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Students learn from director's experience

By Adrienne Gavula

Betty Thomas w/film studentsEmmy award-winning director and producer Betty Thomas recently visited campus to conduct a workshop with film students. She offered advice about the filmmaking business by detailing her personal experiences.

"Decide what you want to be, a director, writer, cinematographer or whatever you want, and make that element better above all else," she told those in attendance.

Even though she started as an art student, Bob Winters, professor of theater, cast Thomas in her first play, and she continued acting after graduation at "The Second City," an improvisational comedy theatre, in Chicago.

"I was always working, always learning," Thomas said. "If there's a river flowing by, you better be ready to jump."

She made that jump and moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she continued to audition and landed a role on "Hill Street Blues," for which she won an Emmy in 1985 for her role as Lucy Bates. Throughout the show, Thomas watched everything, from the lighting to camera angles, and decided directing was something she wanted to pursue.

Betty ThomasThomas discussed with students various projects she has worked on. She also interacted with them about what they need to do at each step in their career to become successful.

"It was interesting to get a Hollywood perspective and especially a female director's perspective," said Jessica Mathews, a second-year graduate student.

Melissa Mullins, a thesis student, added, "She gave us advice on how to break into the business and was very truthful about what will happen after graduation."

Because of the contacts Thomas made throughout her career, it was easier for her than most to find a director willing to have her on the set to learn all the aspects of directing. She teamed up with Steven Bochco, executive producer of "Hill Street Blues," and made her directorial debut with a television sitcom.

"Work with what you have and use your contacts," Thomas said. "The transition between school and life isn't filled enough, so structure that transition and begin your connections."

Thomas graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 1969. She recently committed $100,000 to endow the Betty Thomas Film Award in the College of Fine Arts.

"This was a tremendous opportunity to have students hear what Betty Thomas had to say about what it takes to get to that level," said Charles Fox, director of the School of Film.

Adrienne Gavula is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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