Ryan Coogler’s next film will examine Atlanta standardized test scandal

Award-winning filmmaker and Sacramento State alumnus Ryan Coogler ’07 (Business) has lined up his next project, and he’ll be working with a familiar face. Wrong Answer, the true story of an Atlanta high school standardized test cheating scandal, will feature frequent Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan in a starring role and a screenplay written by acclaimed author Ta-Nehesi Coates, Deadline reported this week.

The film will be based off of a 2014 The New Yorker article by Rachel Aviv that detailed what has been called the largest academic cheating scandal in American history. Jordan will play Damany Lewis, one of several teachers who joined efforts to revise the standardized test scores of their underrepresented students upward in order to save the school from closure.

Wrong Answer will be the fourth collaboration between Coogler and Jordan. They previously worked together on Fruitvale Station, which examined the fatal shooting of Oakland resident Oscar Grant III by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, and Creed, a Rocky franchise sequel focusing on the son of Apollo Creed. Jordan also will appear in Coogler’s upcoming superhero film Black Panther.

Coogler was a star on the football field before an injury led him to think about his life beyond athletics. That’s when he found his passion for film making, a passion that was nurtured by his Sac State professors.

“They put me on the path and gave me the tools to be successful,” Coogler said in 2015 of his early mentors. “Business was helpful; they do call it the ‘film business.’ ”

You can learn more about Coogler’s time at Sacramento State and early career in our Made at Sac State profile.

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Helping to power downtown Sacramento’s rebirth, one pedal at a time

Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian, left, and Jason Blessinger are the co-founders of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours in downtown Sacramento.

There are a lot of new things to see if you head to Sacramento’s downtown these days, from the Golden 1 Center to the Downtown Commons. But Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian’s contribution may be the most unique – and the one that does the most to tie it all together.

Sebastian ’00 (Recreation) is the co-founder of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, which provides tours of downtown on a 15-passenger bus that is powered, via pedal, by riders. Equipped with lights, a sound system, and, yes, a cooler and on-board tap system, the vehicle allows visitors to experience Sacramento’s growing downtown in a slightly offbeat way.

OTC CapThe company’s core mission, according to Sebastian, is “fun” – his official title is “Foreman of Festivities” and his co-founder, Jason Blessinger, is the “Godfather of Good Times.” They rent out the bike for everything from food and beer tastings to corporate trainings to kids’ birthday parties. By offering the tours, and by partnering with dozens of downtown restaurants, bars and other venues, Off the Chain is introducing people to Sacramento’s reborn downtown district.

“I can’t tell you how many people come down here and they go, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t been down here in five years, I can’t believe all the changes,’” Sebastian says. “We hear that every single ride.”

A native of Elk Grove, Sebastian transferred to Sacramento State from Cosumnes River College in part because it was local and affordable, but also because he knew attending would allow him to network and make contacts that would be helpful when he set down roots in the region.

“(Sac State) made me focus, it made me quickly recognize what I loved,” he says. “It gave me a sense of pride with the campus and the community. I still hold Sac State very fondly in my heart.” He doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his time as a Hornet: Three of Off the Chain’s five employees are fellow alums.

After graduation, Sebastian worked for the Fair Oaks Parks and Recreation District, and even returned briefly to Sacramento State to work at The WELL and teach some recreation courses. Then, Blessinger approached him with one of his trademark crazy ideas that Sebastian was used to writing off. This time, however, he instantly fell in love with the concept.

The pair were able to pitch their idea as part of the Calling All Dreamers program, an entrepreneurship competition put on by the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, where they finished second. That didn’t net them prize money, but it did give them credibility around town – including with the Small Business Association and the City of Sacramento – and helped them secure a loan.

OTC Brown
Governor Jerry Brown signed the law permitting the bike buses to operate on city streets while riding in one of Off the Chain’s buses.

Even with start-up money and the support of local movers and shakers secured, however, a major obstacle remained: The bike wasn’t technically legal. Sebastian met with lawmakers and over the course of a year secured a change in state law that classified the bikes as “pedi-cabs” and allowed open alcohol containers so long as the vehicle remained under a certain speed and was staffed by both a dedicated driver and a “chauffer” with a bartending certification. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill while riding the bike with his staff.

“That was hands-down the coolest thing I have accomplished in my career,” Sebastian says.

Although bike buses sometimes come with a reputation of being “booze cruises,” Sebastian says they have worked hard to make sure that the bike, not alcohol, is the primary experience. While on the tour, riders can partake in activities such as on-board trivia or karaoke, or participate in Survivor– and Amazing Race-like challenges, which are popular with corporate team-building events.

The two also have worked hard to ensure their presence downtown is positive. The bikes have electric assist technology to make pedaling more enjoyable for passengers, but also to make sure the bikes can be moved quickly in the event of an emergency or the street needs to be cleared. They plot routes that are minimally disruptive to traffic. And they partner with 45 downtown venues, often reaching out proactively to make sure their riders won’t disrupt a restaurant or bar’s normal business. Sebastian often hears back from partners who say bike bus riders liked the venue so much that they came back.

“For us, it might be a long day, we have four tours, and we’re sweating, but at the end of the day, we went to 12 different venues, they all made money, but most importantly you have 65, 70 people leaving with great memories and laughing the whole time,” he says. “That’s the cool thing at the end of the day, when you know you gave those people a good time.”

Alumna-fronted band Rituals of Mine returns home to Sacramento

It’s been a busy few months for the Sacramento State alumna-fronted band Rituals of Mine.

The electronic duo of alumna Terra Lopez (’07, English) and Dani Fernandez, formerly known as Sister Crayon, changed its name before launching a national tour last summer that took it to some of the West Coast’s biggest venues. Their major-label debut, Devoted, was released in September.

Now, they’re coming home. Rituals of Mine are the first headliners in the 2017 Concerts in the Park, a series of free shows in Cesar Chavez Plaza that kicks off May 5.

To learn more about Lopez and Rituals of Mine’s long and sometimes challening journey from experimental electronic project to major-label mainstay, check out our July profile of the duo in the Made at Sac State blog.

More information can be found at godowntownsac.com/concerts-in-the-park/.