Feature Stories


Daily Bruin profile of directing alumna Alethea Avramis

Greek-American filmmaker builds bridges between cultures

Bruin photo by Valeria Castillo-Mendoza

Posted on January 23rd 2013 in Announcement

TFT alumna Alethea Avramis ’07, MFA ’12, whose crowd-funded thesis film “The Foreigner” traveled to Cannes and won a First Place grant at the Caucus Foundation Awards last year, was the subject of a thoughtful profile by reporter Jenna Maffucci in “The Daily Bruin” on January 23rd.

“I think that there’s something about Greek people,” Avramis says, “but also about Greek storytellers over time, that understands human nature in a way you don’t find in other places and in other cultures. I want to make films that reflect that.”

…as a history undergraduate at UCLA, her passion for film began to emerge as she often found herself walking the halls of Melnitz and developing a taste for a connection between Greek and American film, largely due to the influence of her dual-citizenship.

As an undergraduate senior, Avramis presented a thesis about the massacre at Kalavryta in 1943, later receiving the Carey McWilliams Award for Best Honors Thesis. This led to the making of her first film in 2006, “The Last Widow,” which centered around a Kalavryta massacre survivor. Avramis shot the documentary in Greece, opening up her interests in making future films in her ancestral country.

“I’ve always been drawn to that raw emotion that Greek people don’t shy away from,” Avramis said. “I love capturing the way that plays out, I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

In 2011, Avramis filmed “The Foreigner,” continuing to present a rare perspective by tying her American filmmaking to her Greek background. The light comedy, shot in Mani, Greece, focuses on a town that is at risk of losing their status because of a population shortage. When a traveling foreigner accidentally comes across the area, the mayor and other characters strive to keep him there for the sake of the town.

“When I made ‘The Foreigner,’ as an American director I was an outsider to the people I was working with; I was the foreigner,” Avramis said. “That was interesting for the film because in a way it gave it an outsider’s perspective.”

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David. C. Copley 1952–2012

The David C. Copley Center for The Study of Costume Design Mourns the loss of its Founding patron

Posted on November 19th 2012 in Obituary

The communities of TFT and the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design are grieving the loss of their beloved friend and benefactor David C. Copley. He passed away last week near his home in La Jolla.

The Copley Center at TFT exists due to Copley’s substantial endowment and was made possible by his extraordinary vision and generosity. He established the center in 2008 with a $6 million landmark gift and was one of the School’s most heartfelt and committed patrons, as well as a prized member of The UCLA Foundation Governors.

“The loss of a personal friend as well as a supporter of the arts is devastating. David was a genuine enthusiast for the field of costume design and a proponent for its key collaborative role in motion picture storytelling,” said Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis MFA ’75. An Academy Award nominated costume designer, Landis MFA is the founding director of the Copley Center, occupying the David C. Copley Chair for the Study of Costume Design.

“David Copley’s vision, generosity and kindness have been beyond all measure. We feel so much gratitude for having the privilege of knowing such a remarkable and special man. All of us at TFT mourn the loss of our beloved friend, David. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and close friends at this difficult time. We will keep David’s fine and good spirit close to our hearts always,” said Teri Schwartz, Dean of the School.

Copley’s gift allowed the center to be the first of its kind in the world. In 2012, TFT hosted its annual “Sketch to Screen” event inviting the year’s Costume Designers Oscar®-nominees Sandy Powell, Mark Bridges and Lisy Christl for an in-depth exclusive panel discussion moderated by Landis. The Copley Center continually brings in leading professionals as visiting faculty, provides scholarships and sponsors events and award shows. In 2010, The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design partnered with Swarovski to host the first Creative Crystal Workshop for its students.

An enthusiastic fan of popular culture as well as fine art, he created the David C. Copley Prize for Most Innovative Costume at San Diego Comic Con. He genuinely enjoyed attending the convention each year with Landis to hand out the prestigious award. A noted patron of the arts, Copley also financed Broadway musicals and art projects by the installation artist Christo, and generously supported the theater program at UC San Diego.

