#ProfilesOfTenacity: Aleesa de Castro

A division one athlete, fourth year entertainment and media studies major Aleesa de Castro says tenacity is all about persistence and resilience. Aleesa and her sister Cate share a passion for film, and together they founded de Castro productions and organized the first ever Backlight Student Film Festival this past spring. Aleesa serves as the vice president of The Industry, is a videographer for Strike Magazine, and she is currently interning for the Producers Guild of America.

Why did you choose your major?

I enrolled into the University of Georgia as a biology major, but I’ve had a strong love and passion for film all my life. As a freshman, I was looking to get more involved on campus and stumbled upon the entertainment media industries club, better known as The Industry. I began to meet others who shared my passion. Many of them were entertainment and media studies students who were looking to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. I was truly inspired by my peers. Watching them follow their dreams assured me that this too was a career path I could follow. I changed my major and began cultivating my career in the industry.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

This past summer, I attended the Cannes Film Festival study away program. All in all, there is no other way to describe this trip than a dream. As an aspiring film producer, there was no better fit than the Cannes Film Festival. For the two weeks of the festival, my classmates and I were at the global epicenter of the film industry. We were meeting filmmakers and buyers from all over the world. We were able to grow our networks and open our eyes to a variety of careers that exist in the entertainment landscape. It was magical. Every day consisted of screening international films, attending press junkets, dressing up for red carpets, meeting talent and industry professionals, trying different French foods, and exploring the French Rivera. I look back at this experience and it almost doesn’t even feel real.

aleesa wearing uga jersey mid-run
Outside of her involvement at Grady College, Aleesa is a division one athlete, and runs both cross country and track and field. (Photo:submitted)
What does tenacity mean to you?

Tenacity is all about persistence and resilience. As a division one athlete, this is something that has been instilled in me; however, I also feel there is a component of giving back and looking out for others. Someone who is truly tenacious is also focused on uplifting their teammates and those around them.

Who is your professional hero?

Fred Rogers is someone I really admire. He had a profound effect on television and media in general. He touched the lives of millions and his messages continue to resonate with me. In his commencement speech at Dartmouth he said, “You never have to do anything extraordinary to be special.” This is something I think about often. It reminds that what is important in life is loving, acknowledging and recognizing those who have loved you and supported you, and sharing this same love with others in your life.

The Industry holds a meeting in the PAF
Aleesa serves as the vice president of The Industry, an entertainment and media studies club. (Photo:submitted)
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I’m involved with The Georgia Way, an organization that helps athletes develop their leadership skills both in sports and life in general. A great piece of advice they shared with me is that leadership is all about energy. The energy you bring onto the track, on a film set, in a meeting, and so on has the ability to uplift those around you or bring them down. I believe a strong leader believes and invests in their team.

What are you passionate about?

Spending quality time with my cat and dog. Shoutout Luke and Bobbi.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Something most people don’t know about me is that I am an identical twin. My sister is a superstar finance and entertainment and media studies major, and also my best friend. We share our love for film together and hope to eventually become producing partners. We have even founded our own production company in Athens and are currently producing a feature film!

twin sisters pose on red carpet
Aleesa (right) and her twin sister Cate organized the first Backlight Student Film Festival, which took place in April of 2022.  (Photo:submitted)
What has been your biggest accomplishment in the past year?

My proudest accomplishment this year was co-founding the Backlight Student Film Festival. It started out simply as an idea to unite and showcase filmmakers’ work, but it quickly grew into so much more. It truly took a village to make this all happen, and it was so rewarding to see so many Grady and UGA students working together to celebrate one another.

twin sisters pose on red carpet
Aleesa is currently interning for the Producers Guild of America. (Photo:submitted)
What do you plan to do after graduation?

The one thing I know for certain after graduation is that I will return to the Cannes Film Festival. For the two weeks of the festival, I aim to work with either an agency or production company before returning to the United States. After that, my future is less certain. I will then either make the move across the country to Los Angeles to work for a studio or agency, or I will continue to grow my network here in Atlanta by working on film sets and developing content. Either way, I am certain Grady College has prepared me for my future career as a film producer.

