For many at UT, the Hollywood film industry seems like a distant mirage, a place that doesn't seem entirely real or achievable for the average college graduate.
Matt Milam, a UT alumnus and senior vice president at Skydance, brought three fellow producers to the Hodges Library Auditorium on Friday to discuss their experience with the industry.
These producers included Bryan Unkeless, senior vice president at Color Force, Jon Silk, senior vice president at Lin Pictures and Will Russell-Shapiro, senior executive for Aversano Productions.
The movies the trio have worked on include "Star Trek: Into Darkness," "World War Z" and "Hunger Games."
The four men answered audience questions and had the opportunity to talk about various aspects of the film industry, including the best way to break into it and the realities of working in that kind of environment.
Milam, who took an unpaid internship in Los Angeles during the summer before his junior year, left college to take a job with the company he interned for and has since worked at Warner Brothers before moving to Skydance.
"(Hollywood) is an incredibly aggressive and intense place to work," Milam said. "It's full of super insecure people that want to prove their worth, so they're always battling and jockeying for position."
All four producers discussed the difficulty of working for sometimes-abusive bosses in demanding work environments, debunking the myth of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle.
"Talent is ageless; if you can write or direct it doesn't matter how old you are," Milam said. "For executives, it's a younger person's game because you're working 18-20 hour days. At 21, you can put up with a lot of that abuse.
"But at 33, you sort of have too much respect to put up with that kind of abuse."
However, the fluidity and lack of a strict structure make it doable to move up in the career, according to Russell-Shapiro.
"We're the sellers, the studios are the buyers," Russell-Shapiro said. "Our job is to find ideas to sell to the studio. There's no rules, which is good and bad. One of the exciting things is that you just figure it out.
"Produce something. Take it as far as you can. It all starts with finding ideas and going from there."
Unkeless said the more difficult part ensues: actually getting the rights to a project and then selling it to a studio.
He tied in his experience with "Hunger Games" to illustrate this part of the job.
"With the 'Hunger Games,' every producer had an hour with Suzanne (Collins) and it was just talking about why you really thought the book was special and how you would proceed to make that movie," Unkeless said. "A really bad version of that movie could have been made where it's really exploitative and violent.
"You first have to sell yourself as someone who will really uphold (the author's) vision."
After hearing about the hardships involved in the field, an audience member asked, "What gets you through it? What keeps you going?"
In his response, Milam cited his mom's theater managing job and how he spent his days in the production room just watching films.
"It's a love of movies," Milam said. "What keeps me going is being on a movie set and thinking, 'This is cool, I'm part of a process. I'm part of what made this happen.'
"I hope there's some other little kid out there watching this movie and thinking 'How did they do that?'"
Milam also emphasized the importance of passion and loving what you do.
"People ask me all the time, 'If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?'" Milam said. "If your answer is not 'I don't know what else I would do," then you shouldn't do it. Because this is a hard business. Unless you have that passion, you're going to burn out."
Bill Larsen, Ph.D. professor of English and cinema studies, had Milam in his screenwriting class and said it was evident he would make it in the film business.
"He was so sincere about what he wanted to do," Larsen said. "I knew he was going to make it. He wouldn't take no for an answer."
Christie Caldwell, a senior in journalism and electronic media, said the panel also served as a good networking opportunity where she was able to learn a lot about the field.
"I really enjoyed it; it was interesting to see how young they were and how they got into Hollywood producing," said Caldwell, who hopes to go into film editing and eventually move to Hollywood. "It was very informative and encouraging.
"(The business) is hard but if you're passionate about it, it's worth it."