Jonah Ansell '03
“The Amherst network is so strong. Most of us were lucky enough as students to meet someone who offered advice and encouragement. It’s great to pass that on.”
A decade before taking meetings in L.A., Jonah D. Ansell ’03 was a freshman making cold calls to alumni from his dorm room in Valentine. At the time, he wasn’t inclined toward any particular major or career. All he knew, Ansell says, was that he needed to start trying to figure something out. “Since I was from Chicago, which has a large marketing and advertising sector, I decided to contact alums in those fields.”
Now a writer and director—his production company, JAMS, develops stories and scripts for film and TV—Ansell remains impressed by the generosity of those alumni. “Here was a freshman calling them out of the blue, who didn’t even know the difference between marketing and advertising,” he remembered. “Still, they made time to talk. Those conversations helped me clarify the landscape.”
Now, Ansell is the one doing the mentoring by welcoming Amherst students to JAMS for summer internships. The most recent, Jennifer Gaida ’14, designed characters and concept art for projects in production — including a new anti-gun film starring Samuel L. Jackson – while working remotely from Chicago. Since 2011, Ansell’s firm has hosted five Amherst interns – with majors ranging from English to computer science to fine arts.
“Each intern demonstrated the strength of liberal arts thinking,” Ansell said. “That’s so important because over the course of a career, the ‘what’ will change many times. But the ‘how’—that’s always relevant,” he said.
Ansell values that he’s now in a position to mentor. “I’ve never forgotten that alums took time to help me when I was a gawky seventeen-year-old. Now, I get to pass on what my mentors gave me. Plus, I am impressed by the insights and fresh thinking interns bring to the filmmaking process.”
Most recently, Ansell has been earning acclaim for Cadaver, the eight-minute animated short he wrote and directed about a cadaver who wakes up to say a last goodbye to his wife but discovers a truth he didn’t know in life. The film stars Christopher Lloyd, Tavi Gevinson and Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates and, in April 2013, the graphic novel edition of Cadaver was published. The book was a featured selection for Amherst Reads; it also was celebrated at a book launch and film screening hosted by the Amherst Club of Chicago.
He’s looking forward to creating more films and continuing to collaborate with Amherst students through the Pathways program. “The Amherst network is so strong. Most of us were lucky enough as students to meet someone who offered advice and encouragement. It’s great to pass that on.”