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Executive Director of Motion Pictures & Television and Acting
Diane Baker studied acting and ballet in New York with Charles Conrad and Nina Fonaroff. She also studied acting in Los Angeles with Estelle Harman and years later with Stella Adler. While under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, she was introduced to director George Stevens Sr., who cast her in The Diary of Anne Frank. Diane performed in films Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Best of Everything, 300 Spartans, The Wizard of Baghdad, Nine Hours to Rama, directed by Mark Robson, and on loan-out starred with Susan Hayward in Stolen Hours in England. At Universal, she starred in Mirage with Gregory Peck, Marnie for director Alfred Hitchcock and The Prize, starring Paul Newman. She also appeared in The Joy Luck Club, The Net with Sandra Bullock, and The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick and most recently, Harrison Montgomery with Martin Landau.
Diane has worked with Anthony Hopkins and director Jonathan Demme in Silence of the Lambs, and her most recent television credits include Law & Order: SVU, ER with Noah Wyle and five episodes of HBO’s Unscripted, directed by George Clooney. Other television credits include The Blue and the Grey, Inherit the Wind (for which she received an Emmy nomination), About Sarah, and CBS’ four-hour miniseries, Jackie O, in the role of Rose Kennedy.
Diane’s first effort as a producer came in the self-financed documentary, Ashiana, which dealt with the end of feudalism and the beginning of democracy in India. Several other award-winning documentaries followed, including HBO’s To Climb a Mountain and Emmy-nominated Miracles in the Making. She produced the film Never Never Land in London starring Petula Clark and Cathleen Nesbitt, which opened the door for a future project, the six-hour mini-series based on Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “A Woman of Substance,” which received an Emmy nomination for Best Mini-Series.
She has received numerous honors and awards, including multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Irvine in Southern California, and Cinecom Career Award in 2005 given at the legendary Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Ms. Baker has been a Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences voting member for forty years. Additionally, Diane studied Telecommunications and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Documentary Channel as well as coordinating member of the Oakland Film Commission Arts Task Force.
In addition, Ms. Baker has been invited to serve on many film festival juries. In the late 70’s, she was the president of the jury for Northern Greece festival of Thessaloniki with Melina Mercouri, and subsequently on the jury at the International Film Festival in Bombay, India. In 1997, she was invited to the first International Film Festival in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. She was also on the Palm Springs Film Festival jury in 2005.
Diane Baker was invited to Academy of Art University to build an acting program for graduate and undergraduate students. She inaugurated the first sound stage at the university and its first black box theater, both of which are used by students in the Acting and Film programs to create their portfolios. She has recently been promoted to Executive Director of the Motion Pictures & Television and Acting School. Her future dream is to build a film center for serious filmmakers who want to make meaningful films that will inspire, educate and entertain.
Director, Motion Pictures & Television
Eduardo Rufeisen has more than 17 years of international experience producing, directing, and managing creative teams and crews. He worked as the Senior Advisor of Advertising for Bosch-Blaupunkt group in Brazil, directing ad campaigns for print, TV and Radio. He became marketing manager of MTV-Brazil where he created television ad campaigns and managed the sales team. He also worked for a Brazilian Television Network producing more than 100 different shows.
During the last 12 years he has been producing and directing multi-camera TV shows for local San Francisco Bay Area cable channels and multinational companies including Hewlett Packard. He has also produced, directed and edited short films, documentaries and commercials seen nationally on ABC, MTV, Lifetime, WB and Fox. His short films and documentaries have won multiple awards around the world.
Since completing his Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Motion Pictures and Television Studies at Academy of Art University, Eduardo has also been working as a film and television instructor at various colleges in Northern California. During the last 8 years, he has taught classes in a wide variety of Motion Picture disciplines. In January 2004, he became the Coordinator of the MFA program in the School Motion Pictures and Television. In October 2006 he became the Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Motion Pictures and Television at the Academy and in October of 2008, he became the Director of the School of Motion Pictures and Television, where he continues to teach and mentor students. As part of his responsibilities, Eduardo reviews all portfolios of students interested in the program and he also is a lead committee member in MFA Midpoint and Final reviews where he frequently chairs the committees.
Director of Online Motion Pictures & Television and Acting
James Egan is an award winning writer and producer whose credits range from In & Out (1985) to Angels in the Dust (2007), which won the Amnesty International VARA Award for Social Justice. In 2000, Egan founded Wild at Heart Films, which aims to create "media that makes a difference".
