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Ashley Seering (@A248) enrolled in her film school MFA program with a clear goal in mind: becoming a film professor. Seering graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and went on to have a successful freelance career.

But something was missing. After years of creating films that tell stories about farmers, skateboarders, and other people on the fringes of society, Seering had an epiphany: she needed to teach tomorrow’s filmmakers. Seering graduated from Loyola Marymount University with an MFA in Film and Television Production in 2021.

In the second installment of our Life After Film School series, Alexa Pellegrini for spoke with Seering about getting accepted to film school, juggling classes with teaching assistantships, and how LMU helped her secure her first film professor job.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a Clinical Assistant Professor Of Mass Communication with a focus in film production at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

This fall, I’m transitioning into my new role of Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Film Production/Media Studies and the Humanities Institute at Penn State. I’ll continue to teach production while mentoring students in developing social issue-based multimedia projects with an emphasis on the documentary format.

How did studying communications in undergrad help you learn about film?

Before going to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, I had zero experience in film production. I was in a general communications program, so I took classes in advertising, journalism, and corporate media. I didn't have any film production or editing classes.

But I still ended up graduating with a demo reel. I knew if I wasn't going to film school in undergrad, I had to get ahead of the game. It compelled me to work even harder and offer to help other departments produce their videos. They usually didn’t have a budget, so they asked my department for volunteers. Those projects definitely helped me grow as a filmmaker.

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What made you decide you needed to earn your MFA in film?

During my time freelancing, I led guest lectures at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and created films like The Heroin Project. This documentary resulted in quite a few speaking engagements, and I got to know a number of documentary filmmakers who taught film as their day job. It gave them the freedom and funding to pursue their creative work. I started thinking long-term that path was right for me.

Also, I was a little burnt out on freelancing. I needed to either expand my business and take on a few employees and get an office space, or pursue something else. So, I decided to go in a different direction. Being a professor of film means you need a master's degree, and you can get that by going to film school.

Along with getting a terminal degree, going to grad school for film helped me hone in on the skills I learned during and after undergrad. It helped me become even better at film production while retaining my other creative skills.

Why did you choose Loyola Marymount University?

I knew [becoming a film professor] was a huge life change, so I spent a lot of time researching and taking tours. I applied to 10 different film MFA programs across America. Ultimately, I went with LMU. The location was a big selling point: I grew up visiting Los Angeles, and the city is like a second home. It’s also in the heart of the entertainment industry.

My experience was unique because half of my time at LMU took place at the height of COVID-19. I was supposed to attend a three-year traditional MFA program, with film shoots every weekend and unlimited internship opportunities. I ended up having a year and a half of normalcy before everything shut down.

Why did you wait to get your MFA in Film and TV Production?

I think it was really beneficial that I didn't go straight from undergrad to grad school. In undergrad, I was a little frustrated that I didn’t study film. But at the end of the day, it gave me the chance to try a bunch of different creative mediums.

After I got my BA, I began freelancing in video production. For about four years, I ran my business working on people’s films in the St. Louis area. I also offered copywriting and photography services. During that time, I used some of the profits to fund my documentary projects.

I kept building up my portfolio and eventually, I saw success at the film festival circuit. I figured out more specifically what I wanted to do in film school — grad school is such a commitment, financially and time-wise. I also gained four years of real world experience and matured. I was one of the older students in my film MFA program, but I was confident because I knew exactly why I was there.

Did your film MFA program meet your expectations?

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During and after the tour, LMU pushed their connections to the industry, and I found these connections extremely beneficial. The professors are working filmmakers and have a lot of Hollywood contacts. You can get an internship at dozens of major film companies.

During my first year and a half of study, I also did an internship for a prolific documentary filmmaker. It was basically a dream role I believe I wouldn't have gotten at any other film school I originally considered. I also went to a lot of workshops and panels with industry leaders, and each one was immensely helpful.

Everything LMU promised me aligned with my experience, although COVID-19 complicated things. But my program still held industry events on Zoom and did their best to arrange opportunities for us to take advantage of their relationships in the film industry. It was uncharted territory and there were some disappointments. But looking back, going to LMU still benefited me immensely.

What are members of your film school cohort up to now?

Many of my former classmates are still working in Los Angeles. For example, one of my friends became a Director of Photography at a company that does a lot of work for car commercials. I have another friend who is a Production Designer and still works on other LMU film graduates' projects. No one I’ve kept up with has had any trouble getting gigs in LA.

I'm the only one who I know of who pursued a fully academic route, but I was also one of the older members. I think a lot of film school graduates eventually transition into teaching.

