Elon students go behind the scenes in Hollywood and Sundance

Assistant Professors Kai Swanson and Matthew Blomberg led students to Hollywood and Park City, Utah, during Winter Term for an immersion experience into the film and entertainment industries.

Elon University students visit the Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah.
The Egyptian Theatre is considered a premier destination during the annual Sundance Film Festival. As a result, Elon University students participating in The Film Festival Experience: Hollywood & Sundance course in January made sure to capture a photograph outside the recognizable Park City, Utah, venue.

During Winter Term, a group of Elon students spent 18 days immersing themselves in the film industry in Los Angeles and the vibrant energy of the renowned Sundance Film Festival. Led by Assistant Professors Kai Swanson and Matthew Blomberg, The Film Festival Experience: Hollywood & Sundance course offered students insight into the history and culture of the mainstream film industry and the independent film markets across the globe.

Samuel Remes ’26, a double major in finance and cinema & television arts, enrolled in the Study USA program because of his aspirations of becoming a writer and film editor.

“This is a really great experience. There were tons of laughter, gasps and a genuine atmosphere of excitement,” he said. “It’s such an insane, wild ride that’s not only great to experience, but also great to see everyone else’s reactions.”

Elon University students pose at the Santa Monica pier sign.
While in California, Elon students visited Santa Monica and took a photo near the city’s historic pier sign.

The course’s journey began with a deep dive into the history and present-day topics of Hollywood, with visits to iconic studios, including Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures and Sony Studios. Students had an opportunity to explore the behind-the-scenes magic of filmmaking, gaining insights into the craft from industry professionals.

But this trip wasn’t just about observing from afar. It was about engaging with the pulse of the industry, which Harrison Saini ’24 appreciated. “The LA and Sundance trip allows students to explore the industry on a much deeper level and see it in a way that is not possible from a classroom,” the strategic communications major said.

In Los Angeles, the itinerary was packed with enriching experiences, including a visit to the TCL Chinese Theatre, a day spent exploring Catalina Island, and thought-provoking engagements such as the “Documenting a Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights” event at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The students joined Elon alumni for dinner to better understand possible career paths. Those in attendance included writer-producer Michelle Leibel ’14, comedian and reality TV show writer Jay Light ’12, and legal coordinator for NBC Universal Hunter Strauch ’18.

“This program is not just about observing,” Swanson said. “It’s about engaging with the industry’s heart and soul.”

While in Los Angeles, students also dedicated time to community service, volunteering with the Valley of Change on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, packaging hygiene kits and distributing them to the unhoused in the city.

Elon students meet director and screenwriter Nico Casavecchio and actress Blaine Morris.
As part of the Winter Term course, students visited with Emmy Award-winning Argentine director and screenwriter Nico Casavecchio (“Battlescar” and “Border Hopper”) and actress, director and producer Blaine Morris (“Skins” and “Dark Obsession”).

During the second half of the course, students attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, enjoying the independent spirit of cinema, attending screenings, panels and networking events. Lucy Samuels ’26, a cinema & television arts major, expressed gratitude for the sense of community she discovered while traveling with her fellow Elon students and interacting with alumni.

“It helped me realize that there is a massive Elon community in LA to help CTA students,” she said. “It made me feel a lot more secure about my career.”

Added Swanson, “For those dreaming of a career in film or television, this experience is a gateway to understanding the intricacies of storytelling, production, press, and the diverse voices that shape our screens.”

Interested in next year’s The Film Festival Experience: Hollywood & Sundance course? Contact Swanson at kswanson8@elon.edu. And if this course interests you, check out the university’s new Global Film & Cultures minor, centered around three facets of global film studies: history, industries, and theory/interpretation. Swanson serves as the minor’s co-coordinator and can answer questions.