Over three days this January, a group of Hobart and William Smith students traveled to the Los Angeles area to network with more than 20 members of the Colleges’ Career Network who work in the entertainment and media industries.
One of eight “career treks” organized by the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education during the 2015-16 winter break, the “Behind the Scenes” experience “puts our students in touch with alums to get a sense of the industry, and lets alums reconnect with their alma mater,” says Les Friedman, professor of Media & Society, who led the trip with Professor of English Grant Holly and Brandi Ferrara, director of the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional, and Experiential Education.
On the first day of the excursion, following a keynote address from Brad Falchuk ’93, L.H.D. ’14, creator of “Scream Queens” and “American Horror Story,” students attended a series of panels on the development of a television series, the music industry, film production, acting, writing and talent management.
“I really thought the panel of speakers on the first day was very helpful,” says Michael DeRosa ’16. “I wanted to get a better idea of how people began their careers and what skills and experience they needed to know beforehand that helped them get to where they are today.”
The panels included industry veterans like Warren Littlefield ’74, executive producer of “Fargo,” and the former president of NBC television responsible for developing the shows that defined television in the 1990s, including “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Cheers,” “ER,” and “The Cosby Show”; actor Christopher McDonald ’77, L.H.D. ’13; and Ann Johnson ’83, senior development executive at The Littlefield Company.
“The morning was amazing,” says Ferrara. “To have Brad Falchuk and Warren Littlefield back to back, these two tremendous forces in the industry, was a great opportunity for the students.”
“To me, L.A. was always a mysterious place where I knew the entertainment, television and film business thrived, but since I knew no one in the industry I found it intimidating to explore the field,” says Gail Quintos ’17. “It was inspirational and reassuring to meet Hobart and William Smith alums who are succeeding in a variety of projects and achievements. A definite highlight of the trip was talking to the alums one-on-one because that has given me the confidence to follow-up and ask for advice in the future, especially to those who recently graduated since they were in my place not long ago.”
The young alum panel exposed current students to the experience of recent graduates Blair Dector ’15, a marketing/production associate at New Form Digital Studios LLC; Jillian Collins ’15, a junior assistant at Sony Pictures Entertainment; and Frances Parsons ’06, an actor and model.
And with panelists and speakers like Chris Adelmann ’77, executive vice president of business development at LiveNation, Zana Lawrence ’07 from Netflix Originals, and Chad North ’00, managing director of Angry Mob Music Group, among many others, the trip “demonstrates to students that it’s entirely possible to go from Geneva to L.A.,” Friedman says. “They see people before them who have done it, that there is a pathway to do it, and that there are hundreds of jobs that you never even knew existed, niches all over the place to get into the industry.”
“We have some incredibly talented alumni and alumnae, doing remarkable work in their fields,” says Jared Weeden ’91, assistant vice president for advancement and alumni relations. “I was reminded of this especially during our trip to L.A. and thought how fortunate our students are to have access to such a diversity of fun, creative, successful professionals — and they’re all members of our own HWS family.”
DeRosa, who previously interned with Paramount Pictures, says he was particularly interested in visiting Viacom Media Network, Paramount’s parent company, where Karim Mawji ’92 is a senior vice president. From Mawji and “all the alumni and alumnae we heard from and all the studios we visited,” DeRosa says, “I gained a lot of knowledge on how much work and passion it takes to stay in the business.”
The trip also included a networking reception and visits to the “Cracked” offices, Warner Bros., and the set of “Jeopardy!,” where the group sat in the audience during the final two tapings for the college championship.
But above all, the “Behind the Scenes” experience, like the other winter break career treks, offers students the chance to establish important professional connections and set the foundation for the future.
“As a senior about to graduate it’s hard to grapple with the idea that I’ll soon be in the workforce, but going on the L.A. trip through the Salisbury Center made the future seem less scary,” says Bree von Bradsky ’16. “Everyone who I talked to and heard from while in L.A. are passionate about what they do, and it’s that passion that brought them there. Their stories were each unique in the trajectory they took after graduating HWS but each of them spoke of their love for what they do, which in return makes them successful. I think that was the most exciting part of the trip.”