Columbia Filmmakers Connect: Alana Mayo '06 and Jungyoon Kim '20
BY Felix van Kann, April 21, 2022
In this series we feature the new mentorship program that connects recent alumni with industry professionals.
To ease the transition from film school into the industry, Columbia University School of the Arts' Dean’s Council launched an initiative that connects those striving to make a name for themselves with those who have. Veteran alumni provide recent alumni ongoing guidance, contacts, and support while also strengthening the Columbia network around the world. In this series, we feature those pairs. We spoke with alumna Alana Mayo '06 (Columbia College) and her mentee, alumnus Jungyoon Kim '20 (School of the Arts, Film).
“I remember one of our first calls," Jungyoon Kim said of an early meeting with his mentor, Alana Mayo. "I was still working from home after a year of the pandemic—there was a huge thunderstorm in New York. It was this kind of epic call because there's thunder outside, I'm looking at the rain through the window and I’m talking to an incredible executive in Hollywood who is absolutely killing it." Kim, a recent Creative Producing alumnus and an award winning film producer with experience in developing and producing narrative and documentary films in China, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, and the US, has worked on Emmy Award-winning shows such as Mozart in the Jungle and Transparent, recently relocated to Los Angeles where he was confronted with a whole new set of challenges. "I was not sure what to expect. And then Alana just opened the conversation by asking: ‘Where are you? How are you doing?’ Then we just started talking and I felt this immediate connection.”
Mayo smiled while Kim spoke. “It's so wonderful to hear that this was your experience. What I have to give the program credit for is that their matching of people, at least in our experience, has been really thoughtful and spot on. Because I was worried. I wasn’t sure how I could be helpful because it felt like blind dating,” she said. “You're meeting somebody, not knowing where they are in their life. I just remember maybe 20, 30 minutes into our conversation, I realized: ‘Oh, okay. I can actually help. I actually understand what you're going through.’” For someone with Mayo’s experience, that’s probably an understatement. As president of Orion Pictures, a production company owned by MGM which exclusively concentrates on underrepresented voices and authentic storytelling in film, Mayo oversees the label’s day-to-day operations, including development, acquisitions, physical and post production. Before her work at Orion, Mayo served as Head of Production and Development for Outlier Society where she oversaw the company’s slate of films and television series. During her tenure, Outlier Society produced Just Mercy and co-produced the Emmy-nominated HBO Film adaptations of Fahrenheit 451, 61st Street for AMC, the OWN drama series David Makes Man, Raising Dion, which was one of Netflix’s most-streamed shows of 2019, the comedy feature Fashionably Black, and the series Friday Black.
Kim and Mayo immediately clicked on a personal level, discovering many overlapping interests. “We connected over being people of color and how important diversity is in every stage of the game,” Kim said, eliciting another nod from Mayo who added: “What was most exciting to me at this early stage was your complete commitment and vision to empowering filmmakers, changing the culture of our industry and really fighting for more inclusion of different types of people. Because this is swimming upstream. You're so early on the other side of graduating and still have this truly unwavering commitment at the center of everything you talk about. It’s so great to have someone who's just moving to LA, working at these companies, who has a vision and a commitment to something that is very important to me. I don't know if I had the courage to put this as central to my career goals when I was in your position. But now it’s very central to the work I'm doing.”
Mayo, who herself relocated to Los Angeles after interning with independent New York filmmakers such as Lee Daniels, Tribeca Films, and Warrington Hudlin, joined the committee of Columbia alumni mentors in 2020. “In the past three years, I feel more connected to Columbia as an alum than I have in the 16 years or so since I graduated," Mayo said. "When I went to school there and went to LA afterwards there was nothing. I was trying to hustle and figure out a way to get jobs but I had trouble navigating. I never once thought to tap into the Columbia network.” Mayo started hosting students that came out for the LA edition of the Columbia University Film Festival (CUFF), taking them to lunches and showing them her work place. “In these conversations, I started to see how great Columbia was at providing a film education and having a global perspective. But there was a gap for those students that wanted to make a career in Hollywood. Hollywood is very much a club–relationships matter.” The mentorship initiative bridges this gap, exposing a larger network of Columbia alumni than Mayo was even aware of. “When I joined the alumni committee, I saw people I've worked with for years, and I was like: ‘You went to Columbia? I had no idea.’ All this to say, I think one of the benefits of attending a school should be the matriculation into a community of people that can be a part of your larger community as you're growing your career.”
Kim agrees, having moved to Los Angeles in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, he struggled networking. Despite his numerous previous successes like showcasing films and winning awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival and Austin Film Festival as well as being the recipient of the IFP Marcie Bloom Fellowship, the Hollywood Foreign Press Fellowship and the Richard Brick Award for Special Distinction in Line Producing, the transition was difficult. “There was a lot of skepticism over everything. Everything felt like it was changing. There's no worse feeling than just sitting there and watching everything go by. Alana coming into my life at that time was pivotal.”
One of Kim's main goals at Columbia was to meet directors and writers, but also to meet more filmmakers of color. "My energy went into making stories about immigrants in this country because I am one. I produced a story about masculinity because that was a question I had as an Asian man living in this country. There are a lot of these story points I was exploring as a producer, but also just as a creative person. Meeting Alana was a perfect match because she is someone who is not only killing it, but she is a person of color killing it, you know?”
Mayo jumped in: “I appreciate you saying I'm killing it, but some of it is just that I've been doing it for a while.” Mayo also previously served as Vice President of Production at Paramount Pictures, where she worked on films including A Quiet Place, Annihilation as well as the critically acclaimed Fences and later worked with Vimeo as the company’s VP and head of original development. “One of our senior executives who has 30 years of experience said to me yesterday, ‘The game of Hollywood has always been about survival. You just keep taking swings and eventually some of them will hit.’ This is such valuable advice because I realize a huge misconception is to think I hold some sort of golden ticket or key to a kingdom I can impart upon somebody as if to say: This is how one makes it in Hollywood. The reality is it's just perseverance, trial and error, and relationships. Some of it is just having someone who has a little bit more experience share that knowledge with you, and being a sounding board if you're going through a challenge or if you're thinking about a new idea. There's just concrete information somebody can give you that would otherwise take you three or four years to learn on your own. But this relationship should always be mentee-led.”
To Kim, success means addressing the issues he cares about despite the difficulties of establishing a career. It’s advice he passes on to students coming out of graduate school. “First of all, do not lose hope,” Kim said. “I think we're all a little afraid, especially when you're coming into what you think is the industry but the world has changed rapidly and now even how we’re watching movies has changed. Stay hopeful. But be aware that nothing happens just because you came out of Columbia. You still have to work, you still have to hustle. Nothing is just given to you.”