Awarded the MFA Degree at the UCLA Graduate School of Motion Picture and Television, Egan began working in the film business by underwriting completion bonds on films by internationally famous filmmaker John Waters (Hairspray, Cecil B. Demented). The experience gave Egan a comprehensive knowledge of the film budgeting process, from preparing the script to delivering negatives to distributors.
Egan's screenwriting career was launched when his UCLA thesis project was sold to the BBC as a mini-series, The Huxleys. While working for the BBC, Egan formed a successful working relationship with Zenith Entertainment, one of the BBC's largest program suppliers. Wild at Heart Films continues to partner with Zenith Entertainment by producing Martin Scorsese's The 12, a television series that has been sold to The SyFy Network. Egan produced Jackpot (2001) by the Polish Brothers, which won the John Cassavetes Award for best low-budget feature at the 2001 Independent Spirit Awards. He is currently developing Max Hi, a futuristic high school movie financed by a major video game company. Egan Co-Executive Produced Kimjongilia with Mike Figgis, which premiered at Sundance 2009 and was broadcast on The Documentary Channel and PBS 2010. Professor Egan won a Humanities Grant from USC for film research in 2010 which produced "John Waters Interviews" a history of the acclaimed director's work through collected interviews. The book was launched nationally in 2011 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Egan is currently partnered with internationally known crime writer, Michael Connelly, (Lincoln Lawyer) to produce The Frank Morgan Project about the bebop king who spent thirty years in San Quentin. He is also working with three-time Oscar Winning Director, Mark Harris, on the "Der Jüdische Kulturbund" to be filmed in Berlin in 2013 to commemorate the 80 year memorial of the pogroms which started in 1933.
Egan also serves on the national board of the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, which is working with entertainment professionals to train wounded members of the military and aid them to find careers in the film and television industry. He is also a vested member of the Writers Guild of America.
Shaaron A. Murphy
Director of Editing
Shaaron Murphy has been teaching at the Academy since 1995. She is full-time faculty teaching Final Cut Pro, Avid, The Work of Great Directors, and the Advanced Editing Theory course, which she created for the department. As the Editorial Coordinator she oversees more than 100 labs and a large group of instructors, technicians and staff. With her fifteen years of work in feature films, documentaries, national ads and narrative shorts, she brings valuable industry expertise to the editing portion of the program. She is a graduate of the USC School of Cinema Production program. Her student work was a winner of the Student Emmy Award for Production.
Curran is a producer, production manager, first assistant director, and second assistant director, and has over 12 years of extensive industry experience. He was the Producer on several feature films, such as Skeleton Woman, This Space Between Us, Downfall and Cherish and First Assistant Director on Heartwood, Tweeker, and Chalk. Curran is an accomplished professional who has worked in a variety of roles.
He possesses a great deal of industry experience, which is a valuable asset to his teaching. In this graduate purse, he guides graduate students through the various elements of production, from breaking down a script to scheduling and budgeting. His first-hand experience of sales and marketing prepares students for the challenges of producing their own projects. Curran's extensive list of projects includes music videos, commercials, television and movies. Curran has worked at the Academy since 1999 and is a full-time instructor.
Full-Time Acting Instructor
Karen Hirst is a comedian, actor and singer. Karen began her professional career with Second City Improvisational Theater in Chicago as part of their touring company. She appeared on stage with Second City alumni Eugene Levy, George Wendt, John Candy, Jim Belushi, Betty Thomas and many others.
She was a performing/teaching artist with the Wolf Trap Foundation in Washington, D. C., and coordinated their Bay Area program. Karen conducted workshops nationally for them on the use of comedy in the classroom.
Karen has written and continues to perform her own shows in the Bay Area. Locally, Karen has performed at the Magic Theater, The Phoenix, Spreckles Center for The Performing Arts and many other venues.
She holds a degree in acting from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois and pursued advanced acting studies at Circle in the Square, in New York.
Karen teaches Improvisation, Acting for Actors, Respect for Acting and is the faculty sponsor for the Drama Club. Karen has been with the Academy since 1996 and is a full-time faculty member.
Damon K. Sperber
Full-Time Acting Instructor
Damon K. Sperber has worked as an actor for over twenty years. A graduate of UCLA (BA in World Arts and Cultures-Theater) and the American Conservatory Theater (MFA), Damon has appeared in theater, television, film, commercials and on radio. Damon is also a proud member of the Screen Actor's Guild, Actor's Equity Association and AFTRA.
In addition to acting professionally, Damon’s experience working with casting directors (he's worked in New York and Los Angeles to develop and cast talent for Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional theater) has informed his techniques for honing the tools required of the working actor.