Copley was the owner and publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune until it sold in 2009. Under Copley’s leadership, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for exposing the corruption of Congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham.

David C. Copley was a true philanthropist, turning his passions into extraordinary opportunities. He was socially progressive and sought to uphold his family’s legacy with his hard work and dedication to the arts. The TFT community will miss him enormously.

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Matt Groening Fellowship screens second batch of animated gems

“Simpsons” creator, Dean Schwartz and Associate Dean Barbara Boyle applaud students

stills from 2012 Groening Fellowship films

Posted on November 16th 2012 in Announcement

In 2011, the first year of The Matt Groening Fellowship, the multi-Emmy®-winning creator of “The Simpsons,” selected and generously funded six films by TFT animation students, on themes of social responsibility.

It was Associate Dean Barbara Boyle, then Chair of the School’s Department of Film Television and Digital Media, who had pursued Groening to fund the first year of the Fellowship — and it was the sheer excellence of that first batch of films that convinced him to continue his support.

This year Groening underwrote eleven films, and, as Boyle explained on November 2, to a large audience of students, alumni, and faculty assembled at the Bridges Theater, this was purely because he was so impressed with all of the eleven proposals the department submitted to him.

Groening expressed his delight with all of this year’s films, from their innovative concepts to their layered, professional-quality sound design. He had fully intended, he said, to take notes on all eleven, but after writing the single word “sweet” on his notepad during the first, he became so absorbed in the experience that he never wrote another line.

Inarguably one of the most influential figures in modern animation, Groening graciously credited award-winning “Simpsons” directors such as TFT Animation Workshop alums David Silverman ’79, MFA ’83, Mike B. Anderson MFA ’90 and Professor Chuck Sheetz ’83, all of whom attended the screening, for their contributions to his success.

Groening has won twelve Primetime Emmy® Awards, ten for “The Simpsons” and two for “Futurama,” as well as the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award and a British Comedy Award. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.

Groening has also become one the TFT Animation Workshop’s most munificent benefactors, with a major gift in 2011 that created The Matt Groening Chair in Animation, with benefits that include bringing visiting master artists from the field to teach classes in the Workshop.


Left to Right, Top Row: Celia Mercer, Professor, Head, Animation Workshop; Vivian Lee MFA 12; Po Chou Chi MFA ’12; Danielle Heitmuller, Alex Wong, Jing Wong and Yangzi She, first year students.

Second Row: “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening; Arem Kim, second-year student; Rami Kim, first-year student; Jessica Hokanson, thesis student.

Bottom Row: Heng Zhang, second year student; Ariel Goldberg MFA ’12; TFT alumnus Chuck Sheetz ’83, Professor, Vice-Chair Undergraduate Studies, Emmy©-winning “Simpsons” director.

Photo by Juan Tallo

Film Stills, Top to Bottom:

“Recover” (Po Chou Chi)

Terror in a Three-Piece Suit” (Ariel Goldberg)

“The Adventures of Bugsy McKay” (Jessica Hokanson)

“Rainy Day Ducks” (Danielle M. Heitmuller)

“Today’s Headline” (Arem Kim)

“Rietoki” (Rami Kim)

“Baseball Boogie” (Vivian Lee)

“To the Fairest” (Yangzi She)

“Family” (Alex Wong)

“The Secret of the Wardrobe” (Jing Wong)

“The Last Snowcap” (Heng Zhang)

Groening Fellowship Students 2012

  • Po Chou Chi MFA ’13
  • Ariel Goldberg ’07, MFA ’12
  • Jessica Hokanson MFA ’13
  • Danielle M. Heitmuller MFA ’13
  • Arem Kim MFA ’13
  • Rami Kim MFA ’13
  • Vivian Lee MFA ’12
  • Yangzi She MFA ’13
  • Alex Wong MFA ’14
  • Jing Wong
  • Zeng Zhang

Groening Fellowship Students 2011

  • Alexis Block MFA ’11
  • Debra Chow MFA ’12
  • Chris Anderson & Ariel Goldberg ’07, MFA ’12
  • Mary Lai MFA ’10
  • Sijia Luo MFA ’10
  • Erick Oh MFA ’10


Alumnus Wins Best Animation Award at The Marbella Film Festival in Spain

Mark Chavez Winning Best Animation Award at the 2012 Marbella Film Festival in Spain

Posted on November 1st 2012 in Accolade

Alumnus Mark Chavez MFA ’03 won the Best Animation award for his film “Vengeance + Vengeance” at the Marbella Film Festival, a five-day festival of more than 100 films, shorts and documentaries at The Andalucia Plaza Hotel in Puerto Banus, Spain.

