If you tuned into the 75th Emmy Awards on Jan. 15, you might have recognized the face of Geethika Kataru in the background. Dressed in an elegant, floor-length black gown, the UM film alum handed out awards and guided Hollywood celebrities offstage.
Adding “Emmys trophy presenter” to her resume has been her most surreal experience yet since graduating and moving almost 3000 miles to Los Angeles.
“It felt like a side quest,” Kataru said. “Like, this is not my life. This is not my everyday at all, but how fun to do this once, you know?”
She landed the Emmys gig through her internship with the Television Academy Foundation last summer, where she worked in the Original Programming Department at STARZ. Nikki Kaffee, senior manager of the internship program, sent her an email asking if she was available.
“I was like, ‘Girl, yeah, I’m clearing my schedule. Are you kidding me?’” Kataru said.
Though she graduated last May with a degree in motion picture production and was the former president of cinematic professional fraternity Delta Kappa Alpha (DKA), nothing prepared Kataru to be in such close proximity to A-list actors.
“If I had tripped and fallen off that stage, I would have landed right into Ali Wong’s arms,” she said. “She was right there. It was crazy. It truly was just insane to be in the same room as all of these talented people.”
With a professional wardrobe fitting and makeup done by an Emmy-award winning makeup artist, she called it “the best I’ve ever looked [and] the best I will ever look again.”
Waking up to a flood of encouraging messages from friends and family on Jan. 16, the reality of LA life hit her.
“The very next day, I had to do my two jobs like nothing had happened,” Kataru said.
The coincidence was not lost on me as she smiled from my laptop screen. There she stood in the kitchen of her LA apartment, recounting celebrity sightings while making breakfast and preparing for her part-time shift later that afternoon.
During her internship, Kataru received professional and financial support from the Bob Bennett Future Leaders program, a new initiative funded by Kelly Bennett and the Robert M. and Margie Bennett Foundation. The scholarship awarded 10 interns with $3000 for living costs.
“That truly changed my life over the summer,” Kataru said. “It allowed me to do my internship well because I wasn’t forced to get a second job.”
Now, the aspiring producer works remotely as an administrative assistant at Women in Animation (WIA), a nonprofit organization founded by professionals in the animation industry that aims to increase female representation and provide greater access to resources and support.
“I wanna go into live-action TV and film, but it’s really cool to learn about this whole other side of the industry,” Kataru said.
Her other job? Working part-time at Trader Joe’s, which she confirmed does not train its employees how to flirt, contrary to popular opinion.
Parts of LA — like the diverse cultures and bad drivers — remind the St. Augustine native of Miami. She now lives a quick drive away from the Warner Bros. Studios Lot with two fellow UM and DKA alumni.
“I’m getting the best of both worlds where I’m getting the city life and I’m able to afford rent,” Kataru said.
Though she’s now comfortable with post-grad life, staying in LA wasn’t always the plan.
“I came back home for, like, two weeks, and then immediately moved back,” Kataru said. “I knew that if I didn’t move then, I never would. Especially following the momentum of my internship, I was like, ‘if there was ever gonna be a time that I would do this, it should be now, when I have all these connections.”
Her internship cohort calls itself the “strike babies,” entering the film industry during the SAG-AFTRA strikes, a time when writers weren’t writing and actors weren’t acting. With productions halted, the day-to-day tasks of her internship looked different from prior years.
“You’re taking this huge risk post-grad to move out here and put your name out there,” Kataru said. “And there’s just nothing for even the super-experienced people who have been doing this for years to be doing, so who would take a chance on somebody new?”
Her Hollywood dreams didn’t always exist, though. Entering UM as a biology major on the pre-med track, she didn’t have the same drive of other students destined to be doctors, but taking film classes and joining DKA inspired her to change her major.
“I felt like now I had a team of people that I could work on projects with together,” Kataru said, “that really wanted to see my project succeed and who I felt invested in their projects. It was a really nice community in that way.”
She credits CCA 465, Creative Producing, as the class that solidified her goal of working in production. UM film professor Rechna Varma, who also wrote her letter of recommendation for the Television Academy internship, taught the course and inspired her to pursue a film career.
And with the historic strikes coming to an end, agreements reached and productions back in motion, the future of filmmaking is brighter than ever.
“Things can only move up from here. I’m hoping that this brings positive change, you know, and allows new people like me to break in and be comfortable breaking in,” Kataru said.