“Students want to come out here,” says Ithaca in L.A. program director Stephen Tropiano, “but it was difficult managing that as an East Coast school.” Having a presence in L.A. makes the jump less intimidating, particularly for students raised in rural or suburban areas who might otherwise be overwhelmed interning in such a big-city environment.
Students dreaming of a Hollywood life — and more importantly, a Hollywood paycheck — have always flocked to Los Angeles to make their careers. Those who enroll in Southern California-based film schools are at a distinct advantage, often benefiting from proximity to local internships and professional lecturers.
To narrow the gap, out-of-state schools have followed their grads’ “go west” impulse. Columbia College Chicago was one of the first to establish a L.A.-based extension program, and the school now maintains a permanent presence on the Raleigh Studios lot, where program head Jon Katzman arranges for working pros to teach classes.
Building on an even longer tradition of hosting students in L.A., Boston-based Emerson College recently broke ground on a $110 million facility going up on Sunset Boulevard — a sleek modern building designed to house and train 200 students.
In recent years, many other schools have followed Emerson’s lead, including Syracuse, Elon and Temple universities, establishing footprints of their own around town. At the core of most of these programs is a push to place students in internships so they can apply what they’ve learned and build contacts for when they return after graduation.
Like many institutions, these far-flung outposts serve to provide structure and support to students who were already taking internships in Los Angeles, whether still enrolled or already graduated.
“If you want to work in Holly-wood, a great deal of your success is the relationships you have. It’s not necessarily who you know, but who knows you and if they’ll take your call,” says Phil Nemy, who oversees the U. of Texas in Austin’s semester-in-L.A. program.
The demands of such programs can be daunting. While UT expects students to complete only 150 internship hours per semester, schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Ithaca require 300 and 360 hours, respectively. When students aren’t working, they’re typically in class, which tend to be concentrated on one or two days per week. Still, program heads often push students to spend as much time as possible working if they want their contacts to become co-workers.
“It proves to them empirically they can survive with the tools they have,” says Syracuse in L.A. program director Andrea Asimow, explaining how the program has become the poster child for the chancellor’s key themes: “scholarship in action” and “geography of opportunity.”
Many of Syracuse’s L.A. students are juniors, who take that real-world experience back to New York for their final year. “Once they’ve had this baptism, they understand what they really need and want to get from their coursework, and they return to their programs with a new focus that they didn’t have before coming to L.A.,” Asimow says.
For those students who can’t afford to spend a full semester away, some schools offer other intensive L.A.-based opportunities. The alum-run Harvardwood org hosts Harvard students, busing them around town to meet with well-placed execs over the course of a week. Syracuse schedules its annual Sorkin Week during spring break, inviting 18 hand-picked undergrads from the drama department to fly out for a concentrated series of symposiums and workshops with alums (such as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) and industry luminaries.
Coordinators estimate that 50%-60% of students who attend their L.A. programs return and find jobs in entertainment, while 15%-20% pursue careers in other cities and 20% decide the industry is not for them.
Programs such as Carnegie Mellon’s two-year MEIM (which offers a master’s degree in entertainment industry management) and Columbia’s undergraduate setup take a different approach than most, preferring to bring students during their final year or semester so they can start work immediately and already have incidentals like housing in place.
“I think we really put our students ahead a couple of years,” says Columbia’s Katzman, citing an opportunity that arose when Chris Fenton visited a class. “He’s the North American representative for DMG, the biggest distributor for China. He mentioned that he had a paid two-year internship opportunity, and a student raised his hand and said, ‘I’ll do that.’ When he comes back at 24, that student will have such a leg-up.”
As the trend toward out-of-state schools offering L.A. satellites grows, meet the people who oversee such programs:
- Belmont West
- Boston U. L.A. Internship Program
- Carnegie Mellon Master in Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM)
- Columbia College Chicago Semester in Los Angeles
- Elon U . in Los Angeles Program
- Emerson College Los Angeles Center
- Ithaca College Los Angeles Program
- Temple L.a. Internship Program
- Tisch NYU in Los Angeles