By Kate Helm
When Beth Spitalny ’01 was a little girl, she loved playing dress-up and make-believe, spending hours in the woods behind her house dreaming up stories. That, along with her father’s enthusiasm for the movies and teaching her how to use the family video camera, created a love of filmmaking even before she knew what it was. Now as an independent writer/director, Spitalny creates stories to share with the world.
“Filmmakers are storytellers, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was making up stories in my head with my crazy imagination,” she recalls. “This idea of making up stories and being able to videotape activities was always a part of my upbringing.”
Her recent short film Procession earned 11 awards at festivals around the country, including the Critics Choice Award, Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival; Best Student Short Film, Dallas International Film Festival; official selection, Nashville Film Festival, Palm Beach International Film Festival, New York City International Film Festival, Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, and San Francisco Women’s International Film Festival; Best Editing, USC’s Women of Cinematic Arts Film Festival; screenplay finalist, New York City Home Film Festival; Golden Brad Award finalist, Movie Script Short Contest; and script semi-finalist, SOCAL Independent Film Festival.
“Completing a film that you feel good about is an accomplishment in itself but having it play for audiences around the country is truly an honor,” says Spitalny. “At the Dallas International Film Festival, I sat in the audience knowing that not a single person in the theater knew me or anything about the film. For me, that’s the true test – to see if the audience responds to my story. Watching the audience laugh and cry and get taken on this 16-minute journey was extremely gratifying.”
Back in New York City after spending five years in Los Angeles, Spitalny is directing the short film Girl Clown. In addition to her duties as a story producer on the Emmy-winning MTV series Made, she’s putting the finishing touches on a feature-length romantic comedy screenplay as well as developing a few other features. Spitalny started as a personal assistant at MTV right after graduation; she served an internship her senior year and worked her way up to producer.
Working in independent film requires Spitalny to know a little of everything – writing, directing, production, budgets. As an anthropology and sociology major at Lafayette, she found the versatile education she needed to succeed in a relentless profession. She even got to test her filmmaking skills in a course with Dan Bauer, emeritus professor of anthropology.
“Essentially we had to make a documentary. It was here where I got a taste of combining what I was interested in studying in college – anthropology and sociology – with a passion I’d had for a long time – filmmaking and storytelling,” says Spitalny, who earned her M.F.A. at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. “I really loved getting a chance to shoot and edit and watch everything come together. Understanding people, society, and why we as human beings do things are enormous parts of storytelling, and I’m glad to have laid that groundwork at Lafayette.”