Jason C. Brown

photo of Jason C. Brown

  • BA in Zoology (1999); minor in Film Studies
  • works as a first assistant director for movies and television in Hollywood
  • alumni mentor for the Inside Hollywood study away program
  • film/TV projects include Avatar, Champions, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Awkward, and The Mindy Project

My Profession

"I am a member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in Hollywood, California. More often than not, I work as a first assistant director, making film and television. I also have directed multiple short films and am working on becoming a full-time director.

"I discovered this career path by accident. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a local movie that was doing a casting call, and they were also looking for production assistants. Now, my first class at Miami as a film minor was called Introduction to Film Studies, and they showed an instructional video on the first day that was like, 'This is what the people on a movie set do. This is what the key grip does. This is what the cinematographer does. This is the difference between a pan and a tilt.' Things like that. Just 101 stuff. Seeing an ad in the paper that says, 'Looking for a cast and looking for a production assistant,' I thought it sounded fun, so I jumped in!

"I worked for free, and the whole movie cost about $7000 to make. It filmed pretty much only at night, and the title was Avenging Disco Vampires — so that gives you an idea of the project! That being said, through that job, I learned so much. It was a crash course in movie-making, and from that I ended up working on someone else's feature, and then another, working on and off for about two years for free. Then, one day I got a call that said, 'Hey, do you want to come and actually make money?' And I said yes, and every job that I've ever gotten came from that. I worked in Cincinnati as a grip for a while, and then in 2006 I moved to Los Angeles and started working as an assistant director.

"I'm a freelancer, so I don't work for any one person — I just go from show to show, which is not difficult because there's always a lot of things going on in Hollywood. My first job lasted from the 4th of July to the following April, so roughly 9-10 months, but I've had many other jobs that were only for a single day.

"The main thing you do is plan your finances correctly and know that the phone's going to ring. A lot of people in Hollywood work as hired guns — it's the nature of the beast. I've been on shows where during lunch they bring everyone together and say, 'Our ratings weren't so good last night, so they're cancelling us.' It's just like that. It can happen very fast, but at the same time, I have gotten a call at 5 in the morning where they ask, 'Can you come in right now?'

"That's part of the excitement of the business. There's something different to do every single day, and once you walk onto a new set, a new film or TV show, you're literally exposed to 150 new people, 150 new personalities, 150 new skills covering so many different things. I've worked on some of the biggest movies in the world and I've worked on something where my pay was granola bars!"

Working with Inside Hollywood

"I've been involved with Miami's Inside Hollywood program since it started several years ago. I remember getting an email in August 2012 with the subject, 'Miami LA Event,' which was the first time that everyone started getting together. We've now had 7-8 sessions, and there's always a mixer at the beginning, and I try to have the students visit the film set of any show I'm working on at the time. Recently I've taken them to the set of the show Awkward, which is really popular with that group. We also often meet with my friend Rachel Rudwall (International Studies and Spanish, '08) and do a dinner, which is the time for the students to get more one-and-one time and ask questions.

"Back in 1999, when I was a junior at Miami, there was an alumna, Jan Wieringa (Miami '75), who visited our film classroom as a guest speaker. She had produced a movie that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called Powwow Highway. I approached Jan later and said, 'Hey, me and a buddy are writing a script, and we're talking about coming to LA.' She gave me her card and told us to look her up when we got there. Sure enough, on spring break that year, we went to LA, and Jan took care of us in every way, shape, and form — taking us out to lunch, reading and providing feedback on our screenplay, getting us a VIP tour of Paramount Studios, and then a personal tour of the studio where she was working. All just because we were Miami students! She was so supportive and gave us such good advice that it was like we were in a movie ourselves.

"So when Inside Hollywood started evolving, I saw it as my chance to repay the favor. [Read the February 2018 CAS press release Inside Hollywood gives students a foot in the door to the entertainment industry.] My advice to the students is to make and maintain real connections. The worst thing you can do is thank an alum with a form letter! For Inside Hollywood, we had all the kids send all the alumni a bio, so right away we could learn where they're from, what they're like outside of school and so on.

"Three years ago, for example, there was a Miami student whose bio said that she was a hockey player, playing on the women's team at Miami. It just so happened that at the time I was working on a broomball documentary, and we were going to do a shoot on the ice, so I brought her out so she could work on this shoot with me for a day — it was great. It's all about finding these special connections and what clicks!"

Best Miami Experiences

"When I first came to Miami I lived in Dennison Hall, I made friends with 6 guys also living there, and later we all joined the same fraternity. I was even the best man at one their weddings, so the lifelong friends I've made at Miami I wouldn't trade for anything.

"At the time, the classes I took for my film studies minor had less to do with making movies and more with watching them. I'd chosen zoology as my major because I had always wanted to work in a zoo — growing up with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and thinking about the people in my neighborhood, I envisioned myself as the zookeeper!

"However, I was a terrible zoology student and really struggled with organic chemistry. My GPA was so low my freshman year that I just barely missed academic probation — but as I went on and my classes became more defined, my GPA got better every year, and in the end I have more fantastic memories here than I can count."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"With my major and minor, I was all over the map as a Miami student, but it was interesting and fun. The mixture of science and theater and film classes I took gave me great insight into the possibilities that lay ahead of me.

"I didn't get my Film Studies minor until I was a second semester sophomore, but I took some amazing film classes — Women in Film, Alternative Traditions in Film, Film and Literature. We got lots of cool books to read and then watched movies that were associated with them, such as A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, plus smaller, independent movies that normally I'd never have an opportunity to watch.

"My film classes exposed me to new possibilities, like foreign language and historical films, which served as great illustrations of that great line, about knowing whose shoulders you're standing on. It's all about learning who came before you and paved paths. After all, they've been making movies for 100 years, and although I'm not going to do something that hasn't been tried before, you can always learn and see how you can improve on it.

"At the same time, I was working on my zoology major. Once I got beyond organic chemistry and farther into classes like primatology, some taught by professors of anthropology Bill and Linda Marchant, I felt a real impact — those science classes were among my favorites at Miami."

Advice to Students

"Take advantage of the time that you have now. Go beyond what your textbooks say, and if you want to go into film, go out and watch 10 movies that you've never seen. Go online and learn the terminology, the film terms you'll need to know to have an opportunity to work in that field. Nothing's going to compare to on-the-job training, but you can get some of that in a classroom. And play with Miami's movies cameras and editing bay and all the other resources that are here.

"Inside Hollywood has been great, because it has given me the chance to pay back Miami by paying it forward. It demonstrates how an alum from this school can have a really profound effect on a student and what their future holds. That's what I love doing.

"That's why social media is invaluable. When I meet students in Inside Hollywood, I tell them, 'You guys are crazy if you don't send me a Facebook friend request!' This lets me see what they're doing while they can see what I'm doing — just keeping that connection. If I meet someone as a sophomore, within three years I'll already have met 40 more students coming through the program, so you can't just show up three years later out of the blue and say, 'Hey, I've graduated — can I have a job now?'

"Many students at the end of Inside Hollywood will still not know exactly what they want to do, but most likely they'll have some things narrowed down — maybe they want to do something creative in the art or costume departments. Others might say, 'I don't know what I want to do, but I do know I don't want to be an agent or work in marketing or development.' The biggest thing you get out of the experience is the connections, the Miami alumni who are happy to help you."

[August 2018]