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California Dreaming

Twelve lucky students in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication visit Los Angeles to learn from and network with Hofstra alumni at the top of the media and entertainment industries.

It’s Wednesday, halfway through the Hofstra in LA trip, and the Southern California sun has finally made an appearance as the group makes its way to the Santa Monica pier for a rare break in meetings. The group has gelled, as they have made their way from appointment to networking reception to group dinner, and they display the easy camaraderie of students who work and play together.

It’s just past 1 p.m. and they have already taken two meetings: one with Senior Vice President for TV & Film Production at Miramax and Hofstra parent Leslie Belzberg. Ms. Belzberg, a former independent film producer, brought in her senior staff to tell the assembled students about how major studios and filmmakers work together on budgets and filmmaking, from conception to distribution.

After the Miramax meeting, the group walked a few blocks through Santa Monica’s business district to Dick Clark Productions, where Mark Bracco ’92, serves as Executive Vice President, Programming and Development. Just off the pressure of producing the Golden Globes and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Bracco shared stories about the challenges and excitement of live event production.

Mark Bracco, '92, EVP Programming & Development, Dick Clark Productions
Tory Guardino asks a question at Dick Clark Productions

Junior journalism major and aspiring TV personality Joe Sibilia took the opportunity to ask Bracco what made a good live host, and senior TV and film production major Kyra Angione asked for advice on how to break into live television production. Bracco’s honesty was encouraging to the students, “If you want a job – you can find a job. We’re at peak TV right now. If you’re willing to get coffee and be a gopher, you’ll find a job. Start at the bottom, where all of us started. Once you get in on the ground floor and make a name for yourself, that’s how people get to know you … how you move up the ladder.”

As the group moved from appointment to appointment, from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to an entertainment lawyer to non-scripted entertainment producers to an agent at ICM to ABC Entertainment Marketing, the same lessons were repeated. “Be open. Be willing. Work hard.”

This journey through LaLa Land began the fall prior, when approximately 50 students vied for 12 spots on The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication’s Hofstra in LA trip. Students are chosen for a variety of reasons, according to Associate Dean Adria Marlowe, “We look for well-rounded students involved with the school, in organizations like WRHU, Heat, or PRRSA, and we look for students who are a part of the Hofstra community so, in addition to having good grades, we also look for involvement, for faculty recommendations. We also want to know what the students want to get out of the program … students who are really interested in learning about things they might not have known before.”

A mix of career exploration, an orientation to Los Angeles’ geography and economy, and networking extraordinaire, the Hofstra in LA trip is a coveted opportunity for anyone interested in entertainment media. According to Professor Peter Gershon, one of the founders of the Hofstra in LA program, the program allows students an in-depth introduction to the entertainment field.  “This program exposes students to another set of businesses and endeavors which are not as plentiful in New York. Students come out and find out about the existence of jobs and career opportunities that they simply did not know about before. We’ve had more than one student come out as 'I want to be this' and leave and go back to New York and say 'No. Now I want to be that.'”

Dr. Gershon with former students at the Directors Guild of America reception

For students whose internships and contacts have been in New York, the Los Angeles trip is a real eye-opener. “This (program) was absolutely a valuable introduction for me,” said senior TV and film production major Salvatore Guardino, “because I’ve always thought about moving out here (to LA). This trip has kind of solidified for me that if you want to be successful in this field, this is the way to do it.”

The strength of the alumni network on the West Coast gives the students who are about to graduate hope about their future in the industry. “The alumni at Hofstra are warm,” said senior Linda Abukhalaf. “They want to help us, which is really nice to know because I can graduate and come to LA and there are people looking out for me. These alumni that I met, they’re willing to answer questions and give assistance with internships. I can reach out to that person and say 'Hey, I was in the Hofstra in LA group. I met you—I was really inspired by what you said. Do you have any advice for when I apply for a job there at this company?' It’s good to know that they want to help and give back to our community.”

But the strength of this network is not surprising to Professor Gershon. “In this industry, one of the things that we teach and one of the constants and one of the truisms is, it is about who you know. Having that network in Los Angeles is amazing because name recognition counts and having an alum who will extend a hand—simply because you went through the same program they went through—is invaluable. Now all our students who come out here for the Hofstra in LA program do know somebody in the industry. They have a helping hand and the incredible, incredible thing about our alums is that they’re warm, they’re generous, and they’re willing to help.”

“Hofstra’s curriculum gives you hands-on experience. We all know that. It’s just how the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication works, but coming here and kind of having conversations and being able to talk one-on-one with these people gives you that second insight. It’s been like a seminar, being able to hear from someone who is working and who can tell you. 'This is what you need to do and you’re on the right track.'”

—Taylla Smith, Senior, TV & Film Production

Students learned the full range of opportunities, from their first meeting with Cameron Kadison, who represents talent and produces non-scripted (or reality) television at Mortar Media, a company he co-founded. He talked about how his days with Dr. Gershon at Hofstra “taught me the skills on how to work as a team and produce something from start to finish,” which helps him conceive, promote and produce non-scripted shows.