The film is set in a science-fiction world where technology has leveraged politics and the military is controlled by corporations. It’s a place where only the cleverest or the most brutal survive. The protagonist, Lily, is an athletic, intelligent research scientist whose nanotechnology specialization and its use in biomimetics and organic synthesis is employed by the Resnick Corporation.

She’s discarded in a hostile wasteland where the results of diabolical genetic engineering have produced a distorted population of mutants. Who has put her there and why? Using intelligence and raw violence to overcome her adversaries Lily finds that all is not as it appears and that her challenges are more substantial than she thought.

Description From the Filmmaker Authored in a game engine, designed in three different styles, the characterization morphs between three design targets. The standard style targets naturalistic proportions and colours, cute style targets cartoon rounded shapes & colourful soft tones and extreme attempts more film-noir style with exaggerated though human proportions, detailed textures and an overall more contrasting tonal treatment. This design style’s purpose is to draw empathy from the audience, making the character more aggressive in style or child-like and vulnerable in appearance.

The work is created in a game engine and executed interactively by blending the three design styles in a director driven authoring system. What is presented is the final outcome of the work where the design of the characters changes in volume and color tone to manipulate the viewer’s experience.

A contemporary adaptation of Richard Stark’s “The Hunter” (previously adapted with Lee Marvin as “Point Blank” and with Mel Gibson as “Payback”) places an Asian female in the role of Parker. Set in a dystopian future where science has become the only key to domination and those who control it the rulers.

About the Filmmaker: Mark Chavez is an animation industry professional that has joined academia to experiment with emergent (hybrid) animation technologies. His professional experience includes work at major studios in interactive medias, broadcast television, and console games and feature films including Dreamworks Feature Animation. He has extensive experience in feature animation and live action visual effects, having worked on films including “Daredevil,” “X2,” “Elf,” Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” and more.

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Alumnus John Rando takes “A Christmas Story” to Broadway

Musical based on Jean Shepherd Classic Opens in November

Ralphie's bunny ears

TFT Theater alumnus John Rando MFA ’88, Tony and Outer Circle Critic’s Award-winning director of “Urinetown,” “The Wedding Singer” and Neil Simon’s “The Dinner Party” is the director of a musical theater adaptation of “A Christmas Story,” the classic 1983 Bob Clark film, based on the novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by humorist Jean Shepherd.

Actor Peter Billingsly, who at age 12 portrayed the film’s protagonist, Ralphie, is one of the producers of the stage version. Actor Dan Luria, best known as the father on the TV show “The Wonder Years,” portrays author-narrator Shepherd.

Set in the 1950s, an era that is portrayed with barbed humor as well as nostalgia, the film has become a Holiday perennial on video with its story of a Ralphie’s quest for the ultimate Christmas present, an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle.

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VIDEO: Markevicius on his stirring documentary “The Other Dream Team”

Passion-project account of Lithuania’s 1992 Olympic hoops victory over former Soviet oppressors

UPDATE: The Prodcers Guild of America announced November 30 that “The Other Dream Team” has been nominated for a 2012 PGA Documentary Award. Read more.

A graduate of Cal Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and of the UCLA Producer’s Program, Marius Markevicius MFA ’02 went to the Sundance Film Festival two years in a row, representing distinguished indie films he had produced for writer-director Drake Doremus, “Douchebag” (2010) and “Like Crazy” (2011).

Both pictures were audience favorites in Park City, and “Like Crazy” came away with two of the festival’s top awards, a Grand Jury Prize for director Doremus and a Special Jury prize for actor Felicity Jones.

