A panel of five Oberlin alumni working in the entertainment industry gathered last Wednesday on Zoom to talk about their experiences in the field and share advice for current students pursuing careers in film or television. The panel, organized by Career Exploration and Development, was linked to Obiewood, the network of Obies alumni working in film and television.
“Obiewood is the name of the alumni group that is the ‘Obies in Hollywood,'” said Kyle Farris, assistant director of career preparation. “It’s a loose sort of alumni association for people who are involved or want to break into the entertainment industry.”
Obiewood operates primarily in Los Angeles, where panels, mixers and other events allow alumni of all years to network and foster relationships that can lead to job opportunities.
“The whole idea is to give graduates a community that can provide support and connect people to other resources,” Farris said. “It’s mostly focused on the alumni side of things, so I’m really happy that they were kind enough to come in and talk to current students. But I know people there will sometimes try to host mixers, or networking events, or just helping each other out.”
Farris, who also serves as Oberlin’s arts, communications and creative careers community advisor, is the driving force behind the panel. They said when students who want to have fun come to him, he follows a less traditional path to prepare them for the job search.
“I make sure they are very well educated about the industry because it is a very tough industry,” they said. “It’s very rare for someone to graduate college and go straight into work, to be honest. There’s usually a period where you’re hitting the pavement, looking for work, freelancing, picking up a few gigs.”
Farris said he tried to bring a variety of experiences to the panel because there are so many ways a career in entertainment can unfold.
“We are lucky because we have people who come from all kinds of spaces,” they said. “We have someone who has a background as a writer, that’s Liam Oznovich; Kendra James is more on the journalism/reporting side of a lot of entertainment stuff; Fiona Brennan has documentary and other types of production experience and Sarah Goodstein has production experience as a camera assistant. We tried to bring together people who weren’t just from one part of the industry, but who could talk about what it’s like in different areas.”
Oznowich, a panelist who currently works as a personal assistant to Ed Helms, OC ’96, had met Helms numerous times through Obiewood networking events before coming to work for him.
“This wouldn’t have happened if Obiewood didn’t exist, so I’m very grateful to this group for organizing these events and creating spaces — not just for recent graduates moving to LA or New York for the first time, but it also provides a place for people who have already been there,” Oznovich said. “I am very grateful to Obiewood and I hope that there will be more movement to create more resources for current students, graduates and people who have lived here for a while so that we can create a real community. I’m really excited about what Obiewood is doing and how they will expand in the future.”
Farris notes that the most difficult barrier to entry into film and television may be the industry’s emphasis on relationships and networking, an obstacle Obiewood hopes Oberlin alumni can help overcome.
“More than any other field I’ve ever encountered, film and entertainment is an industry that you know,” Faris said. “You know, they’ll post internships and jobs, but to be honest, it’s a relationship-based thing. That’s where a lot of the workforce moves, but with movies it’s much more intense. You need a resume, but it’s all about networking. That’s a big reason I wanted to do this – so lots of people can meet some people.
Sarah Goodstein, OC ’21, another panelist who has worked in a variety of roles in the camera departments on set in Los Angeles, agrees that the lack of connections and competition can make it difficult to succeed in the industry.
“The main thing in the industry is that it’s important who you know,” she said. “The other thing is the sheer number of people trying to do what I’m trying to do. Right now, there are maybe a million people who are in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same job, and there aren’t a million jobs. It was very difficult and I had to do quite a bit of my own research and marketing and networking and absolutely nothing I did at Oberlin prepared me for that.”
Oznowich noted that Obiewood can help bridge the networking gap for Oberlin alumni struggling to find jobs in industry, as established older alumni can give newer graduates a leg up.
“Because this is a business that’s so focused on relationships, who you know and personal recommendations, just having the Oberlin brand is a huge advantage of knowing someone — knowing that they’re capable and smart,” Oznovich said. “The virtues of a liberal arts education are really noticeable now, especially as I get older, because I feel like Oberlin students know how to write. They know how to be creative and have unconventional ideas and interesting things to say.”
Oznowich is hopeful about the opportunities for connection and community that the Obiewood and Oberlin career communities can offer.
“I really didn’t know about Obiewood when I first moved here, and I think that’s because it was in the beginning,” he said. “When I graduated there, we didn’t have career communities; We had none of the resources they have now; they just launched an early version of Oberlink. To see these services expand and more alumni links that can be built will be really exciting because ultimately we want to give back and help people find work. Every single job I’ve had, apart from the agency, has been by word of mouth. To create these kinds of networks among Oberlin alumni, older Oberlin alumni, younger Oberlin alumni, students—that’s the real idea—intergenerational connections and networking opportunities that are so important to this business . I think Oberlink makes that easier and also future events at Obiewood, just a place for people to gather and meet people.’