But I do think that there are opportunities to play games in ways that will give us moving experiences similar to other forms of media.

Grady Research Radio: Great. So back to the article. You did touch on a lot of this already, but can you go back and explain your argument, the purpose of this article and where it’s all going? 

Shira Chess: The argument was basically, “Hey, look over here.” It’s not deep. It wasn’t meant to be deep. It was more like, you know, we’ve gathered together some young junior scholars that do have some interesting arguments, and we think that you should read them. 

We specifically asked the scholars to write things that were on the shorter side, to make it a little bit more accessible, to make it a smattering of a lot of ideas, rather than a couple of big thoughts. 

Basically, when we approached people, we were like, “What do you think is the future of game studies?” And everybody kind of took that assignment a little bit differently and responded to it in different ways. So, all of these people, collectively, created this tapestry of different ideas and thoughts, which was really what we were looking to do in the first place.

Grady Research Radio: This might be kind of a two-part question. Game studies is a relatively new thing. Video games are relatively new. But, do you believe that it has been on an upward trajectory in terms of people accepting it as a valid form of media? Do you foresee this article, this whole idea, having a positive impact on game studies? 

Shira Chess: I think that, in general, people are taking video games more seriously than they have. But I think that’s with a caveat, right? 

I think that there are more people playing video games than ever before, because mobile devices make games more accessible. You are hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t play any kind of digital game, whether that is a console-based game, whether that is Candy Crush Saga, or whether that’s Wordle, right? Once you start expanding your definition of what a digital game is, you realize we should all be in on this conversation about what they can look like and what they can be.

I think, though, that at the same time, it’s brought in new layers of anxieties. For a long time, people would come to me, you know, both inside and outside of academia, and they would say, “Oh you study video games. They’re so violent.” Or somebody would write a journal article talking about violent video games. And my first answer would always be, “Which video games?” Because, you know, I spent a large portion of my career studying Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Other than some aesthetic violence in Kim Kardashian Hollywood, I would say that that’s not a very violent game, right? 

But the problem is, the industry and audiences often centralize the games that are violent, or the games that are big console games. We’re starting to see that breakdown a little bit. And with that comes a lot of anxieties within the industry, because the industry itself goes through phases of free fall, and there have been problems over the last couple of decades. But, at the same time, I would say that some of the anxieties about video games and violence have been replaced with anxieties by video games and addiction. 

And that’s not to say that those things aren’t real or not worth talking about. But this medium is still figuring itself out. And by ignoring the product, we don’t get to shape the medium.

Grady Research Radio: Thank you for joining us today.

Shira Chess: Thank you very much for having me here.

Alumnus brings documentary film to Tate Theatre

Michael Peroff (left) and co-writer Hal Rifken (right) shoot b-roll for film
Michael Peroff (left) and co-writer Hal Rifken (right) shoot b-roll for film. (Photo: Michael Peroff)

“Behind the Strings,” a Shanghai Quartet documentary film, will premiere at the University of Georgia’s Tate Theatre on Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. 

The Tate Theatre screening will be free for all attendees and be followed by a live video conference Q&A with Grady College alumnus Michael Peroff (ABJ ‘67), who produced, executive produced and co-wrote the film, and members of the quartet. 

“Behind the Strings” dives into the lives of the members of the globally successful Shanghai Quartet. It follows them on their rise to the top and shows what it takes to stay there. It also reveals why China keeps inviting them back to play their once forbidden music. 

“The story is about how a successful quartet achieved success and what it takes,” said Peroff. “It is about the life they lead, how they became successful and the price they pay.”

The story takes viewers back to the time of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Four young musicians fled to the West, as classical music was banned in China. Isolated and dejected, the musicians overcame the language and cultural barriers against them to become one of the preeminent string quartets in the United States. 

The quartet studied with masters, attended Juilliard and began performing at major music festivals and well-regarded classical music venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and The Kennedy Center. Along the way, the original cellist decided to leave, and the quartet brought on a highly praised, young graduate student from Spanish Harlem with a “New York attitude.”

