Tom McCarty (’96) is one of the busiest Biola University alumni working in the entertainment industry today. Since graduating from Biola University with a degree in Cinema and Media Arts in 1996, McCarty has worked as a lighting technician on sets with directors Joss Whedon, Ridley Scott, and Christopher Nolan. One of his most recent projects, Mank, was recently nominated for six Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.
In the mid-90s, Cinema and Media Arts looked a lot different than it does today. The film program was housed under the Bachelor of Science major and led by founding chair, Tom Nash.
“Tom was more of a radio guy,” McCarty remembers. “But I appreciated the opportunity to work on film projects with other students. I learned on-set etiquette and safety, both huge aspects of film production.”
A light turned on for McCarty when he discovered a trove of issues of American Cinematographer in the Biola library. The magazine ignited an interest in camera and lighting, and how those tools could be used to artistic ends.
“Evangelical film culture was very conservative back then,” McCarty said. “I remember I was a student when The Shawshank Redemption came out. It was rated ‘R.’ None of my friends would go see it! So I saw it alone.”
Tom received a big breakthrough as a student when he was invited to be the gaffer on Scott Derrickson’s USC master’s thesis film, Love in the Ruins.
“It was the first set I ever stepped on to,” McCarty said. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is cool.’”
Derrickson, a Biola alumnus who has gone on to direct many films including the Marvel action blockbuster, Doctor Strange, made a strong impression on him.
“Scott and I had a similar upbringing, so we had a chance to talk quite a bit before rolling,” said McCarty.
After graduating from Biola, McCarty worked on corporate videos and then on the exploding market of reality TV.
“We would just roll from one show to the next,” said McCarty.
Through these connections, Tom earned his union card, and took his first feature film union job as set lighting technician on Universal’s Hitchcock in 2012. Then he went on to Interstellar, a Christopher Nolan science-fiction epic that grossed over $700 million. After that, the jobs kept coming. Recent jobs include Ford v Ferrari, Birds of Prey, and the hotly anticipated Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth, directed by Joel Coen.
“Some people think Hollywood is this glamorous, crazy world, but it’s really routine,” said McCarty. “You show up, you light, you block, you rehearse, you eat. It’s this process.”
On the set of Mank, which tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter behind Citizen Kane, McCarty recalls working with David Fincher, the Oscar-nominated director of Fight Club and Se7en.
“Watching David work is pretty cool. He’s very intelligent and pretty funny. He’s attentive to everything that’s happening on set. After the show was finished, I told him it was a pleasure to work with him. He looked around and said, ‘You’re leaving?’ And then he immediately dropped his stuff and came over and shook my hand and thanked me personally,” McCarty recalled.
Balancing work with his faith and his family has been a challenge that McCarty has accepted.
“It’s definitely difficult being a Christian in Hollywood,” he said. “With the political climate, there’s a lot more hostility now.”
McCarty said he has gotten used to supplementing his time away from home and church by listening to podcasts and sermons online — something that he considers a ballast in the relentless forward momentum of his work schedule.
“I feel so blessed to be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Which is work on set and work on movies,” said McCarty.
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Written by Nate Bell. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne, assistant director of strategic communications and media relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.