November 4, 2015

Cornell Takes Hollywood: Perspectives on the Cornell in Hollywood program

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Cornell grads make it in Hollywood? And how! The Sun had the chance to chat with recent graduates, Casey Minella ’14,  Jesse Turk ’14 and Carol Bass ’14, all of whom were active in the Performing and Media Arts department and are alums of the Cornell in Hollywood internship program, a Cornell Club of Los Angeles program program that places students in Hollywood internships in the film and entertainment industries. Minella, Turk and Bass have all now started their LA-based careers in the entertainment industry and had much to say about how Cornell in Hollywood helped them do it.

The Sun: What was your experience in Cornell in Hollywood? Who was your mentor, where did you live, where did you intern, did you have a car?

Carol Bass: I participated in Cornell in Hollywood twice. My mentor was screenwriter Andrea Berloff, who was extremely supportive and gave great guidance. My first internship was at Di Novi Pictures, where I lived in Santa Monica and did not have a car, opting to walk to work. The second time, I interned at Avalon Management, lived in West Hollywood, and did have a car. Unless you live walking distance to work and don’t mind being isolated, I would absolutely recommend a car.

Jesse Turk: I worked for TV and film director, Elizabeth Allen doing a variety of things for her including prepping pitches, setting up casting calls and meetings, sitting in on phone calls with agents, producers and talent, editing her director’s reel, setting up her social media, doing research for potential projects, visiting studio lots and even making my own short that Liz critiqued. She was an unreal boss who I am still in touch with and very much look up to. My mentor was Chris Deckard who works at ICM (a literary and talent agency). He is still a good friend out here and had a lot of good advice on ways to get ahead in the industry and the best ways to navigate a pretty path-less industry. I lived in Encino in the Valley. Kind of far out, but since Liz (Allen) worked out of her house and was living in Studio City it wasn’t that bad. I did have a car. I highly recommend having a car, even a smelly old rent-a-wreck like I had.

Casey Minella: Cornell in Hollywood was a wonderful gateway into the entertainment world. I was studying Television Studies as an independent major and was lucky enough to work for Josh Greenbaum (director/writer) and Trevor White (director/producer) where I learned a lot about the industry. While I did not have a lot of practical knowledge going in, working in development helped me hone my skills of storytelling and open me up to the many different jobs. I was happy to learn there are quite a few options that I am still exploring. My mentor was Yelena Chak of the drama department at CBS. She was a great resource to learn not only about the industry from a network perspective, but also to get thoughts on graduate school and advice on how to best navigate my career path. The mentor program allows students a great opportunity to have an ally and an additional support system for the summer, as well as in the future should you need any advice.

I lived in Koreatown with a few roommates… and could not have been happier. During the summer I had access to a car. It would have been a lot harder without one but definitely doable … Make sure that if you are accepted to an internship you look into what is possible for you before making your decision on the area you live in because it can make all the difference. Side Note: I would recommend to any who have the option to do so, to drive across the country. Having done it twice now, it’s absolutely an essential adventure.

Sun: What were some of the challenges and highlights of your internships?

C.B.: The challenges of my internships often revolved around learning the etiquette of each office setting and adapting to differing standards. At Di Novi, they are very specific about what you wear and how you act, whereas Avalon is incredibly relaxed. Highlights include reading classified scripts, helping cast roles in films, filming auditions for clients, giving notes on writers’ pitches, and sitting in on television read-throughs.

J.T.: Not knowing what might come next each day. Working for someone on the creative side can be very unpredictable, but you learn to roll with the punches and take each day as it comes. It made me a lot more flexible. Highlights were making my own short with Liz’s guidance and meeting amazing people through that. Also just the various people Liz set us up with to meet like her very successful writer friend Gary Hurwitz and actor Shiri Appleby (star of Lifetime’s UNREAL).