Where’s your favorite place on campus and why?

One of my favorite places to meet on campus is the new MFA room located on the first floor of Grady, or the “the fishbowl” as we like to call it. The fishbowl is where I run into all my peers before class. We catch up, share what we are watching, what we are working on and so on. It lightens my day seeing them all and demonstrates what a supportive community the EMST program is.

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Sherry Liang

Why did you choose Grady and your course of study?

The only class I enjoyed in high school was newspaper, so I came into college as an intended-journalism major. I joined The Red & Black within my first month and became an editor the following semester. But I already felt stagnant, which is not a feeling you want as a freshman, so I sought a creative outlet with EMST. I wish I could reassure freshman me that both journalism and EMST would welcome (and continue to welcome) me with open arms — that pursuing both paths would change my life — but I think she already knew.

What are you passionate about?

A lot, sometimes too much. I’m passionate about independent student journalism and innovating the newsroom’s status quo. I’m passionate about people and our emotions — the way we interact and react — and finding the universal in the personal. The entertainment and journalism I grew up with rarely told the stories of my community. I never saw myself in the media industry, so I hope I can play my part in changing that for future generations.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

I hope I’ll remember the everyday moments like mingling with friends between classes, group exercises in cinematography, staying up until 2 a.m. finishing a script, sheltering from a tornado in one of the many windowless first floor classrooms, busting a kneecap open after class (unrelated to the tornado), table reads in Writers’ Room or watching film premieres at Ciné and University 16 … the list goes on. 

I also think back to when we planted seeds for ideas that would shape my college experience — like brainstorming web series concepts in Writers’ Room, pitching an AAJA chapter at UGA to Dr. Lough, the first conversations about the Backlight Student Film Festival, or the beginnings of what would become The Red & Black’s DEI Committee.

Liang served as the editor-in-chief of The Red & Black in spring 2021 (Photo: Taylor Gerlach).
What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

The students, by all means. From day one, I’ve been inspired by everyone’s dedication to each other’s work at The Red & Black, The Industry, in classrooms and on the screen. Members of Writers’ Room, for example, have exceeded every conceivable expectation of mine when I restructured the club. From first-time screenwriters to EMST veterans, everyone’s bonded over these characters and scripts that we’ve created. I’m also beyond impressed by students on the Selection Committee for the Backlight Student Film Festival, who have spent nearly 10 hours across three weeks watching and judging film submissions. This level of commitment and collaboration is a trademark of the students at this college.

As I round out my senior year, I feel like I’ve finally found my place with my people. Graduating and leaving UGA feels bittersweet and pre-nostalgic, but I am mostly relieved that given the volatility of the universe and its infinite possibilities, we all found ourselves here, together, if only for a moment. (Existential thoughts courtesy of Everything, Everywhere All at Once.)

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

Directing my first short film this semester was one of the most surreal moments of my college career. I’ve written a few scripts, so that part of the process was familiar. But as I watched actors bring the characters I created to life, heard people laugh at these jokes I wrote from my bed at 3 a.m., and witnessed an entire crew devote their many precious hours to execute my story — I felt a type of unbridled joy and gratitude that I had never experienced in a collaborative environment. I’ll chase that feeling and those people for as long as I create. 

(Bonus full-circle moment: The film is about student journalism!)

What are you planning to do after graduation?

Lots of soul-searching, a bit of traveling, and hopefully some revelatory experiences — but first, the Cannes Film Festival.

A behind the scenes look at Liang’s short film directorial debut (Photo: Jaida Green).
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor, mentor or family member?

Coming in as a beginner, I was intimidated by EMST before even setting foot in a classroom. But over the last two years, I’ve never had a professor who expected us to know everything. Professor Evans taught my first screenwriting class, and from day one, he emphasized improvement above all else. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect, it might never be, but you just have to do and improve. I’ve always had some level of performance anxiety, and reminding myself of that philosophy has been liberating. As a chronic procrastinating perfectionist, it’s what motivated me 24 hours before the deadline to write my first TV pilot that became a BEA Festival finalist. It wasn’t a perfect script — one judge’s comments made that very clear — but that’s one script (and an award) more than I had before I started. 