How did LMU prepare you to work in the film industry, if you ever decide to pivot from teaching to working in entertainment?

If I ever wanted to shift into full-time production work, going to LMU definitely set me up for success. For one, film school taught me so much more than what I could have ever learned through reading. Tons of books about the film industry will give you a general idea of the essentials. But it's better to acquire hands-on knowledge, especially if you're a film professor trying to teach these techniques.

I feel fully prepared to step on set at any time. I still work on my own films and other people's films. And I will continue to do camera department and art department work to keep my skills sharp. I think one of [LMU’s] strong suits is giving students tons of on-set experience. If you want to be on a shoot every single weekend, that is absolutely possible.

Did undertaking internships and teaching assistantships at LMU boost your career?

I made it loud and clear from the beginning that I was at LMU to become a film professor. But these jobs are usually not super available and highly competitive. It's fairly rare to go directly from a film school MFA program to a teaching position.

I was once again prepared to go fully above and beyond to get the job. I had never worked as an adjunct or done any tutoring – I only ever guest lectured. I told the film school’s graduate director, Professor Eugene Brancolini, I wanted to teach, and he took that to heart. LMU typically doesn't offer teaching assistantships to first year grad students, but they make exceptions.

I ended up being one of them: I got a teaching assistantship in the second semester of my first year for an undergrad multi-camera TV production course. I assisted by helping students resolve technical issues on set, specifically in the sound stage. But I knew I needed more concrete teaching experience.

COVID-19 actually helped me by increasing the need for teaching assistants in a traditional role. The focus shifted from hands-on production to Zoom classes about post-production, film theory, and similar topics. That's how I ended up being a teaching assistant in my third year for a graduate-level editing class. I gave lectures in every other class. I was also a teaching assistant for an undergraduate cinema history and theory class on Zoom, where I introduced students to all the critical components of filmmaking.

It's important to note I sought out all these teaching assistantships myself. I contacted the department chair or the graduate director, expressed interest, applied, and got selected. You must always be your own advocate.

How did you get your first real film professor job out of college?

LMU helped me get my breakthrough position. The first job is always the hardest to get, but once you get in, it's easier to move around and climb the ranks.

I actually started teaching before I graduated. In academia, you usually need to apply to positions well in advance of the start date. I applied to at least 40 different positions months ahead of graduating, and Sam Houston was one of them.

Sam Houston needed a new film professor in spring 2021 instead of the fall, which was unusual. When I got the position, I still had two classes and a thesis film to finish. I sat down and asked myself if I should say no to the only job offer I received, or grind it out for a semester teaching four classes on top of taking two. I decided to go for it. I taught on weekends and did my film school work during the week. It was tough but I am so grateful I made that decision.

I think I was selected because I was still going to LMU, so I could connect really well with their students. Plus, I still use my connections in LA to help film students in Texas build bridges into the industry. I recommended them for jobs and internships in LA, and I plan to do the same for my Penn State film students.

How do you encourage and support your film students?

I always tell my students to create and collaborate in equal measure with their professors, friends, and classmates. Be the person who stays in touch. Be the person who takes the initiative. Be the person who is kind and shows up ready to work hard.

I also remind them that at the graduate level, you may need to make some sacrifices to get your work off the ground. I went through it myself: You might be a little less social, or you may need to put one of your hobbies on hold. Whatever you need to do to prioritize school, do it. At LMU, I enjoyed all the fun parts of going to film school in Los Angeles, but always kept my eyes on the prize. Film school is the chance of a lifetime, so take advantage of it.

Describe how your film career has evolved after graduating from LMU?

I'm working on a documentary about the Texas Gay Rodeo Association. I had no idea it existed before I moved to Texas. It's personally interesting to me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, so I want to challenge the idea that rodeos are a hyper-masculine sport. They can be much more inclusive.

I filmed at their main rodeo event in Denton, TX in April. My plan is to edit a proof of concept, short-form documentary from that footage, submit to festivals, and seek support to produce a longer format film or series.

What advice do you have for anyone considering a film MFA program?

No matter how excellent the reputation of your MFA program, success is more than paying your tuition and going to class. They're the baseline of film school. Invest fully in your education. Do whatever you can to make the most of your experience. Work hard and savor each step on your journey.

To learn more about Ashley Seering, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

For more information about Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television, read the
overview of the admissions process. We also suggest browsing member applications to LMU in our Application Database and reviewing our Admissions Statistics to LMU.

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About author
Alexa P.
Alexa Pellegrini (she/her) is a freelance copywriter, editor, poet, and essayist. Keep up with her latest musings on Twitter.

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