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Meet Andrew Ruiz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Ruiz.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Andrew. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve been teaching art in one form or another for almost a decade. While I was studying at Columbia University, I was invited to teach at the Cinema School, in the Bronx, as a teaching artist with the Ghetto Film School. I worked with students from all over the borough, helping them develop their their storytelling craft.

This was my first experience working with underserved communities. It sparked a new direction from me. While finishing my MFA, I got the chance to teach with several other programs, including the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada’s amazing non-profit educational support program. Working with these students taught me about the importance of agency and voice.

Everyone has a story to tell. Helping them discover these stories and teaching them the tools they need to tell it well, these are some of my most proud accomplishments. It’s been both a privilege to work with my students, an essential in my development as an artist and writer.

I moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago with the same two goals in mind, to continue my academic endeavors while pursuing my goal to be a working writer. Since arriving in this new city, I’ve been lucky enough to join the faculty of a new screenwriting program at Mount Saint Mary’s, working with their Creative Writing MFAs to blend new styles of narrative. I’ve also been working with the National High School Institute, both as director of their summer program in Film in Chicago as well as developing a new playwriting initiative in Los Angeles areas schools.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It hasn’t been a smooth road by any means. While I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities my own education has provided, I am keenly aware of the cost of that education. Students like myself, without external means, constantly have to make the decision between school and debt. It’s a difficult choice, and one without a clear resolution for most of us. That said, I’m glad I’ve chosen this road. Getting my MFA granted me the opportunity to learn both as an educator and an artist.

The short film that I made as part of my thesis, Fish, has gone on to screen around the world. The story is that of a father and son emigrating back to Mexico after the death of the mother. In trying to talk about my roots as a first generation American, I ended up talking about how one deals with the loss of someone so important. This was driven home for me when my own father passed away during the development of the film, pushing me to explore my story in a new light.

I was put into a place I often tell my students to explore. Write narratives about what makes you feel. I think this is what we talk about when we say writing can be therapy.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I think I’d like to talk a little about what makes the program at Mount Saint Mary’s so interesting to me, and why I’m so glad to be a part of it.

Under Johnny Payne, we’ve been developing a new approach to screenwriting. It’s cross-medium storytelling, bridging creative writing students with film professionals. Our students get to move from novels to plays to screenplays, fitting the pieces together in new and interesting ways. How often do you really get to explore like that? You can take the time to see what form of your story works best. It’s a great program, and I really hope to see it grow in the coming years.

I’d also like to talk briefly about NHSI Los Angeles. This new initiative will bring working playwrights into several LA schools. They’ll work with the faculty and students to create new one act plays, focusing on character and narrative that reflects their experiences as young Angelenos. Some of these students will be invited to join the polishing workshop at Northwestern University next summer.

We’ve developed this program back in Chicago to great success, and we’re very excited about rolling it out in LA.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
The other day I heard a great story about career anxiety from an unlikely source, a highly regarded development executive and former studio director. He said he wished he could go back in time and tell his younger self not to be afraid of the future. He told me he wasted years before coming to LA on the fear that he would fail. And here’s what makes the story great, when he did finally get to California, he did fail. He started out with a dream and he did not accomplish it. But it lead him to a new dream, and that dream became an incredible career.

So, I think if I had to start over, I would take that to heart. In my path, like everyone else, I’ve missed countless opportunities because they “didn’t seem right” or wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing at the time. I wish I had been more open to new directions, and new ways of looking at my career. I try to do that now, and I hope it leads me to new and exciting things.

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Image Credit:
Elizabeth Agate

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