Knowing what steps to take to pursue a professional career right out of college can be a daunting prospect.
Alumni mentors help students find firm footing after graduation, through a mentorship program that matches graduates with entertainment industry professionals for one-on-one expert guidance.
John Coffey, a talent agent representing a select group of actors at the noted Kohner Agency, and a founding member of the SDA Alumni Leadership Council, is one of more than 50 mentors in this evolving program.
“I jumped at the opportunity to be able to help,” Coffey said. “If there was a ‘me’ I could have talked to upon graduation, ” he said, referring to his own experiences as an SDA student, “I think the early-on navigation of the industry would have been a lot less stressful.”
Although there is no immediate path to a career in the entertainment industry—“It’s not 1, 2, 3, and you’re a working actor on television,” he said, “or you do a, b, c, and you’ll be the next Marvel movie star, or a studio executive”—if Coffey can help “a little bit in demystifying and navigating the business, help someone secure their first representation, or help them at least click into a groove where they can feel more self-sufficient, the mentorship will succeed.”
“Everything we learn in school is helpful,” said Katie Hoffmeister BA ’21, one of Coffey’s recent mentees, “but as a student, you’re still protected by that safety net.” Coffey’s perspective on “what I should do differently, what I should do better, and how to get a foot in the door” is invaluable, she noted.
Within the framework of the program and depending on schedules (and on recent pandemic restrictions), mentees meet with their mentors monthly, to ask questions, discuss concerns and talk about action plans. “Whether it’s getting new pictures, dusting off the resume, editing together some self-tapes, or putting smart lists together of potential representatives, managers or agencies,” Coffey said, “let’s set some goals. And the next time we chat, let’s see where we’re at. Are those goals the same or have they changed?”
Tessa O’Bryan BA ’21, currently an assistant at Cartel Entertainment, noted that having monthly check-ins is “a great way to give yourself a healthy amount of pressure to go and do things to tell about.” O’Bryan, pursuing both acting and screenwriting, applied for the program in December of her senior year. Coffey “helped me think critically about what I really wanted to do,” she said.
“I don’t think a lot of actors get this kind of hands-on support, especially right out of school,” said Miles Fowler BA ’19, who recently wrapped up a series regular role on the Fox medical drama The Resident and starred in the Los Angeles premiere of Sanctuary City by Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok at the Pasadena Playhouse. “You’re in this tremendous program for four years where you’ve had all the support in the world and validation at every turn,” and leaving “can be very lonely.”
Fowler credits Coffey with helping his transition from student to working actor “in the most positive way. He gave me a launching pad. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Giving back is important to Coffey, who has two young children of his own. “I think it’s important to be able to, hopefully, make a genuine difference in people’s lives. If I can set up a few meetings, find a manager, maybe find an agent for someone, and get their career going off to the races, that’s one way to help,” he said. “If others, over the course of discussions, decide they’re gravitating towards a different part of the business, as an agent sort of touching every facet of the business, it’s nice I am able to help there, too.”
This article appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Callboard magazine. Read more stories from the issue online.