Gibson, Students Send Reflections from L.A. Experience Winter Term Course

Assistant professors in the School of Communications Gerald Gibson and Peter Kiwitt took students to Los Angeles for their annual L.A. Experience Winter Term course. The class is focused on the funding, production, and distribution of film entertainment products and the impact that industry has on other communication industries in the Los Angeles area.

According to the syllabus, students will interact with people involved with conceptualizing, organizing, funding, producing, and distributing entertainment products, and to become aware of the impact of the Los Angeles entertainment industry on other media.

Students will also:

Be introduced to the various processes used in production, post-production and distribution of film and video through film theatres, broadcast television, DVDs and the Internet.

  • Create an awareness of the various roles of producers, directors, studio
    personnel and the studio itself and the history behind that system as it
    impacts decisions made about which films are made or emphasized.
  • Examine and apply theories in presenting images and information to the
    production of information and entertainment content in the Los Angeles
    environment.
  • Utilize and enhance knowledge from previous courses in writing, shooting
    and editing video and digital photography, research papers and presentations.

Gibson and his students keep a daily journal, and some of their observations will be updated semi-daily on Connections.

Jan. 18, 2008

Today is the group's last day in Los Angeles. Everyone is exhausted but sad to think that they'll be leaving tomorrow. So to energize the group an afternoon trip to Universal Theme Park was planned. But first everyone spent several hours in the corporate offices of NBC/Universal. Gisselle Ruiz, campus relations specialist, described the internship and page programs they offer, both in L.A. and in New York. She told them about the company's history, employment policies, application process and opportunities.

We met briefly with Blake Hinton, dailies coordinator at Universal. Students had spent time with him at the mixer on Saturday night, but it was a chance to see him at work. Unfortunately there's very little production because of the writers' strike.

Next, the group went to theme park, but even there an educational element arose: the backlot tour. While this is considered a "ride," Universal has one of the most extensive facilities here and the ride lasts for nearly an hour as patrons visit England, Paris, Mexico and countless other locations available on the lot. After that the group saw several demonstrations of special effects.

At that point, it was time for the students to cut loose and have a great time, riding the rides and seeing the shows. The evening, and the L.A. Experience, ended with a large gathering on City Walk with six of Elon's alumni.

Jan. 17, 2008

Today, the group went to Warner Brothers. Everyone began in a meeting with Marc Solomon, the executive vice president of post production and visual effects.

He detailed WB's efforts to create the best digital post facility in the world as well as what the future of film production might hold.

Dean Hilborne, director of business development, then took us through their digital audio mixing facility, their ADR (automated dialogue replacement) suites, one of their Foley stages and their facility for digitally remastering older films. We were able to talk with a Foley artist and sit in on mixing sessions for an upcoming feature and an episode of "Chuck." All of this amazing technology, he pointed out, is just an extension of the software and coursework we do at Elon.

After a quick lunch at the Warner Brothers on-site cafeteria, everyone headed to WB's television side, the CW. There, students learned about the print, video and Web work done to attract and hold an audience to a television series. The Fellows were able to ask questions of Rossanna Wang, vice president of new media and interactive marketing.

They next met briefly with Fiona Watts, senior vice president of marketing for Warner Brothers Pictures International, who compared the WB's international marketing operation to that of Paramount. She then introduced us to Howard Schneider, the head of interactive marketing. Warner Brothers has invested a great deal of planning and effort into creating "buzz" about their films by using the web effectively.

The group ended the night with Shannon Russell, a  producer at the TV Guide Channel. Shannon, a School of Communications graduate, has worked for MTV, E! and others, specializing in reality programming. She discussed the employment structure and work environment of Los Angeles.

Jan. 16, 2008

The group went to CBS Television City, the first facility built expressly for television.

Everyone met with Ron Weaver, senior producer of "The Bold & The Beautiful" who explained the production process for the show. He also discussed the importance of the international distribution of B&B . Next they saw Director of Communications and Talent Relations Eva Demirjian, who described her role in building and maintaining a strong relationship with the show's audience and the press who cover television.

After this orientation the group was allowed to spend time both on the studio floor and in the control booth as the crew and actors rehearsed and recorded scenes for an episode to be aired in a few weeks.

