Making it in LA

The ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier lit up at night

QU in LA

From internships at HBO and Jimmy Kimmel Live to Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt’s production company, Quinnipiac students are gaining invaluable experience and making connections that lead to jobs through the Quinnipiac University in Los Angeles program.

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acqueline Gallagher ’16 has a life many recent college graduates would envy. The Massachusetts native lives in the hip Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles and works as a casting assistant at Fiorentino Casting and Aufiero/Horn Casting, agencies that find talent for an array of TV and film clients. She spends her free time biking on Venice Beach.

Gallagher credits the Quinnipiac in Los Angeles program, QU in LA for short, for giving her the tools she needed to land that job, including a familiarity with the area. In fact, she liked the program so much that she enrolled twice, spending both Spring and Summer 2015 there. It was her boss from an internship at prominent film company Blumhouse Productions who called Gallagher with a job offer. The only caveat? They needed someone to start the following week.

“I packed up my life and started on Monday,” says Gallagher. “The rest is history.”

Gallagher puts in long days, but regards her colleagues as family. “We work hard together and stay late together,” she says. “I’m either reading with the actors or running the camera.”

Now entering its fourth year, QU in LA enables students to spend a semester or summer living, studying and working as interns in LA, the entertainment capital of the world. LA-based program director Jameson Cherilus ’12 notes that 112 students have completed internships through the program; 12 of them, now alumni, call Los Angeles home.

Companies where students have interned include HBO, William Morris Endeavor, Plan B Entertainment (Brad Pitt’s production company), Montecito Pictures, ID-PR, Television Academy, Nickelodeon, UCLA Hospital, Fox Sports West, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Sports Illustrated and H2R Productions. While the students need to secure their own internships, Cherilus and the School of Communications career development team lend a hand.

“The program is expanding, and we’ve been making wonderful connections with companies and movie studios,” Cherilus says.

While the program offers a taste of the working world and the chance to forge valuable connections, it also lets students experience the culture of Southern California. “We offer an invaluable experience outside the Northeast corridor, which is where the bulk of our students are from,” says Terry Bloom, associate dean of the School of Communications.

Students are housed in a corporate apartment complex in Marina del Rey, just a five-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean and a slew of trendy shops and restaurants. “It’s an ideal location; we’re in the middle of everything,” says Cherilus, who plans social activities for the students, including hikes to the famed Hollywood sign and visits to Catalina Island, Disneyland, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Warner Bros. lot.

“The first weekend I always take the students on a four-hour bicycle tour around Venice, Santa Monica and Marina del Ray. It’s an amazing ride,” says Cherilus, who lives in Mar Vista, just two miles from the students.

Functioning partially as a de facto den mother, Cherilus makes sure that students are not too frazzled and fields calls about everything from their rental cars to roommate disputes to how to treat a sunburn. He says his job as a resident assistant at Quinnipiac prepared him for his role. His first job out of college was in the Entertainment Marketing Department at Creative Artists Agency, where he learned how the entertainment industry works.

One of the best features of the program, he says, is the access students have to some of the top-level executives in Hollywood, most of whom take the time to provide constructive feedback. “I meet with at least three executives a week … I have a lot of Hollywood connections and know many people in power positions who want to give back to students,” Cherilus says.

Photograph

Student Jacqueline Gallagher sets up a camera on a tripod on the set of a shoot

LIghts, camera...action!

Jacqueline Gallagher ’16 prepares to videotape clients at a Los Angeles-area casting agency.

Story Continues

Brooke Mommsen ’18 chose to head to the West Coast in Fall 2016, partly because of the $2,000 tuition discount during the fall semester. She also thought it might be easier to land a competitive internship at that time of year. She ended up with two placements, spending three days a week at the Montecito Picture Company, producers of “Ghostbusters” and “Baywatch,” among others. She spent the other two days at Eclectic Pictures.

“I couldn’t believe that not only was I able to work at these companies, but that I was able to do so much,” Mommsen says. “I did script coverage, I called agents, I worked with the casting department. Between the two internships, I probably read more than 70 scripts. I kept showing them that I was ambitious, and they reciprocated by giving me more tasks to do.”

At Montecito, Mommsen developed a close working relationship with producer Ivan Reitman, who first gained fame by producing “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and then went on to produce and direct “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters,” among other blockbusters. Reitman appreciated Mommsen because she knew how to use the scriptwriting software Final Draft. “Working with Ivan was a very cool experience. He asked me what I thought about the scripts, and he took what I said to heart.” He has asked Mommsen to touch base after graduating.

In fact, while working on a script for a soon-to-be released film, Mommsen pointed out that a scene involving several teenagers didn’t seem realistic. “Ultimately, that scene was rewritten to include more teenage banter.” In her spare time, Mommsen shot a 15-minute film as part of an independent study. “Two Tails of One City” investigates the economic disparity between one side of LA and the other, told through the lens of a Downtown Dog Rescue. Her documentary placed second in the New Haven Documentary Film Festival for the Student Competition category this summer.

Like Mommsen, Kayla DeStephen ’18, a film, television and media arts major, was able to work closely with Harlan Freedman at FJ Productions during the Spring 2017 semester. In fact, she occupied the same office as Freedman, a prolific creator and producer of reality TV shows, documentaries, commercials and webcasts. This proximity allowed her to absorb Freedman’s knowledge on a multitude of projects. “He took the time to explain everything to me,” she said.

DeStephen worked mostly on casting for a variety of reality shows. She conducted 40-minute Skype interviews with prospective participants and edited them to 3 minutes. “All my editing skills came from QU,” she says. “I saw the other interns struggling. I was definitely able to do things faster because I knew the software already.”

Bloom is not surprised that QU students are landing top internships. “Our students come to the table with skills that can be put to work right away,” she says. “It’s a reflection of our curriculum, which is very real-world based. We are looking at growing our network of opportunities for our students, particularly in our newest programs: graphic and interactive design, and advertising and integrated communications.”

In addition to their internships, QU in LA students take online classes and many of them take a weekly class, Media Arts & Culture in LA, that is held on Tuesday evenings at their residence.

Matthew Kravitsky ’18, a film, television and media arts major, followed in Mommsen’s footsteps at Montecito last spring. His job was to read books and unsolicited scripts and then offer his thoughts to producers about which ones might make good movies, including a graphic novel that may end up as a miniseries for TV. He plans to write and direct a full-length feature film, then sell it in LA.

“I’ve been to the Sundance Film Festival with Quinnipiac, and I ask every director how to get started in the business, and they all say, ‘Direct a movie!’ It’s simple but true. I would take any job in my field and make my stuff on the side.”

Kravitsky was able to connect with Quinnipiac alumni in the area including Malcolm Garvey ’16, a filmmaker who was shooting a music video and invited Kravitsky to be on set, assisting with equipment. Garvey had an internship with H2R Productions via the QU in LA program in 2015, and the company hired him after he graduated. “It’s been my dream to work in LA since I was a kid,” he says.

He’s since branched out into freelance work, enjoying the variety of projects and the chance to work with different people. “A full-time job provides security, but I love the options freelancing provides. You set your own price and get paid what you think you are worth.”

Besides hands-on experience at H2R, Garvey observed how the small company’s founders generate work. “It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned. You can be good at what you do, but it means nothing if you don’t build your network. People like to work with people they like.”

Garvey notes that people like himself with the skills to produce, shoot and edit—“to deliver the entire package”—are in demand. “Whether it’s a music video, a commercial, or a social media video, I’m a one-stop shop.” Sometimes, the compensation for a project can be low, but Garvey is passionate about doing work he really loves. “If you get known for producing a certain level of quality, the money will follow,” he says.