"The journey of the actor is a rewarding and challenging process. It requires total commitment and focus. Combined with a meticulous attention to detail and technical proficiency, the actor must also bring honesty, integrity and a childlike freedom to utilize and develop their imaginations fully.”
Tim Boxell directed feature films “Aberration” for Artisan and romantic comedy “Chasing Destiny” for Artists View as well as working on dozens of features in the roles of visual consultant and storyboard artist. As a writer he’s scripted dozens of TV and feature scripts including a comedy for Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures. As creative director for Colossal Pictures Tim was actively involved in MTV’s notorious mixed media hit show “Liquid Television” for which he directed “Winter Steele” and “Las Apassionadas”. His work has been seen on Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central, The Disney Channel, ABC, The WB and Nickelodeon. He’s directed and designed numerous award-winning commercials (Hershey’s, Nintendo, Doritos, Budweiser) and broadcast graphics (VH-1, MTV, TNT) featuring and inventive blend of animation, live action and effects. Tim recently co-founded “Alligator Planet:, an animation company, serving as the chief creative for developing and producing original content for feature films and television.
Cynthia Rogers Baggott
Cynthia is a performer, teacher, and registered drama therapist who has trained and performed on both coasts and overseas. She holds a Master's degree in Psychology/Drama Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies, a Bachelor's degree in Theater from Pomona College, and is an Associate of the prestigious L.A.-based Voiceworks Method. Cynthia has been a professional actor and singer for over 20 years. Her New York experience includes contracts with companies such as La Mama, ETC and the Light Opera of Manhattan.
Since making her home in the Bay Area, she has worked at TheatreWorks, 42nd Street Moon, and on the Delta Queen and Empress of the North showboats.
Letitia Bartlett has been working in the mime, movement and circus world for over thirty years. She has trained with Leonard Pitt, Samuel Avital, and Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Letitia was a performer and director for Make*A*Circus in San Francisco, and now teachers at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She is also on the faculty of the American Conservatory Theater and currently works as a freelance circus performer.
Mike Bellew has over 20 years of production experience in Film, Video, Radio and Television. Bellew has worked on several Emmy Award winning productions for KRON (NBC) in San Francisco and KTVU (Fox) in Oakland. His experience includes staff positions and freelance assignments for companies such as: Macy’s Department Store, Golden Gate University, California State University East Bay, Peralta College, Pacific Bell, SBC, Seren Innovations, Fuji Film, Kodak, Canon, Altec Lansing, Epson, and SanDisk. He has been teaching graduate and undergraduate editing classes at Academy of Art University since 2001.
Anne Bluethenthal, MFA, is founder and Artistic Director of ABD Productions. Winner of the SF Bay Guardian's 1996 Goldie Award for Dance, she has been choreographing, performing, and teaching in the Bay Area since she arrived in 1982.
Bluethenthal established her company in 1984, having performed and choreographed throughout the country. She has been an artistic consultant for many Bay Area choreographers and travels as a solo artist and teacher. In addition to solo and ensemble repertory, she created and directed the full-length dances Fish Can Sing (1990), Connections (1992), Excavations of the Spirit (1994), and The Heart is a Live Thing (2003).
Anne has collaborated extensively with Bay Area theater, dance, and music artists. She co-founded the SF Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival and recently created the Dancing the Mystery series. Anne has been teaching her unique approach to dance technique for over 20 years, and she is on the faculties of New College of California's Women's Spirituality program and Academy of Art University. Bluethenthal maintains a private practice in the Alexander Technique and is certified by both the North American and London Societies for Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Her writing on dance and the Alexander Technique was published in Jerry Sontag’s book, Curiosity Recaptured.
Michael Carroll has been acting and teaching for twelve years in the Bay Area. As well as doing film and commercial work, he has performed at a number of local and regional theaters, including A.C.T., the Berkeley Rep, Aurora Theater Co., Signal Theater Co., Rough and Tumble, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, California Shakespeare Festival, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. He holds a B.A. in Theater from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in Acting from American Conservatory Theater.
He is a graduate of The Actor's Center Teacher Training Workshop under the tutelage of Earle Gister (Chair, Yale School of Drama) and has served on the faculty of Academy of Art University, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater and U.C. Berkeley. He also served as a writer and an acting coach for John Leguizamo’s Tony award nominated/Emmy award wining solo show, Freak.
