After a 30-year career producing movies such as "Nuts," "Beaches" and "Sister Act," Teri Schwartz was named the first dean of Loyola Marymount University's School of Film and Television in 2003. With about 500 undergraduate students and 150 graduate students, Loyola Marymount's film school is dwarfed by powerhouse schools at UCLA, USC and New York University. Schwartz said she isn't interested in creating a smaller version of those schools but a program that emphasizes storytelling grounded in humanistic values consistent with the Jesuit institution's own core values. Loyola Marymount spun off the School of Film and Television from its College of Communication and Fine Arts. Schwartz began her career in the early 1970s as an independent filmmaker and went on to form a production company with Goldie Hawn, with whom she worked on several projects.


Question: What attracted you to this position?
Answer:
I love to create and build and this gave me the opportunity to create and build what I hope will be the premier school of film and television. I love the university (Loyola Marymount). I also love the values of the university, the commitment to social justice.


Q: How do you expect to elevate the profile of the relatively obscure Loyola film school?
A:
First of all, we have a comprehensive public relations and marketing strategy that is in motion. No. 2, we're developing a visiting artists' program that connects students to industry experts and people working in the industry. No. 3, by entering in the contests and winning them. We have very talented students who are both participating in and winning at very important festivals.


Q: Much of Hollywood depends on personal connections. With Loyola being smaller and newer, how can you expect your students to have the same opportunities as those from more established schools?
A:
Again, we are building out our identity and outreach in a very significant way. We do have a track record. There's a lot of wonderful alumni we have (of predecessor programs) and we have a dean who's strongly connected to the entire industry landscape.


Q: What courses are being offered and who is teaching them?
A:
We have five programs: film, television, animation, screenwriting and recording arts. We have 24 full-time faculty and 30 part-time faculty and adjuncts. What makes us unique is that we have an approach to storytelling that ties all of our programs together. There's a thematic vision that binds everything we do.


Q: What is that vision?
A:
I've asked our school to be a vision of light grounded in humanistic values and diversity. Out of this reservoir is where I believe the storytellers of tomorrow are going to come. The kinds of filmmakers we're developing and nurturing here will be steeped in those values we're talking about, which are grace, depth and artistry.


Q: How do you reconcile that vision with the historically ego- and money-driven nature of Hollywood?
A:
I don't know that we should single out Hollywood. The nature of that question is cynical. You could apply this question to any business or industry today. I do think there are interesting films that get made in Hollywood "Lord of the Rings," "Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator," "The Upside of Anger." These are all deeply thought-out films that explore all aspects of human nature.


Q: So you don't think Hollywood has reached a creative dead end?
A:
It goes through cycles. You should look at it as you look at any business. The studios tend to be conservative and hedge their bets by investing in things that have the best chance of producing a return on that investment.


Q: Do you do any teaching yourself?
A:
I do not teach right now. We're in the early days of building out the school. Everything is in play here and everything is in motion. We're about to embark on a major fundraising effort; we're doing a public relations effort; we're reaching out to the filmmaking community. I start really early like around 7 and I don't get done until late.


Q: How does your job in academia differ from producing films?
A:
In a nutshell, to be a producer you have to have a vision and guide people in a creative and complex process. I am able to use all of my experiences as a producer in building a premiere media school of the future. When you're developing a film and producing a film, you're moving at more of a project pace: there's the slower, creative pace of conceiving and developing the project, and then the faster pace of seeing it to completion. It's a much different rhythm. I'm not a desk-bound person so I would say I walk around and talk to people as much as I did making movies.


Q: What are your students like?
A:
They're interesting, they're imaginative, they're soulful, they're funny and they're collaborative. They're very creatively generous. I really see no evidence of ego. It's really a delightful collaborative environment.


Q: Are they teaching you things?
A:
The students are very savvy. I think this generation of students is very much on the cutting edge of where technology is going. I love being challenged by them. I've never thought about how much of my job is learning. I've always felt that to do well, you need to always be learning.


Q: But don't you think that big technology-driven special effects movies are the opposite of what you are talking about?
A:
I don't think it's fair to say everything is mindless and bad. I don't think that's true. The kind of ideals we're talking about exist in "Lord of the Rings," which was very popular. They exist both in independent films and more commercial fare.


Q: So you wouldn't be disappointed if they made Hollywood blockbusters?
A:
I don't think it has to be one or the other. We're developing students who can traverse the entire landscape of the industry. We don't pigeonhole our students one way or the other, which I think is a real strength of this school. It's our job to make sure we connect them to all the opportunities that are out there and encourage them to find their place.


Q: What are the economic realities facing first-time filmmakers?
A:
I think it goes in cycles. On the studio level, they go a lot of different ways in terms of hiring first-time directors. In a sense it doesn't matter as much now because you have independent films, cable movies, things like that. You also have technology that's much cheaper and more available and that's another way of getting your work out there to an audience. These things didn't exist 10 years ago.


Q: But you still hear lots of stories about how difficult it is to get a really good story-driven project financed.
A:
If you look at "Million Dollar Baby," that's great humanistic storytelling but it took Clint Eastwood a lot to get it made. Sometimes you have to be creative and persistent.


Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
A:
I love making movies. The most rewarding time was the full 32 years: having the opportunity to work with great writers, great producers and great actors. I have a passion for making films and now I have a passion for being a mentor to the students who will be the storytellers of the future. I have a great relationship with all the studios.


Q: How often do you go to movies? What is the last one you've seen?
A:
Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, I was certainly oriented toward movies. I've always loved movies. The last one I saw was "Million Dollar Baby" (for the third time), which I think is just a brilliant and masterful movie. I try to see at least one movie a week. I see mainstream movies, I see independent movies, I try to see as many movies as I can across the board.

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