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Catching Up With Alum & Decor Show Doyen Amy Wheeler

As home decoration shows populate our television screens, the makeover crazy public looks for fresh approaches to the genre. School of Motion Pictures & Television alum Amy Wheeler is leading the pack by creating, producing, and sometimes hosting, shows with distinct audience appeal and new twists.

Amy Wheeler served as producer for Living With Soul, which features homes owned by African-Americans throughout the country. That success has allowed her to pursue other projects. We spoke with her recently about her career, her memories of her time at the Academy, and her plans for the future.

Update us on your journey since graduating from the Academy in 2002.

Prior to graduating I wanted to set up an internship on a TV show so I sent out my resume and request to the Production Designers of my four favorites: Alias, 24, Six Feet Under and Sex in the City. The first three shot in LA (which thanks to the Academy instructors I was already familiar with people there) and the last one was in New York City. So wouldn't you know that I caught Jeremy Conway on a good day and the offer to come to New York was presented. So I went for it; quit my job as an interior designer in San Francisco (that's what I did through all five years of college)... and I loved it! It was a great experience. I quickly became an employee of HBO and was put in charge of coordinating their season five website as well as assisting Jeremy with his work.

Being that I'm not a New Yorker at heart, after three months I was homesick for the casual West Coast life and knew that at seasons end I needed to head to LA. I freelanced doing movies and TV for over two years. I won't lie to anyone that you will struggle a lot. And the unemployment between projects is the only thing that saved me. However eventually I went from an On Set Dresser to a Decorator to an Art Director until eventually last June I did my first feature as the Production Designer. It felt great to finally do it. I still strive to get into big "Hollywood" films with obscene budgets like any artist does... But I'm not as worried about not getting there as I was in college. I know that I love my career far more than most people and that's worth it.

Now I'm currently allowing myself to be sidetracked. I took a job as a Segment Producer for an interior design show on TV One called Living with Soul. I wanted something steady for a while (like the old days of interior design) and I wanted to spend more time working on side projects through my own interior design business. Things went so we'll that I've been offered my own show to produce and host called Healthy Homes. I'm going to show home remodeling all over the country that is focused at caregivers and baby boomers. It's not glamorous, but it incorporates all of my skills. I'm not thrilled about being in front of the camera, but it's just another leap of faith.

What skills, knowledge, and insights did you gain in the MPT program that has helped you? Did you have specific instructor(s) that mentored you or helped shape your talents?

I have to say that the MPT program was fun. I miss being a "filmmaker" sometimes. It gave me a chance to test out a different creativity. I'm still an artist and I appreciate that the Academy pushed everyone to start from the roots of their creativity no matter what their skill level.

As for instructors there were three people who I still talk to and hopefully they'll all be at my wedding this summer: Mimi Gramatky, Patricia Van Ryker and Dwight Jackson. They gave up so many of their weekends to fly up to SF and teach us Production Design skills on Saturdays. It was my favorite part of the process. I also really appreciated Jack Isgro and his personal support. He always seemed to try to get to know about students, which prior to his presence I hadn't felt from an administrator.

Home design shows seem second only to reality TV as the most popular. Tell us about your projects in that area and how you came to be involved.

I know design shows really are a dime a dozen these days. However as a designer I liked this show because it's very specialized focusing on aging needs for a generation of 60 and 70 years olds who want internet access in every room, elevators in their homes and electronically controlled everything. The hippies have grown up and are now the largest consumer market in the world. Plus I like that it's not on HGTV along side all the other bland decorating shows. I do plan to go back to Production Design at some point, but for now this can help my own business as well as my career.

Now that you've been in 'the real world' a few years, how do you look back on your time at the Academy?

It was fun! All five years of it. I worked a lot of hours as a designer, which made my experience different..., but I will always look back on those days as some of the best.

What is next for you?

Lots of traveling with this show and getting married in June. I may do a feature in August pending the TV show schedule and other logistics.

What advice would you give a freshman MPT student just starting out at the Academy?

Make as many films as you can, write as many films as you can and remember that when you get out of school people don't necessarily want to see any of it.

 

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