Like most recent college graduates/Millennials, aspiring filmmaker Constantina Konugres is not taking a traditional route to her desired career path. Majoring in Public Relations in USC’s Annenberg School for Journalism, Constantina chose to pick up a minor in USC’s renowned School of Cinematic Arts in order to get involved in the film industry, while crafting her own curriculum within the school. Now, as the future is unwritten, Constantina reflects on how her cinematic experience, in and out of the classroom, has shaped her path and led her to the beginning of a promising film career. Constantina is a fellow Trojan and I was happy to catch-up with her about what’s in store for her.
Samantha Jacobs: When did your interest in film first start? And subsequently, when did you start thinking of pursuing a career as a filmmaker?
Constantina Konugres: Well, I’ve always loved movies. As unoriginal as this sounds, movies truly transport me to other worlds. No matter how far away a film’s characters or story seem from my world, every movie I’ve seen makes me learn something new about myself.
With my early childhood starting in Los Angeles, I was exposed to “Hollywood” at a very young age – famous, old-school movie theaters, playhouses and studio lots, and I loved all that. Funny enough, I actually was in a few commercials and small acting gigs when I was little. I “starred” in my first commercial when I was just 16 months old. I loved my acting classes, but stopped auditioning for roles once my family moved to Orange County. Little did I know that I’d fall into a film-loving community in the small town of Mission Viejo, CA. I joined my high school’s advanced video production class, which required us to enroll in FilmEd Academy – a truly state-of-the-art film workshop that taught me the in’s and out’s of technical and storytelling elements. I fell in love with making things with other people, collaborating on stories and taking bits and pieces from what everyone wants to share and making that into one project. The best part for me is hearing everyone’s inspiration for the stories they want to tell: whether it be something funny or sad or weird or life-changing or even just, dumb – people I never thought I would connect with became relatable through their stories. And that’s another thing I love about filmmaking — movies, TV, digital, whatever it is, making something brings together even the most different people to produce a story that ignites a similar feeling to each person. So, really my high school film class and the FilmEd workshop was where I realized movies were more than just things I liked to watch.
SJ: What drew you to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts?
CK: So – I actually applied to USC for Broadcast Journalism. I produced and hosted my film class’ TV news magazine, and while I loved the producing side of it, at the time of applying to college, one of my dream careers was to be a talk show host. Disclaimer: that has changed thanks to Snapchat’s ability to make anyone a talk show host now. Just kidding, but I realized soon into my major, that the news industry didn’t excite me as much as film did. But at the time of applying, I liked how the Broadcast Journalism major taught its students how to shoot, write and edit stories in a fast-paced setting. But I knew that aside from my major, I wanted to go to a school where I could also explore the film industry. When first applying to college, I had no bias to any school – I didn’t really come from a Trojan Family, I just knew I either wanted to be in LA or NY. Once the Forbes articles practically yelled at me that USC is one of the best film schools in the world, I knew I wanted to go there and either double major or pursue a minor in the School of Cinematic Arts. Specifically, the school’s alumni, professors, location and opportunities were what excited me the most. And once I got to USC, I realized the Cinematic Arts minor was the best way for me explore a wide range of topics and specifics in the industry, and still give me the flexibility and time to study abroad, do internships and be involved in other extracurriculars.
SJ: What were some of the most unique classes you took through your minor?
CK: Truly I can say all of them were unique. Which is the main reason I am so grateful to have minored in the school rather than major in it – because of my minor, I really only had one required course and the rest, depending on their “level” I could pick and choose, so long as 8 units required from a long list of upper-division courses and then an 8 units from any other upper-division courses in SCA of my choice. I was even able to take a few graduate courses.
The most unique ones Advanced Multi-Camera TV Workshop – a course where my fellow classmates and I were the crew for a sitcom a screenwriting class created. The class was extremely demanding, just like being on a real set – it required us to build the show’s set four weekends straight during the semester, attend table reads, and rehearsals. Our crew roles were determined by interviews with the professors, who had been in the TV industry for years. I was chosen to be the stage manager, which taught me the importance of scheduling, how to work with talent and attention to detail. The role also furthered my interest in producing. World of the Producer was a graduate course taught by two established producers, Michael Levy and Torrie Rosenzweig – what was so unique about that class was its rigor (for our midterm, we had to break down the film “Bull Durham”, this can take many days) and also the other students in the class were grad students in Law, Engineering, English and of course film, and it was so interesting to hear their different reasons for learning how to make a movie, whether it was pure fascination or to implement certain production strategies and skills in their own fields. The Film Industry: Career Challenges and Choices for Women, taught by the fabulous Bonnie Bruckheimer, was an in-depth, conversation-led course that brought in women who have achieved success in a broad spectrum of creative and executive roles to speak to us about their trials, triumphs and own personal anecdotes of success and failure. Pursuing a field infamous for its gender inequality, I highly valued the positive perspectives and inspiration our guest speakers brought to our class. The course, both men and women enrolled in, also discussed issues of diversity and age. Our class’ final required us to reach out to a female professional in the whichever area of motion picture we aspire to be like and interview her to write a research paper about how she helped shape her field and which historical movements in the industry that related to their career’s journey. Assignments like this taught me how to properly approach networking and also the value of seeking advice from executives in areas I am interested in.