Richard Cascio resides and works in San Francisco as a cinematographer. He began his career working on commercials and feature films in the Bay Area as a first camera assistant. He is an experienced Steadicam operator, and aerial cinematographer. Richard has been on Academy of Art University faculty teaching cinematography since June 2005.
Constance has over twenty-five years of extensive experience in various movement disciplines. As an Alexander Technique teacher, Constance has worked with actors, dancers, opera singers, classical Indian singers, violinists, bassists, drummers, bikers, runners, swimmers, and horse riders, in venues ranging from Pixar University in Emeryville to riding stables in England to the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco.
As a dancer, Constance performed professionally in the Bay Area with Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers and Purple Moon Dance Project. She has studied dance techniques ranging from Hawkins to Cunningham to Corvino.
As a dressage trainer, Constance rode professionally throughout California and spent four years studying in Europe. She trained horses and riders through the international levels of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
Constance received a BA in Women's Literature and Creative Writing from Mills College.
Constance’s teaching is informed by all these disciplines, and her classes (Movement 1 and Acting Techniques and Processes) are infused with a generous yet rigorous understanding of what it takes to perform with clarity, authenticity, and spontaneity.
James Dalessandro joined Academy of Art University in 2004 to teach the advanced feature film and television writing classes. In a 24-year career in the Writer's Guild of America, he has sold or been hired for more than 25 feature film and television projects. He's also published four books, including the best selling novel, 1906. The film version of 1906 is currently in production at Warner Brothers. His film, The Damnedest, Finest Ruins, has already won four best documentary and audience awards, including a gold medal at the Aurora Film competition.
Former Pixar Story Analyst Sam Fisk works as a screenwriter, coach, development executive and "gun for hire" story editor when not teaching about the facets of story and screenwriting at Academy of Art University.
Melissa Gray is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to join the MPT faculty at Academy of Art. For the past five years, she has been the sole voiceover instructor at the School for Film and Television in New York City, where she initiated the first voiceover programs for their two-year conservatory. She continues to teach in their adult programs and the advanced voiceover workout for professionals, which she also created.
Her numerous high-profile voiceover credits range from NBC News promos and a coveted three-year stint at Nickelodeon to a host of radio and television nationals that include Air France, Hanes, Dawn, Tylenol, Caltrate, Slimfast, Borden's, Vicks VapoRub and Dairy Queen, among others. Her voice is currently airing on the Lifetime Channel and Court TV.
She has also had the honor of narrating three one-hour documentaries for the Discovery Channel: Tigers: Tracking a Legend, Cancer: Self-Defense, and The Adolph Eichmann Story, as well as an upcoming TV special for Novartis: Living With Alzheimer's and a profile of Mary Lou Retton, which will be aired nationally.
As an actress, Melissa has appeared in many productions around the country including A Contemporary Theatre and The Intiman in Seattle, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the New Rep, the Peterborough Players and Worcester Foothills in New England, and the Alley Theatre and the Houston Shakespeare Festival in Texas.
Melissa is a graduate of Yale University and LAMDA in London.
Andrew Hurteau has been acting and teaching since he graduated from the American Conservatory Theater. He has performed with the Berkeley Repertory Theater, the Magic Theatre, the Marin Theatre Company, the Aurora Theatre Company and throughout the Bay Area. He has also appeared in a variety of independent films. His stage roles have included parts in Nicholas Nickelby, Dr. Faustus (as Faustus), Noises Off (as Garry Lejeune), The Rhinoceros (as Dudard), Orestes (as Orestes), Hurlyburly (as Mickey), and The Real Thing (as Max), among countless others.
Andrew has taught acting at the American Conservatory Theater and the Nueva School, and currently is one of the best acting teachers in the Academy's Motion Pictures & Television department. He is specially trained in stage combat, improvisation, signing, dialect and accent training, and enjoys frisbee, billiards, darts, racquetball, and aikido.
Donna Laemmlen is an award-winning screenwriter and short story author. She recently won Best Animation Feature Screenplay at the International Family Film Festival in LosAngeles. Her screenplays have been recognized in several other major competitions, including the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, the Chesterfield Writer's Film Project, the Austin Heart of Film Screenplay Competition, Scriptapalooza and Creative Screenwriting Magazine's Screenwriting Expo. She was a long-time Story Analyst for American Zoetrope, where she read over 1,800 screenplays for their annual screenplay contest. She previously was a Producer for International Herald Tribune Television and the PBS series Great Leaders, as well as Associate Producer for the PBS Series Great Entrepreneurs and the Nightly Business Report segment Prime Movers. She is a member of the WGAw Independent Writers Caucus.
