Megan Elliott, founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is in Berlin serving as a mentor at Berlinale Talents. The event is an annual summit and networking event tied to the Berlin International Film Festival.
The summit includes 250 audio-visual creatives participating from Feb. 17-20. The film festival is Feb. 15-25.
Elliott said she was looking forward to learning, building connections and promoting the Carson Center during the trip. Nebraska Today talked with her shortly before she departed for Germany.
When did you find out you would be a mentor? What was your reaction?
It was just a couple of weeks ago, and I was absolutely stunned. It’s a total honor to be invited to be a mentor at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, to a group of carefully selected upcoming artists. While I’ve been a mentor multiple times, this will be my first time being a mentor in a production design studio where we will be “world-building.”
What does being a mentor entail? How many people will you be working with?
“World-building” was pioneered by Alex McDowell, the production designer for “Minority Report,” “Fight Club” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (who also happens to be on the advisory council of the Carson Center). As Alex describes it, “World-building is a narrative practice in which the design of the world precedes the telling of a story.” As mentors, we’ll be explaining how writers, filmmakers, designers, artists and producers can create unique worlds as the settings for their stories. We’ll be introducing them to new interdisciplinary and nonlinear approaches to understand, prototype and imagine the future of storytelling. Initially, we’ll be working with a group of 32 people, and then we’ll expand that to 240 people, and then conclude with the original 32. It’s going to be an enlightening few days.
What are you looking forward to most about the trip?
I can’t wait to learn from Alex and all the other participants, and be able to bring these learnings and connections back to the Carson Center and university more broadly. I can’t wait to explore possible future collaborations and meet future collaborators for the Carson Center. And as someone who was a Rotary Exchange Study to Germany (a very long time ago), I can’t wait to be surrounded by and speaking German again.
What is your best advice for aspiring creatives?
Be brave. Prototype and iterate — with anything: paper, Lego, sticks. Prototype and iterate again. Put the audience at the center of the experience you are creating. Remember that there is no such thing as an auteur — it takes a team of artists, scientists, designers, engineers and storytellers to make creative work. And dream ferociously big.
What does this mean for the Carson Center? How do you hope to promote the center during your trip?
It’s a brilliant opportunity. It extends our international reach and networks, it promotes us internationally to both practitioners and other emerging media arts centers. I’ll be listening hard and promoting the vision of the center hard.
How is the Carson Center coming along?
Phew! I’ve been running a marathon since I landed just more than 12 months ago. We’ve created a brand-new Bachelor of Fine Arts in Emerging Media Arts, which is currently making its way through the university system and will then go up to Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education for approval. The new degree is based entirely on project-based and interdisciplinary learning and has had serious input from industry and future employers. We are in the final throes of the design phase for the building and will start actual construction over the summer, which is super exciting. The entire program and place is designed to be super agile and responsible. We are in the process of putting the team together, including faculty, and we will soon be recruiting our first cohort ready to start in fall 2019.
How has your experience at Nebraska been so far? How does it compare to your previous university and work experiences?
When I was hired, I was told to run hard and treat it like a startup, and I have. I’m loving it. I love the attitude of the university and the community, where people ask “How can I help?”, tell you “We’re so glad you’re here” and that “We’ll figure it out” and mean it. I’ve given out more than 500 business cards in 12 months and forged brilliant relationships across campus, our communities and with industry. I find the university and Lincoln to be super supportive and collaborative.
Why should people be excited about the Carson Center? What makes the center unique?
People should be excited because it’s going to be awesome. Our mission is to build a center that will develop transformative creative leaders by building the ultimate student-centric program where every graduate will be equipped to land their dream job or raise money to start their dream company, straight out of school. I think some of the things that make us unique is our international advisory council; that we’re going to be completely interdisciplinary, collaborative and project-based; and just like Johnny Carson did when he was at Nebraska, we’re going to engage with a bit of magic.