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Lionsgate Hosts Freelance Panel with Emerson Alumni

How can you survive and thrive as a freelancer? That was the topic of discussion at a panel produced by Emerson College Los Angeles and held at Lionsgate Entertainment in Santa Monica, California, on June 22.

Panelists included Sharla Sumpter Bridgett, executive producer and show runner, Simpson St. Productions and Sumpter Bridgett Productions; alumnus Paul J. Morra ’95, partner, executive producer, and director, Swift River Productions; and Barry Hennessey, Emmy-winning producer. Emerson’s LA Alumni Association co-chair Gia Galligani ’98, a show runner and development executive, moderated the event. 

From left: Paul J. Morra '945, Gia Galligani '98, Sharla Sumpter Bridgett, Jenn O’Connell ’94, and Barry Hennessey. 

During the panel, discussion topics included best tips for networking, when you should get an agent, and how to navigate the freelance world. Morra kicked off the panel by sharing a story about how he began his career, turning down a low-paying production assistant gig to work for free as an apprentice. Eventually, he was hired on as a full-time crewmember. The lesson he wanted to convey to the audience: persistence, drive, and hard work pay off.

“Get out there and go to as many functions as you can,” Morra advised the audience. “Join different groups, go to screenings. Emerson throws so many social events. Go to every single one.”

Jenn O’Connell ’94, executive vice president of alternative programming at Lionsgate and an Alumni Board member, had encouraged Emerson LA to host an event inside her workplace’s screening room.

“I want people to think of Lionsgate as a place where there’s a growing Emerson community,” said O’Connell. “I’m super proud of the fact that we have interns here at Lionsgate and recent graduates who have scored amazing jobs.”

Jenn O’Connell ’94, executive vice president of alternative programming at Lionsgate and an Alumni Board member.

Two of those graduates include Jackie Cheng ’17 and Meredith Weber ’17, Fall 2016 Emerson LA students who interned at Lionsgate. Both alumnae received job offers from the entertainment and media company after graduating.

“Lionsgate is really awesome and the people who work here are amazing,” said Cheng, an assistant in the international distribution department at Lionsgate. “I haven’t met anyone here who felt they were too good and I felt respected even when I was an intern.”

The day of the panel marked Weber’s first full day on the job as Lionsgate’s business and legal affairs assistant for film production.
“It’s awesome to have Emerson LA in the building,” said Weber. “Creating this kind of relationship is good for both students and Lionsgate.”

Meredith Weber ’17 and Jackie Cheng ’17. 

For Shelby Sims ’14, a production coordinator, the event offered her an opportunity to learn more about freelancing, a path she has considered pursuing.

“It was really interesting and a great chance to meet more alumni and network with other people in the industry,” said Sims.

During the panel, Sumpter Bridgett spoke highly of the Emerson alumni she has hired and said she was a fan of the College.

“The Emerson squad rolls really hard,” said Sumpter Bridgett. “This is a great program. You guys are really lucky.”

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