Filmmakers Connect: Ben Odell '04 and Mitch Gomes '20

Nicole Saldarriaga
November 06, 2023

In this series we feature the 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 Film alumnus Ben Odell '04 and his mentee, alumnus Mitch Gomes '20.

When Mitch Gomes '20 and Ben Odell '04 first met over Zoom in the summer of 2021, the film industry was still being rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. A year and a half after graduating from the Creative Producing program, Gomes was living in Northern California and focusing on remote freelance work, but had his eyes set on L.A. 

After a long Zoom call to discuss Gomes's aspirations and plans, Odell—who also mentors young filmmakers through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America—hoped he could help in two ways.

"I think the way to be helpful is, on the one hand, to try to find paths, and on the other hand, to be really honest about how hard it is," Odell said. "Because if it's all flowers and sunshine, you come to L.A. and that first transition is hard. So I try to be as transparent about the difficulties of breaking in, but also optimistic."

Odell, who acutely remembers the anxiety of wondering "what comes next" after graduation, knows from experience that the transition from film school to the "real world" can be the most difficult part of any filmmaker's journey. "I think the hardest step is that first step. How do you go from zero to one? From one to five or one to 10, that really just depends on your chutzpah and your drive. But that zero to one, it doesn't matter how much chutzpah or drive you have, it's really hard to crack that piece. And so that's been where I felt like I could be the most helpful."  

Ultimately, with Odell's guidance, Gomes was able to bridge that gap between zero to one. "After a while, I did land a spot in the mailroom at United Talent Agency, and got my start down there," Gomez chimed in. "Ben was very helpful and instrumental in that for me." 

Gomes's position in the mailroom at UTA quickly opened up other doors. "I remember something [Professor] Maureen Ryan said—that when you come out of a program like Columbia, you might be starting in a place that mostly undergrads would start in, but the way that you and your qualifications are perceived can open up more advanced opportunities in those places." 

Gomes ended up working on a long-term cover for UTA's chairman of the board, which led to other exciting opportunities. "They looked at me and they saw someone who could potentially fit this bind that they were in. So I was on that for a little more than half of my time at UTA; and then I worked in the Media Rights Department on a double desk for two agents." The experience he gained and the network he built in that department led him to positions as a director's assistant at Lucasfilm and Apple Original Films. 

For Odell, Gomes's path is a good example of the qualities he considers most important in a young filmmaker, or artist of any kind. 

"The thing that I always look for when I'm trying to mentor someone is, are they humble enough to hear what's going on? Because you have to be humble. To take advice, you have to have a certain amount of openness, which Mitch certainly has. Because I think, especially if you're coming at the industry from a producer's perspective, there's so many paths in, and no one path is 'right.' I always say take whatever job you can get. The first job is just so you've got money coming in and you're on the ground. Then you start to figure out what your path is. 

"And I think the most important thing is do you trust yourself to remain true to your goal? Because so many people will get a job, get comfortable, and then lose their sense of where they're headed. I can't tell you how many accountants and business affairs people went to film school, took the first job they could get, and cut to 20 years later, they're still working in the accounting division of Warner Brothers. If you look at the people that have succeeded out of film school or even just generally in the business, the only thing they all have in common is stamina. It's really a business of stamina. Some have talent, some don't, a lot of people take a job to pay the bills and get stuck there—you need stamina to break in because that first step is so hard." 

For both Gomes and Odell, keeping that stamina up hinges not just on being true to their goals but also on the support systems they've built and continue to build. Both of them still keep in touch and work with filmmakers they met at the School of the Arts. 

"I think coming from the same foundation," said Gomes, "it allows you to share that language for the work that you're all experiencing and consuming writ large with the rest of the industry. So I'm confident in saying that I've made lifelong friends at Columbia. We all might find our own ways into the industry; we all want to do very specific things, and we're kind of all on our own individual paths in a way. Those paths might cross from time to time, and of course, when they do, we do everything we can to support each other. I think having that network of support is crucial to that stamina that Ben was talking about. Other people are in this with you as well."

Ben Odell is currently partner of 3Pas Studios with Mexican comedian and director Eugenio Derbez. Derbez is Mexico’s most beloved comic star and his previous movie, Instructions Not Included, made over a 100 million dollars worldwide becoming the highest grossing Spanish language film of all time in the US, and the second highest grossing film in any language in Mexico. 3Pas Studios has a first look deal with Pantelion Films, the joint venture between U.S. entertainment studio Lionsgate and Mexican media conglomerate, Estudios Televisa. 3Pas Studios also has a first look deal with Universal Television to develop drama and comedy for network, cable and digital platforms. Odell was previously Head of Production for Pantelion Films. In his role at Pantelion, Odell developed and produced films aimed at the Hispanic market in the US as well as for Mexico and Latin America. Odell is also an educator. He has taught screenwriting and production at Columbia University and The New School in New York City and has given lectures in filmmaking all over Latin America and Europe. He was a contributing writer to the film anthology, Swimming Upstream, A Lifesaving Guide to Short Film Distribution, published by Focal Press and for the professional textbook Producer to Producer about the art of low budget filmmaking.

Mitch Gomes is a filmmaker, writer, and producer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Hailing from a theater background, he’s produced several short films over the years that have screened at festivals all over the country, including Palm Springs International Shortfest, Flickers’ Rhode Island International, deadcenter, Fantastic Fest, and FilmQuest. Most recently, he’s worked as a script analyst for Coverfly, an incubator for Disney+’s Launchpad Program, an assistant at United Talent Agency, and a director’s assistant for Lucasfilm and Apple Original Films. He holds a degree in Creative Writing from Gonzaga University and an MFA in Film Production with a concentration in Creative Producing from Columbia University.