Alumna Shares Passion for Film
Production accountant teaches master class on writing for television
January 29, 2010
Stephanie Whallon, ’98, an acclaimed production accountant in Los Angeles, returned to the University of Richmond in the fall of 2009 to teach a master class to creative writing students on writing for television.
Whallon, a women’s studies major and an English minor, discovered her passion for film studies during her sophomore year at Richmond. While studying abroad at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England during her junior year, she studied cinema history extensively. Upon returning to Richmond, she decided to go to graduate school to study film production.
After researching top film schools at universities such as New York University, Northwestern University, and University of Texas at Austin, Whallon decided that the Columbia University School of the Arts film division was the right fit for her.
“Columbia's program was appealing to me because it focused on all the components of filmmaking, emphasizing writing as much as directing,” explained Whallon.
After pulling an all-nighter to write a 20-page sample script, Whallon applied to Columbia’s film school and was accepted. She learned about the role of a production accountant while studying at Columbia.
"Producer Mike Hausman, a professor at Columbia, needed extra help when he was working on 'Gangs of New York,' so he hired a bunch of students to come and help his accountant who was working on another movie in addition to 'Gangs,'" said Whallon.
Whallon explained that production accounting is very similar to being a producer. It is excellent training for producing, writing and directing.
“As a production accountant you are responsible for tracking the budget for the studio. You work closely with all the other departments on the film to learn exactly what they need to get their jobs done, and you help them meet those needs,” she said. “You also get to do really cool things, like travel with the crew!”
Whallon moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Columbia and started working as a production accountant for Universal Studios. Her first job was on a film written and directed by Joss Whedon, "Serenity."
“For an industry that is highly competitive and very populated with people always trying to elbow their way in, I've worked hard and I've been extremely lucky,” Whallon said. “I'm proud that I set out to work in the film industry and that I succeeded in doing it.”
Since then, Whallon has worked on the films "Flags of Our Fathers," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Rails and Ties," "Changeling," "Gran Torino," "We Are Marshall," "Zodiac" and "Nights in Rodanthe."
Whallon said spending the summer of 2005 living in Iceland while working on "Flags of Our Fathers" and working with director Clint Eastwood on the film "Gran Torino" have been the highlights of her career thus far.
While the film business has provided Whallon with incredible experiences both personally and professionally, she is now looking for other ways to be inspired and inspire others.
“In the film industry you live and breathe your work,” Whallon said. “The biggest pros of working in the industry are the really cool opportunities you get, such as traveling to exotic places and meeting famous people. The major cons are the long hours and the crazy filming schedules. While I love what I do, I'm looking to find more of a balance of personal and professional life lately.”
Whallon has been transitioning into teaching slowly, starting by teaching writing and movie making workshops at the public libraries near Lancaster, Pa. where she grew up.
“I love seeing students take an idea and mold it to make something really compelling and profound,” she said. “The hours of production are long and strenuous and can take magic out of filmmaking. I enjoy teaching because it makes everything new again. Watching my students get excited about writing and making films reminds me why I love what I do.”
Students in Whallon’s class participated in a two-hour discussion about screenwriting and production for the small screen.
“All of the students who participated in the class were so enthusiastic and smart!” Whallon said. “There really isn’t anything cooler than being able to talk for hours about writing and have people enjoy it.”
Although she is interested in transitioning into teaching, Whallon says she won’t give up her film work.
“I don't think I could teach unless I kept writing. I feel like what makes me a unique instructor is that I've had a lot of practical experience in the business in addition to a good education,” she said. “If I stopped working I would not be able to offer the same perspective.”
She’ll continue to work in the Los Angeles film industry, but says her experience teaching at Richmond has solidified her desire to start teaching in the near future.