Alumnus offers career tips to Theatre students

March 09, 2009

When a television movie producer stops by to spend time with your class and then offers to meet at the dining hall to talk more, Theatre Arts major Chris Molloy ‘10 figures it’s best to clear your schedule.

“I have no grand vision that he’s going to offer me a job, but it’s worth it to spend the time absorbing what this person is all about,” Molloy said on a recent day after taking visiting alumnus, Jim Wilberger ’72, on an impromptu tour of the campus after lunch at Englar Dining Hall.

Molloy was among the students in Adjunct Lecturer Nick DePinto’s class, “Acting for the Camera,” when Wilberger dropped by for a visit. During his recent trip to campus, Wilberger also hosted an open forum at Hill Hall to talk about film production careers.

Wilberger, who majored in Theatre Arts when McDaniel was Western Maryland College, said he initially wanted to become an actor. But during his sophomore year, he signed up for the college’s only film class and soon decided to instead pursue a career in film production.

“I made this one five- or six-minute film called ‘Repast,’ and it wasn’t very good,” Wilberger said. “But I got so excited about making that little movie.”

Since then, Wilberger has managed a successful film career by working his way from crew-related jobs, such as grip and electrician, to producer of television movies for Turner Network Television and now the Hallmark Channel.

He said he has counseled many McDaniel students over the years in long-distance phone calls, offering guidance to those with an itch to head to New York or Hollywood for acting or directing careers.

“I tell them to be specific, but flexible,” Wilberger said during lunch in Englar Dining Hall with Molloy and DePinto. “I tell them they have to be willing to start at the bottom. They have to get to know people and studios, and eventually the opportunities will come.”

DePinto said Wilberger’s visit was an excellent example of the “transformative power of McDaniel College and the continuation of that powerful educational tradition.”

“Having begun his film career more or less here at McDaniel, Jim has been working in film pretty much entirely since he was a student here,” DePinto said. “In an era where most people begin in one career and navigate through several others before retiring from a field altogether different from the one in which they started, experience gets harder and harder to come by.

“Experience at the level and to the extent that Jim has – akin to a master craftsman openly and willfully imparting whatever passion and skill he has onto a younger person – is a rare gem indeed,” DePinto said.

Last week, Wilberger spent one morning giving pointers to students in DePinto’s class about creating actor reels, which are video resumes of their performances. He told them to keep the video clips short because casting directors often spend only minutes assessing an audition reel before moving onto the next.

Then, he handed them a script from his latest movie, “Uncorked,” which he just finished filming for the Hallmark Channel, and suggested they practice auditioning on tape using one of the scenes.

Wilberger was sparing in his criticism, impressed that the students had done as well as they had given so little preparation. And then he showed them tapes of the actual actors and how they performed the same scene.

Eager to continue the conversation, Wilberger agreed to meet the class for lunch at Englar Dining Hall.

And that’s where Molloy took advantage of the opportunity to continue rubbing elbows with this successful film producer, who once ate at the same dining hall and lived on the same campus, to glean whatever pearls of wisdom he could.

“I feel like one of the most beneficial things I could do here is to spend time with him,” Molloy said on his way to another class where Wilberger would be speaking. “Even if I’m not picking his brain about something specific, it’s good to know that he’s here and willing to help.”

Nick DePinto, Jim Wilberger ’72 and Chris Molloy ’10 on the steps of WMC Alumni Hall.