And all through this busy three-year period, Markevicius was also at work on a passion project documentary, the critically acclaimed audience favorite “The Other Dream Team,” serving as the film’s co-writer, producer, director and off-camera interviewer. That made his third consecutive year with a film at Sundance a more personal triumph.

The showdown match Barcelona between the ex-Soviets and the first Lithuanian Olympic team in modern memory to compete under its own flag, when bitter memories of oppression were still fresh, stirred Markevicius when he watched it at age 16, as part of Los Angeles’ large and patriotic Lithuanian community.

The Lithuanian language classes Markevicius resisted when he was growing up turned out to be a godsend later on, when he interviewed his still-imposing hoops heroes in their native language.

The Barcelona Olympics also saw the first integrated team in several generations fielded by newly liberated South Africa, with the nations’ president, Nelson Mandela, in attendance. One description offered in the film reflects what people who were there surely felt, that this was “a cosmic turning point of history.”

We spoke to Markevicius in October, 2012, when “The Other Dream Team” was still in the process of rolling out to movie theaters across the country.


Why basketball is the number-one sport in Lithuania

Markevicius’ personal recollections of the 1992 Olympics

The long road to making “Dream” a reality

The moving political backstory of “The Other Dream Team”

How a TFT education boosted Marius’ career

PHOTO: Marius Markevicius, left, with Lithuanian basketball legend Sarunas Marciulionis (from basketnews.lt).

VIDEOGRAPHER: Juan Tallo/Lokro Productions

EDITOR: Jillian Crab

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“The Other Dream Team” homepage

Radio interview with Marius Markevicius


Deborah Landis’ Triumphant Costume Exhibit at London’s V&A

Popular and Critical smash “Hollywood Costume” continues through January 2013

The glorious exhibit “Hollywood Costume,” currently featured at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and lauded by critics, is a crowning achievement for TFT Professor Deborah Landis, Oscar©-nominated costume designer and the founding Director of the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design.

The show occupies three large galleries at the museum and presents over 100 iconic movie costumes in innovative multi-media installations.

“This major new exhibition makes the case for costume as a crucial and neglected part of cinema,” says London’s “Guardian” newspaper in its rave review. “From Charlie Chaplin as the bowler-hatted Tramp to Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher in last year’s ‘The Iron Lady,’ costume is such an integral part of film character that we sometimes don’t notice it is there. All we see is the person being evoked. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the exhibition’s curator, argues that when film costume really works, it is ‘not so much a change of clothes as a change of skin.'”

TFT Dean Teri Schwartz, who attended the show’s premiere black-tie gala during a recent trip to London, calls “Hollywood Costume” “as complete a show as one will ever see. It is a triumphant celebration of the integral role played by costume design in great cinematic storytelling. Deborah also has single-handedly reinvented what a museum show can be. She and the show are truly magnificent and I couldn’t be prouder for her remarkable achievement.”

In her introduction to the exhibit Landis asserts that “Costume designers are storytellers, historians, social commentators and anthropologists. Movies are about people, and costume design plays a pivotal role in bringing these people to life. ‘Hollywood Costume’ illuminates the costume designer’s process in the creation of character from script to screen including the changing social and technological context in which they have worked over the last century.”

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McDonald wins SMPTE’s Kodak Educational Award for 2012

FTVDM Chair honored at Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers conference October 23-25

William McDonald Wins SMPTE/Kodak Award

The 2012 Kodak Educational Award will be presented to TFT Professor and FTVDM Chair William McDonald at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineer’s (SMPTE) Honors and Awards Ceremony during the SMPTE 2012 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Hollywood. McDonald, a cinematographer and filmmaker himself, is being recognized for his dedication to educate the next generation of filmmakers in the art and craft of cinematography throughout his professional career. The presentation takes place on October 25 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.

“I take pride in the art and craft of what I do and teach,” says McDonald. “It is tremendously important to the field of cinematography that new filmmakers are fully aware of the artists who came before them, and the attention they gave to the craft of cinematography when shooting with film. New filmmakers must be taught, and must adhere completely, to all the principles of cinematography regardless of the tools being used. To do so ultimately strengthens the very foundation of what we do as filmmakers.”

