Aubrey Smyth is a Cannes Lions award-winning director with a 14-year career in scripted TV, narrative and documentary films, and commercials. She has premiered three films at Tribeca Film Festival and specializes in directing celebrities, kids of all ages, and character actors in ensemble casts. She is currently participating in the highly selective Disney Entertainment Television Creative Talent Development and Inclusion Directing Program and has directed her first episode of TV for General Hospital

After graduating from Pratt, Smyth established her video production company, Gingersnap. She directed and produced films for the Institute’s Human Resources Department, and from this foundation she built her company to collaborate with advertising agencies and clients. Each year, she mentors Pratt students to offer real-world perspective and has given presentations for the Film/Video Department’s Professional Practices classes, participated on a panel for the Pratt Film Cult student club, and done one-on-one mentorship with Communications Design Professional Practices students.

Who were your Pratt mentors? 

If it were not for mentors believing in me, I wouldn’t have my dream career of directing TV, films, and commercials and owning my production company.

Josh Koury [also an alumnus, BFA Film ’01] challenged us to be our best and honed my technical, creative, and leadership skills. When I became president of the Pratt Film Club, I asked Josh to be the advisor, and he graciously opened his network of industry professionals to create impactful events for the film students. Josh’s independent filmmaking spirit is contagious, and I admire how he turns his artistic vision into self-made success. 

I’ll never forget attending the world premiere of his feature film [Voyeur] at Tribeca Film Festival and feeling inspired by his achievements. Fast forward nine years, Tribeca Studios executive produced my first documentary, The Need to Know, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, with Josh serving as the film’s consultant. More than a decade into my career, Josh’s advice has had a significant impact on my directing techniques.

After I received the Outstanding Achievement Award [at Pratt, an honor given by faculty], Deborah Meehan [Professor of Film/Video] recommended me to Pratt’s Human Resources Department, who hired me to produce videos featuring Pratt faculty, employees, and staff. It was my first job out of college and I took the opportunity to launch my production company, Gingersnap, with Pratt Institute as my first long-term client. 

Ramzy Telley [Adjunct Associate Professor (CCE)] was pivotal in crafting my comedy storytelling skills, which resulted in a strong thesis film that won the Audience Choice Award at Pratt’s Wallabout Film Festival and Best Student Film at Chicago Comedy Film Festival. As a direct result, a judge hired me to edit their feature film, which was my second job out of college. 

All of my mentors came to the opening of my production company’s office and their kindness proves that community fosters success.

“Create a niche for yourself early on, and then branch out. Be undeniably you!”

Aubrey Smyth, BFA Film ’10

How do you work with emerging creatives in film?

I’m lucky to work in a profession where I directly hire my collaborators. When I graduated, I experienced a lack of women in department-head roles. Change begins with hiring practices, so when I started my company at 21 years old, I was in control of budgets, which gave me hiring responsibilities. 

And who more qualified for creative challenges than my fellow Pratt alumni? I mentored Pratt students through internships at my production company, for which they received credit and support for their thesis films. To this day I work closely with Mary Rhymer, BFA Film ’14, for animation; Daniel Ornitz, BArch ’15, for production design; and Suzie Ford, BFA Fashion Design ’10, for costume design. 

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Early on, experiment with what you are drawn to artistically and apply that to what is commercially marketable. When your work is undeniably you, people will notice and trust your capability. Four years out of school, I was invited to be represented as a commercial director at a boutique commercial production company and grow my directorial career. 

My advice for aspiring filmmakers is to make your own luck by applying to competitions for exposure and to continue to evolve your creative voice. I want my work to positively impact people, whether that be through stories with comedic relief or dramatic life lessons, or that raise awareness for lifesaving health issues. My personal choice is to never repeat myself. So while a project might have a similar tone to my previous work, I use different camera movements and rigs to tell an original story. 

At Pratt, I was influenced by professors whose directing specialties ranged from art-house films to documentaries. Look to creatives in your industry who are where you want to be and draw inspiration from their career trajectory. Create a niche for yourself early on, and then branch out. Be undeniably you!

Read more mentorship stories from the Spring 2024 special section.