Matthew Levie has been editing film for more than 15 years. His credits include the documentaries Curanderos de los Maya and 97 Orchard Street, and the feature films The Guatemala Incident and Sleep Furiously. He also does corporate work for America Online, BMW, Intel, and Wells Fargo. Currently, he is editing a cooking series to be aired on PBS.
Sabrina Nelson is a professional editor and educator. She has been working in television since 1990 on everything from documentaries to narratives to sports. Her credits include work with Continental Cablevision, CSPAN, Sportschannel America, BattleBots and Meets The Eye Films. Sabrina has taught editing aesthetics at Bay Area Video Coalition, and production and editing at dvGarage. She holds a BA in Media Studies from New College of California, and a Masters in Multimedia from Cal State East Bay. Sabrina spent the summer of 2008 in Europe where she shot a documentary on puzzle makers, which is now in post production. Sabrina has been an editing instructor at Academy of Art University since 2000.
For the past 20 years, Julie Oxendale has worked as a writer for film and theatre, and has worked with Danny Boyle, Jim and Peter Sheridan, Jane Campion, Albert Finney and Ben Kingsley. After being awarded Best Feature Film Script by Film Arts Foundation, her scripts were optioned by Fox Searchlight and companies in England, Australia and India. She was selected for the prestigious Sundance writers labs and also the Equinoxe Award in France. Currently she is co-writing a short film with Mark Reyes, an award-winning Academy of Art University student, and collaborating on a stage play about the artist Joan Mitchell, slated for performance in Manhattan in the Summer of 2008.
Steve Romanko is an award-winning filmmaker and sound designer living and working in San Francisco. His screen credits include work on more than 100 features, including Saving Private Ryan, Fight Club and the award-winning documentary Into the Arms of Strangers. 13th Generation, Steve’s film company, has produced a number of short films, including the documentary N.E.P.A. He is currently in pre-production for the feature-length film Thrill Kill. Winner of the 2003 Dean Goodman Choice Award (Best Theater Sound Design for Kilt), Steve maintains a connection to the stage with his work at the acclaimed Magic and New Conservatory theaters.
Andy Ruben was raised in the business. His father, Aaron Ruben, produced and wrote many television shows, including The Andy Griffith Show. By age 17, he began working in post-production at Paramount Studios. At 28, he became a writer submitting his first spec script to the late Roland Kibbee and found himself the sole pupil in the Roland Kibbee School of story structure and character development. He has written many television scripts, including one for CPO Sharkey starring Don Rickles and a Love Boat episode starring Donald O’Connor. He worked with famous independent producer Roger Corman, where he learned how to produce, write, and direct movies – on time and on budget – all while maintaining a passion and love for the art. His writing and producing credits include Poison Ivy, Streets and Dance of the Damned, which was accorded an evening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as being voted the best vampire film ever. He also directed a movie for Showtime, Club Vampire, starring John Savage, and an independent feature, Eve's Blood.
Jorge Trelles is an award-winning videographer. He graduated from El Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, Puerto Rico, in 1988 and moved to the United States to pursue a career in filmmaking and to learn English. He began his professional video career as a Graphics Engineer at Union Video and graduated from The University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a degree in Video Production with Computer Graphics. In 1993, he came to the San Francisco Bay Area and immediately began producing PSA’s and Station ID’s for an educational TV station in Oakland. He began his freelance video production career in 1997. He produced and directed the independent feature Divisadero, which premiered at The Independent in San Francisco in April 2005 to a sold-out crowd.
Matt Volla graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a BFA in Audio and Video Production. He received an MFA in Electronic Music from Mills College in 2004. Matt has edited for Goldman, Sachs and Co. and for Maxis, a division of Electronic Arts. He has worked for Academy of Art University since 2000, starting as a valued Technician in our editing labs. He previously taught high school at S.R. Martin in San Francisco and college level at Mills college in Oakland.
Rick Wise has been shooting and making films for more than 30 years. After film school in Paris and a brief job as assistant director for American feature productions shooting in France, he became a news and documentary filmmaker, ending up at KQED San Francisco during its golden years. From 1968 to 1970 he covered the daily riots at San Francisco State and then UC Berkeley as a cameraman and editor, honing his skills at visual storyteller. The station bumped him up to produce, shoot and edit a series of long-form documentaries for PBS, including the well-received Private Lives of Americans. That documentary work then morphed into shooting commercials, dramatic episodes, and high-end corporate films. Wise continues to shoot in all film and video formats, and edits his own projects.
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