Excellence in Action
Sunny Tripathy ’12
Interviewed by Monique Beals • April 18, 2018
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
I started at UCLA in Engineering. My parents were strict and they wanted me to study Engineering, but I always had the Entertainment bug. Even if I didn’t know at the time what exactly it was that I wanted to do in Entertainment, I knew I loved everything about it. I loved performing. I loved writing. I loved directing and editing and just storytelling in general. I didn’t know at the time what, specifically, I wanted to do or what I would do, but I started in Engineering. And that’s okay.
I ended up changing my major a bunch of times, as a lot of us do, throughout the course of my time at UCLA. I managed to keep making short films, videos, and commercials while still going to my classes, studying for midterms, and still finding time to have a drink or two on the weekends. At UCLA, I met a lot of people whom I ended up collaborating with, doing videos with, and networking with in general. At UCLA’s Entertainment Networking Night, I met notable UCLA alumni who, to this day, continue to mentor me in various ways. They were very kind and generous with their time and very helpful, and I met them as a student.
Obviously, a lot happened in between, but my main focus now is in writing and directing, with an emphasis on the writing. I still go back to UCLA for a lot of various events. I try to help out as much as I can and do whatever I can to give back, because a lot of alumni helped me, without expectation, and the best I can do in return is to pay it forward.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
For me, it was a career path I always knew I wanted. Even as a kid, I was the guy running around with a video camera filming my friends, making little videos, and eventually posting them on the internet. Back in the day, even with a VCR and a red, white, yellow cable, I would edit from VHS cameras that used to record right onto VHS tapes. (Something you kids probably only have heard of or see in museums at this point!)
UCLA gave me a great overall education. I think it is really important to study and have a real college experience. Not to mention it gives you a great insurance policy while you’re pursuing something risky. I grew up in the Bay Area, so being in LA and being around other creative people who were interested in entertainment or pursuing entertainment really allowed me to find my groove.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
I think the greatest part about my UCLA experience was the other students I met there. I don’t know why, and I will always be biased, but UCLA really attracts the cream of the crop when it comes to bright, driven, and ambitious creatives from around the world. Everybody I met was inspiring to be around, so I’m perhaps most grateful to the student body.
I am sure had I been studying something different, I would have probably given more credit to professors. Obviously, UCLA professors are great, but I wasn’t really studying the subject that I wanted to study, so for me, it was a little more tedious than anything. I was focused on what UCLA allowed me to do outside of classes, which was where I really grew the most. A lot of the events were really helpful too. Of course, there’s Entertainment Networking Night, but I also did Dinner for 12 Strangers, which was really fun and great opportunity to push me out of my comfort zone. The UCLA alumni were all very nice. Maybe it’s just a Bruin thing and all of that was very helpful.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
I haven’t really used the alumni network to my own advantage yet. When I go to Entertainment Networking Night, there are always great alumni there. Sometimes I know them and sometimes I don’t, but I don’t really get as involved with the alumni as I do with the students. That is really what is more exciting for me and I’m sure, most of the other alumni as well – just wanting to help other kids who are trying to figure it out. (Like we all are)
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
In the career that I’m in, the greatest challenge is perseverance and resilience. It’s a game of survival. Sometimes you have phenomenal ideas and no place to showcase it. Sometimes you might have lesser work and get it in the right room and watch it take off. A lot of people give up after a few years, but the ones who don’t give up and keep trying are the ones who make it. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, so survival is key to this career. It’s like being on “Survivor”, and the people tuning in are your friends and family (which might be even worse!).
It is tough. You will have really good days and really bad days, and absolutely everyone in the Entertainment industry has days when they feel hopeless or stuck. People who have been extremely successful before and are now facing a dead end or people who haven’t yet had the opportunity to succeed also feel like they’re at a dead end. You have to learn to survive the dry days, get strong, and learn that muscle of resilience to make it in this business.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in Entertainment?
The best advice I can give is to be really sure about Entertainment. There are a lot of people in the business who are phenomenal storytellers like Shonda Rhimes who will repeatedly say things like, ‘if you can think of any other career you would enjoy doing, do that, because this is literally the hardest job in the world.’ Your talent may not be a factor in whether you are successful or not. People who have too much of a “plan B”, “plan C”, “plan D” aren’t going all in. If you don’t go all in, you will not succeed, because it really is so competitive and so tough, it’s going to take your full fight.
You need to commit to this 100% of the time in order to be successful. It is something to really think about. A lot of people think they can go work a 9 to 5 job and spend weekends working on a script or making a short film or doing a few auditions on the side. That isn’t going to work, and in the long run, you won’t be able to go anywhere. It will waste your time and you’ll end up frustrated. It takes a lot of sacrifice, but I recommend that people not be daunted by the adversity that is ahead but rather to be really sure about the daringness to face it. It’s just basic entrepreneurship. People who are CEO’s that founded companies and startups and people like Elon Musk have to take tons of risks and make tons of sacrifices, but if you really make it a 100% time commitment, keep at it, and are fiercely obsessed with the task at hand, you will be successful. You cannot half pursue it just because it seems interesting.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
I love Entertainment, and when I go and see a lot of fresh, bright faces who are eager to learn more about the industry, it really reminds me of myself. Like I said, it was not that long ago that I was in that very room. I remember how excited I was as I enthusiastically looked up names on my phone and saw who was there. I was trying to figure out who to talk to and how to be strategic and trying to not be annoying but still ask good questions. Trying to figure out whose emails I could ask for and whose it would be taboo to ask for. I remember all that excitement. It can be really scary for a young person trying to figure all that out, so I love going to that event and meeting people to just let them know, hey, it’s okay. How can I help?
I also love going and keeping it real, because there are some alumni who will go back and give such an inaccurate painting of what the business is like. I just think it’s important to have as many people there as possible who are passionate about helping students who deserve the help, have the right attitude, and have what it takes. I get a thrill from learning what the students are interested in, what they are doing and trying to help them get to the next level. It really drives me back year after year.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I think that being a Bruin is a great personal pride. I don’t know what the statistics are now, but it is one of the most coveted universities in the world, so it is already a great personal pride to have gone there. It was my dream school. I am grateful for the experiences that I had, and I am just really proud to have made so many friends there. For me, it all comes back to the student body. We have a beautiful campus and some cool programs and events, but the greatest thing about UCLA is the students and the Bruins themselves. They are just cool, nice people who have talent and drive and ambition. They know how to have fun. They know how to have balanced lives. They are hustlers. So, to me, the thing I am most proud of is the student body.
And finally, what’s next?
At the moment, I recently signed with a great new team for representation and love my full team. I have fantastic managers, whip-smart agents, and a great lawyer. We are in the process of setting up and pitching a couple different TV shows. One is an animated series about my UCLA experience, which will be really fun. It’s got a great group of producers, a fantastic showrunner, and an amazing animation company behind it. We are taking that out now and pitching to different places.
I am also doing a couple collaborations with big YouTubers. In the feature space, we are going to go out around the town with a dance movie concept. It’s a feature film based on the world of dance. I was on the Indian Dance Team briefly at UCLA, and it’s basically Pitch Perfect but in the world of Indian dance competition. It is a fun movie based on a lot of true stories, so a lot of stuff I write is actually related to or has strings of my direct UCLA experience, which is really fun for me.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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