The Producer

Communication alumna calls shots for one of the world’s news leaders

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Victoria Moll-Ramirez, ’09 | Cross-Platform Associate Producer, CNN

By Julia Anderson, ‘14

Victoria Moll-Ramirez, ’09, says her bachelor’s degree in radio-television from UCF has meant everything to her in her career. Her best memories at UCF include hours spent in the Nicholson School of Communication’s Knightly Newsroom.

“Every meltdown, every slice of pizza and every soda I had in that newsroom is so fondly remembered,” she says. “The countless times we all looked at each other and asked, ‘Why are we doing this?!’ Totally worth it.”

Although it was challenging at the time, she thanks her experience in the RTV broadcast journalism track for her success.

Shortly after she graduated, Moll-Ramirez started working as an assignment editor at WKMG-Local 6 News Orlando, where she had previously interned. She left WKMG in 2011 after being the first UCF alumna chosen for the NBC News Associate Program in New York City. Out of more than 1,500 applicants she was one of seven chosen for the prestigious program.

In 2012, NBC News promoted her to bureau coordinator of its Miami office. At NBC, she helped generate content for all of their platforms, including NBCNews.com, “The Today Show,” “NBC Nightly News,” MSNBC and NBCLatino.com.

After an incredible three years at NBC News, she moved on to become a cross-platform associate producer at CNN, which is based out of Atlanta.

Moll-Ramirez answered some questions about her time at UCF, the difficulties and rewards of being in the news industry, and shared advice for students and alumni.

Q&A in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. It’s going to sound a little silly, but the reason I chose UCF is because it was the university that sent me the most promotional mail. One day I just thought to myself, “Well, if these people want me so bad, let me check this out.”

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. My UCF degree has been essential in my career. All of my jobs have required a degree in journalism. Over time, I’ve also realized how great the RTV broadcast journalism program was. I’ve had colleagues who went to Columbia, Northwestern, USC, Berkeley, you name it. Not once have I ever felt like I fell behind.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. No two days are ever the same — coming into work every day and not knowing what’s going to happen. Not realizing the moment you walk in through those doors, you may be a few moments away from informing the world about a certain historical event, good or bad, is invaluable.

Q. Most memorable experience on the job?
A. I’d have to say it was the 10th anniversary of September 11th. I was working for NBC at the time in New York City and got to be a part of the team that covered it. When the names of the fallen were being called and I looked at my colleagues, many of whom covered the actual attacks, with tears down their cheeks, it was so real. Seeing the fountains from high up and knowing that’s where so many lives were lost — the hurt was palpable.

Q. What piece of advice would you give to current UCF students, as well as fellow Knights?
A. To current students, UCF is becoming a bigger and bigger name. Don’t underestimate it. A degree is what you make of it. Not having a degree is a lot tougher than having one. Be proud, always. Oh, and INTERN! INTERN, INTERN, INTERN! It’s more important than most of your classes!

For alumni, let’s be friends! I love UCF for all the doors it opened for me. A strong alumni association makes a huge difference.

Now, for some fun questions. Moll-Ramirez shared some personal info to help us get to know her better:

Q. Do you have any special/hidden talents?
A. When in top cardio shape, I’m pretty great at jumping rope. Bizarre, I know. But I actually became obsessed with it while at UCF. They used to have a half-hour class at the recreation center and I started taking it. The rest is history.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I love trivia nights and playing kickball. Yes, kickball — don’t judge. I also listen to Pitbull and Romeo Santos (a Spanish language singer) way too much. Also, the regular stuff like hanging out with friends, traveling and watching the news.

Q. What’s the most generous or thoughtful gift you’ve ever received?
A. The most thoughtful gift I ever received was really more like a gesture. On my last day at NBC News, my colleagues threw a huge surprise party for me. My desk was decorated — with pictures of Sanjay Gupta and Wolf Blitzer included — there were balloons, they made posters with pictures of all of my favorite things, they ordered food, I got flowers and even a crown! It was like my Quinceañera all over again! I didn’t expect it and it was above and beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined.

The Gregg Hale Project

Film alumnus continues to follow his passion for the big (and small) screen

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Gregg Hale, ’95 | Partner, Haxan Films

By Angie Lewis, ’03

If you were a teenager in 1999, chances are you sat in a dark theater with your friends, peeking at the screen through your hands, while watching the “found footage” of three student documentary filmmakers who disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Md.

“The Blair Witch Project,” by Haxan Films, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, after grossing more than $248 million worldwide and receiving critical acclaim, which included winning the Award of the Youth for Foreign Film at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Orange Award at the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards.

The highly successful indie horror film was the creation of five UCF alumni: Michael Monello, ’92; Robin Cowie, ’93; Daniel Myrick, ’93; Eduardo Sanchez, ’94; and Gregg Hale, ’95.

We caught up with Hale, one of the movie’s producers, in Portland, Ore., where he currently lives with his wife, Adrian (Steinbach), ’00, and their two kids, Amelia, 8, and Decker, 6.

