Alumnus Damien S. Navarro feels like he’s come full circle in his current role as executive director of Outfest, a Los Angeles-based arts, media and entertainment nonprofit that supports, develops and empowers LGBTQIA+ artists to drive change.
He remembers going to Outfest while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in communications-radio/TV/film at Cal State Fullerton, aspiring to be a Hollywood filmmaker.
But by forging his own entrepreneurial path — including building two marketing and consulting agencies, teaching, and running a brand entertainment studio — he has found something even more compelling and rewarding at Outfest.
“Helping represent, protect, and prepare the current and future generations of queer storytellers and industry professionals whilst building empathy through sharing stories with audiences worldwide, is a dream role that I could never have imagined,” said Navarro.
Why did you choose CSUF and your major?
I was a first-generation college student, and there was some fear of me going away for school. It was not only the best local choice, but I really loved the facilities and what the university stood for.
I started with the expectation to be a biology major, then pretty quickly decided it wasn’t for me. The other thing I’d been obsessed with as a kid was filming, so it was kind of a “sliding door” moment where I had to leap.
How has your Titan experience informed your career success?
One of the things I found out at CSUF was just how incredibly talented and experienced the professors were. Our proximity to L.A. gave us a lot of advantages, and I was so impressed with how much hands-on experience we got, which ultimately gave me an incredible leg up when I entered my professional career.
Can you share your unique career path?
I started a small production company doing recruitment and marketing videos for universities that eventually morphed into a full-blown agency. State Farm was probably our first big, breakthrough client where we truly were an agency of record.
Then I ran a brand entertainment studio — which made sense since I came out of advertising. We did some of the most widely recognized, content-driven campaigns like Comic Relief’s Walgreens “Red Nose Day” and Walmart, Ellen DeGeneres and Cheerios’ “Moments of Good.” But what was missing was I still was not recognizable in Hollywood. I had flirted with and circled the industry, but I hadn’t worked my way up in it, which is what 99% of those in entertainment do.
How did you come to Outfest and what do you hope to achieve there?
My husband and I were getting ready to move [away from L.A.], but we hesitated, thinking “there’s one more chapter here.” I opened up LinkedIn and the first job that popped up was this position with Outfest. It was one of those moments where I felt I’d been heading there my entire lifetime. All of the skill sets and experience I had were completely relevant, and it was the right time, right place to do it.
Outfest was a regional organization, and they were seeking somebody to take the organization on the road to develop streaming platforms and ways for the organization to stand out, grow and demonstrate a larger impact. We now have “Outfest Always On” to help production studios discover queer or queer-friendly production resources. We’re going to be launching “Outfest on the Road” in predominantly rural, middle-America cities — areas we feel that there’s a large queer community but also a big gap in this type of programming and content.
What advice do you have for current CSUF students?
The advice I would give anybody in the film program is to look broadly at the types of content that are being created because there’s such a demand for motion picture stories in all walks of life — for-profit companies, corporate social responsibility programs, brands like Red Bull that are launching their own channels, or traditional paths. Look at the kind of content that you want to create and the culture that you’re looking to create it in.
For the queer community of Orange County — both LGBTQ students as well as allies — there are so many ways to become involved. Don’t lose faith. Look at where there are opportunities to come together in unique ways.
Contact: Karen Lindell, email@example.com