The Egyptian Daily | The SIU takes Hollywood by storm: the alumni are making their mark in showbiz


Southern Illinois University (SIU) mass communication graduates are making their mark in Hollywood. Every year for several decades now, a group of young graduates take a huge risk by moving into the global media hub in an attempt to break into showbiz. Many of them succeed with the help of other SIU alumni who have gone before them.

2020 grad Hayley Walsh first connected with SIU alumnus and creator Michael Cioni when he visited campus in 2017.

“I had just changed my Facebook to saying ‘moved to LA’ and he contacted me immediately,” Walsh said from his Los Angeles apartment. “He knew I was doing and I think…that definitely helped, having that connection, having met him a few times before definitely helped that.”

Walsh was hired as a production coordinator for a six-week project at Cioni’s production company.

“I was working, like, a part-time service job at the time, too,” she said. “So I was working nights and then I’d get up and work those morning hours and then I’d come back and do my shift…but that really helped me because I had to do a few shoots and do a lot of stuff.”

Soon after, Cioni’s company hired Walsh as a full-time production assistant. The company was later acquired by Adobe.

In addition to the alumni connection, Walsh also credits his SIU studies for his success in Hollywood.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t branch out and join the after-school programs and meet these people, because that’s what motivated me the most – the people I was with. I was working and the group and community aspect of learning and how to become disjointed,” Walsh said.

A graduate of the SIU in 2013, Savannah Steiner dreamed of working in the cinema.

“I drove from the SIU to Hollywood. I really left SIU with all my stuff and went straight to Hollywood,” Steiner said. “I think it was actually when I was driving in Colorado and my car couldn’t get up the mountain. I had a really old car and I felt like I’m going to break down and that I’m going to be stuck in Colorado. Then I had this feeling of… I’m free! I have this whole life ahead of me. If I get stuck in Colorado, I’ll figure out how to get to Hollywood!”

Steiner went there and started waiting tables to support herself when an elder reached out and helped her get her first job as a production assistant/office assistant for the SYFY channel.

“I’ve also done a lot of free low budget work and done art department and costume work for literally two years… and that’s my advice to everyone – talk about what you want to do because you never know who knows somebody, especially when you’re in L.A. It’s like people who don’t know you want to help you,” Steiner said.

Steiner was a waitress when a man asked her what she wanted to do.

“He says oh my friend owns this studio and he gave me her direct email,” Steiner said.

She emailed the name on the card, Kelli Bixler, owner of animation studio Bix Pix Entertainment. They had no openings at the time, but Steiner followed up every two weeks with an email until she was hired. The company hired her as an intern and eventually began giving her small assignments until she proved herself to be a dedicated animator.

While working at SIU for her film and photography degree, Steiner took an animation class led by Professor Michelle Torre.

“Taking her animation class really helped me think, ‘wow, this animation could be anything’ and she showed all these amazing movies that were very artistic and it was like ‘I can do this’ “Steiner said.

Steiner also credits other professors at SIU with helping shape her as an animation artist.

“Antonio Martinez, I took a stop-motion class with him and he…was really, really into the story and learning how to shape the story.”

Cade Bursell convinced Steiner to create an animation for his final film project.

“She kind of pushed me to do a stop-motion…crazy story,” laughs Steiner. “I didn’t know anything. I had to, like, learn everything myself. Yeah it’s not the cleanest like everything cleaned up and nice and shiny but people still love it because of the story and the roughness of the stop motion animation sometimes is why people love this medium.

Steiner’s advice to students considering a career in animation:

“Make your own movies, make your own stuff… there’s a wealth of information online, like, there’s no excuse. For example, you can totally create your own little stop motion thingy. All you need is a light, a table and a camera. And you can do anything because stop-motion, you can animate a rock. You know?”

Steiner is currently a host on “Pinocchio” which is slated to hit Netflix in December this year.

In the spring of 2010, SIU film and photography student Madelyn Wilkime traveled to Hollywood to do a photojournalism piece on an group that traveled to Los Angeles for the Student Emmys. She graduated soon after and followed a group of SIU graduates who moved there.

“I started sending cold emails to Los Angeles and started responding to ads…I ended up finding a fashion clothing company called Pin-Up Girl Clothing and I got the job.”

Since then, Wilkime has been busy learning all she can about the craft of production designer working on union and non-union television and film projects.

“I’m working on becoming a full-time production designer, but since I’m still a bit younger and didn’t go straight to school for it, there are a few technical things I’ve learned over the years. years to complete my journey and make me a better designer”.

Wilkime currently works two jobs.

“I work as a production designer and I also work in the set design department in television and film… I’ve also worked on music videos, commercials and a myriad of internet projects.”

Wilkime recently worked in another capacity as a set buyer for the 2022 film “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” starring Jamie Lee Curtis. (See our notice on page __).

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reaching out to alumni and saying, ‘hey, I’m interested in the field you’re working in, what can you tell me, can- have us a phone call’ or ‘hey, we’re in the same city, can I buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain?’

Wilkime points out that not only should SIU students and alumni not be afraid to reach out to other alumni, but that it is reasonable and smart to reach out to others with whom you want to get involved.

Wilkime’s husband, Tim Wilkime, is also a graduate of SIU. Wilkime moved to Hollywood after graduating in 2009.

“It was a simple decision to land in Los Angeles rather than Chicago or New York, because being part of, the entire alumni base was, to my knowledge, based in Los Angeles,” said Tim Wilkime.

But unlike most people, he got into showbiz.

“In college, I had a comedy sketch group that did sketches for YouTube and because of that work that we were doing, we actually got offers, work because of the work that we were doing,” he said. -he declares. “So by the time I moved to Los Angeles, I was already doing, I was still doing comedy sketches for various brands and websites in the city.”

Tim Wilkime sketched for a show called “CollegeHumor”, which led to him becoming the show’s personnel manager. He then directed the sketch comedy news show “Adam Ruins Everything”, which gave him the chance to get into directing sketches for “The Late, Late Show With James Corden”. Most recently, Tim Wilkime served as temporary second director on “The Jimmy Fallon Show” while the personnel director was away for a few months.

“I think one hundred percent the line from college to now is like this unbroken connection…so here I am, anyway, 12, 13 years later, doing it on a bigger platform, which is exciting, you know – a dream come true. If I had known I would be doing this in college, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.

Tim Wilkime’s best advice is:

“Treat your time at university as if it is also part of your professional career, consider the things you do outside of school as something that could lead to later work. Earn as much as you can while you’re in school, get involved in extracurricular activities as much as possible, or find a club that suits your interests and just spend as much time outside of class as I think the majority of your learning kind of comes through your extracurricular, because you have so much more time and freedom and fewer boundaries to really enjoy finding your voice as a storyteller, as a filmmaker, or so it is what worked for me”.

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