By Kelley Freund (’07)
Feb. 28, 2012 update: After reading this story in the Winter 2012 "Madison" magazine, John Lynskey ('89) sent us a piece written by fellow alum Dale Schalow ('90). Dale was one of JMU's first L.A. interns. Visit the Be the Change blog, read about Dale's internship, and share your own Madison Experience!
JMU students chased their Hollywood dreams this past summer in the inaugural School of Media Arts and Design's L.A. Study Program
Rebecca Dowdy (’12) had an awesome view from her office this past summer: the iconic Hollywood sign. Dowdy and 19 other JMU students spent eight weeks in Los Angeles amongst palm trees and movie stars. They saw Clint Eastwood driving his Gran Torino (yes, the one from the movie), and one day four students opened the door of their apartment to find Jay Leno standing there, asking them to be on his show.
Sounds like a dream summer. But this was no vacation.
These students were part of the first-ever JMU in L.A. Study Program. School of Media Arts and Design professor Tom O’Connor and his colleagues created the program to build a strong JMU presence in L.A., allow students to establish connections and explore career options in the entertainment industry.
O’Connor says the joke among those hoping to work in the industry used to be ”to live in L.A. or not to live in L.A.?“ Now he believes you have to be there, at least at the start, to make those connections. Students could write or video edit anywhere, but it is important to form relationships in the place considered the heart of the entertainment industry.
O’Connor selected 20 resourceful students with a positive attitude and willingness to work. Students were required to complete two courses — an overview of the entertainment industry taught by O’Connor and a television production course taught by JMU alum and E! Entertainment producer Seth Kingsley (’98) — and an internship of at least 120 hours, which students were responsible for securing themselves.
Rebecca Dowdy landed an internship with Helios Productions, where she did everything from answering phones to calling the agents of scriptwriters. Andrew Henchen (’13) worked for Threshold Entertainment’s development department ”researching anything we could turn into a movie,“ he says. ”It was interesting to see how a production company finds and develops stories. They’re constantly looking for new ideas.“
One student interned for Chris Morgan Productions, reading screenplays for the Fast and Furious franchise. Other students had jobs at Prefect Films Studio and Bedford Falls Productions.
Henchen says, ”Most people [in L.A.] started from nothing, but they have a great work ethic. They work harder than anyone, and I learned from that.“
The JMU in L.A. program is open to rising juniors and seniors in all majors, and participating students leave the program with real-world connections and the confidence to make their career dreams a reality.
”This is the most important thing I’ve ever done,“ Dowdy says. ”Before I came to L.A., thinking of living here was overwhelming — I didn’t think I could do it. But being here helped me realize I can.“
Read Hillary Shea's account of her L.A. experience in "JMU in LA: Eight Weeks. Twenty students. One big city."
Learn more at smad.jmu.edu.