By: Karina Valdes
For students pursuing a career in motion pictures, advice and humor intertwined during the Career Conversations Series with guest Billy Corben, B.S.C. ’03. A documentary filmmaker known for Cocaine Cowboys, The U, and Screwball, Corben graduated from the University of Miami School of Communication and has led a successful career that includes co-founding the Miami-based media company, Rakontur.
“I’ve been quarantining, but I have been blessed to have a job, number one and, number two, to have a job that enables me to work remotely,” said Corben.
Through a Zoom call full of eager students, Corben shared details of what he’s been working on and answered their questions seeking advice on documentary filmmaking and how to work in today’s new world.
According to Corben, the mission of a filmmaker is to find a good story and tell it well.
“Everyone has a story to tell, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily your story, meaning autobiographical, but there is a story in your life, whether it’s happened in the past or is happening now, that would be a very compelling story to tell and that you are probably the best storyteller and most qualified person to tell it,” said Corben.
Later in the conversation, Corben was asked to expand on the job of a documentary filmmaker.
“You said the job of a filmmaker is to find a story and tell it well. For documentary filmmaking, does telling the story well mean telling it the most accurate, the most entertaining, or a little bit of both,” asked a student through Kebrina Maharaj, moderator for the Career Conversations Series.
“That’s a good question. I’m so proud of my alma mater,” Corben stated before sharing that accuracy is the most important commitment a documentary filmmaker makes.
“You may have to sacrifice some parts of the story or elements of the story that you may want to tell, but you should never sacrifice accuracy for entertainment,” Corben advised.
For students asking how to get noticed for their films, Corben’s answer was simple; get to work.
“The best way to get noticed as a filmmaker, or a storyteller, is to film make and to story tell. You’re a producer? Produce. A director? You direct. I know it’s easier said than done. I totally get it. Don’t think I’m belittling your angst or understating the challenges as a filmmaker, but the best way to get noticed as a filmmaker is to make films,” said Corben.
He encouraged students to create content and to take advantage of the technology they have readily accessible through their cellphones.
“We did not have a camera and recording device as powerful as you have now, and certainly not a device that you could broadcast live or distribute from internationally right from the palm of your hand. There’s a lot of power and advantages to that,” said Corben.
Corben ended his conversation with words of encouragement for students.
“If you’ve done something cool, and you’ve done something that people have noticed, and people care about your work, and care about your ideas and what you think, what a blessing. What a life well lived. So, go out and do something like that,” said Corben.
The Career Conversations Series with alumnus Billy Corben was held through Zoom on July 22 and was hosted by The Stein Family Office of Career Services and Internships at the School of Communication. Stay tuned for more innovative programs in the fall semester.