Q&A with Charlie McSpadden ‘10, Vice President, Levantine Films
In this interview with the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network (DEMAN), Charlie McSpadden ‘10 offers advice for students pursuing a career in the film industry. “Becoming a quick study, anticipating problems, and being reliable and communicative were crucial skills for the world of film production,” he shares.
Major: English / Minor: Visual Studies / Certificates: Arts of the Moving Image; Markets & Management
What are 2-3 ways your Duke experience helped prepare you for your current career role and/or previous roles?
Being the film editor of Recess, the arts section of the Duke Chronicle, meant that I was watching and reviewing films each week, as well as interviewing filmmakers and writing pieces about film life on campus. Being part of Dukes & Duchesses, the student ambassador group, required working functions for the President of the school and socializing with special guests of the university. Having a critical eye and fluency when it comes to film along with the ability to engage and communicate with whomever are crucial to my role now, and I’m grateful to having developed those skills while at Duke.
How did you make the transition from Duke to your career? What are a few helpful takeaways from your first years out of Duke?
A few weeks after graduation, my resume landed in the inbox of an independent film director which led to an interview and then my being hired as an on-set production intern on his new movie. Entirely new to the process, I did whatever was asked of me — location scouted in my own car, drove the actors to set each morning before dawn, played a bit part in the film, et cetera. Becoming a quick study, anticipating problems, and being reliable and communicative were crucial skills for the world of film production. That first movie led to being hired on another, which led to three subsequent sets one after the other. I learned you never know from where or from whom the next job will come, so be sure to be reliable, thoughtful and detail-oriented, no matter the task.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after Duke? And how did you make transition(s) to different fields?
A summer film program in Tuscany led by Josh Gibson and Shambhavi Kaul between my junior and senior years firmly cemented my desire to work in and around the filmmaking process for my career. Post-Duke, after a few years of working in physical production, I became aware of a different but adjacent track in the industry — that of the development executive, whose job it is to find stories and talented filmmakers and creatively shape film and TV projects from the ground up. I realized that was better suited to my talents and parlayed my on-set experience to get a job working for Tobey Maguire, with whom I had briefly worked on “The Great Gatsby,” during my assistant days. At his company, I formally transitioned from on-set to development work, which I’ve been doing ever since.
What is your favorite thing about working in your profession? Most challenging?
Favorite: Coming across an exceptional story or fresh voice and being energized and inspired by the prospect of bringing that idea to life in film or TV form. Most challenging: Being patient and managing egos.
What are 2-3 pieces of advice you would offer to a student interested in your field(s)?
Be able to speak eloquently as to why you love the films and shows and books and artists that you do. If you fall in love with a storyteller, watch/read everything they’ve ever made. Create your own work with your peers, even if it’s just a small project done in a few days — there’s so much to learn and so much joy to be had through creation.
Anything else to add?
Attend the Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham each spring, and utilize Duke for its incredible resources like its student grants, art facilities and litany of amazing guest speakers. And tap into the Duke in LA and DEMAN networks as well!