Hale and Sanchez still own Haxan Films and continue to make indie movies, as well as television shows, games and comic books, and also do some creative consulting. Most recently, the pair produced a show for ABC called “The Quest,” a fantasy-based reality competition, which began airing at the end of July and wrapped up in September. In addition, their Bigfoot horror film, “Exist,” comes out Oct. 24.

“It’s a cycle of developing and then producing,” Hale explains. “When we do the indie thing, we have to sell them. So, we’re trying to transition more into television, which is steadier. There’s more money in it now than there is in indie films, and we don’t have that cycle of taking a long time to create something, then make something, then sell something. We can get in and do it and not worry about the sales aspect.”

Hale and fellow “Blair Witch” producer and UCF alumnus, Monello, are also the the founders of Campfire, a marketing agency that shapes perceptions and enhances brand preference through social storytelling, digital content and physical experiences — just like the promotional campaign they did for “Blair Witch,” which had many people believing the movie was real. Hale remains with the company as an advisor, while Monello serves as its full-time chief creative officer.

“I like the work that we did for Campfire,” Hale says. “We did a lot of cool stuff, like the first season of ‘True Blood’ and the first season of ‘Game of Thrones,’ and we did some cool movies and a lot of video games. It’s good work, but I don’t get passionate about that. I’ve still managed to stay somewhat passionate about TV and film. So, I just opted to do the thing that gets me going.”

In 2013, Hale and Sanchez directed a point-of-view zombie segment called “A Ride in the Park” for the horror sequel “V/H/S 2.”

“Being a filmmaker is the only thing I ever really wanted to do,” Hale says. “I’ve known since I was 11 that that’s what I wanted to do, when I saw ‘Star Wars’ (A New Hope). I was young enough to be totally amazed by the movie in that kid way, but old enough to realize somebody made it — there was a camera, and people behind a camera, and somebody decided what the set was going to look like and what Darth Vader looked like. When Darth Vader walks through the door at the very beginning of the movie, it blew my mind — the visuals, the music, everything. That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

As a child, Hale used a Super 8 camera to make short films, stop-motion animation and zombie movies. And, in true young, male filmmaker fashion, he also blew up toy soldiers with fireworks and filmed it.

Before Hale was in the spotlight for “Blair Witch,” he worked as a set dresser for Disney’s “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” and on the swing gang in the art department for the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon,” both of which were produced in Orlando.

Hale grew up in Kentucky and was on his way to California to pursue his film education at UCLA or USC (“because those are the big, famous film schools”), when he got a call from a childhood friend who was working on “Superboy” in Orlando. That was right before Universal Studios Orlando opened and right after Steven Spielberg told the world via “The Today Show” that Central Florida would be Hollywood East. So, Hale, like all of the other film students who weren’t already working in L.A., decided to head south.

Before starting college, Hale served in the U.S. Army to earn money for school. He’d already been working in the industry when he started taking film classes at Valencia College, where he learned the technical skills necessary for filmmaking. When he got to UCF, he says he enjoyed the opportunity to make his own films in a structured environment, with access to resources and instructors.

His advice to current UCF film students? “There’s talent and intelligence and all of the other attributes that are part of being a successful filmmaker, but you need perseverance,” he says. “It’s a hard business. If you allow yourself to get discouraged, you’re not going to make it as a filmmaker. There have been a lot of ups and downs for me and Ed. Since ‘Blair Witch,’ we haven’t had that level of success we started out with, and that can be a downer at times. Things don’t always go the way you want them to go, but you have to stick with it. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Let’s Get Reel Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Going to class. I enjoy learning. The classes I enjoyed the most were film theory and film history. They were non-production classes, where you’re just learning for learning’s sake.

Q. If money was no object and you could make any movie, what story would you choose to depict?
A. We have a couple of properties that we’ve been developing that are “pie in the sky.” So, I’d like to make a big fantasy thing that my kids could go see. The TV show that was just on ABC [“The Quest”], my kids could watch, which I was super psyched about. It’s the first thing I’ve done that my kids could actually see.

Q. Most memorable work experience so far?
A. I feel super lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and to be able to have done it as long as I’ve done it. When “Blair Witch” got into Cannes, we all went, and got to go to some big parties — these crazy, over-the-top parties. And, we’re standing on this beach with drinks, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and there were guys with Rottweilers on chains guarding the edges of the party. We’re just standing there like, “What in the hell are we doing here?” That was all such a whirlwind.

Q. Last movie you watched?
A. “Kelly & Cal”

Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. “Fellowship of the Ring”

Q. If someone made a movie about you, what would the title be?
A. “One Lucky Dude”

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. “Naked and Afraid”

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Staying in the film business when I wanted to get out of it

Q. What subject do you wish you’d paid more attention to in school?
A. Typing

Q. Favorite place to visit?
A. It’s a tie between Japan and New Zealand. New Zealand is one of the most spectacular visual places I’ve ever been with maybe the nicest people on the planet. And, Japan is just a very foreign culture that I’m really drawn to. I really like the way the Japanese people do everything.

Q. Something you learned in the past week?
A. Salmon stay at sea three to four years before returning to spawn. I just went and watched the salmon run yesterday.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Historian