As Chair of the of the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at TFT, McDonald has advocated for the best production and post-production resources for the college’s film students. He tirelessly negotiates services and alliances with companies and organizations in the industry to assist the next generation of storytellers as they learn how to create and succeed in the entertainment business. Additionally, McDonald has fostered the UCLA Cinematographer in Residence Program, also sponsored by Kodak, where an award-winning professional cinematographer teaches a spring course and hosts movie screenings followed by discussions.

“McDonald’s accomplishments are truly admirable and his efforts deserve to be recognized,” says Kim Snyder, president of Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging Division. “The next generation of filmmakers are benefitting greatly from his ongoing dedication to both the aesthetic and technical principles of cinematography.

SMPTE 2012 is the premier annual event for motion-imaging professionals in the media, entertainment, communications, and technology industries. As an accredited industry standards-setting body, The Society is also the industry’s leading nonprofit association providing technology education and information to the motion imaging industry.

Kodak introduced its worldwide film school program in 1991. Through the years, the program has grown to include a wide range of initiatives to help both students and educators enrich the development of their skills in the art and craft of filmmaking.

For more information, visit www.kodak.com/go/education.

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McDonald receives SMPTE’s prestigious 2012 Kodak Educational Award

Society honors incoming FTVDM chair for his “dedication to student filmmakers”

Incoming FTVDM Chair Bill McDonald will receive the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers’ (SMPTE) prestigious 2012 Kodak Educational Award, which recognizes “outstanding contributions in new or unique educational programs utilizing the technologies of film in motion picture, television, high-speed and instrumentation photography, or other photographic sciences.”

According to the official award citation, McDonald is being recognized

“for his dedication to student filmmakers, striving to take advantage of the best of film and digital technologies. During his tenure at UCLA, McDonald has advocated for affordable access to the best production and post-production resources for film students, negotiating services with Technicolor, Deluxe and FotoKem among others.

And he was instrumental in bringing the largest fiber-connected Final Cut Pro platform at the time to UCLA to modernize post-production teaching. McDonald has also innovated collaborative education with industry professionals through the UCLA Cinematography Residence Program where students learn directly from award winning professional cinematographers from the ASC.”

McDonald will receive the award from SMPTE President Peter Ludé at the Society’s Honors and Awards Ceremony during the SMPTE Technical Conference and Expo, October 23-25, 2012, at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.

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Ramos, Knutsen win top BAFTA Student Film Awards

Recent graduates’ films “Una Carrerita, Doctor” and “The Promised Land” were 2011 Directors Spotlight winners

UCLA alumni have taken the top two prizes in the 2012 BAFTA Los Angeles Student Film Awards. Julio Ramos MFA ’12, for “Una Carrerita, Doctor,” and Vanessa Knutsen MFA ’12, for “The Promised Land,” won first and second prizes, respectively, in the competition.

31 entrants competed for student BAFTAS this year from schools across Southern California, including AFI, USC, LMU, Chapman, CSUN, CalArts and Loyola Marymount in addition to UCLA.

“Each year, we are blown away by the quality of the films submitted, and this year was no exception,” said Neil Stiles, Chairman BAFTA Los Angeles. “The creativity and talent among this group of emerging filmmakers is outstanding, and we are proud to be recognizing their work at what has become an important annual event for BAFTA Los Angeles.”

Seven finalists were selected by a jury of BAFTA Los Angeles members. Following a screening on June 20, Voting Members in attendance were asked to name their choices for the recipient of the 2012 BAFTA Los Angeles Student Film Award.

In addition to the Award, the winning filmmaker is also given a year’s opportunity to attend BAFTA Los Angeles events, seminars and screenings for a year to support their pursuits during this important early stage of their filmmaking career.

This is the only award that BAFTA Los Angeles gives that is chosen by the same voting members who vote for the Orange British Academy Film Awards, giving one student the distinct and prestigious appelation: BAFTA Los Angeles Award Winner.

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