Any or all correspondence to the AFI Conservatory Faculty, please direct to the Admissions Office at [email protected].
James L. Brooks
Artistic Director, Member of the Board of Trustees
Brooks is a three-time Academy Award®-winner and twenty-time Emmy®-winner. He began his television career as a writer who then later produced television hits such as TAXI, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, RHODA, LOU GRANT, ROOM 222, THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW and THE SIMPSONS. He also wrote and produced the television movie THURSDAY'S GAME.
Brooks began working in film in 1979 when he wrote the screenplay for STARTING OVER, which he co-produced with Alan J. Pakula. In 1983, Brooks wrote, produced and directed TERMS OF ENDEARMENT for which he earned three Oscars®. In 1987, he wrote, produced and directed BROADCAST NEWS, which won New York Film Critics Circle Awards for best picture, actress and screenplay. Through Gracie Films, Brooks executive-produced the feature film SAY ANYTHING, produced WAR OF THE ROSES and co-produced, with Robert Greenhut, BIG.
In 1990, Brooks produced and directed his first play, "Brooklyn Laundry", a Los Angeles production starring Glenn Close, Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern.
Brooks' company, Gracie Films, made an overall deal with Sony Pictures in 1990. He produced two new series for ABC (THE CRITIC, another primetime animated series starring Jon Lovitz and PHENOM starring Judith Light, William Devane and Angela Goethals) and directed the feature for Columbia Pictures I'LL DO ANYTHING, starring Nick Nolte, Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner.
In 1996, Brooks executive-produced the film BOTTLE ROCKET, directed by Wes Anderson, for Columbia Pictures and produced Cameron Crowe's JERRY MAGUIRE, starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Renée Zellweger for Tri-Star Pictures. In 1997, Brooks co-wrote, produced and directed AS GOOD AS IT GETS, starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. The film was nominated for seven Oscars® including Best Picture, and both Nicholson and Hunt won for their performances.
In 2001, Brooks produced the film RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS, starring Drew Barrymore and directed by Penny Marshall. He also executive-produced the ABC series WHAT ABOUT JOAN, starring Joan Cusack.
In 2004, Brooks wrote and directed the film SPANGLISH starring Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni and Paz Vega for Columbia Pictures.
In July 2007, Brooks co-wrote and produced THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, the screen version of the Fox hit.
Brooks most recently completed work on the film HOW DO YOU KNOW, which he wrote and directed, starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. The film came out in December 2010.
Co-Interim Dean, AFI Conservatory
Before joining the AFI Conservatory in August 2018, Chung served as assistant dean of faculty affairs at the USC Rossier School of Education. His background includes, financial management, administrative operations, student and faculty affairs, strategic planning, employee performance management, institutional compliance, faculty recruitment, and institutional partnerships. Chung received his Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA and will receive his EdD in Educational Leadership in December 2018 from USC.
Co-Interim Dean, AFI Conservatory
Before joining AFI in 2017, Engfer served in academic leadership as Dean of Compliance and Assessment, Senior Director of Academics, and Director of Education at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, where he was responsible for the oversight of efforts related to assessment, accreditation, compliance, program evaluation and review, improvement and evidence-based planning. Prior to that, Engfer worked in higher education at multiple institutions — both in the United States and abroad — as Academic Director, Visiting Chair, Curriculum Designer, and Guest Lecturer, among other positions. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Literature degrees from California State University; a Professional Certificate in Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment from the University of Illinois; and is a graduate of WSCUC's Assessment Leadership Academy (Cohort V).
Manager, Administration, Office of the Dean
Hailing from the southern part of the Garden State, Duncan moved to Los Angeles after a lengthy stint managing class action securities litigations in Manhattan. Prior to joining the AFI Conservatory staff she worked in the Business Affairs department at WME. She holds an AB in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago, and an MFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design.
Administrative Assistant to Executive Vice Dean
Paul Krueger is a fantasy author and lapsed Chicagoan. His first novel, "Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge," was published by Quirk Books in 2016.
Associate Registrar and International Advisor
Smith received a Master of Fine Arts degree from CSU Fullerton in Painting, Drawing and Printmaking. His work has been exhibited extensively in Los Angeles and beyond. Before coming to AFI, he began his career in education at Otis College of Art and Design where he also taught drawing and design. When time allows, he loves a good hike in his adopted home state of New Mexico.
Sainburg comes to AFI with five years of experience working in the Registrar's Office as a Student Services Coordinator where she worked very closely with all students, staff, and faculty members. Sainburg takes with her a great deal of experience with MS Excel and SIS Systems such as CampusVue. In her free time she enjoys hiking, going to the gym and spending time with her friends and family.
