Talent Watch: Jess, Alex, and Abby

Published on Apr 15, 2014
From left to right: Jess Mattison, Abby Young, and Alex Cox. Photo by Emily Madigan.From left to right: Jess Mattison, Abby Young, and Alex Cox. Photo by Emily Madigan.

While in college, many students dream of getting a high-profile internship to complement their major. Alum Jess Mattison and seniors Alex Cox and Abby Young have achieved just that! They interned at CNN for the documentary series Chicagoland. We asked them about their work with CNN, how Columbia prepared them for their roles, and about what they hope to do in the future. 

How did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Jess: It happened naturally. I began writing scripts and acting when I was 5 years old. When I was 10 years old, I got my first video camera and decided I preferred being behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Alex: I want to be a documentary filmmaker because I enjoy finding and sharing true stories that can be more engaging than fiction.  

Abby: I have been passionate about making art and films since I can remember! I chose to pursue it as a profession when I realized there were actually job opportunities.  

How did you get involved with CNN’s Chicagoland?

Jess: I started out as an intern with CNN where I was an administrative assistant.  I researched, logged and ordered equipment. A few months into my internship, I was hired as a production assistant.

What was working on Chicagoland like?

Jess: Working on Chicagoland was a great learning experience! It taught me the ins and outs of working on a large-scale documentary series production. Learning how to balance everything was something I didn't have experience with before. Also, sharing that experience with Abby and Alex was nice because we were there to advise each other if and when we needed it.

Abby: I did office work and I was out in Chicago working as a sound recorder or production assistant. It was an amazing way to see the city and learn about the professional side of documentaries.

Did Columbia help?

Abby: We would not have found out about this opportunity without professor Jeff Spitz!

Jess: I would not have found out about any internship opportunities without Columbia. I found out about internship opportunities through teachers, the non-profit career fair, and the portfolio center. I searched most of these opportunities out myself though; they didn't exactly just fall into my lap. 

Abby: Columbia does a good job of offering opportunities for you to pursue and it is a great base for networking. It's been more overwhelming for me to chose what position I want to apply for than finding one.

What filmmakers do you admire?

Jess: I admire certain teachers at Columbia, specifically Jeff Spitz, Laurie Little, Dan Rybicky, Ruth Leitman, Ted Hardin and Dana Kupper. A mainstream filmmaker who I really admire is Greta Gerwig.

Alex: I admire too many filmmakers and producers to name!

Abby: I admire Tao Ruspoli because he traveled around the country documenting relatively unknown artists and eccentric characters. I would be so happy doing just that.

What inspires you?

Jess: My family, friends, strangers, anyone and anything. I'm constantly absorbing the world around me, and inspiration can come from anywhere.

Alex: I’m inspired by anyone who has a good story and will go outside of traditional boxes to tell it.  

Abby: Silver linings.

What are three words that describe your work?

Jess: Real. Aware. Satirical.

Alex: Communication. Story. Play. 

Abby: Oh. Okay. Wow.

What do you do during your free time?

Jess: I love to cook, read, ride my bike, do yoga, see live music and spend quality time with family and friends.

Alex: I am usually researching for new projects, but I also indulge myself by playing videogames with friends and exploring science fiction media. 

Abby: I walk around and talk to strangers.

What are some of your future plans?

Jess: I will continue pursuing my career as a filmmaker with a focus on documentary, and see where that takes me! I'd really like to become a professor someday, and make films/art on the side.  

Alex: I want to produce documentaries and telling the best story possible!

Abby: Being part of a documentary production company would be amazing, but I will probably [continue to] freelance. I would also like to do sound for commercial work for 2-3 months to be able to sustain my travels for the rest of the year.