Courtesy of Jonathan Champagne

Jonathan Champagne '13 has made filmmaking his career, often collaborating with fellow Cornell alumni.

October 22, 2020

From Economics Major to Actor, Cornell Alumnus Charts Winding Path to Filmmaking

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After graduating from Cornell with a degree in economics, Jonathan Champagne ’13 moved to New York City like many Cornellians. But he didn’t jockey for a job on Wall Street. He arrived in the Big Apple to pursue acting.  

But two years later, he realized what he really wanted to do: create his own films. 

“You get tired of waiting for permission to make your own art,” Champagne said. “There’s a bit of a fire that lights underneath you to really create something that came out of your own mind instead of working on other people’s projects.”

Champagne founded the music licensing company Silverside Productions in 2015, alongside fellow alum Owen Pataki ’10, who works as a director. Having known each other since their undergraduate years, the two instantly hit it off and produced their first short film The Pigeon together in the summer of 2019.

He not only produced The Pigeon, but Champagne also wrote the script and composed a song featured in the film. “As a producer, you can wear a lot of hats,” Champagne said.

The short film was ultimately a success, featuring in the 2019 Albany and Manhattan Film festivals. It’s now available on YouTube. 

As soon as their first film ended, the team moved onto their next project, called Company Retreat. This time, however, Champagne and Pataki had to navigate the pandemic. 

Adapting proved difficult. Filmmaking in mid-June came with significant COVID-19 safety concerns, especially in New York City, where Champagne hoped to film. 

On top of following guidelines established by the Screen Actors Guild and New York State, Champagne partnered with an ER doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital who gave the film crew access to rapid testing services. 

“What kept us going was truly the love for filmmaking and that we wanted to keep hard working peers in the industry employed, and we wanted to give everyone a sense of normalcy in a time where so much was uncertain,” Champagne said. 

Unhindered by these obstacles, Champagne is hopeful that they will finish Company Retreat by November and have it ready for film festivals by next spring. 

Champagne and Pataki are already gearing up for their third project, a feature length film. They will be bringing in conductor Jeff Cox ’13, Champagne’s former classmate, to do the majority of the scoring and composing for the film. 

“It’s been wonderful to connect to two classmates and to see the very long beacons that those relationships cast,” Champagne said.

Champagne said he never would have expected to go from economics to filmmaking, but  credited his time at Cornell with giving him the knowledge to start his unconventional career. 

“I think the nature of my undergraduate education lent itself really well to being a self starter and being an independent and really coming up with my own ideas,” Champagne said.