Jonathan Sánchez Leos
Director, Fellow Affairs
Leos is the Director of Fellow Affairs, an office which manages counseling services, learning accommodations, and other services provided to Fellows. Prior to working at AFI, Jonathan served as an Advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of Youth & Sports in Kyiv — a placement through the Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship. For many years, Leos worked for the federal government as a program manager and policy analyst, and also as a clinical social worker in schools, corrections and community mental health settings. He is a native of Chicago and a graduate of the University of Chicago, as well as a former professor of Social Work at St. Augustine College.
Samantha De Surra
Coordinator, Fellow Affairs
De Surra was born and raised in Pasadena, CA. She attended San Francisco State University where she received her BA in Cinema Production and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Some would say De Surra is charismatic and charming and others would say she's charming and charismatic. She loves to travel but hates flying. She loves to write and perform sketch comedy but hates talking in meetings. She loves Los Angeles but hates how sunny it is. She is passionate about helping others so always stop by should you need anything.
In 2011, Vaughn became the head of the Louis B. Mayer Library, including the AFI archives. He earned his BA in Religious Studies and History from the University of Arizona (go Cats!) and earned a Master of Library and Information Science degree from San José State University. Vaughn has spent the last two decades working in academic arts libraries and archives with subject specialization in film, music, photography and architecture. Prior to AFI, he worked in libraries at the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona. He is a third-generation Angelino, father of two children and a Navy veteran.
Library and Asset Licensing Manager
Pepin had a career in radio when he moved from Vermont to Los Angeles in 2000. An avid film lover, and in need of work, he knocked on AFI's door in 2004. What started as part-time quickly shifted into a permanent position and he spent the next seven-and-a-half-years in the office of the President and CEO, as Executive Assistant to both Jean Picker Firstenberg and Bob Gazzale. Pepin moved his desk up the hill in 2012 where he now manages the Louis B. Mayer Library, as well as the licensing of AFI controlled content.
Manager, Conservatory Technology & Training
Joseph Bolden is a Senior Computer Labs Coordinator at the American Film Conservatory. He moved to California after film school to pursue a career in the entertainment field. Joe worked his way from Production assistant to Studio Coordinator before using his education in computers and film media to work at the American film Institute.
Coordinator, Conservatory Technology & Training
Hailing from the other end of Interstate 10 in Jacksonville, Florida, Mattie attended the University of Central Florida's Film Production BFA and worked film sets from reality shows to feature films all along the east coast filling various roles. Mattie later received an MFA in Screenwriting from the AFI Conservatory in 2017. Mattie refused to leave campus after graduation and has convinced the AFI to pay them to work various roles at AFI as an Office Temp. Their robust knowledge of computers and technology coupled with a natural ability to teach landed them in the role to assist the fellows and faculty in the Computer Lab. In their time off campus, Mattie continues to write scripts and novels ranging in genre and ton in between the valuable time spent playing video games or reading comic books.
Wittenberg holds a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has 13 years of experience working in academic libraries, archives and museums in a variety of roles. Prior to AFI, she processed extensive corporate aerospace manuscript collections, worked in a large-scale tape vault for a major studio, and implemented and administered a digital asset management system at an LA museum. As the Archivist, she is responsible for the preservation and management of the Louis B. Mayer Library archival collections. This includes acquisition, cataloging, organization, description and preservation of all archival materials.
From the humid swamps of New Orleans to the asphalt jungle of Los Angeles, Pierson remains as passionate about images and movies as he is about air conditioning. He moved from LA to LA to study screenwriting at USC, where he was incurably bitten by the photography bug. He has worked at AFI for over a decade, and as the photo supervisor responsible for AFI's 50-year photographic history, he delights in discovering unseen gems in AFI's photo collections and managing photographers as they capture compelling stills on-set and at events.
Senior Library Associate
A graduate of the indomitable San Francisco Art Institute in the film department, and the prestigious AFI Conservatory, Musante is a writer and film enthusiast who lives and works out of the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles with his three cats.
Amanda had a cinematic epiphany courtesy of her public library at age 15. Inspired, she proceeded to make films with her friends and absorb film history. This passion eventually led to a B.A. in Film and Media Studies from UC Irvine.
In gratitude, she has spent the last five years serving in public and academic libraries. Before joining AFI, Amanda was a member of the Course Reserves unit of UC San Diego Library where she ensured that hundreds of physical and electronic course materials were accessible to students each quarter.
