Out-of-state students learn from L.A. semesters

Education Impact Report 2012

“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
    Sarah Cates

  • Boston U. L.A. Internship Program
    Bill Linsman

  • Carnegie Mellon Master in Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM)
    Dan Green

  • Columbia College Chicago Semester in Los Angeles
    Jon Katzman

  • Elon U . in Los Angeles Program
    J. McMerty

  • Emerson College Los Angeles Center
    Jim Lane

  • Ithaca College Los Angeles Program
    Stephen Tropiano

  • Temple L.a. Internship Program
    Nora Alter

  • Tisch NYU in Los Angeles
    Fred Bush

Return to the Education Impact Report 2012 >>

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Prosecutors Make Last-Minute Move to Bolster Case

    The Manhattan D.A.’s office is making a last-minute bid to strengthen its case against Harvey Weinstein, who is set to be tried next month on charges of rape and sexual assault. Prosecutors notified the court on Tuesday that they will seek a new indictment. The D.A.’s office wants jurors to hear from Annabella Sciorra, the [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    Jeffrey Epstein's Autopsy Rules That He Died by Suicide

    Jeffrey Epstein’s death earlier this month has been ruled a suicide by hanging. The New York Times reported on Friday that the city’s medical examiner has officially made the ruling six days after Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. According to the Times, which cites a [...]

  • America Ferrera Eva Longoria

    America Ferrera, Eva Longoria and More Sign Letter to Latinx Community: 'We Will Not Be Broken'

    America Ferrera, Eva Longoria and more have signed a letter published in several media outlets on Friday standing in solidarity with the Latinx community. In response to the heightened tension surrounding President Trump’s immigration agenda, the El Paso shooting that targeted Latinx people and the ICE raids in Mississippi, the letter addresses the language used [...]

  • Research Firm Screen Engine/ASI Acquires TicktBox

    Screen Engine/ASI Acquires TicktBox, an Entertainment Marketing and Ticketing Startup

    Screen Engine/ASI, a market research firm that specializes in focus-group testing of movies and TV pilots, has acquired ticktBox, which operates a digital marketing and ticketing platform used by movie distributors, exhibitors, and TV networks. Terms of the deal, which closed Aug. 9, weren’t disclosed. With ticktBox, SE/ASI will have one of the largest databases of [...]


    Eric Reid, Jemele Hill – and Colin Kaepernick? - Take Jay-Z to Task Over NFL Partnership

    When news of the presumably lucrative entertainment and social-justice deal between Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and the NFL leaked on Tuesday, initially there was a surprising lack of public reaction or outcry. But after a press conference where Jay and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell officially announced the deal at Roc Nation’s New York offices yesterday — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content