Design Degree Leads Jeff Bell to Successful Producing Career
From The X-Files to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the foundations of DAAP design helped Jeff Bell carve out a career in the film and television industry.
By: Jamie Muenzer
Phone: (513) 556-4423
Growing up a short two-hour drive from Cincinnati in Indianapolis, the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) originally wasn’t on the radar of Jeff Bell. Knowing from a young age that he wanted to be in film, he had always assumed he’d need to start that journey on one coast or the other, until he truly began to look at his options.
“I’ve always loved art and the best person at art in my high school, who was ahead of me, went to UC to study architecture at DAAP,” he said. “Then the next year, the best person in that class went there as well. DAAP suddenly turned into this intriguing place.”
Before applying, Bell didn’t know that he was gunning for one of the top design programs in the country. Putting all his hopes in DAAP, with one fallback school, he waited with fingers crossed.
“I honestly feel fortunate that I got in; it was one of the best things to happen to me — one of those great, blessed events.”
Bell’s journey has been one of passion, collaboration, and “naively ending up in the perfect place.”
Having majored in graphic design, the 1982 graduate is currently working as an executive producer and writer on ABC’s hit show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and has lived in Los Angeles for the past 25 years. He feels every aspect of his DAAP-trained thought process is vital to the show’s success.
“What DAAP taught me was visual process,” Bell said. “Do something, then do something else to it, then do something else to it. You start with an idea and you work on it. That’s been true with everything I’ve worked on, in everything I’ve done.”
It was true when Bell was attending UCLA for film school. It was true when he was a writer and designer for WGBH-Boston, where he began as a co-op and worked post-graduation. And today, it still holds true as a director. He believes this strong visual sense comes from the diverse nature of DAAP programs, where additional courses in such subjects as art history and photography provide a solid foundation for design.
“The professors were all great — an amazing department across the board,” he recollected. “The fact that I was doing four studios a quarter — it was major time there.”
Co-op: UC’s Tremendous Differentiator
One of the most attractive aspects of the program for Bell was the cooperative education opportunity, which UC invented 111 years ago.
“As much as Cincinnati was a big part of my DNA, my work-study aspects were equally important, which was really the beauty of it … To be exposed to different thoughts, different cities, and to take it back to the classroom, back to your work. To see people you loved and knew come back, changed and experiencing something similar, was inspiring.”
It didn’t hurt that it was also helping get him through school financially. Having one co-op placement at the American Stock Exchange and another at WGBH-Boston made it possible to buy supplies for the next semester.
“As a person who came from a very middle-class background, one of the things I really valued was getting paid for my work. It allowed me to have experiences I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”
Between classes, co-op, and belonging to the Cincinnati Film Society, Bell fed his love of the screen by seeing over 300 films per year making his post-college path clear. Soon after graduating, he worked as a freelance graphic designer, put himself through film school, and never looked back. It started with his MFA thesis film, Radio Inside, which garnered national acclaim and a later film adaptation. In the late ’90s, he found himself connected with Chris Carter, writer of sci-fi cult favorite The X-Files, who bought one of his three pitched ideas and offered him a staff writing positon. Bell continued to move through the ranks on such shows as Angel, Alias, Day Break, Harper’s Island, The Protector, V, and Spartacus. And work sort of comes home with him; Bell’s family loves film and television just as much as he does.
“My 15-year-old daughter loves animation and graphic novels,” he said. “We watch a lot of Adventure Time together and my wife loves movies as well.”
Still, decades later, part of Bell’s heart resides in Cincinnati. Skyline Chili and Graeter’s ice cream are constant cravings. He’s even been known to specially order Graeter’s so it arrives perfectly packaged in dry ice, ready to serve. And his affection for UC doesn’t stop there.
“What I loved about being in Cincinnati was my really interesting classmates. Not just one type of person, but a wide range of people of diverse backgrounds, most of whom had never done design before. I found a couple of my best friends, who still are friends, at DAAP.”
Bell feels DAAP has a way of recruiting people who are passionate about what they do, and he wants to be sure such creative encouragement continues. For the past few years, he’s contributed to scholarships in the Graphic Design program.
“As someone who didn’t always have a lot of dough, the scholarship funding helped me not only afford supplies but get that emergency loan,” he said, adding that such funds can be the difference between hanging on or having to go home. And he wants students to hang on.
For Jeff Bell, UC and DAAP will always be the ultimate catalyst for his career in design and film. It fueled his passion while grounding him and his classmates with the tools to ultimately fulfill that passion. And for that, he considers himself one of the lucky ones.