A native of Austin, Texas, Swanson holds BAs in English and Journalism from Colorado State University and an MFA in Screenwriting from the AFI Conservatory. When not working on his writing, Swanson has spent much of his life as a youth development professional. He has mentored and counselled adults, teens and pre-teens as a tutor, teacher, counselor and camp director. An accidental actor, Swanson has had speaking roles as Bigfoot in the low-budget short YELLOWTOP, "Gullible Westerner" in the Malayalam feature MAKANTE ACHAN and "Disgruntled Gamer #2" in THE ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD MOVIE.
Paulette I. Palafox
Paulette is a native Angeleno who earned her BA in Economics from Occidental College, MA in Guidance and Counseling from LMU, and will earn her doctorate in Educational Leadership from USC in 2019.
Before joining AFIC, Paulette served as the Director of Scholar Support, Outreach and Advocacy for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund where she designed admissions, financial aid, and student support initiatives, oversaw nationwide programs promoting college readiness, and was a co-architect of the new Gates Scholarship grant worth $417 million. Prior to that, she served as the Director of Admissions and Outreach Initiatives for Southwestern Law School. During her career, she's served as a member of the Law School Admission Council's Diversity Committee, Diversity Fund Proposals Subcommittee, faculty member for the Newcomers Workshop, educator for College Horizons, member of WACAC, NACAC, NAGAP, and helped advance the admissions profession by presenting on various outreach and retention strategies at national and international conferences. She enjoys meeting prospective fellows and encourages all to reserve a spot on the official campus tour.
Senior Manager, Admissions and Recruitment
Murrin was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, home of THE OFFICE. She earned her BA/MA in History from the University of Scranton. After working in historical preservation for the government, she transitioned into community development and neighborhood revitalization. While working to revitalize a neighborhood in Scranton, Murrin won three statewide community development awards: 2012 and 2014 Best Neighborhood Event and 2014 Best Physical Design Storefront for Historic Preservation. In 2014, Murrin moved to Los Angeles to escape the brutal Northeast winters and has been working at the AFI Conservatory as the Enrollment Services' Manager of Operations.
Originally from Miami, Florida — the 305! — Gaspard got her BA degree in Media Communications and Theater from Nova Southeastern University. Coming from a performance art and film publicity background, Gaspard is here to help Fellows showcase their voices as filmmakers.
Associate Dean, Production, and Director, First Year Production Services
Pollock has worked as a producer, associate producer and first AD on feature films, commercials, PSAs and MOWs. She was the co-producer of a short film, TWO SOLDIERS, which won the 2004 Academy Award® Award for Best Live Action Short. She was involved in the production of such films as WIND, STEALING HOME and LADY IN WHITE, and was the head of production of Film Link International. Pollock has a longtime involvement with Women in Film, currently serving on the Foundation Board as co-chair of the Film Finishing Fund. For three years she was head of the producing discipline at the North Carolina School of the Arts.
Stage Manager and Production Supervisor
Aamot literally came to AFI via a pirate ship.
After an AFI faculty member saw Aamot's work building a pirate ship as part of his daughter's school, she suggested he work at AFI in the soundstage and mill. Aamot took the job and since then, he has reinvigorated the AFI Soundstage and surrounding areas. His impact has been so strong at AFI, he even has a parking lot named after him.
Aamot is a true Renaissance man — he's an autodidactic builder, fine art painter, pianist and guitar player. He also is an avid golfer and makes a mean carne asada plate. Legend has it that Aamot is over eight feet tall, and once ran a marathon just because it was on the way.
Every Halloween, Aamot harnesses his artistic and design skills to transform his Alhambra home into a themed haunted house that attracts crowds of over 8,000 people. This tradition has garnered Aamot local celebrity status. Yet, his AFI parking lot is still his most proud achievement.
Manager, 1st Year Production Services
Curtis was raised in drizzly, eccentric Seattle, Washington and received her BFA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After studying documentary filmmaking in Düsseldorf, Germany, she returned to LA for half a decade of assistant directing and production management. Before arriving at AFI, she had been producing and directing multi-cam live content at Machinima, a successful multi-channel network.
Coordinator, 1st Year Production Services
Ramos is a first-generation Filipino-American that was born and raised in Los Angeles. He graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Business Management. After a short stint in office administration as a purchaser, he decided to pursue a career in the film industry. He has worked on multiple sets as a production assistant, production coordinator and has produced several short films of his own. He is a fan of sports, and has been a practitioner of Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) for nine years.
Director, Thesis Production
West is a Chicago native and graduate of Northwestern University and the AFI Conservatory.
