UW News

September 30, 2010

From film school to medical school, UW grad pursues his passion

Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering

Sean Ackerman’s first movie, Straight Line, brought him accolades in 2005 as a young writer/ director. “Ackerman evidences undeniable promise as a compelling storyteller and visual stylist,” said a review in Variety, an entertainment news magazine that covers television and film. But instead of taking this road to Hollywood, Ackerman went to medical school at the University of Washington.

Ackerman, 32, said he was drawn to the unusual combination of medicine and film based on his interests and need to challenge himself intellectually. He received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 2001. While he was there, he even bought books like Gray’s Anatomy to read in his spare time. “There was a part of my brain that was beginning to atrophy,” he said. “I had a natural interest in science, and it had nothing to do with any class that I took. I just needed to do something in order to use that side of my brain, so I started buying science books.”

Genetics may have influenced Ackerman a little, too. He has three medical doctors in his family, though he said that also made him think more than twice about whether or not he wanted to become a physician.

Ackerman said that going into medicine allows him to see and have a very positive impact on people’s lives. “When you work in film, it’s very difficult to see the impact movies are making on people’s lives,” he said. “I was working in the independent film industry, and you’re making movies that can be esoteric, for a very small and educated audience.” With medicine, that feeling of completion and compassion is much more concrete. “You do a procedure or prescribe a medication and the person comes back in a week and they say, ‘Oh, I feel better,'” he said.

After graduating from medical school earlier this year, Ackerman opted to take one year off and make his next film, one that he originally penned during his last year of film school. He recently returned from Amelia Island in Florida, which served as a set for The Diary of Preston Plummer, an indie drama starring Rumer Willis—daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis—Trevor Morgan and Robert Loggia, an Academy Award-nominated actor who has appeared in Big, Jagged Edge and Scarface.

Ackerman said he was able to land some big names for what he calls a “micro-budget movie” thanks to a solid script and attention he received for Straight Line. Compared with that first movie, he won’t need to call on any family members to help him tell the story. “I’m really excited to make a movie in which my mom and I don’t have to act,” he said, with a chuckle.

He’ll edit the film through the winter, and hopes to have it ready for film festival distribution next year. If all goes well, movie goers can look for Preston in theaters and on video in late 2011 or 2012.

Next year, he will also participate in Match Day, a national event in which more than 10,000 U.S. medical school students find out where they will spend three to seven years as a resident. Ackerman is leaning towards pediatric psychiatry as a specialty.

Once every ten years or so, Ackerman said he plans to take some time off to create a film. He’ll decide when the time is right based on a good script. “It just so happens that right now, I have a really nice combination in terms of a good script that I’d like to make, good actors to play the lead and other roles in the film and a good group of people to crew the film.”

And while it seems like a time in his life that might be nerve-wracking, Ackerman said he remains very focused. “The film means a lot to me,” he said. “I’m not going to get to make that many films because most of my life is going to be spent doing medicine.”

Ackerman is also excited about the art of story-telling and encouraged others to pursue that dream if it strikes. “Technology has taken such a leap forward,” he said. “It’s not about the funding that you have to make a movie, it’s the stories that you have. If you have a great story, you can probably figure a way to get it done and get it told.”

 Want the latest news on “The Diary of Preston Plummer”? Become a fan on Facebook by visiting the film’s page.