Who is your professional hero?

I have so many. UGA alumnae Kendall Trammell, Elaine Reyes, Samira Jafari, Alex Laughlin and Amanda Mull are just a handful of the journalists who inspire me. Editors at CNN and The Red & Black have shaped my confidence and voice as a journalist. The writer-director in me also looks up to the power-duo of Lulu Wang and Barry Jenkins (who share a dog-child with a hyphenated last name — talk about life goals). 

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I talk to myself a lot, entire conversations. Sometimes I’ll mute my podcast in the car just to hear myself talk … to myself. Most of these answers came from me talking to myself. 

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

My body is actually solar-powered. Give me some sun, a few trees, maybe a sprinkling of fall foliage or spring flowers, and I’m there. I frequent Herty Field or the MLC stone benches for napping, and outside the PAF for a solid four-legged table to do some work. You can also find me gazing off into the sunset at Lake Herrick to inspire an aforementioned revelatory experience … been doing a lot of that lately.

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Cate de Castro

What or who has had the biggest impact on your life during your time at UGA?

From the start  of my time at UGA, I was surprised at how many students would go out of their way to help me. In every organization I joined there was always someone who was willing and excited to see me succeed. These individuals inspired me every day through their servant leadership. They reminded me just how important it is to take the time to reflect on those who made an impact in my life. I think at times it’s easy to take for granted the small things people do that make such an impact in other people’s lives. Little things like taking the time to read over a script or giving professional advice really helped to give me confidence and encouragement. I hope to always pay forward the kindness and support shown to me by my peers.

Who is your professional hero?

As an aspiring producer, I really admire Kevin Feige and his ability to establish a longstanding franchise. What stands out the most for me is his ability to work creatively across numerous projects and manage them in a way that enhances each other. I also respect his clear long-term ambitions for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how they further a larger story without diminishing individual films.

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

To me, tenacity means pursuing your dreams with determination and perseverance. It means knowing what you want in life and having the courage and drive to reach for it.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

One of my favorite memories from Grady has been coordinating the speed networking event for the Entertainment and Media Studies club, The Industry. It reminded me so much of my freshman year when I was first trying to find my place on campus. The Industry really helped to connect me on campus and get my foot in the door professionally. It surrounded me with other passionate storytellers who went out of their way to encourage and help me develop my passions. Coming back this year, reflecting on how much I’ve grown, and seeing all of the new freshmen who are now in my shoes was extremely rewarding and heartwarming. The Industry has been extremely instrumental during my time at UGA, and as president this year, it means a great deal to me to have so many new and familiar EMST students looking to get involved and find their home on campus.

What are you passionate about?

Filmmaking and storytelling have always played an influential role in my life and have shaped me into the person I am today. There is such power in film to experience the world through someone else, and I am constantly moved by stories’ abilities to shape our identities and perceptions. For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of film is its ability to capture the human experience and express it in a form that can be shared around the world, making us feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

What is your favorite app or social media channel and why?

YouTube is my favorite social media channel. It’s a really great way for creatives to share their work and engage with viewers. It also provides opportunities to learn new skills — it helped me so much when starting photography and filmmaking. I am constantly inspired by everyone’s work and learning new things every day.

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

This summer, I had the opportunity to work for Manalive Media Group, a startup production company, and found myself frequently pulling from the skills and knowledge I gained from Grady. As an entrepreneurism intern, I managed the Guest Speaker Program, which provided a space for relationship building and constructive conversations with leaders from the worlds of business, finance, media entertainment, government, academia and nonprofit. On the creative side, I collaborated with the film development team to conduct script coverage, develop lookbooks for projects and engage in creative discussions. 

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

This year I was accepted into UGA’s Blue Key Honor Society, which recognizes students for their scholarship, leadership and service. It was extremely heartwarming to know that I had made a positive impact on my professors, peers and community. My professors and peers have played such a crucial role in developing my passions and professional goals. I am extremely grateful for all that they have invested in me and hope to always continue learning and growing to be the best version of myself.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I love horseback riding and have been riding since I was four years old! I haven’t been able to keep up with it as much in college, but in high school I worked three jobs so I could keep riding because I loved it so much.