Students with Drew Carey at the Price is Right

In the afternoon they were allowed to be in the audience for a taping of "The Price is Right" so they could experience the excitement (and noise) of being in the audience for the show. After the taping was complete they saw a rehearsal for the next show and met with Sue MacIntyre, executive in charge of production, and Roger Dobkowitz, producer. They explained the show's efforts to maintain the familiar elements of past years while updating the look and content to match new host Drew Carey. A special treat for everyone was watching Carey rehearse and then getting to meet him.

The group also had the opportunity to see a special event being set up for visiting station owners and managers. The staging was as complex as for any television production.

The last few hours at CBS Television City were spent in a taping of "The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson." The group was able to observe the pre-show warm up of the audience as well as the actual show. In addition, they were in the audience for several bits recorded for use in future shows. Craig Ferguson saw the Elon sweatshirts and talked with the students during the first commercial break. For the rest of the show he (and guest Jon Cryer) made repeated references to "20 miles east of Greensboro," to the delight of the students.

After dinner and a bit of karaoke at the historic Farmers' Market, the group returned to our hotel to meet with Christian Brescia, vice president of Storm Studios.

Storm is involved in the roll-out of new television shows and major film releases. Brescia gave advice on moving to L.A., breaking into the industry and finding success here.

"Luck is when opportunity and preparedness meet," Brescia said.

He also told students to enjoy their time at Elon, to be involved, to take every opportunity that presented itself to them and to study abroad as much as possible.

"Elon helped prepare me for everything I do," he said.

Jan. 15, 2008

Today, the group started out at Prospect Studios where the ABC Network west coast news operation is located. Brian Rooney, network correspondent, toured us through their facility and then spent an hour discussing the role of network news coverage and how it's changed in the past 10 years.

Then everyone made their way back up to Glendale where Dreamworks Animation (see photo above) is located. We were taken through the process of creating an animated film from concept and rough drawings to finished 3D film. We also were shown clips, some still in a far-from-finished form, of soon-to-be-released films. Dreamworks has three films in production at any one time, each taking about five years to complete.

Next stop: TV Guide. Students met with Craig Tomashoff, the west coast bureau chief. He talked about how his publicatin's role has changed, and how they are using the Internet and the TV Guide Channel to drive their business.

After that students went to Panavision to meet with recent graduate Lauren Gadd, who is in their highly competitive two-year program, one which will help her achieve her goal of becoming a director or director of photography.

The group then explored the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame and enjoyed a studio screening of a film that will be shown at Sundance next week.

Jan. 14, 2008

Today was another long day. In a surprise, students had the opportunity to talk with striking members of the Writers' Guild of America. Senior Leslie Tkaczyk interviewed several of the strikers for a Pendulum article and other students spent time with the strikers discussing the rationale behind the strike.

Students then met with Steve Tropiano, director of Ithaca in L.A. Quite a few of our students have done summer internships through Steve. He explained the process and pitfalls of being an intern in L.A., as well as what adjustments you need to make in living here.

Kelly McKeone, an Elon corporate communications grad and vice president/account director for Strottman, next spoke with the students. After talking about her experiences with Study Abroad and internships at Elon she explained how they, along with her course work, helped prepare her to be mobile and to adapt to a variety of situations. Strottman creates promotional campaigns for a wide range of regional and national companies like Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell and Chevron gasoline. They develop a marketing strategy based on their client's goals and then design, test and manufacture the toys and games that will achieve those goals.

Next stop was Morgan Creek, the company behind The Good Shepherd, Georgia Rule, Man of the Year, Ace Ventura and Major League, among others. President Guy McElwaine,  Production Executive Andy Fraser and other members of their staff talked to the students about their approach to bringing a film to screen, including the financial risks involved and the distribution deals that must be made. In addition, McElwaine (who was CEO of Columbia Pictures, a senior executive vice president at Warner Brothers and vice president of ICM) discussed the strike from a corporate viewpoint, helping to flesh out our students' understanding of the struggle between the WGA and the large corporations that own the studios.

Finally the group met with JP Chism, a recent grad who works at Herzog Cowen Entertainment. They specialize in the behind-the-scenes making-of shows you see on channels like HBO as well as other additional DVD content for the major studios. We met with a number of their producers, editors, graphic designers and interactive and web media specialists.

