Alumni Spotlight: Wilson on Directing Films

Peyton Wilson (CGS,’91, Pardee’93) studied International Relations at Boston University, specifically Western European History, as a way to engage with her love of history and storytelling — two things that still inform her current work as a filmmaker.

“Today I’m a storyteller, so when I look back I think what really captured me was diving into history,” Wilson said. “I was a sponge. I actually recall barely taking notes in some lectures as I was so captivated with many of the professors’ powerful lectures. And, from there it just stuck in my head, I couldn’t get it out — though I can’t say the same the same for International Economics!”

After Wilson graduated from the Pardee School, she moved back to Los Angeles and got her first job in production as a production assistant on an Earth Wind and Fire music video.

“It was an all night shoot in downtown LA. I think my call time was 9 p.m. and we wrapped at 4 a.m.,” Wilson said. “And, that was it, I loved every second of it. I loved not being in an office, I loved the craziness, the creativity, the odd people I worked with, all of it. So for a year or so I was a PA on various music videos and commercials, though I think I was a terrible PA.”

Pursuing her love of filmmaking, Wilson moved to San Francisco where she started a production company, Spellbound Productions, with documentarian Sarah Kerruish. Wilson and Kerruish produced documentaries, short films, commercials and corporate films.

“I think because we had no idea what we were doing, we were fearless,” Wilson said. “That’s the beauty of your 20’s, anything is possible and no fear. Because of Spellbound, I began directing, and that was my film school.”

Wilson connected with Paco Chierici (Pardee ’87), a former Navy pilot and author, who asked her to a direct a documentary about Navy fighter pilots. 

“Paco is a fighter pilot and a gifted writer, and he had always felt there was a Navy story to be told,” Wilson said. “His pitch to me was, ‘Let’s go make the real Top Gun.’ So, I dove in, and five years later we finished our film, Speed & Angels. That really catapulted my directing career, and from there I started directing commercials full time, and more documentaries.”

Wilson said two of the common threads between her Pardee School education and subsequent work as a filmmaker is her love of real stories and her acute ability to listen.

“A key shift in my life came at BU and the Pardee School with losing myself in real stories. And, quite frankly, with listening. . . listening to the Pardee professors,” Wilson said. “The moment I chose IR as my major, it’s as if I found both a part of myself and a sense of joy.  Later on, when I started directing documentaries, I then found the other part of myself. But, it’s really all about one thing — listening and learning stories of real people.”

According to Wilson, Professor Jay Corrin particularly inspired her through the stories he would tell as part of his lectures — something that still influences the way she tells stories as a filmmaker.

“Professor Jay Corrin taught me to love education. His lectures were profound; I recall one particular lecture where we gave him a standing ovation as he had totally moved hundreds of students. I was lucky enough to take a few individual classes with him and not only was I inspired, I remember intuitively knowing the next thing that was going to come out of his mouth,” Wilson said. “I was so connected to his – again – stories. For me, life is about learning and a feeling. Professor Corrin taught me not only to love to learn, but to feel inspired by what others have done before us. To listen to their stories and eventually, as I do now, to share their stories.”

Wilson said her advice to current Pardee School students who are interested in filmmaking or are unsure of what kind of career they want to pursue after graduation would be to take the time to discover what brings them joy.

“Well, if you want to be a filmmaker and you’re concerned you’re at the Pardee School instead of film school, don’t worry.  The moment you graduate (or even while you’re still in school) you can make a film on your own and that’s your film school. So, enjoy Pardee, sponge it up, listen and perhaps start to think about the stories you want to bring to life one day,” Wilson said. “If you’re unsure as to what you want to do once you graduate, that’s 100% normal. Life will lead you to where you need to be, just really listen to what brings you joy. Whatever that is, then chase it and I’m guessing it will lead you to your career.”