American Studies
American Studies

American Studies In The World Today: Michael Mason

Sat, September 30, 2017
American Studies In The World Today: Michael Mason
Michael Mason

AMS: When did you graduate from American Studies at UT, and with what degree?

MM: I graduated in December '02 with a B. A. in American Studies.


What is your current job, and how did you decide to enter into your chosen field?

I am the owner of Perfect Chaos Films, a video production company in Austin, TX.  After working in Hollywood as a literary agent assistant I spent 8 years doing tech sales, partly out of job availability reasons but mostly for financial reasons.  Feeling pretty unfulfilled, I decided I wanted to do something more on the creative side.  I started worked at an advertising agency, which lost funding.  Positive that I was finally working in a line of work I was destined to be in I started my company.  I had a sales background, which allowed me the ability to find clients.  And by owning the company I could assume full creative control.  I absolutely never saw myself as a business owner but it's been one of the best decisions of my life.


What projects or people have inspired your work?

I think about John Winthrop's City Upon a Hill quite a bit.  And not just in my work, but also in my family life and my general standing as a person in this country.  I was an immigrant who came to this country at a young age and this great experiment that is America has a very special meaning to me.  I see everything I do in context with me playing my role in this bold complicated American ideal. 


How does American Studies inform your work? How does your background in American Studies help you in your work in film production and editing?

What I see in common with my work and American Studies is storytelling.  We live in an information age where facts are especially readily accessible so the emphasis now is to be able to interpret those facts.  Whether I'm producing a sales video or doing a legislative documentary it's my job to collect information and be able to step back and really be able to get at the crux of the issue and then be able to effectively explain it.  American Studies taught me this.


How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations in American Studies?

With professional clients or with narrative work you tend to see similar themes in people's stories.  I've highlighted things such as diversity issues, legislative advocacy and personal identity.  The scope and context of the issues change over time but American people really don't change at a basic level.


Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?

Engage, engage, engage in your class discussions.  After 15 years I still remember what I said to the class about my paper on the Columbia Revolt, I still remember our discussions on life in post-Reconstruction New Orleans and I still remember our W.E.B. Du Bois debates.  It may seem like a lot now but you'll cover a finite amount of subjects so engage because it will all stay with you.


Do you have any advice for students in our department who are interested in pursuing work outside academia, but still want to utilize the training they've received from American Studies?

You're probably going to reinvent yourself at least once in your life and you shouldn't be afraid to do so.   And at every twist and turn you'll be able to learn, to assess and understand the big picture.   Remember that no matter where you end up the critical thinking you pick up in American Studies will always stay with you. 


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