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

For the past two years I have spent at Grady, Studio 100 has been a hub for creativity, collaboration and innovation. It has served as a meeting place for me to engage with industry professionals and my peers, fostering a culture of encouragement and servant leadership. To me, Studio 100 represents all the best UGA has to offer and has been the heart of my time at UGA. It demonstrates the passion, commitment and dedication the students and faculty have for their community.

#ProfilesOfTenacity: Derek Walker

Why did you choose Grady and your course of study?

I wanted to study filmmaking in college, so Grady’s Entertainment and Media Studies program was the perfect match. I was excited that I would get to study writing, directing, editing, cinematography and even a little about the industry itself.

What has been your proudest moment in the past year?

I’m proud that despite the pandemic, I took lots of opportunities to improve my craft and be creative. I worked on even more films and videos for myself and others than even outside of a COVID year.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m a huge Pokemon fan! It’s the only video game franchise I’ve consistently played since 2008.

What does the word “tenacity” mean to you?

Tenacity to me means the constant pursuit of a goal or improvement. With each project I complete, I look for ways that I can do the job better going forward. I make note of the things I learn and find ways to apply it in the future.

What is your most memorable Grady experience?

Going to the Virtual Reality lab was one of my most memorable Grady experiences. Fruit Ninja is a lot more exciting when it actually feels like you are swinging the swords and you can do that with VR. VR enhances gameplay and visual experiences in some exciting and interesting ways. It has so much potential that I can’t wait to see realized.

Who is your professional hero?

I admire Donald Glover and how he operates in music, television and comedy. He does not limit himself to one creative avenue.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from an instructor/mentor/family member?

This is not a piece of advice that I’ve gotten from one particular source, but through conversations with people and my own personal experience. I learned you will not be “you” forever. We constantly change as people and grow, hopefully for the better. I had a pessimistic feeling that if I didn’t already have a natural affinity for something by now, I would never be good at it. I think that mindset was born from a misguided thought that I wouldn’t continue to develop, learn and improve after a certain age. Yes, there are some goals that will be out of reach forever, but we have the potential to accomplish something great even if we don’t show signs of it when we want to.

What are you planning to do after graduating? What is your dream job?

I would like to create and show run an original fictional series on television or produce feature films. How exactly I will mark out those paths post-graduation is a mystery to me. Right out of college, I’m looking to work in post-production as a video editor or become a writer’s assistant.

What has been the hardest part about adjusting to COVID-19 in your life as a student and future professional?

Beyond the constant dread of living in a pandemic, it feels like my time in college is passing by too quickly and I’m not experiencing it enough. Spending time with people is a lot less spontaneous. There are fewer social events to be a part of and fewer memories to make. I’m going to be graduating soon and it feels like I barely spent any time with my cohort. The prospect that I will never make up this lost time is scary to me. On top of that, how the industry and job opportunities are going to look post COVID-19 is something I don’t want to even think about.

What is your favorite app or social media channel?

My favorite social channel is YouTube. The platform is full of so many creative people that I cannot help but be inspired.

Where is your favorite place on campus?

Indoors, it’s the Tate Student Center. If I’m outside, I like the green spaces on North Campus.

Grady students adapt EMST club to handle COVID-19 changes

When The Industry was created in the fall of 2018, then-freshmen Ashton Bruce and Emily Minnick had no idea they’d be running the club in the middle of a pandemic during the last semester of their college career. 

The Industry provides a variety of opportunities for students to connect with each other as well as recent alumni in the entertainment industry. Due to the coronavirus, Bruce and Minnick had to adapt, moving club meetings on Zoom and complying with department standards to limit student production crews. 

Bruce is a third-year from Dawsonville, and Minnick is a fourth-year from Canton. Both will be graduating this spring.

