Minor: Creative Writing
Off-Campus Experiences: Advanced Studies in England, Bath - Winter 2011
Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? Following an impromptu visit out to L.A. during Spring Break 2010 in which I was given a small glimpse of the entertainment industry, I had this incurable itch to get back out there for a summer and try it full-on. However, knowing that it was virtually impossible to find an internship that was paid, I knew that I would need some financial assistance. That's where the Johnson Opportunity Grant came in.
How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? With a schedule this year featuring courses such as "English 308 - Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction" and a capstone in "Strategies in Fiction," I have to imagine some of the scripts I read this summer--both good and bad--will have helped me in developing my own creative voice.
What has been the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience so far? The willingness of others to help. I had this idea prior to going out west that Hollywood was this exclusive place, reluctant to let outsiders in but quick to point you in the direction home. What I found instead was that those who work in the entertainment industry, from W&L alums to strangers I emailed out of the blue, were more than willing to sit down with me and offer advice, share their stories, or be of service in the future. It was these meetings which functioned as a turning point in my summer, ultimately leading to my wanting to come back out there next year.
Post-Graduation Plans: It should really be "Post-Summer Plans." There is so much to do right now, let alone after graduation: a one-act play to be finished, specs to be written, other creative pursuits to get off the ground with fellow W&L students. When the time does come to return to L.A. next year, I hope to do what most people do by starting out as an office PA on a television show, moving up to a writer's assistant and then, with time and just enough luck, getting into the coveted writers' room.Favorite Campus/Lexington Landmark: The Colonnade is a given. Other than that, Jacob's Ladder Road. It's this horseshoe-shaped road off of Route 11 in the southern part of town which, in my opinion, epitomizes all that is beautiful about bucolic Lexington: at a certain point near the top, when pavement has given way to gravel, you come to a bend in the road where you're surrounded by an abandoned barn and grazing cattle, looking out onto rolling green hills dotted with hay bales and House Mountain in the distance. It's everything I love about this rural Virginian town, and it's everything I'm going to miss about it once I have to leave.
A "Day in the Life" of a Hollywood intern? Quite simple, really.
"Oddo!" the big time exec barks from his office, complete with an Oscar here, an Emmy there, an orange Nickelodeon blimp hidden somewhere.
"Sir?" I answer, gliding into the frame of his doorway as if on cue. I slide on into his office, looking for somewhere to sit. So much modern furniture to choose from; the glass couch looks comfortable.
"Oddo, we read your script," he states bluntly, his back turned to me now as he stares out the window of his high rise at the traffic on Sunset below.
"And?" I ask, removing my tortoiseshell Wayfarers (the real kind, not the knock-offs) with a refined sense of cool.
"And..." He pauses, taking a sip of an organic lemongrass smoothie. "We love it."
I smirk in that George Clooney/Dick Cheney kind of way. "I thought you'd say that."
"The plot was genius, the dialogue smooth, and the characters: profound. I just have one question for you, though."
I look up, mid-yawn. My hair is disheveled, my attire informal at best. It's obvious I haven't showered in days. Any more apathetic and you might think this is all just an act to appear apathetic.
"Your protagonist," he continues, turning back around now.
"Yes. Why doesn't he...receive the inheritance in the end?"
I grunt, standing up to leave. "Who cares?" I respond, and with that I skate on out of his office, slideglideskating my way back to my desk.
* * * * *
I don't know whose "Day in the Life" this would've been, but it certainly wasn't mine. This is the romantic view of Hollywood, the one engendered by the...well, movies. In reality, to be an intern in L.A. is not to schmooze with the big time execs, or to have your scripts read, or to rub elbows with the rich and famous. On the contrary, spending two and a half months immersing myself in the "Entertainment Capital of the World" was a far more sobering experience, one in which I learned the realities of what it takes to work in television or film for a living--and in knock-off Wayfarers, no less.
My summer can be broken down into three parts. The first of these was my internship with Red Hour Films, the production company of Ben Stiller, notable for producing such films as Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, and the recently released 30 Minutes or Less. Three days a week I would make the drive from my apartment in Westwood to the office in West Hollywood, working from 9 AM to 7 PM. My primary tasks at Red Hour would include phone coverage, DVD burning, script binding, general office upkeep, and a variety of other tasks. While it may seem mundane on the surface, I was, unbeknownst to me at the time, receiving the best Hollywood education an intern could get: throughout my time at Red Hour I got to see how a production company operates on a daily basis, had free reign to read and subsequently do coverage on any script I'd like, and I learned my way around the sprawled-out grid that is Los Angeles (Melrose Ave. is different than Melrose Place, and if you need to get over to the Valley, I'd take Laurel Canyon through the mountains; if you can help it, avoid the 405 like the plague).
The second, and without question most influential part of my summer, covers the many meetings I had with the people who do it best: the writers. There was the comedy writing team of Tom Gammill and Max Pross, former writers at "Seinfeld" and "SNL," Todd Levin, a current writer at "Conan," and Washington and Lee's very own Mike Henry '88 (pictured above), voice of Cleveland on "Family Guy" and producer of Fox's "The Cleveland Show." In a deli in Studio City, Mr. Gammill and Mr. Pross said that whatever you write, make sure it's made public and not kept in some diary. Over a drink in West Hollywood, Todd Levin urged me never to become married to one idea or piece of work, as rejection is constantly faced. In the relaxed atmosphere of his Wilshire Boulevard office, Mike Henry, in more words or less, said to be ready for a couple years of subservience before finally getting to where you want to be. And while the additional meetings with Michael Lasker, manager at Mosaic Entertainment, Rich Appel, former "Simpsons" writer and producer at "The Cleveland Show," and Tom Ropelewski, filmmaker and documentarian, each offered their own unique flair ("Check out this one-act play", "Read ‘Army Man' by George Meyer," "Write with a specific actor in mind"), the basic message was this: if you want to be a writer, you need to write. Simple enough, however that's nothing to say about the real lesson here, which is that networking in Hollywood is key. Thanks to the Johnson Opportunity Grant, I was afforded the opportunity to do that.
The third and final part of my summer encompasses everything else: the countless nights spent at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre watching today's sharpest improv acts (many of whom currently write for shows such as "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation"), taking my own improv classes, sitting in on a table read at "The Cleveland Show," going to writer's panels, and helping out as a PA on the set of a pilot shoot. Going to the beach also crossed my mind, but that would've been downright excessive.
In wrapping this up, I will say this to you, non-traditional and slightly trepidatious W&L student: As cities go, L.A. has never been as sought out by our graduates as say, New York or D.C., but if you hold dreams of someday working in entertainment, then do as Mike Henry would advise and "take the leap." By the sheer fact of being enrolled in this university you are smart, well-rounded, and capable of having an engaging conversation with someone. This puts you at a great advantage, and as the alumni presence continues to grow out there, so too will the opportunities that come with them.