Hoos for Art: Lauren Lukow (College '14)
Tell me about your career since leaving UVA and what you are currently doing…
I am currently the Feature Film Program Coordinator at the Sundance Institute, and the Assistant to the Program’s Founding Director, Michelle Satter. Getting to this point has involved several unexpected twists and turns. I graduated from UVA without a single job offer, and spent that following summer working odd jobs and saving money. Fortunately, by the end of summer, I was offered the opportunity to work as the Guest and Production Coordinator for the Virginia Film Festival where I had interned previously. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without the Festival. I got to know the staff and Board Members well (including some UVA alum!), and they helped connect me to future job opportunities on the West Coast. After the Festival, I had a wonderful stint with Erica Arvold’s Charlottesville-based production and casting company, and then shortly after moved to Los Angeles where I tried to find work. I ended up landing a job in creative development and new media production at Pixar Animation Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area. There I learned how to logistically and creatively support some of the world’s most brilliant storytellers in the earliest phases of their filmmaking process. However, after two (albeit, incredibly rewarding) years, I was eager to transfer my knowledge to the independent filmmaking space, and couldn’t think of a better place to do so than the Sundance Institute. Now, I work with their Feature Film Program team to provide year-round support for independent filmmakers from development through distribution of their feature projects.
What about your UVA experience and your UVA Arts experience prepared you for what you are doing now?
This is a great question, and I think I can break it down into three parts: Collaboration, Work Ethic, and Interdisciplinary Thinking.
Filmmaking is one of the most collaborative art forms. It takes a village, and that’s a huge reason why I love it! But collaboration isn’t always easy, and requires a thorough understanding of communication and relationships. Some of the most important lessons I learned were not only from class, but rather, from putting on grassroots theater productions with extracurricular groups like First Year Players, Spectrum Theater, and The Virginia Players.
Secondly: work ethic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the word “hustle” used to describe a quality of successful filmmakers. My fellow UVA colleagues were tenacious. They inspired me to put in 110% every day. I think that’s why many of have gone on to have prosperous careers. They’re in it for the journey, as much as the reward (if not more so)!
UVA also taught me how to think across disciplines. Have you ever noticed how artists are often multi-talented? They’re philosophers, scientists, historians, entrepreneurs, and more, all at the same time. They’re Renaissance men and women with an expressive hunger for truth. The majors I chose supported this mindset. Media Studies allowed me to focus on film while contextualizing it with other subjects. I additionally crafted my own curriculum for my second major in Arts Administration, encompassing film, drama, and business. Today, this ability to synthesize information continues to serve me well in creative, interdisciplinary work places such as Sundance or Pixar.
Were there any particular people or classes at UVA that inspired you or prepared you for what you are now doing?
Yes. Richard Warner was the Head of Undergraduate Acting while I was a student. He was also my director, my professor, and the lead actor of my thesis short film. He taught me that artistry is a noble pursuit (and hard, hard work). This can be difficult to remind yourself at a school like UVA that is often more recognized for its traditionally academic subjects. But Richard has a knack for instilling confidence in his students. We called him “coach” for this very reason.
I took five classes with Professor George Sampson, Founder of UVA’s Arts Administration program. What I found most helpful about his teaching was his ability to seamlessly apply theoretical principles to real-life cases. To put it simply, his lessons went beyond the walls of the classroom. This is evident from his extensive network (it was through George that I was introduced to the Virginia Film Festival, Live Arts Theater, and Erica Arvold’s production and casting company – and I ended up working for all three)!
Finally, the UVA Vice Provost for the Arts and Director of the Virginia Film Festival, Jody Kielbasa, is another one of my biggest advocates. I met him in an Arts Administration class he taught on Non-Profit Development and Board Management, and went on to work with him for several years. I can’t begin to explain how much he has done for the Charlottesville community through his leadership at the Festival. Moreover, I witnessed firsthand how the arts presence on grounds grew leaps and bounds since he started his tenure as Vice Provost.
More than six years later, we all still keep in touch. I am always eager to recommend a student to any one of these three people, and vice versa.
How have you relied on the UVA network of arts professionals and how has that helped you to get where you are?
A thousand percent yes. I can honestly say that every full-time job I’ve obtained in the industry thus far happened with the support of another UVA alum or connection. I didn’t really believe a career in film production was feasible until I saw UVA alum and independent film producer, Julie Lynn, present Albert Nobbs at the Virginia Film Festival back in 2011. I went on to intern for Julie and her company, Mockingbird Pictures, and consider her one of my greatest mentors. What’s more, Julie got her start in the industry as a Creative Executive to Producer, Mark Johnson, who is (you guessed it!) another UVA alum. I can’t express enough how valuable the UVA network has been to my career, and I can attest for many others who have similar experiences.
Is there any advice you would give a current UVA student looking to have a career in the arts?
I always tell current and incoming students that I loved my UVA artistic experience because I was able to make the most of what was available. There is so much opportunity both on-grounds and in the greater Charlottesville community, even if it doesn’t seem like it upon first glance. You just need to be resourceful and really look for it! Secondly, don’t be discouraged if you graduate without a job offer. There’s no need to compare yourself to others. Everyone’s path is different, and it’s not about the results or outcome (something I still have to remind myself daily while living in Los Angeles!). It should be about your own personal quest as an artist, wherever that takes you. On that final note: don’t be afraid to call yourself an artist! Growing up, I feel like I too often let others tell me that being an artist is not a serious vocation. On the contrary, the arts are indispensable and do so much good for our world. One of my favorite quotes by Picasso said that all children are artists, but the problem is how to remain one as we grow up. At the end of the day, your craft is your fuel that makes you passionate for life. Trust yourself, and trust the process!