SSU's maturing Hollywood connection

Alumni building solid resumés with work on "Spider-Man Homecoming,' "Black Panther," "Smallfoot" and "Hotel Transylvania 3"
February 28, 2019
Anna Luna Black Panther Sonoma State

Sonoma State alumna Anna Luna was a member of the Marvel Studios' teams that created "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Black Panther."

Sean Tadlock Sonoma State "Smallfoot"

SSU alumnus Sean Tadlock works as a production assistant with Sony Pictures Animation.

Cannes Duex Sonoma State Studio Blue

From left: standing, Sam House, Sean Tadlock, Anna Luna, Charlie Baker and Alex Betrow; seated, Mary-Madison Baldo, Jason Nathan M. Weiss and Kayley Kemp were invited to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival to screen their two short films.

Anna Luna Black Panther Sonoma State
Sean Tadlock Sonoma State "Smallfoot"
Cannes Duex Sonoma State Studio Blue

Since the beginning of the film franchise with the 2008 surprise blockbuster hit “Iron Man,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe has amassed more than $17 billion in box office revenue. And it shows no sign of slowing down.

What started out as a lower budget superhero film with Robert Downey Jr. portraying Tony Stark, the billionaire, munitions-funded playboy who has a kidnapping experience that alters his world view in heroic proportions, has become a booming business with income equivalent to North Korea’s GDP.

And although it has yet to appear in the closing credits of any of the 20 films (and counting) the franchise has created to date, Sonoma State University is certainly deserving of a mention for its contributions to Marvel’s success - contributions such as Anna Luna.   

Luna, class of 2016, has been part of the effort to build the franchise by working on the two biggest blockbusters in the last two years: Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Before working on these films, and while still a student at Sonoma State, Luna was part of a special group of Seawolves that attended the Cannes Film Festival twice - once in 2015 and again in 2016 - to showcase her work on the films “Rampage” and “Bobby,” her directorial debut.

She says the experience encouraged her to continue her path and join Sony Pictures after graduation.

“My college career at Sonoma State was an incredible time,” says Luna, a San Diego native, who now lives in Encino. “I got involved with programs within the Communications Department, such as Studio Blue, that gave me valuable exposure to the filmmaking process and the opportunity to explore my talents.”

Associate Professor Edward Beebout has seen Luna’s talents first hand as the campus facilitator for Studio Blue, SSU’s video production media house. “When she got first involved with Studio Blue, she really blossomed, and it became apparent very quickly that she had found her niche,” said Beebout. “Almost immediately she went from student to group leader to the general manager [of the media house]. You can just tell she lived and breathed video production.”

Luna credits her networking experience with landing her first job at Sony Pictures in Hollywood shortly after she graduated in 2016.

“Being a post production-assistant on both ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Black Panther’ was an amazing time,” she said. “A majority of my responsibilities were keeping the editors, director and producers and post team all on schedule, healthy and happy. I was responsible for updating the movie’s continuity with each new cut and setting up meetings between the editors and the studio executives,” she said. “Both movies had very tight delivery schedules, and it was my job to make sure we were hitting our deadlines in the best way possible.”

Luna said she also helped to organize re-shoots and “pick-up” shoots where actors were called back to redo a scene “or add line that the director didn't get the first time shooting.”

Luna compares her post production department as the “relief pitchers” of the filmmaking business. But its not quick work. “Post [production] is also usually the longest part of the process, so often I spend eight months to a year with these tems,” she said. “We’re the last people to ‘fix’ the film before it is released to the world, and we either make or break the film.”

Through her connections in these teams, Luna is now a post-production assistant in an as-yet-untitled Netflix movie.

She credits her ability to join various teams and practice her film relationships to her experience at SSU.

“During my time at Sonoma State, I also met other students with similar passions and started building a network of fellow student filmmakers, which led to creating short films and going to Cannes,” said said. “I still am connected to those friendships and connections I made at Sonoma, and we continue to help each other grow in our filmmaking careers.”

One of those friendships is with Sean Tadlock, another 2016 graduate who also is now part of the Sonoma State-Hollywood connection. He was part of Luna’s team that went to Cannes and joined Sony Pictures Animation as a production assistant after graduation.

Tadlock credits his time on campus for helping him find his career path. “I thought I wanted to be an editor for film and television and through my internship experience at a small production house during my time at Sonoma,” said Talock. But he learned otherwise.

“I learned a lot from that internship, but the main takeaway was that video editing and being on set for long hours were not experiences I was passionate about pursuing further. I’m so grateful I learned that in school rather than trying to pursue it in Los Angeles after graduation.”

Tadlock, who is roommates with Luna in Encino, has been part of the team at Sony Animation and has worked on films such as “Hotel Transylvania 3” and “Smallfoot” since graduation.

“My favorite part of my job as a production assistant was getting to sit on reviews with the director and visual effects supervisor and see process of building an animated films,” said Tadlock. “My supervisors at Sony always encourage me to sit on meetings and learn about the technical side of animation and all the different techniques and process used to turn a simple mold on a computer into a fully moving simulated character on screen.”

Tadlock is currently working in the marketing department as a marketing production assistant for the just released animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

“In my new position I’m helping to build all the promotional media, such as posters, billboards and other advertising pieces for the movie,” said Tadlock. “It’s been a nice change of pace and I’ve been able to learn more about the industry from a new perspective.”

Tadlock eventually wants to be a writer from a television show. During his time writing and being a group leader for a short film group at Studio Blue he discovered what genre he wants to continue to work in. “Studio Blue helped me figure out what kind of short films I wanted to make,” he said. “I had the opportunity to be creative and produce short films in genres I was interested in, such as drama and horror. Turns out, I’m better suited at comedies because my more dramatic pieces always ended up making people laugh instead of cry.”

As the short film leader, Tadlock raised his group to new heights, according to Beebout. “The reason why that happened was because his passion for film was just so infectious. You would listen in to their group’s meeting and hear them be so into it, and they were into it because Sean was just so into it,” said Beebout. “He really led by example.”

Tadlock, who is originally from Loomis, recently directed his first comedy short and hopes to shop it around local film festivals in Los Angeles.

Sonoma State has alums working in other parts of Hollywood. Alex Bretow, one of the original Campus Movie Fest winners at SSU, works as a producer for Mammoth Pictures, and award-winning film producer Laurie Macdonald has worked on such Academy Award-winning films as “Gladiator,” “Catch me If You Can” and the “Men in Black” franchise with her production company, Parkes/Macdonald.

For anyone interested in a following a similar path in movies, Tadlock and Luna have some advice. “Besides taking all the film-related courses at Sonoma State, start making short films with your friends, classmates, theatre majors, or anyone with a pulse,” said Tadlock. “Get a summer internship even if you don't get school credit for it. Experience not only is helpful on a resume but will also help you understand yourself better and what you really want to do on a film production.”

“Try to learn as much as you can about each role whether its directing, producing, editing, lightning, sound, financing, etc,” Luna adds. “Build your network. Find opportunities at Sonoma and beyond. Connections are extremely important in this industry so start reaching out to people now. But overall just start making (films).”

Luna’s favorite part of her job? It goes back to her time at Sonoma State - “seeing the director, editor, sound editor, VFX teams all work together to create one vision,” she said.

“It’s pretty amazing to see it all come together and even more rewarding when it’s a huge success like ‘Black Panther.’ This reminds me of all the work we did at SSU where all my friends and I were throwing around ideas and collaborating together.”

Sort of like “The Avengers,” she adds with a laugh.