Students in The Industry tend to work with those within their COVID-19 bubble, club co-presidents said. (Photo: Aleesa de Castro)

The club works to send out cast and crew calls for student film productions and conducts a small writers room, where a handful of students peer edit scripts and work with Professor Matthew Evans to find their screenwriting voice. They also host screenings of student work and Q&A events and panels with industry professionals.

Despite the challenges, both Bruce and Minnick said there’s been a silver lining for their club in the middle of the pandemic. They’ve heard from new speakers and actively engaged with new club members.

“I think our numbers have done really well to sustain considering that we’ve gone entirely virtual,” Bruce said. “I’m really happy with how we’ve grown through the pandemic.”

The Zoom meetings have included more appearances from industry professionals outside of Atlanta, like Los Angeles and New York City. Post production and writer’s rooms for television are based in Los Angeles, Minnick said, so students who are interested in those specific areas can understand the different career possibilities on each coast.

“I think it gives people who are interested in the industry but don’t know where exactly they want to settle a better insight to make decisions for their future,” Bruce said.

The remote workforce has expanded within the entertainment industry due to COVID-19, but upcoming graduates are nervous for their future careers. While Bruce and Minnick admitted that’s always been a pre-pandemic reality, they feel just as prepared to graduate in part because of the emphasis the EMST department has placed on safe productions that mirror the industry itself.

Some of the new logistics to produce student films include downsizing crews and placing an emphasis on working with others near your bubble who follow COVID-19 safety precautions.  

The pandemic has also changed how entertainment and media studies students tell their stories. Minnick explained scenes between characters have become less intimate to allow for social distancing, and typical themes cover isolation and technology. When the pandemic hit, Bruce and Minnick had just begun their second semester in the major, which means they still don’t know the reality of producing without these guidelines.

The Industry club members gather for a photo after working on “Trust the Process,” another student-produced film. Photo courtesy of Aleesa de Castro.

They hope the changes they made because of the pandemic will help make the club more accessible in the future to students who wouldn’t have been able to attend meetings previously. Minnick said having online meetings and presentations would have helped her get involved earlier.

“There was a lot of hesitation, being like a first-generation college student, not being familiar with the film industry at all and also being a woman in film,” Minnick said. “I think I felt very scared to put myself out there and just like go for it. So you know, very much encouraging people to get in on it as soon as they can and not being afraid.”

#GradyGrit: Meet Kalley Huddleston

Editor’s Note: #GradyGrit is a series of profiles of Grady College students who show determination, leadership and outreach to the community. Visit our #GradyGrit webpage for additional profiles.

What does having “Grady Grit” mean to you?

Being a Grady Grit means the WORLD to me. I have dyslexia so school has always been a struggle for me so it is just such an honor seeing all my hard work pay off. It is just another reminder that if you keep your eye on the prize you can touch the sky!

What is the best part about being an EMST major?

The best part about being an EMST major is the friendships! I am a transfer student to UGA, so I never really got to meet my “crew” by living in the freshman dorms, eating at the dining halls, having the freshman odyssey class, ect. But as an EMST major I met 60+ amazing, wonderfully talented, smart, caring and fun individuals right away. You grow so close to the people in your cohort and that is something I will forever be grateful for. 

What is the hardest part about being an EMST major?

The hardest part about being an EMST major is not comparing yourself to others. EMST is great because you are always being encouraged to push yourself, but it is hard not to discouraged by people saying, “Well I have already made five short films that have won contests and film festivals. What have you done?!” You have to keep reminding yourself that this is school and we are all here for one reason: to learn! So there really is no point in talking about what you have done it is all about what you will do!

How do you think Grady celebrates diversity?

Grady is always celebrating diversity by allowing the students to share their stories. Whether it is a film, journalism, artwork, makeup, tattoos, piercings, music, costumes, ect, there is no limit! I also really appreciate the women in Grady. The Women In Media Club, the women who are professors and have their doctorate, they are a strong, fearless bunch and they inspire me every day. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I see myself working at a production company writing for television or movies! I would hope to be in a writer’s room at that point and get to collaborate and write stories with amazing people every day. I would be happy living in either Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta with a cat.