As a programmer at AFI, West has brought filmmakers such as Sam Mendes, David Cronenberg and Luc Besson to the campus. In 2013, she was appointed Program Director for the Directing Workshop for Women where she brought in Artists-in-Residence Patty Jenkins, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Jill Soloway, among others. In 2016, she expanded her role at the AFI and now oversees the thesis program.
As a producer, her first feature film was SOME GIRL(S) (2013), written by acclaimed playwright Neil LaBute. She then went on to serve as an executive producer on ADDICTED TO FRESNO (2015) and THEY (2017), which was an Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival.
West helped found the AFI Alumni Mentor Program and served as Co-Chair from 2009–2015. She is a proud member of the Producers Guild of America.
Manager, Thesis Production & Delivery
Dretzka first began her relationship with AFI shortly after moving to Los Angeles from her home state of Wisconsin, by volunteering as a line producer on AFI thesis films. One of those shoots landed her a job as a producer's assistant/production supervisor, working with directors David Lynch and Wim Wenders and on actor Matt Dillon's directing debut CITY OF GHOSTS. Flash forward some years and Dretzka returned to AFI, this time to help educate future storytellers. She has been delighted to do so for the past 10 years.
Manager, Production Finance
Paratore is an AFI Producing alumnus from the Class of 2009 who has produced four feature films. He produced his first feature film, TURKEY BOWL, with all AFI alumni. It was accepted into the 2011 SXSW Film Festival iin the Emerging Visions Category, where it sold to Tribeca Film Acquisitions and ESPN.
Paratore holds a BS in Communications from the State University of New York at Fredonia and an MFA in Producing from the AFI Conservatory. For several years he worked as Director of Development for the legendary "Godfather of the Television Movie," Chuck Fries at Chuck Fries Productions.
Laura G. Chirinos
Chirinos is a SoCal native with roots in writing and producing. As co-founder of production company Before North, she produced three independent features and numerous music videos. Following a year in the non-profit world as Creative Arts Director for the Boys & Girls Club, a stint living abroad, and extensive work in Theatrical DI at Technicolor Hollywood, she directed her first short film REVELATIONS in 2013 and has been directing ever since. As a freelance music photographer, Chirinos has shot eclectic artists such as Janelle Monae, Portishead, Solange, The Dillinger Escape Plan, FKA Twigs, Nick Cave, Savages, Wu-Tang Clan, Bat For Lashes and Run The Jewels.
Elson is an AFI Screenwriting alumna hailing from Montreal, Canada. After graduating, she freelanced at ABC, Warner Bros, VH1 and MTV. She was then a showrunners' assistant on the short-lived but much-loved dramedy HINDSIGHT, where she had the chance to write for the web series PLANET SEBASTIAN. Elson's articles have been published by The Huffington Post, Lifehacker and Reader's Digest. She is also the co-author of "The Awkward Human Survival Guide". Erica enjoys playing tennis, eating ice cream and planning her next meal. She can be found on the garden level of the Warner Bros. Building to discuss food and film.
Markuson is an LA screenwriter and best selling children's book author.
The Buffalo, NY, native attended the Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, FL. Originally focused on traditional animation, Markuson gravitated towards filmmaking.
Starting in the art department for Troma Entertainment, he went on to production-design a number of feature films and with interest in producing, and learned nearly every other position in the filmmaking process, including stunt work on projects of all sizes.
Markuson has written and directed multiple critically acclaimed projects and is always developing new shows, features and children's books in his spare time.
Director, Production Equipment Operations
Supervisor, Conservatory Camera Department
West grew up in Chicago, where he made a living as a photographer for almost a decade before dedicating himself to film and digital media. For the past 15 years, West has been behind the camera on independent features, short films, web series and commercials. He graduated in 2005 from AFI with an MFA in Cinematography. His most recent project was shooting the feature film EASY LIVING, written and directed by Adam Keleman, which premiered at SXSW in 2017.
Manager, Conservatory Lighting Services
Bui is an AFI Screenwriting alumnus. His work has been produced and seen all over the world. He manages the AFI grip and electric department and is dedicated to giving AFI Fellows the necessary tools they need to make their films.
Technical Coordinator, Conservatory Lighting Services
Stafford has been working in the service and repair industry for more than 30 years.
He started out building and repairing navigation units before moving on to repairing musical equipment. He then ran the service department for a home theater speaker company.
Having a grandfather and father in the motion picture industry for decades, it was a natural fit for him to repair the lighting equipment at AFI.
Tong is responsible for the overall daily management and operations of AFI post-production facilities and services of the AFI Conservatory. He advises Fellows on post-production workflows and procedures. A longtime employee, Tong was previously the Senior Technical Manager where he oversaw technical operations. He has been certified as an ACSR technician and ACI instructor.