C.M.: A few challenges during my internship were learning to set priorities. Sometimes you will be given tasks without a specific timeline. I learned to work as quickly and as diligently as I could and then ask for more. Even if they don’t have your next project, they will appreciate your follow up and eagerness and will trust you with more moving forward. It’s important to realize that starting on the bottom might be tough, but if you stick with it without complaint and a positive attitude, the payoff is real. One of the highlights of my internship was being able to see the editing process and give input on a television show in post-production. Then seeing the final product a few months later gave me a truly unmatched feeling of appreciation and accomplishment for my boss that I hope to feel about my future work.

Sun: How do you feel your Cornell in Hollywood experience prepared you or acted as an important building block for your career?

C.B.: Before Cornell in Hollywood, I knew very little about the complexity of this industry and had no connections. Through my internships, I made immediate connections and received my first production assistant jobs, which led to making even more connections and being given more jobs. I’m now able to work freelance in production because Cornell in Hollywood gave me a foot in the door.

J.T.: Without Cornell in Hollywood I wouldn’t have had any idea how to get going in this industry. It can be unforgiving in its lack of clarity and to have a steady base of people that I knew already and a job under my belt made all the difference. The education you get both formally through seminars and informally through hands-on work, even the boring day-to-day stuff is what help me know how to differentiate myself when looking for a job and ultimately allowed me to get hired very quickly at an agency.

C.M.: My experience at CiH was an important building block because it taught me incredibly important but basic tasks, such as script coverage, that are a given in almost any TV or film company. It especially prepared me for what to look for in a position and what specific companies to seek out. It was really a comfort to be able to come to Los Angeles straight after college with a great local support system already in place to help navigate this crazy town. Everyone here has been in your shoes at some point, and you will be surprised to find how many are willing to give you advice, and sometimes even [help you] get your foot in the door (though never presume this will be the end result of someone you are connected with).

Sun: What is your advice to any incoming students regarding the Cornell in Hollywood program? Why should they do it and how can they best utilize it?

C.B.: Work hard, be kind and don’t complain. Everyone starts from the bottom, which is not glamorous; however, when the people above you like you and see your positive work ethic, they want to help you. You can aid your happiness and fulfillment by researching the companies before you apply. I personally loved the amount of scripts I was able to cover at Di Novi, but other interns complained the entire summer about wanting an internship that was more hands on. Choose your internship wisely and then make the most of your time there by soaking up as much as possible and keeping an open mind.

J.T.: Don’t just apply to the big name places. Do real research on the companies and think about where you might learn the most, not just what might look all shiny on your resume. Everyone has a sexy resume out here. Be the one who knows more, works harder and wants it the most. Be the one who has taste and is willing to stand out. Be the one who will stay late and do what others won’t. Be patient and realize that you are now at the bottom of an industry of people with HUGE egos at the top. Recognize your place and don’t expect anything to be handed to you. You are not special because you went to a good school or have a good GPA. Half the executives in this town didn’t even graduate. It’s about knowing how to work well with others, work harder than everyone else and be able to be a person that other want to work with/hang out with/get drinks with/spend hours and hours in a writers room or editing suite with. Cornell in Hollywood will provide you with people and resources that very few people have access to. We are people you can trust intrinsically which is incredibly hard to come by in entertainment and we will advocate for your interests. We are not counselors and will not hold your hand, but we will help push you to see whether this industry is right for you (it’s definitely not for everyone) and if so, be the community you can have when you move out here.

C.M.: Cornell in Hollywood is a great opportunity to explore different parts of the industry. You will be exposed to a plethora of people, jobs and events. Take advantage of it. You are surrounded by not only accomplished people who can give you great insight, but also your peers who you will grow with and rely on throughout your career. You can learn a lot from them if you put in the effort. If you are interested in any facet of entertainment I would recommend thoroughly exploring the different areas of the industry to zone in on the one or two skills you truly feel passionate about or want to expand upon. Then learn more about, and research the companies that fit your goals. Don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone; but please, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and research (let’s all say it together now: RESEARCH). You have a brief period of time to comfortably shop around and see what fits you best. You may learn that you don’t love Los Angeles, but these are the connections you make for a lifetime. People you meet can lead to opportunities in many different places. CiH gives you the hands on experience that put your studies to work, and put you in a room that gives you the opportunity to make the next step towards in shaping your end-goal. Make it count.

Mark DiStefano is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].