Bulletin News

Moviemaker returns to mentor students


Cris Andrei ’78 has traveled the world in a four-decade career as a producer for film and television.  

Last week, Andrei brought that wealth of experience and knowledge back to his alma mater as a SUNY Cortland executive-in-residence.

"Returning to Cortland reminded me of the reason I came here as a student so many years ago — the immense generosity of the welcoming it offers, the openness and ease of dialogue, the aptness to listen and connect, the quality and dedication to teaching," Andrei said. "Such a wonderful and personal place to grow."

During his campus visit on Oct.19 and 20 he talked with students about some of what he’s learned from his time in the entertainment industry, presenting on topics including media literacy, film analysis and advertising. Out of the classroom, he met with student media groups in less formal talks. 

 “Production, in my opinion, starts with a script, a budget and the director,” Andrei said. “Then you have to create the building blocks for making the film, put in all its elements and then hopefully you can create a little bit of alchemy so that what you put back together is a bit better than the sum of all parts.” 

For Andrei, that magic ranges from international films such as “Victory,” starring Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, to IMAX movies, documentaries and television shows. 

Producer Cris Andrei '78.

“Cris has a wealth of information to share with our students on topics ranging from the creation of branded entertainment for social media to living and working abroad,” said Paul van de Veur, chair of the Communication and Media Studies Department. “My hope is that his visit will inspire our students expand their horizons and explore all the possibilities that are available to them.”

Exploring possibilities isn’t new to Andrei. He graduated from SUNY Cortland as a physics major. 

He said it was the conversations and friendships he found with Cortland’s David Toor, professor emeritus of English, and the late Robert Hammond, professor emeritus of French cinema and literature, that shaped his later life. The chance to come back and pass on that work experience to a new generation of students was an opportunity he had often thought about.

“I think what I really look forward to is developing a connection with the students and being able to hear them and see them excited about what they're doing. … My main aim is to give them the feeling that they are part of the motion picture community, which is something that Bob Hammond did very well in his classes.” 

Feeling connected with something was important to Andrei, who arrived in the U.S. with his family from Romania in 1972. He said he found Cortland was the perfect place to develop.

“It was a very formative period. I was a young immigrant who had come to the United States less than two years before attending the college. And the most important thing about learning at Cortland was to make choices.”

The biggest of those choices: What to do with his life.

“I came from a family, and especially from my background in Romania, where unless you were born into a certain family, or you were politically well embedded into that world you would never get in. So I never considered it before,” Andrei said. “And then I had a conversation with Dave Toor and he asked a pivotal question, ‘What do you do when you don't have anything to do?’ And the answer was, I watch movies.” 

Pursuing his passion, Andrei moved to New York City after graduation. There, he worked at a job in scientific publishing to pay for production and editing classes at The New School of Social Research. He took those courses for no credit to save money. 

Then, with echoes of Hammond’s influence, Andrei moved to France in 1981. He contacted the country’s national film school, where he worked for free on student film projects. After returning to the U.S., he found work on independent films and then as a production assistant for TV commercials.

As he gained more traction in the industry, he became a founding member of Indonesian production company Katena Films. Andrei said it was a chance to get into a developing entertainment market shortly after the country lifted a 10-year ban on commercial television.

“We set up shop with local partners and we were there for seven years,” Andrei said. “Toward the end, when Asia was flying high in terms of the economy, we ended up providing production services for some major films.” 

Andrei would also co-found a sister company called Era FilmAsia, specializing in servicing large foreign-based projects. Through that company the production of the movie “Victory” came to Indonesia. 

He went on to be a producer in the U.S. and abroad for movies, TV shows, IMAX films and documentaries, eventually becoming executive producer at media company Alkemy X. Most recently, he’s been working freelance in post-production on a wide range of projects. 

“What struck me about Cris was his willingness to take on new experiences and challenges,” van de Veur said. “Leaving the U.S. to work in media or build a business abroad is something that few of our students have thought about. Likewise, Cris has shown a willingness to adapt to so many aspects of the industry, an essential ingredient for someone entering a field that is continually evolving.”

According to Andrei, his love of the industry and of telling a visual narrative keeps him motivated. 

 "I’m somebody who really loves working in teams, and making film is the ultimate team sport. I do like the fact that it takes a number of people to come together and bring the elements to create a film. Everybody is responsible for something. It's almost a little bit like a perfect society in which everybody has something to contribute.”