How did you get involved with creating The Industry? What have you learned from it?

I came up with the idea of creating The Industry after my Intro to Productions class. I did audio for our final project and it was great, I totally loved it, but I felt that I had become “the sound girl”. I love working with sound and I want to continue to do so in the future, but I wanted to learn how to direct, write and produce. It is hard getting your hands on a new job when you don’t have any past experiences, so I wanted to create a safe space for students to try new things with no consequences. At The Industry, there is no limit on what you can and cannot do. 

From creating The Industry, I have learned that teamwork is everything. Having a team of people you can trust and work well with is everything. I am so thankful to have such a wonderful team (Julian Hagins, Gillian Revoir, Anne Neenan, Trey Leonar, Rachel Gomez and our advisor Dr. Hamilton) to help me every step of the way. Without them, The Industry would not be where it is today. I’ve also learned it is important to stay organized and stick to your goals! It is easy to get sidetracked with your ambitions and long term goals, but you need to focus on the short goals as well because these short goals will eventually get you to your long term goals.

How did you get started with your baking business and what is it like to run it?

I started baking in high school when I became obsessed with watching The Food Network. I am entirely self-taught which has been so fun because there are no rules! Once I started getting the hang of baking, I reached out to friends and family to see if they wanted me to bake for any parties or events and that is how my little home baking business got started! I made a website and business cards so I guess you could say I’m pretty official (haha). It is still very small but one day I hope to open my own bakery!

Besides film, Huddleston’s other passion includes baking. Follow her bakery account on Instagram, @kalley_konfections.

What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to write for an animated TV series or movie. I love cartoons and animation because there is absolutely no limit. If you want to have a character who has three heads and works at a McDonalds you can do that because cartoons don’t have to make sense! That is what makes cartoons so beautiful and fun.

Favorite social media outlet?

My favorite social media outlet is Twitter because people are actually funny and raw. On Instagram and Snapchat people try too hard to be perfect, but Twitter is where you can let it alllll out.

Any advice for readers?

If I have any “last words” I just want to let kids with learning disabilities know that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! Do not let anyone stop you including yourself. Just keep pushing you can do this!

Grady students create first ever EMST club

After just a few years of offering an Entertainment and Media Studies Department, Grady College finally has an EMST club outside the classroom.  

Four students — Julian Hagins, Anne Neenan, Trey Leonard and Kalley Huddleston— helped this highly sought-after club come to life. 

The Industry, the first EMST Grady-represented club, has already seen a large turnout of more than 150 students, beginning meetings just a few weeks ago. 

“There were so many people signed up that we realized there was a hole in [EMST] organizations,” Neenan said. 

The Industry is a hands-on experience outside the classroom, offering students, both within and outside Grady, skills involved in the production, development and writing aspects of entertainment.  

“I don’t believe in spoon-feeding people, but if I have the ability to make the access easier, I’m all about making the access easier,” Hagins said. 

Members can create content, which is helpful for building a portfolio when applying to graduate schools or jobs, Hagins said.  

“It’s an outlet for them to collaborate and work with other individuals, that way they can start to build their own content and prepare themselves for a future once they graduate,” Hagins said. 

The amount of interest in the club came as a shock to the founders, but it was a pleasant surprise. To offer the most out of the club, there will be meetings four days a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays for those interested in the writing side of film and Thursdays for those interested in the production side of film. 

Taylor Potter, a junior EMST major who joined The Industry, is a part of both the Production Group and the Writer’s Workroom.  

“It’s extremely beneficial to have a club like The Industry at Grady because it helps aspiring writers and filmmakers find their footing before setting off into the ‘real world’ to get a job,” Potter said. “By being a member of The Industry, we have the ability to test out different crew positions and writing styles to discover in a nonclass environment what we would like to do within the entertainment and media industries once we graduate.” 

Hayden Schwartz, a sophomore EMST major, joined after a friend recommended it to him. 

“From the first meeting, I immediately understood that this was no average club,” Schwartz said. “The industry is one of the most educational and serious clubs I have ever been a part of.”