Alex Budman on Jimmy Fallon, “unprofitable” degrees and storytelling: a career in journalism and documentaries

As a first year at St Andrews, 2012 graduate Alex Budman wrote an essay on the importance of sharing in hunter gatherer communities. She received a score of six, along with her tutor’s rather disparaging feedback scribbled in the margins: “I want to kill myself.”

Two years later, Ms Budman earned a 19 on her final essay with the film studies department, and today her CV includes jobs with high-profile media outlets like Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Ms Budman spent three years at the University studying a general degree in art history and lm studies. She decided to focus on these courses because they aligned closely with her interests.

“Whenever you study theory, you aren’t training for a specific career, but you are learning how to learn, how to collaborate with people, how to connect thoughts,” Ms Budman said. “I figured that if I followed my interests, it would lead ilan to a more meaningful and hopefully more successful career.”

Due to the breadth of her degree, Ms Budman was able to make the most of internships and other career opportunities during her time at St Andrews. The summer after her second year, she lived in New York City and interned with Vanity Fair’s photo department. Ms Budman edited collections of photos, worked on a Rupert Murdoch e-book, and sourced archive photographs for an article published in a later magazine issue. At the same time, she was able to assistant teach at a communal garden in Harlem.

Back in St Andrews, Ms Budman worked to find media opportunities. She soon became an impact and college writer for The Huffington Post, highlighting stories of people involved in philanthropic initiatives and reporting on the realities of studying abroad.

“I sent a lot of emails,” she said. “I pitched a lot of stories. The first thing that HuffPost ever published was an article about May Dip and then one about celebrating American Thanksgiving in Scotland. I tried to tell unique stories that weren’t overreaching or overambitious.”

Following graduation, Ms Budman moved to New York City to pursue a master’s in social documentary filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. She spent two years networking and freelancing before receiving an offer from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. At The Tonight Show, Ms Budman served as a production assistant and casting associate, working with the team responsible for producing digital shorts.

She said: “I got the job at Fallon through a referral [from] a friend who I had met on set. The more you are out in the world working, the more people you meet.”

Today, Ms Budman works at a tech startup promoting an app called REX. Through REX, users can share recommendations with each other rather than rely on algorithms for suggestions. Ms Budman sees her current job as a continuation of her degree because she works with many film people, and “the focus of our app is to share the cultural items, be it art, music [or] film, that we all love.”

Ms Budman also works as a documentary filmmaker, producing short pieces about people who interest her. Thus far, she has worked with Holocaust survivors and individuals who show extraordinary optimism against all odds. In the future, Ms Budman hopes to continue making art, ideally through film, and work with people of all socio-economic backgrounds.

Despite art history and film studies’ reputations as largely unmarketable degrees, Ms Budman said she gained a great understanding of both subjects during her time at St Andrews. This helped prepare her for graduate school, and even today she finds herself drawing upon her studies, especially in conversations about the arts with coworkers or friends.

Ms Budman offered the following advice to students studying similar degrees: “Follow your interests. Learn as much as you can. Don’t feel like you need to work at a gallery: See what you can do at a tech startup, [or] see if you can bring art to a place that needs it. Again, we aren’t training for a specific career or trade, so there is so much room for adventure. Take your degree and run with it.

The Saint, February 18, 2016

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