Jan. 13, 2008

 Today was the group’s tourist day, a reward for the students having prepared so well and engaging with the first three days of presenters. But the fun time was also used to educate them on the history of the film industry in this area, either by visiting famous places or by seeing landmarks that have become iconic through their use in film and television programs.

The day began at Griffith Observatory, home of a number of famous films and a great vantage point for seeing the entire L.A. basin.

Next, the class visited the Hollywood Heritage Museum, housed in the Laskey Barn, home of Squaw Man, the first film produced by Cecil B. DeMille (see his desk at right) and considered to be the birthplace of Paramount Pictures. The group saw a presentation on the early days of the industry along with displays of early technologies.

They then traveled to the Hollywood(land) sign and drove through several of the canyons in the area. They even drove on the path walked by Andy Taylor and Opie in the opening of The Andy Griffin Show.

From there they explored Mulholland Drive. Not only has it been seen in movies but it also follows the ridge separating the valley from Los Angeles. You find spectacular views in both directions.

They followed one of the canyon roads to Greystone Manor, used again and again in movies not only for its stone architecture but also for its breathtaking gardens and views of the city. This path then led everyone to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.

They next headed to Santa Monica to see the sunset from the pier and join up with several alumni for dinner.

Jan. 12, 2008

Saturday was filled with more one-on-one discussions with industry people.

Bill Kelly, writer of the Disney film Enchanted and others like Blast from the Past, spoke with the group about the process of writing and rewriting a screenplay, and the struggle to bring those words to the screen. Students were able to learn about pitfalls to avoid and courses and experiences they should seek before graduating.

Don Todd, co-creator and executive producer of Samantha Who? gave an insider's view of writing and creating a television series. He very candidly spoke of his early days in L.A. and his efforts to break into the film and television industry. He also answered questions about the rationale for the writers' strike and explained what the strike means for the current and fall television seasons.

After lunch the class met with Aaron Ryder (at left), producer of Donnie Darko, Memento and most recently The Prestige. Students were able to learn more about the financial process of creating and distributing a film. He also talked with them about the costs associated with creating a film.

In the late afternoon the group was part of a test screening of a yet-to-be-released film. They were shown three different endings to the film and participated in an open discussion with the director about which actors, scenes, music clips, etc., they felt worked in the film and which parts did not advance the story. This information will be used to improve the editing of the film before the studio releases it.

Jan. 11, 2008

The class spent the day at Paramount Pictures. Dr. Parsons and Dr. Francis (and his

wife) joined the class for the VIP tour of the property as well as a session with Elon alumnus Doug Finberg, vice president of international distribution. The class grabbed a quick lunch at the employee commissary, which was converted from the rehearsal hall used by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The afternoon was spent in meetings with several folks involved with international publicity, including Joe Ferullo, vice president of programming and development for CBS Paramount Domestic TV and John Soriano, story analyst for Paramount Pictures.

Jan. 10, 2008

The group enjoyed a more than 12-hour day that started with a drive into Hollywood, where they went to Intralink, a film advertising, poster and trailer company. Kelly Carlton, who is on the School of Communications Advisory Board, told several students to apply for internships with Intralink.

Next, they spent time with Troy Senkiewicz (top with the students) at Tribune Studios. Senkiewicz was Elon’s first intern at MTV. He's the Unit Production Manager at Tribune, which means he performs many tasks, including getting bids from vendors dealing with production companies and various unions and handling transportation. Tribune houses such productions as Judge Judy and Hanna Montana.

The class also went to a location shoot for a live-action film called Hotel for Dogs with Brad Ricker, who was also the art director of the movie Charlie Wilson's War. Students learned about set design and set dressing, and observed the interaction between the director and his actors and crew. The group watched them shoot for more than an hour and spent time with the film's 2nd Assistant Director.

Tomorrow is all day at Paramount. Provost Gerry Francis and School of Communications Dean Paul Parsons will join the group for a VIP tour of the Paramount Studios as well as a meeting with Elon alumnus Doug Finberg, vice president of international distribution at Paramount. During the afternoon the class will meet with a number of executives involved in script acquisition, marketing and other areas.



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