What does it mean to get national recognition for your work when you’re not even 30 years old?
“More than words can describe, truly,” says Alexa Dectis (JD ’19), one of five Chapman alumni who have been honored in the Forbes 30 Under 30 spotlight for 2022. The annual listing, which in years past has featured notables such as Lena Dunham, Daniel Ek and Miley Cyrus, shines a spotlight on “the young innovators, trailblazers and disruptors remaking our world.”
We spoke to each of them about their careers, their time at Chapman and what they hope to accomplish next.
Karam Gill ’16
Co-founder & Creative Director, MGX Creative
Karam Gill ’16 majored in business administration at Chapman, but now he’s a groundbreaking documentary filmmaker who has also been named one of Variety Magazine’s Top 10 Documentary Filmmakers to Watch. He was just 22 when his film “G Funk” premiered at the SXSW, and his docuseries “Supervillain” about notorious rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine and the toxicity of digital culture is streaming now on Showtime.
Along with documentaries, MGX Creative, the production company and creative agency Gill founded with fellow Chapman alumnus Daniel Malikyar ’17, creates stylized, next-generation content for companies such as Apple, Fujifilm, Adidas, YouTube Originals, Amazonand Mercedes Benz. It’s not Gill and Malikyar’s first venture together — they founded 23FIFTN while still undergraduates at Chapman.
“At Chapman, you meet so many talented individuals in different fields,” says Gill. “It allows you to build across different mediums. That’s what Chapman is really great for, especially as a small school. You cross paths with so many people and that can be something that really propels your life going forward.”
As proof of Chapman’s talent pool, the creative team at MGX is filled with Chapman alumni, including Andrew Primavera ’17 (Head of Content), Josh Whitaker ’19, (Creative, Post Production), Beatrice Ho ’18 (Production Manager) and Zach Gelman ’18 (Post Producer).
Gill considers building a team of creative professionals the highlight of his career so far. “It’s really incredible to see people evolve and grow as creatives and as producers in the industry,” he says. “To see so many of us doing what we’re doing, and growing at such a young age… I just love seeing people evolve in our highly competitive industry and really find their voice and find their lane. That’s something that has been amazing.”
Alexa Dectis (JD ’19)
Associate Counsel, Skydance Media
As associate counsel for Skydance Media, Dectis oversees child labor law and compliance across the company’s live action and animated productions. It is an area of the law that she is passionate about, and she credits her professors at Chapman’s Fowler School of Law, particularly Judd Funk and Kathy Heller, for cultivating her interest.
“Professor Heller’s entertainment industry contracts course gave me knowledge that I will use for the rest of my career. There are things that I learned in that class that I use today, and I really will use forever,” she says, such as understanding the fundamentals of an entertainment contract. “It taught me skills that a textbook can’t teach you. It taught me very practical skills, like redlining. You don’t learn how to redline from a textbook. You learn how to redline by doing it.”
Recent projects for Dectis include overseeing international child labor law compliance for Skydance Media’s upcoming feature “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” and providing guidance for working with child voice actors for the Apple TV+ animated film “Luck.”
In the future, she hopes to continue making a difference in child labor law compliance. “It’s so important to protect kids in the entertainment industry,” she says. “And I feel so fortunate that I get to do it.”
Ana Sena (MBA ’15)
Strategic Partner Manager, Twitch
“I think I’m the most passionate about my job when I get to help creators build up their businesses from scratch and make a living off their art,” says Ana Sena (MBA ’15), who manages content creators on the streaming service Twitch. “I get really excited working with creators from diverse backgrounds, helping them become successful entrepreneurs and artists. I’m so happy that I get a chance to contribute to their success.”
While earning her MBA at Chapman, Sena was fortunate to be able to work as an assistant to Dodge College of Film and Media Arts professor Harry Ulfland. “He helped me understand where entertainment executives traditionally start in their careers. I learned that I had to start at a talent agency in order to understand the business from all angles – buyers, sellers, motion pictures, T.V. – and from there I would be able to navigate the rest of my career path. If I hadn’t met Harry while I was at Chapman and gotten involved, I wouldn’t have learned the information that I needed to make the most out of my degree and education.”
While she was at Chapman, she had no idea what a strategic partner was, or really any idea about live streaming, but she thinks it’s OK not to know exactly where you’ll end up in your career. As for what comes next, she says, “I definitely want to continue to help creators and provide resources to all the creators that I work with at Twitch. From there, I would love to grow within the company and become a really valuable executive in the industry.”
Bryan Smaller ’14
Senior Colorist, Company 3
Bryan Smaller ’14 has won two Emmy awards for behind-the-scenes work that most viewers don’t even notice. With a film and video career that started when he was just 14 years old, Smaller has colored 35 feature films, numerous TV shows and commercials, and has collaborated with pop stars like Kanye West, The Weekend, and Ariana Grande. Along with his Emmys (one was for the Super Bowl LI opening), he’s been nominated for multiple VMA and HPA awards.