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Winter 2003


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  Alumni Profiles

2002 Alumni Achievement Award

Jon Kilik ’78

When Jon Kilik revisited UVM this fall to speak with students in English Professor Hilary Neroni’s film seminar, he looked out at a classroom full of faces that might have seemed vaguely familiar.
Kilik, after all, once sat in the same place. The successful film producer has strong memories of the day he was galvanized by Citizen Kane in Professor Frank Manchel’s class. As his interest in film grew, he began to entertain the notion of making a living in the business.

That, Kilik’s done. The list of directors he has collaborated with as producer includes Robert Altman, Tim Robbins, Julian Schnabel, Robert DeNiro and a long relationship with Spike Lee dating back to their work together on 1989’s Do the Right Thing. If you’re a credit reader at the movies, chances are you’ve seen Kilik’s name scroll up.

Kilik’s credits have continued to grow since Vermont Quarterly profiled him eight years ago (www.uvm. edu/vtquarterly for text). The list now includes films such as Dead Man Walking, Pleasantville, Basquiat, Pollock, Before Night Falls, and He Got Game, among others.

One of his latest projects is Skins, a tale set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Like much of his work, Skins is guided by a strong social conscience, a focus Kilik was honored for last fall by the Vermont International Film Festival.

As Kilik talks with the UVM students, they seem as impressed by his low-key demeanor (he claims to be wearing the same corduroys he had in college) as the place he has reached in the film business. It’s clear that there is no shortage of people in Professor Neroni’s class who wouldn’t mind being in a similar place someday,
and the inevitable questions about getting there are asked.

“Talent is second to passion,” Kilik says. “Sometimes you have to be more stubborn than talented and it is a hard combination to have both. That’s the difference in everything. You’ve got to have the skills and you’ve got to know what to do with them.”

And he adds two more things, “believe and be patient.”

Jennifer Gilbert '90

If Jennifer Gilbert faces any threat to her meteoric career these days, it’s that success will take her away from doing what made her successful. As threats go, that’s a pretty good one, particularly when the distractions are the demands inherent in being founder and president of a swiftly rising NYC event planning firm.

Running Save the Date could easily swallow her days, but it’s the details and demands of juggling planning for as many as six events a time that Gilbert truly loves and happens to be very good at. “If I get too far from that,” Gilbert says, “I’m unhappy.”

It’s not a surprising answer from one who makes keeping her head in stressful circumstances something of an art form. “People tend to assume that ‘loving people’ and ‘being really organized’ are the key skills for someone in this profession,” Gilbert says. “That’s not it. The key is being extremely calm under pressure.”

Pressure writ large is overseeing an operation that plans hundreds of events a year — from weddings to parties for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jewel to corporate events such as the launch of Microsoft Windows 2000. Pressure writ small is a petticoat missing on wedding day, a bride in tears, and Gilbert dashing to the fabric store, then getting busy with needle, thread, and a few yards of emergency tulle.

I should wear a t-shirt that says “Chief Damage Controller,” Gilbert quips, “because that’s often what I do all day.”

Save the Date’s success story has attracted the attention of press within the meeting trades, but also has landed Gilbert’s name and face in national magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Inc. It also earned Gilbert the 1998 New York City Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Upcoming Gilbert projects include the groundwork of planning her own wedding. As the day nears, though, she’ll wisely pass that on to a couple of Save the Date staff members. Even Jennifer Gilbert has her pressure-management limits.

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