Rifken shoots video of the Shanghai Quartet.
Rifken shoots video of the Shanghai Quartet. (Photo: Michael Peroff)

The pressures of their immense success, spending 180 days each year on the road, and their teaching responsibilities created a host of new challenges. The quartet persisted, though, and has played a major role in helping Western classical music gain new acceptance in China, where they now regularly sell out shows.

The film, which originally debuted in 2020, has won and been considered for numerous awards, including being named “Best Documentary Film” at the Jarvis Classical Arts Film Festival and being nominated as “Best of Festival” at the Richmond International Film Festival.

“Beyond the Strings” is being brought to campus by the Center for Asian Studies, Department of Entertainment & Media Studies, Department of History, Department of Theatre and Film Studies and the Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

#ProfilesofTenacity: Xander Chiaramonte

Third year Xander Chiaramonte says tenacity is all about persistence. The entertainment and media studies major co-founded Clear Mountain Entertainment, LLC. with his brother, which he also serves as the chief creative officer.

Why did you choose your major?

Since I was very little, my younger sisters and I would create all sorts of short content on iMovie or take photos of flowers for hours. I feel that in a lot of ways, and because of the internet, digital media and our generation matured in extremely congruent years. This constantly emerging digital medium always captivated me, and the more I explored, the more enthralled I became. This curiosity led me into photography and videography as means of expression, philanthropy, and value I could provide to my community. 

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

I think my most memorable Grady experience has to be my first day of “Production Basics.” It was the first time I was able to work on tangible production work in an academic setting, whereas I would always seek those experiences outside of school throughout high school. Finally getting to experiment with this type of work in school with Professor Biddle and my equally excited classmates is so refreshing. 

Who is your favorite Grady professor and why?

Professor Fortmueller provided me with an invaluable perspective into the landscape of the film and television industries, which allowed me to form a better understanding of where I wanted to fit in within that landscape. Professor Fortmueller is a fantastic and approachable resource for me to discuss my ideas and to learn about topics that I am excited about outside of class, especially Ciné! 

What does tenacity mean to you?
Xander films with a 360-degree camera at Classic City Jam. (Photo:submitted)

Tenacity, to me, is synonymous with persistence. Many people are smart, talented, or driven, but in the face of adversity or true challenge, none of that will ever matter. It is persistence and persistence alone that drives individuals through those experiences. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best advice I have received regularly is that “everything changes.” My mother always reminds me of this and grounds me in the reality that in life, just like in nature, everything is in a constant state of change. This advice has always helped me to not get hung up on the little things and keep on moving. 

Xander with his mom, holding up a Classic City Jam poster
Xander says his biggest accomplishment in the past year was organizing the Classic City Jam event he organized. Here he is pictued (middle) with his mom and Grady student James Hawran (right). (Photo:submitted)
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?

My brother and I formed Clear Mountain Entertainment, LLC in 2021. In this past year, the biggest accomplishment has to be holding a day-long festival called “Classic City Jam” in downtown Athens. The reception from the Athens community and UGA students was unbelievable and has allowed us to begin working on much larger events and productions than we expected to produce at this point in our business.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to pursue an MFA in film and television production and continue to work on Clear Mountain Entertainment in Athens and Atlanta. I hope to work on productions in the Atlanta film market and continue learning and connecting with driven individuals in the industry. 

What is an example of a time you used your skills in a real-world experience?

Almost everything I work on outside of school has been centered around these digital media skills, both within Clear Mountain Entertainment and Xander Chiaramonte Media (xanderchiaramonte.com). Through these two endeavors and constantly testing myself into different software programs, technical roles, and ideation has allowed me to constantly surprise myself as to what I (and anyone) can do simply with a computer or camera. 

Where is your go-to restaurant in Athens?

Chuck’s Fish on Broad. Some uptown chicken and a sushi roll or two from Chuck’s can change your whole life.