During their meeting with Jay Bastian ’92 at Warner Brothers, they heard how Professor Sybil DelGaudio helped him as a student make a connection with independent animator Faith Hubley, which turned into a career in animation. While at Warner Brothers, the students got to pose with statues of famous characters and at the fountain made famous by the opening credits of the TV show Friends.

Cameron Kadison '03, Founding Partner, Mortar Media
Friends at the

On Tuesday, after a walk on Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame, students got a rare primer on live television with a visit to Jason Schrift ’92. Schrift, Jimmy Kimmel’s longtime co-executive producer, told students that moving to LA with their “New York energy” would make them good candidates for jobs in entertainment and talked about the topicality of late-night comedy and talk. Schrift, who sprinkled his talk with anecdotes and jokes, making the students feel at home, then gave a tour of the control room, the green room, and all around the studio. The students got an in-depth look at the inner workings of Jimmy Kimmel Live!

“The alumni at Hofstra are warm ... They want to help us, which is really nice to know, because I can graduate and come to LA and there are people looking out for me.”

Thursday’s events were centered around downtown Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard, beginning at CNN’s Los Angeles bureau, with a tour given by David Dubiel, Senior Director of Engineering & Operations. Students then met with powerhouse Jo Sharon ’98, who heads up development for Magical Elves, the production company behind shows such as Top Chef, Project Greenlight, Bands on the Run and Project Runway.

Jo Sharon '98, EVP Development, Magical Elves
 

The view from the 35th floor at ICM Partners framed up-and-coming, influential agent Bryan Diperstein, as he provided insight into the opportunities that joining an agency provided young professionals. The day ended late at the Directors Guild of America, with an alumni reception, where students got to connect to Hofstra’s burgeoning LA network, including many of the professionals they had already met that week.

Writing promo spots

Students spent hours at ABC Entertainment Marketing the following day, where Jill Gershman’s (’92) entire team explained how they produce the marketing creative and promote ABC’s comedy line-up. It was yet another view of how students might find work in the entertainment industry, from social media, voice-over, television and digital production, to writing and advertising. After a tour, including the historic façade of ABC’s long-running soap opera, General Hospital, everyone relaxed together over a group lunch, and got a chance to share war stories.

Goofing off in Beverly Hills

And between the meetings and the networking, the students fit in the sights of Los Angeles, a welcome break from winter in New York. “Outside of the meetings, it was also really cool to see the stuff that you hear about when you hear about LA. You hear about Beverly Hills, and the big studios, and you see them in TV and in movies all the time, and it was amazing to be able to see them in person, to inhabit that space that you see on the screen,” said senior Kyra Angione.

Joe Sibilia checking out the stars and the action on Hollywood Boulevard

Both the students and the alumni in Los Angeles benefit, according to Dean Marlowe. “For the alumni, it’s a very fulfilling experience because they remember what is was like being here at Hofstra and they remember moving out to Los Angeles and getting started. They appreciate being able to help, by providing advice, sometimes by providing connections. In just three years, we’ve had a couple of students either get jobs or internship opportunities through the program. It’s fostering those connections, between the University and the alumni and students, that help build the network that helps all of us.”

Take a Virtual Trip with Hofstra in L.A. - Let's Go

This year’s schedule

Day
Appointments

Monday

Marla meets the original Betty Boop Cameron Kadison '03, Partner, Mortar Media
Jay Bastian ’92, SVP Series, Warner Bros. Animation
Free time and lunch in Beverly Hills
Reception with recent graduates who work in Los Angeles

Tuesday

In front of Jimmy Kimmel Live, post-show

Adam Bialow ’88, Legal Consultant, Lionsgate
Jason Schrift ’92, Co-executive Producer, Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Tour of El Capitan Theatre and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Production
Viewing of live-to-tape Jimmy Kimmel Live! show (audience, green room and control room)
Free time and lunch in Hollywood

Wednesday

Taking in the Santa Monica pier

Leslie Belzberg, SVP Film & TV Production, Miramax
Mark Bracco ’92, EVP, Dick Clark Productions
Free time in Santa Monica and the Pier
Student outing to Universal Studios City Walk

Thursday

CNN Los Angeles bureau

David Dubiel, Senior Director of Engineering & Operations, CNN LA Bureau
Jo Sharon ’98, EVP Development, Magical Elves
Bryan Diperstein ’09, ICM Partners
Free time and lunch on Sunset Boulevard
Reception at the Directors Guild of America with Los Angeles alumni and accepted students

Friday

Editing, ABC Entertainment Marketing

Jill Gershman ’92, VP Entertainment Marketing Creative, ABC TV
Tour of ABC Entertainment Marketing production facilities
Lunch with ABC Entertainment Marketing creative team
Free time at the Griffith Observatory
Group dinner at Magianno’s at the Grove

For more information about Hofstra in LA, please contact:

 

Adria Marlowe
Associate Dean
Director, Hofstra in LA
P: 516-463-5217 | Email