February Alumnus Spotlight: Melanie Anne Padernal, Class of ’11

TDPS Alumnus Melanie Anne Padernal (’11) recently traveled to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the second time as Executive Producer and Host of Cal at Sundance, an annual interview-based web series that profiles and celebrates UC Berkeley alumni and affiliate filmmakers participating in the renowned festival. The series aims to showcase Cal Bears in the arts and entertainment as well as to build a community between these artists and other UC Berkeley students and alumni interested in film.

“As a student, I knew there were Cal alumni being accepted into Sundance and I wanted to learn from them and better understand what steps they took to propel their careers,” Melanie explains. After graduating, she pitched her interview series idea to Duc Bieu Pham and Jigar Mehta, founders of Cal at Sundance [event] and the Cal Alumni Association. They all shared her excitement for the project, so in 2013 she borrowed her mom’s Nikon camera and interviewed several UC Berkeley-Sundance alumni like TDPS Professor Philip Kan Gotanda and Tiffany Shlain ‘92. Melanie found these experiences valuable, but realized her presence at the festival itself was key to gaining access to a wider variety of interviewees.

In 2014, with the support of funders (including UC Berkeley alumni-owned businesses Tieks by Gavrieli and Modify Watches), she and director/cinematographer Linh Phung ’13 traveled to the festival for the first time. “I’m extremely thankful to each and every person who has donated and contributed to our web series throughout the years,” Melanie says. “Because this is a passion project not directly funded by the university, we participate in grassroots fundraising and depend on individual supporters.” For Cal at Sundance: 2014, Melanie managed to interview 9 of the 13 Cal filmmakers premiering their work at the festival. It is worth noting that, while many films shown in the festival do not get picked up for distribution, all of Melanie’s interviewees’ projects were bought by larger studios and distribution companies.

This year, with the help of a more robust web team of current Cal students and young alumni, Melanie and her team highlighted over 18 UC Berkeley affiliated projects. She interviewed TDPS alumni and actors Chris Pine, ’02 (Z for Zachariah), Star Trek’s John Cho, ‘96 (Zipper), and Quinn Nagle, ’14 (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), as well as a slew of award-winning UC Berkeley directors, producers, and editors. Melanie’s Cal at Sundance: 2015 interviews can be seen at the Cal at Sundance YouTube channel.

Melanie credits her time at UC Berkeley with preparing her for an artistic career as a producer and actress. Her undergraduate coursework, drawn not only from TDPS but also the Haas School of Business and a summer program in Entertainment Marketing and Management at UCLA, was instrumental in her development as an artist, as was faculty guidance. Says Melanie, “TDPS really helped me find confidence in myself and the courage to pursue a career that not many people think is possible.”

After graduating in 2011 with a dual degree in Theater & Performance Studies and Global Media Management, Melanie dove headlong into the entertainment industry. A fellow alum helped her gain an interview with actress Zooey Deschanel’s talent management company, where she was hired as an intern and then, within a few months, promoted to Executive Assistant. After developing a better understanding of the business side of the entertainment industry, Melanie transitioned to feature film production. She was hired by Pixar Animation Studios as an intern, then asked to stay on as a Production Assistant. At the same time she started developing Cal at Sundance and creating her own comedy content.

Melanie has appeared in a number number of independent film and web series projects, commercials (Disney, NIKE), and music videos (Taylor Swift, Avicii). She currently has several exciting acting projects in the works; though she can’t share details right now, she promises to announce them soon on her personal website. “It is a great time to be in entertainment,” Melanie says, especially because “right now we are seeing this great shift where there’s more diverse storytelling on screen and more web-based platforms for content distribution.” Melanie hopes to start a production company in the near future that focuses on female-driven TV shows and films.

When asked what advice she has for current students and recent grads, Melanie shares, “If you really want something, give it all you’ve got. Don’t expect people to hand you anything. Come from the position of – how can I help? Reach out to those who inspire you. Don’t be afraid of being rejected or failing – it’s inevitable and character building. Know your worth and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s important to find your own creative voice and constantly challenge yourself to be a better person and artist.”

Gallery: Melanie Padernal, '11

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Melanie preparing for an interview at Sundance Film Festival.