Molly Cornyn joins College of Media as project coordinator for Ebertfest

Molly Cornyn

Molly Cornyn recalls the time she and the cast of her musical just happened to run into Roger Ebert one night at a local Steak ‘n Shake after one of their high school performances. Ebert, the late Pulitzer-Prize winning film critic and Media alum (BS ’64, journalism), was a huge fan of Steak ‘n Shake, so it’s not that implausible to have spotted him there one random evening enjoying a meal.

However, Cornyn and her fellow cast members didn’t waste the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Ebert and sing their best musical number for him. Cornyn is proud to say they received Ebert’s iconic two thumbs-up rating for their impromptu performance and she left the diner with a smile on her face and a story for the ages.

Years later, Cornyn is now helping to plan Roger Ebert’s Film Festival as the new project coordinator for the College of Media. While the Ebert encounter never came up during the application process, the Champaign native had numerous qualifications to make her a stand-out candidate for the position.

“Molly’s experience managing the logistics for multiple complex projects in the entertainment industry makes her a perfect fit, and she has jumped right in,” said Dean Tracy Sulkin. “Moreover, we’re happy to welcome home a Media alum who understands and is invested in the mission of Ebertfest.” 

Cornyn (BS ’06, media studies) will help plan, promote, and manage Ebertfest, which runs April 19-22 at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign.

“I think [Ebertfest] is a shining gem of what we have in this community,” she said. “I know that people at both the University of Illinois and outside of it are excited about the festival and think it’s really something special. Being able to be involved in that and bring that to the community is rewarding.” 

After earning an MFA in producing for film and television from Chapman University in California, Cornyn spent five years at Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, which owns and operates nine resort properties in the area, starting out as an entertainment public relations coordinator and then a film and special events manager. 

Cornyn said she shot between 90 to 130 productions every year, which included “tons of cooking shows,” some with Gordon Ramsay whom she says is very nice to work with, despite his volatile persona on television. She also worked with producers of the Jason Bourne movie series for a scene that involved a car crashing into one of Caesars’ properties. 

“Every project was different, the people you worked with were different, and that just made it exciting, something different every day,” she said. 

When Cornyn decided to come back home to be closer to her family, she was hired at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, coordinating all aspects of a visiting artist’s performance. She enjoyed her time at Krannert Center, but also still held onto the dream of making her own films one day.

After two years there, she decided to take the leap and delve into freelance filmmaking but ultimately discovered filmmaking “wasn’t for me.” However, she never lost her passion for film, and when she saw that the job description for Ebertfest project coordinator sought certain logistical and project management skills that she excelled at, and involved a familiarity with film, she knew the job would be a great fit. 

“The aspect of [the position] still being involved in film, which I love and didn’t necessarily want to get out of film entirely, [was appealing],” Cornyn said. “I was just trying to find my place, my niche [with film].”

Cornyn, who volunteered at Ebertfest as a student, believes her education and work experience in production will be a great asset in her new role. 

“Producing is project management. It’s certainly having an eye for the creative and making space for the creatives to do what they do, and it’s also managing budgets, timelines, paperwork, and all the various people,” she said. 

Her goal will be to balance the needs of all parties involved, from sponsors to vendors to attendees. Above all, she wants to maintain the integrity of the festival and the vision co-founder and host Chaz Ebert, wife of Roger Ebert, has for it. 

Cornyn said continuing Ebert’s legacy through Ebertfest is very important for the film industry and the community at large. 

“I think a big part of what Roger Ebert wanted from this festival was to educate people and give them the opportunity to see movies that are really phenomenal, that they might have never heard of, and having people who are involved or educated [about film] who can talk about them is so fantastic,” Cornyn said. “It’s important to remember people like him. He’s from this community, he cared about it, and gave a lot to it.”

—Kelly Youngblood 

(Photo by Isabella Pennebaker, photography intern.)