A photo of a woman sitting
Yossera Bouchtia, an assistant professor of cinema and a VCU alum, is a screenwriter and director whose short films have screened at Sundance and other festivals. (Contributed photo)

At Hollywood conference, VCUarts professor Yossera Bouchtia enjoys a close-up of the television industry

She earned a fellowship to an event for media educators that strengthened TV’s ties to the classroom.

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Yossera Bouchtia, an assistant professor of cinema at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, recently enjoyed a big honor tied to the small screen in Hollywood.

Bouchtia, a screenwriter and director whose short films have screened at Sundance and other festivals, was one of just 12 educators selected for an Alex Trebek Legacy Fellowship to attend the Television Academy Foundation’s annual Media Educators Conference. Held in late October on the academy’s North Hollywood campus, the conference connects college classrooms with the television industry – and Bouchtia is eager for her students to embrace the possibilities.

“In the past years, we’ve seen the golden age of television,” she said. “I think it’s something that students need to know about. It’s an industry that’s here to stay, especially now that we have streaming platforms that have been creating a lot of television and a lot of serialized episodic content. It’s a different way of looking at storytelling. But I think in general, it’s just another form of visual storytelling that every student should know.”

There were about 75 professors at the conference, and the Trebek fellowships – named for the longtime “Jeopardy!” game show host – aim to facilitate attendance by educators who serve minority-serving institutions. The event’s seminars in the art, science and business of television offer access to industry leaders and provide insight into improved classroom curriculums.

Originally from Morocco, Bouchtia grew up and spent most of her life in the United States. She earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and cinema from VCU, as well as a master of fine arts degree in film directing from Columbia University. Much of her film work takes place in Morocco or explores what she said are “themes that challenge stereotypes, dispel misconceptions and shed light on hidden truths.”

Bouchtia teaches screenwriting during the school year as well as production in the summer intensives for VCUarts cinema students. She has written television pilots and mini-series and considers television plot writing part of her storytelling work. She said the recent conference was an opportunity to enhance how she teaches the craft.

Bouchtia said a standout panel focused on healthy masculinity – how it manifests in storytelling in TV shows, and how the industry can depict what healthy masculinity is while moving beyond stereotypes.

“It was refreshing hearing a panel of men discussing this,” Bouchtia said. “It was eye-opening and an important first step to talk about masculinity in a way that doesn’t villainize anyone, that felt very productive.”

Another seminar, with television directors revealing how they work, outlined step-by-step processes for elements such as aerial shots, camera placement and actor blocking. The panelists also gave the educators insight into concept meetings with production designers, explaining how to marry “what often feels like industry standards versus educational standards,” Bouchtia said – as well as how to help students prepare for the television world.

“It was great hearing the process come from professionals’ perspective,” she said. “Their approach was really methodical.”

The conference was held as television writers and actors were on strike, with some issues centered on how artificial intelligence will affect the entertainment industry. The strikes have since been settled, and Bouchtia sees the potential for AI and human experience to co-exist.

“I’m more and more convinced that AI is a helpful tool,” she said. “It’s about learning how to embrace it in the most ethical way and to help us generate more stories, while not forgetting that we are the ones who hold ultimately the insight and the perception that is needed when it comes to storytelling. It’s not here to compete with us – it’s here to enhance what we’re already doing.”

Another takeaway from the conference was the value of expanding professional relationships – as an educator and for her students. Bouchtia enjoyed conferring with fellow educators about their course curriculums and about their universities’ semester-long programs in Los Angeles, where students benefit from extended exposure to the industry. She hopes to strengthen ties between VCU, the Television Academy and Hollywood by encouraging students to apply for internships.

“I want to make sure our cinema students have a bridge into this world,” she said.