Coordinator, Post Production
Marom comes to AFI from a production company background that includes stints at Morgan Creek Productions and Paramount Pictures. He is also a writer and producer of comedic web content, and enjoys performing improv comedy in his spare time.
Post Production Systems Administrator
Hoeschler is a systems technician in the Sony Digital Arts Center with over 30 years in the post production industry designing, troubleshooting and putting out fires under pressure.
Hoeschler comes from such places as Chainsaw Edit, Keycode Media, ABC Television, Moviola and Paramount Recording. He recently designed and built the SDAC's Bennett Two Suite and is currently spearheading a complete upgrade of all editing systems and media storage in the Sony Center. He has two 11-year-old twins and occasionally moonlights as a musician.
As a member of the SDAC staff, Benton works in the equipment room that supports the Editing Fellows, but also assists with production sound equipment maintenance. Before Boot Camp, you will most likely see him helping teach production sound to the incoming class. This past year, he has also lent an ear on cycle production sound mixes as well. One of his favorite films is CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING.
SDAC Editorial/Technical Support
Kirby started in the film industry as a runner, working on a show with her editor father, Peter. They were both fired. After such an illustrious start, her career in the business could only improve! Vaune feels very fortunate to have had a long, gratifying career as an assistant editor, and is proud of her comprehensive range of work as an editor. She will exercise her extensive experience to support the functions of the SDAC, the goals of the Editing Fellows, and, in the big picture, the AFI.
Carroll is an LA native who graduated from CSUN in 2012 with a Bachelor's Degree in Finance. Claiming to have "grown up here," she has worked at AFI for more than seven years and has held several different positions within the organization. Coming from a multicultural home, Carroll has a special affinity for foreign people, places and foods — not to mention an insatiable lust for adventure. Outside of AFI, she loves to read, travel, snowboard, laugh at silly jokes and collect souvenirs from her travels.
Emilia Mendieta Córdova
Córdova is an active Ecuadorian-American commercial, narrative and documentary cinematographer. She has a BA from Vassar College in Film Production and Chinese Studies and an MFA in Cinematography from the AFI Conservatory. She has shot a number of short films including AKA AMBER, SIZZLE and TOMÁS, and recently completed a feature documentary titled ADICTOS EN RECUPERACIÓN and a feature film, TO THE NEW GIRL. Córdova also teaches audiovisual production online at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) and is collaborating with photojournalist Tish Lampert on the design of her upcoming book "I Protest". Córdova is trilingual (English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese), a classically-trained cellist, culinary arts enthusiast and a massive STAR WARS fan. She is also a member of the ICFC (International Collective of Female Cinematographers).
Director, Financial Aid
Trina Rodler has been with the AFI Conservatory for eight years, serving as Director of Financial Aid, managing the Federal Student Aid Title IV Program while adhering to U.S. Department of Education and FERPA regulations. Rodler processes all federal student loans, private loans, AFI scholarships, loan counseling and other financial aid services for Fellows, while attending the AFI Conservatory and after they graduate. Prior to working at the Conservatory, Rodler served as the Business Office Manager at Pacific Oaks College and as Financial Aid Assistant Director for 11 years. She was born and raised in San Diego, attended San Diego State University and enjoys camping and bicycling on the beach, and life in Southern California.
Manager, AFI Conservatory
Schwartz started his career working with producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. In his six years managing their office, Schwartz worked on CONGO, THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD and THE SIXTH SENSE. After leaving Kennedy/Marshall, Kennedy went on to run Lucasfilm and produce STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS and Marshall went on to produce Jason Bourne movies and JURASSIC WORLD. Was Schwartz holding them back? Or was he the bump they needed to take their careers to the next level? Time will tell.
At AFI, Schwartz has supervised more than 80 short films over the course of his work with the prestigious AFI Directing Workshop for Women. In his current role, he manages the Fellows' calendar, takes care of Faculty needs and programs the seminar series, where he has brought such filmmakers to campus as Damien Chazelle, George Miller, Jordan Peele, Denis Villeneuve and Martin Scorsese, to name a few.
Outside of AFI, Schwartz is a filmmaker himself. His feature debut as a producer was the adaptation of Neil LaBute's SOME GIRL(S). Schwartz has also written and directed a number of short films. In his off-time and at brunch, Schwartz performs as one-half of the infamous comedy duo, Schwartzy and Pagana. Their 1940s-inspired hijinks have gotten them kicked out of some of the fanciest parties in Hollywood.
If you can't find Schwartz, start brewing coffee and he will appear.