Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.
It’s understandable that Ellie Smith initially chose to study at Arizona State University because, as she said, it's “warm” here. Hailing from rainy Portland, Oregon, Smith gravitated toward this warmth, which didn't just stem from the higher temps. Smith met like-minded creatives who helped validate her choice of major and made her feel the warmth of belonging to a community — one that she would fully immerse herself in.
Smith is graduating in December from ASU with a bachelor's degree in film (film and media studies), which is a humanities-focused degree in the Department of English. She rounded out her analytical, critical studies with practical experience by completing an industry-focused internship, participating in two summer film institutes at UCLA — where she pitched her first pilot — and studying art and architecture abroad in Rome. She also added a minor in film and media production from ASU’s Herberger Institute.
Smith has been involved in on-campus organizations including the Programming and Activities Board, Maroon and Gold Entertainment, the Association of Filmmakers, and the American Marketing Association, where she holds a marketing committee leadership position. She competed at the national level at the International Collegiate Conference in New Orleans, where the ASU chapter was recognized as one of the top 25 in the nation.
Due to her overall achievement and engagement in her chosen field, Smith was awarded The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal this fall for the Department of English.
“The judges were impressed by Ellie’s simultaneous proficiency in several different creative and entrepreneurial enterprises,” wrote the selection committee. “We note that she published poetry in two editions of the Lux Undergraduate Creative Review (and) that she was selected as a speaker at the first annual Film and Media Studies Showcase, where she read her own essay on performances of femininity on reality television.”
“Finally, Ellie runs her own film production company, where she designs and executes social media marketing and has produced several short films that she has written and directed, having been selected for the Maroon and Gold Entertainment Showcase two semesters in a row. The committee believes that Ellie has used her time at ASU to spectacular effect. She has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered here, and she has contributed a great deal in return. She is an eminently deserving candidate for this award, and we wish her every success in her future endeavors.”
We caught up with Smith as she put the finishing touches on her final projects to ask a few questions.
Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I was a really shy kid, but I always had stories running through my mind. Before I learned to read, I would hold open a chapter book and read out loud to my friends and family, letting my imagination guide me. I wrote short stories on my dad's legal notepad and made him type them up for me so I could illustrate. As I grew up and got involved with my local children's theater, I had opportunities to write scenes for the stage. This, combined with my love of movies, TV, and pop culture, made film and media studies seem like the perfect path for me.
I am a firm believer that a theoretical understanding of film from an analytical perspective is fundamental to filmmaking. Having the opportunity to produce two of my own short films throughout my time in college has let me apply some of that knowledge to amateur moviemaking. Watching my stories come to life on screen is a crazy phenomenon. I obviously enjoy the path I'm on, and I hope my career is filled with just as much passion and purpose.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: When I first came to ASU, I felt like I was surrounded by people that doubted me based on film major stereotypes. I had a hard time finding other creatives on campus, and it wasn't until I joined clubs and decided to produce my own scripts that I started meeting like-minded peers.
Other than the importance of networking, a lesson I learned is how much of a difference it makes to be the first one to show up, the last one to leave, and the hardest working one in the room. The old adage, "If you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life," is what keeps me moving forward. People may doubt your future career because of your nontraditional interests, but one thing people can't deny is how hard you work. I guess that’s just how I actualize the advice people give to "believe in yourself."
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Not only is it warm here, but it's an affordable option that allows me to pursue a liberal arts-focused film degree while also dabbling in production and getting hands-on experience on student sets. It's not far from home, but moving to Arizona has definitely forced me to abandon my comfort zone and be open to new perspectives and lifestyles. I love the mix of students here, especially the "film kid" niche and students pursuing creative degrees because they're the most open-minded and passionate.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: (Associate Professor) Julia Himberg taught me how important television is to American culture, and how to reckon with the fact that we as humans make more meaning from TV than we do of practically any other medium. (Associate Professor) Kevin Sandler drilled in the importance of responsible entertainment and really went out of his way to let me know that he believes in me and supports my future endeavors. I am forever grateful to them for pushing me to become the best student I can be and to never stop learning.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Leave school! Just kidding. But, for me, completing two summer film institutes at UCLA and studying abroad in Rome were immense additions to my college experience. I feel very lucky to have the support and the resources that allowed me to immerse myself in each new setting and learn so much more about who I am from traveling and meeting new people. Aside from that, I would advise students to take advantage of the libraries here on campus.
In sophomore year, I started and finished the "film" section inside Hayden Library, and while it sounds a bit old-fashioned I can wholeheartedly attribute most of my learning, passion for film and career lessons to reading these books. Just because you're not in class doesn't mean you can't learn something. Start reading!
Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?
A: You can usually find me at Happy Joe or Cafetal Coffee. If I'm already caffeinated, I'm probably up on the second floor of Hayden Library at one of the high-top tables, looking out at the lawn.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? After I graduate I plan to stick around in Arizona for a few months, save up some cash, and apply to internships so I can move out to LA or NYC. One day I'd love to be a showrunner or be staffed in a writer's room for a drama or sci-fi television show. Opportunities in development, casting, screenwriting and marketing are what pique my interest most. After my summer abroad in Italy, I would be thrilled if a career meant getting to move to (or) explore someplace new, as I definitely caught the traveling bug.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I am passionate about spreading awareness for so many different causes — from arts education for underprivileged youth to reversing effects of addiction and homelessness — but I truly believe the most pressing dilemma on our hands right now is climate change. If I had $40 million, I would invest in a large-scale ocean cleanup, sustainable agriculture and programs that aim to reduce carbon emissions so that we can see a safe future for the next generation.
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