Music video for Pyrotechnics by Vanillaroma; produced by Constantina Konugres.
SJ: Can you tell us some of the best lessons you feel you learned through your time in the cinema school? Either in or out of the classroom?
CK: This is a really good question because something I really valued out of the film school was the all of its industry advice. The amount of emails SCA constantly sends out on a daily basis for different guest lectures, film screenings, job opportunities and workshops is truly incredible. Since the very start of pursuing this industry and as taught in all of my classes, it has been ingrained in me that there is no “best way” to break into the industry. Knowing that there is no set path or guaranteed program that can assure a job opportunity in media – whether pure filmmaking or the studio side of the industry – advice from those who have “come up” in media and entertainment is incredibly valuable. Since the industry still adheres to a very old-fashioned way of doing business (very low-pay, entry-level work with long hours and a requirement of apprenticeship-type relationships with higher-ups), there may be a lot of turnover in jobs, but it is no myth that it’s all about relationships in the industry. Though it may seem like there are many opportunities in the industry, I’ve constantly been taught and have learned firsthand, that no doors open unless you know someone with the key (lol cheesy but true). Every single one of my internships started with me knowing someone, and all of those “someones” were people I met through SCA. Every one of my film classes reiterated the importance of being honest, genuine and hardworking because reputations and relationships are critical in a field where being at the right place at the right time can only be so helpful if you know the right people, too.
The class I mentioned earlier, Advanced Multi-Camera TV Workshop, stressed the importance of time – being on time and also using time wisely. “If you’re on time to set, you’re actually late,” and “time is money” were two constant mantras preached by our professors. Working on set, you also learn the importance of putting in your own weight while supporting others at the same time. “No job is too small” and “paying attention the little things” are lessons I learned in both my classes and internships.
A very common entry-level job is to start in the mail room of an agency – my experiences there were to basically do everything, figure it out if I didn’t know how to do something, but never question why something had to be done – my duties ranged from covering scripts and answering phones to picking up lunches and writing a guide on how to properly water irises. As ridiculous as some of my internship duties have been, I’ve been humbled by its odd jobs, have also grown a thick skin and know how to work under pressure in incredibly fast-paced environments. I also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for two adjunct professors in the film school. Working for professors who also are executives in the industry and helping them coordinate and schedule established guest speakers taught me professional etiquette, given me an understanding the commonality of the industry’s constant schedule changes and also taught me how to work with all the different types of personalities involved in media and entertainment (students and professionals).
SJ: Do you feel that your decision to minor in film instead of major made a difference now that you’re out of college and starting a career?
CK: Absolutely – I 100% believe it made a positive difference. With the minor, there was so much room to explore and see which parts of entertainment were the most exciting for me: production, development, business, digital, virtual reality, and more. Its flexibility allowed me to end up taking even more classes in the film school. In nearly all of my internship and job interviews, having a background in both journalism and film has set me apart from those who solely focused on film. It’s a common and unfortunate misconception that creative people do not have strong business or communication skills, yet my background in public relations has given me critical skills that have opened doors for me in many different types of opportunities (film development, production, TV, publicity, marketing, and talent representation). Something all of my professors in the film school stressed is the importance of selling yourself, which is difficult to do especially when pitching story ideas that can at times be so personal, but I heavily credit everything I learned in my public relations major and specifically the wonderful SCA classes, “The Business of Representation” and “The Business of Motion Picture Studio” which taught me how to pitch not only myself but my story ideas, to the opportunities I have been given thus far.
SJ: What is your next step now that you’ve graduated?
CK: Since I did intern all throughout USC, I wanted a break for the summer before committing to the probable go-go-go type of entry-level job I’ll begin in the fall. Through SCA, I’ve been in talks with a few studios about executive assistant work, but also keeping my options open with a few talent agencies, as well. Even though my favorite type of content is feature film, I’m also intrigued by new media and like the energetic start-up attitude of its work culture. In between interviews, I produced a friend’s music video and am currently in pre-production for a short film series, as well.
SJ: And you’re moving to New York?
