Written by Julia Decker and Samantha Beach Sinagra
Katy Crain’s career in film began with love––love of art, love of photography, and love of film. Growing up in a small town in Illinois, Crain had little exposure to production or the film industry. She had plans to attend college but, like many high school students, she was unsure of what she would study or want to pursue as a career. Auspiciously, a book of published set photographs from Twilight made its way to her. Captivated, Crain began to imagine a career as a Set Photographer. Crain’s aunt, who lived in Virginia, recommended Film at Mason to her. Little did she realize that would lead her to so many opportunities including her current role with Atlas Entertainment, working on films such as Wonder Woman 1984, and paying it forward to other Film at Mason grads.
During her initial visit to Mason, Crain attended a GMU-TV “Studio A” taping—a live TV show that features Film & Television Industry, as part of a class where students helped produce a talk show with filmmakers and participated as audience members. This exciting behind-the-scenes experience provided her with a glimpse into another career path and her interest shifted from still pictures to motion pictures.
Soon after, she entered the Film at Mason program with an Editing Concentration.
In 2016, Film at Mason hired Lisa Thrasher, a former Studio Lawyer and a professional Film Producer, to create and develop the Film and Television Business & Producing Concentration. “While all films have producers, most university film programs have yet to create Film Producing programs. The then-Program Director, visionary Professor Giovanna Chesler, saw the opportunity and benefit of integrating a focused Producing Concentration into the existing Film at Mason curriculum,” said Thrasher. While so many young film majors are intimidated by the inextricable business and legal side of filmmaking, Chesler saw the advantage of bolstering the Film at Mason creative curriculum with the practical industry tools needed to support the creative and matriculate well-rounded and professional filmmakers from the Film at Mason program.
“We were thrilled to see that, instead of being intimated by the business and legal side of the industry, the Film at Mason students embraced the producing concepts and, in turn, challenged themselves to make more aspirational and creatively inspired films. The producing and business courses were a hit with the students—it was truly exciting,” said Thrasher.
After taking Thrasher’s Business of Film and Film Marketing courses, Crain found within herself new talents and inspiration. “These courses opened by eyes to a new aspect of the film making industry that was exciting and new. Thrasher spotted the inner Producer in me and helped me grow and focus my skills,” said Crain. “Inspired, I switched to the brand-new Producing Concentration.”
Crain gained her first experiences with a professional industry compliant film set while working with Professor Thrasher to start a new educational endeavor: the Mason Film Lab. The Mason Film Lab brings students out of the classroom and into a real-world film set, as they collaborate with Professors Hans Charles and Lisa Thrasher to produce a short film directed by a professional guest director. It was during the Mason Film Lab, working with Professor Thrasher, where Crain began to build her professional skills and her love of Producing. The Mason Film Lab prepared Crain to work on professional film and television sets, which laid the groundwork for her success. Before graduating, Crain already knew how to coordinate large-scale projects and work with professionals and organizations in the field, including the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).
During her four years at Mason, Crain worked on six Film Labs as the Production Manager for Thrasher. “Katy is a natural producer. She is a gifted storyteller and has the precision, drive, and commitment to take on producing, which is a difficult and detailed job that necessitates a balanced approach to all the creative, business, and legal aspects of a film,” said Thrasher. It was on those sets that Professor Hans Charles saw Crain’s exemplary skills, which motivated him to recommend Crain to work as a Production Assistant on Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary, 13th.
After receiving her degree—and thanks to a connection through Film at Mason—Crain landed a prime gig in the local production office of the $150 million film, Wonder Woman 1984. The film’s producing department was impressed with her professionalism, knowledge, and skills, so they encouraged her to submit her resume to the company. Shortly after, Crain interviewed for a full-time position in Los Angeles for Atlas Entertainment. After being offered the job, Crain jumped at the opportunity, packed her bags, and made the big move out West. Within 6-8 months at the company, Crain had been promoted twice—she started at an entry-level position and moved up to a supervisory role as Facilities Coordinator. While at Atlas Entertainment, Crain was assigned the responsibility of recruiting interns, which resulted in her being able to ‘pay-it-forward’ by hiring two Film at Mason students for successful semester-long internships.
Crain reflects, “The Wonder Woman 1984 job was a culmination of all the things I learned at Film at Mason, and the successful completion of my duties in that office led to my job at Atlas Entertainment. While at Atlas, I again implemented the same skills which led to my current position as an assistant at one of the top Talent Agencies in Los Angeles.”
“The producing classes with Professor Thrasher were the best!” exclaims Crain. Film at Mason’s producing and business classes and Producing Concentration helmed by Professor Thrasher cover the history of the industry as well as current industry trends, ethical hiring practices, legal concepts, the ins and outs of both the creative and business side of the industry, and the leadership skills essential for producing. “I was able to learn on a novice level not only how to understand, but how to read and write industry contracts, which has proven very useful in my current position. Recently, I was asked to confirm specific details in an agreement for a client. Because of Professor Thrasher’s Film Business and Producing courses, I knew that wording and level of detail in a contract is highly important. I was able to confidently ask questions and hold my own in a conversation with both my supervisor and the attorneys with whom I was negotiating.”
While Crain credits her Film at Mason studies as being fundamental to her career, Crain also notes the importance of having hands-on experience when landing a job. While studying as a full-time student, Crain worked on professional sets as a production assistant for TV series such as Sleepy Hollow, Late Night with Seth Meyers, BrainDead, Veep, and the feature film Jason Bourne. She recommends that young filmmakers “take every job opportunity you can, paid or not, both industrial and commercial. I did everything from dog food commercials to the Emmy-nominated film 13th.” Crain’s advice to current and future Film at Mason Producing concentration students: “Take editing. Take classes in all the concentrations. You will have a more well-rounded understanding, and you will respect each job because you’ve done it. It will make you stronger.” Recently, Crain has returned as part of the Visiting Filmmakers Series to impart her industry knowledge on the new classes of Film at Mason students.
Where does this Film at Mason alumna see herself in 10 years? Crain thoughtfully states, “A VP or SVP Creative Executive.”