Columbia welcomes home alumni filmmakers


Evan Bell

Len Amato, president of HBO Films, gave students advice on the film industry at Film Row Cinema at the 1104 S. Wabash Building. 

By Campus Reporter

They once scraped paint off the then-new Columbia 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building as a summer job to earn extra cash. Later, they became successful filmmakers in their industries.

Len Amato, a 1975 alumnus and one of the newest additions to the college’s board of trustees and president of HBO Films, and Jeff Jur, a 1976 alumnus and award-winning director of photography, visited Columbia to reminisce on their college days with current students.

The event, held Feb. 5 at Film Row Cinema at 1104 S. Wabash Ave., opened with a booming montage of iconic scenes from HBO Films and a heartbreaking, emotional trailer for the 2015 film “Bessie.”

Amato then emerged from behind the curtain, playfully bowing with a slight grin on his face as students chuckled, followed by a modestly smiling Jur. 

Leading the conversation, Ron Falzone, an associate professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, interviewed the two filmmakers about everything from their worst jobs growing up to the fast-changing film industry. Amato and Jur talked to students about their work including “Dexter,” “Dirty Dancing” and “My Big Fat

Greek Wedding.”

Reflecting on his time at Columbia, Jur said the college was exactly what he needed after high school.

“I wanted to go somewhere that let me make films,” Jur said. “I was only interested in making films right away.”

Amato, however, said he ended up going to film school because he was not drafted to join the army and saw the 1973 film “Scarecrow” with Al Pacino and

realized film was his calling. 

He told the audience that when he was a student in the then-Film and Photography Department housed in an old warehouse on Lake Shore Drive and Ohio Street, he felt like an “outlaw” for going to an unaccredited college at the time.

Jur said he worked on feature films at the start of his career but always continued to shoot film for himself. Amato said he was only interested in making movies, reminiscing on the first film he sold, “First Time Felon,” which he wrote after becoming inspired by an article he read in The New York Times.

Amato said the story was about a guy from the neighborhood that he grew up in who got convicted and had the choice to either go to prison or go to boot camp, adding that inspiration can come

from anywhere. 

During a Q&A portion of the conversation, students asked Amato about how to find success in the industry and whether that required moving to Los Angeles or having an agent. After joking that the answer to success would cost the students a steep fee of $25, Amato

answered honestly. 

“You either catch a break or you don’t catch a break,” Amato said. “If you don’t strike gold when you’re young, then after a certain point, it is all a matter of how long you can hang in there and believe in what you’re doing.”