CK: Yes! I’ve always wanted to live there – I really do think it’s the epicenter of art and culture (and food!) in America. I often find myself doing things for the story, so I admit that I am partially going there for the experience of living somewhere still very foreign and exciting for me. Because of the quick turnaround in the industry, there is really no way to pre-plan where you’ll be working in media and entertainment because once a job opens up, they are usually filled within a week or two. Yet, because the center of entertainment is in LA, I plan to pursue a job in New York now so I don’t miss out on the opportunity to live somewhere new for a bit, and also since I will most likely be working in Los Angeles for the majority of my career. Since it is rather difficult to lock down a job in entertainment, I imagine relocating to be difficult too, which is why I’d like my first job to be in New York. Since there are also more opportunities in LA than NY (film-wise), I knew I wanted to leave for the city now while I still have the post-grad downtime to research and prepare for what’s to come. Though there is a larger studio presence in Los Angeles, New York City is the heart of independent cinema and where its roots came from so I’m stoked to pursue a career in the city where my favorite type of filmmaking began.
SJ: The dreaded question – where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
CK: Oh man. Probably back in Los Angeles, I can’t imagine being away from my family for that long! As far as career-wise, being an assistant is the first job for virtually any industry career, whether it be on set (a production assistant or director’s assistant, for example), in studio (executive assistant), in agencies or management companies (assistants to agents or managers), and although I’ll start my career with long hours, little power and low pay, I really do believe any opportunity, no matter how “unglamorous” it may seem, is what I make of it.
I also believe the assistant culture in the industry is like a humbling graduate school – being an assistant helps you learn a ton and also helps weed out the individuals who realize the crazy demands of the industry are not worth the return for them. But, I am determined to not be an assistant for more than a few years (which is easier said than done). So in five years, I’d like to have gained enough real-world experience and connections be producing my own independent projects or be a creative executive or a coordinator in film development or acquisitions. In the next 10 years, I plan to have a few projects produced – particularly, a “passion project” my father has been working on. My father’s passion to create something meaningful and his courage to make it personal inspires me to bring his story to the screen. My hope is to do this through my own production company to be sold to a studio or, if all the cards fall into place, complete the production with my own team. This would make me the happiest girl in the world!
SJ: Do you have any advice for people looking to start an education or a fresh career as a filmmaker?
CK: Do not get discouraged. It’s incredibly tough navigating this field because there is no “right way” to break in. There’s no guarantee that a certain path or program or project can lead you to success. Because of this, I say go where your passions take you and if you love what you do, the crazy hours you’ll endure and the crazy people you’ll work with along the way won’t seem miserable if what you’re pursuing keeps you happy. I’ve constantly been told that moving to New York is too risky for entertainment and that going into film is a mistake (as it isn’t as lucrative and much harder to break into than new media and TV), but watching movies, reading scripts and living in new cities makes me happy, so at the end of the day, as much as I stress the importance advice, the most important decisions one makes is their own.
“Leave your ego at the door.”
It’s true when they say Hollywood is an ego-driven town. From experience I can say, there are people who will try to take advantage of one’s enthusiasm or energy or connections. There are people who think that going to the best film school in the world means instantly landing the best job ever, which in effect means there are people who assume SC grads expect to have the job to be handed to them. There are people who will tell you that networking is phony or that you only want to be in the industry for the wrong reasons. I’ve met all those people and I can tell you I’ve been tempted to be like one of them at one time or another. Stay true to your morals, be confident in yourself and stay humble and kind, and you’ll never feel lost.
Whether you’re looking for career advice or even for a job, being persistent in a polite, genuine and appreciative way will get you far. I’ve always been told that people love to talk about themselves, and I’ve found that to be quite true — so don’t be afraid to reach out for advice because everyone who has started out in any media and entertainment field should remember what it’s like to be completely confused when first starting out. It’s inevitable to feel like networking is phony and pointless, but if you are genuinely interested in someone else’s experiences, then there is no reason to feel bad about asking to meet up to exchange experiences.
“Be open-minded, but also find your niche.”
It took me a change in major and seven internships to now finally have an idea of what I want to do. Take advantage of every opportunity while you can. As I mentioned earlier, the sound of being a talk show host was a lot cooler to me before I actually learned the basics of news writing. It’s important to seek out what interests you, because there are so many different directions to go in the industry, but once you have an idea of where you want to be, pursue it full force because crossover in different areas of media is hard to achieve once first starting out.
“Keep up genuine relationships and have a support system within or outside of the industry.”
I met my closest friends and mentors at my first film internship three years ago, and to this day I go to them for encouragement, advice and even just to laugh about the craziness we’ve all experienced in this industry. And of course without my family and friends’ support, there’d be no way I could afford meals – just kidding, but at the end of the day, their faith in my potential is what will always keep me going.