Alumni spotlight: Brody Coning

iSchool alum Brody Coning, film archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Film archives do more than store old movies. They preserve culture, in the words and voices of those who shaped it. They guard memories by preventing old tapes from deteriorating. And they allow scholars and storytellers to access, and piece together, moments from film and television that bring history alive. But it requires continuous work—and well-trained professionals—to maintain these archives. A recent iSchool alum, Brody Coning ‘22, is one such professional.

Coning, who obtained his Master of Arts in Library and Information Studies from the iSchool, has long had a passion for preserving films. Today, he serves as a film archivist at the world-famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, and he credits his iSchool experience with giving him the skills and hands-on experience needed to thrive in the role.

In his master’s program, Coning said. “I got a chance to work in multiple different information environments to see what I thought suited me.”

Learning the trade

Upon his arrival at UW–Madison in 2020, Coning delved immediately into on-campus archive-related opportunities. First, he served as a student library assistant at Memorial Library and a processing assistant at the UW–Madison Archives. Then, he signed on as a Project Assistant working with Amanda Smith, film archivist at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research (WCFTR) an an affiliate iSchool faculty member.

“Building that relationship with Amanda Smith and learning from her,” Coning said, made a major positive impact on both his academic life and career prospects. Plus, it allowed him to hone his skills in describing and assessing the condition of the thousands of materials in the WCTFR archives, housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society. In the role, he was also able to watch rare old films, including a behind-the-scenes version of the 1981 Indiana Jones classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he fondly remembers enjoying with colleagues on the fourth floor of the Historical Society building.

Steven Spielberg wearing a Star Wars hat in “The Making of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” from WCFTR. Photo courtesy of Brody Coning.

Working at the Academy

LA is a long way from Madison, but Coning is tackling some of the same challenges as he did at UW–Madison in his current role at the Academy. “When a new collection comes in, myself and a team of film archivists are responsible for assessing what’s there, describing the condition of the films, and organizing that into our database,” he said.

Coning added that the Academy’s film archive, one of the largest in the world, features items from every level of filmmaker, from amateurs to legends. Contributions might come from “someone who found films in their garage” or “acclaimed filmmakers who want to put collections in better storage environments,” he said. For example, the Academy Film Archive protects the home movies of Alfred Hitchcock, which show a funnier side to the “Master of Suspense.” 

Film vaults from the Academy Film Archive. Photo courtesy of Brody Coning.

The archive, founded in 1991, holds over 230,000 items in total, including all Academy Award-winning films in the Best Picture category and every Oscar-winning documentary. Coning said his work is fulfilling in part, because “every collection is a new challenge, which is fun and exciting.”

Insights for current students

Looking back on his iSchool experience, Coning said, “I found a lot of success when I fully decided to dive into film archiving.” He advises students in the iSchool to “try to get as much professional work outside the classroom as possible to explore options and gain experience on your resume.”

He also noted that though it may sound simple, it’s important to “let other people know what you’re interested in.” That approach, Coning said, has helped him thrive within the MA program and at the Academy.

Bucky on 16mm film from UW–Madison Archives and Records Management. Photo courtesy of Brody Coning.

Written by: Thomas Jilk, marketing & communications specialist.