By Amanda Morad
August 21, 2015
Hollywood Experience students at the Warner Bros. lot
Regent University's School of Communication & the Arts (SCA) sent a group of cinema-television students to Los Angeles this May for a two-week intensive course in the art and business of Hollywood. In its second year, the program put students in front of dozens of working professionals in film and television to learn more about their craft and about breaking into the entertainment industry.
Last year's students studied television in a collaborative writing environment mimicking television practices, but this year, students studied short film. Lectures and panels with professionals covered everything from script to screen.
"The Hollywood Experience takes the students out of the theoretical realm of the classroom, and immerses them in the real, practical world of the business of being professional writers," said Regent professional-in-residence and director of the Hollywood Experience Sean Gaffney. "Their exposure to working professionals allows them to see how the craft plays out in the market place; as well as provides encouragement in seeing the results of perseverance and hard work."
Gaffney joined Regent full time last July, but began working with SCA students at the inaugural Hollywood Experience last May.
"This program gives students a learning opportunity of a lifetime," said Dr. Mitch Land, dean of SCA. "The workshops, tours, interactions and assignments prepare our students to be more successful should they wish to work in L.A. or elsewhere.
"But more importantly, they get to network with professionals whose Christian worldview serves as a framework for their lives. You can be faithful to your Christian faith while succeeding in Hollywood."
The two-week trip included classes at the L.A. Film Studies Center, film screenings, and field trips to CBS Studio Center, Warner Bros., the Hollywood sign, and more. A group favorite was the tour of the Warner Bros. lot, where Gaffney formerly served as story administrator before coming to Regent.
"They seem to have this outlook of treating everyone with value, and you can tell that from Sean," said MFA in Script & Screenwriting student Alicia LeBlanc. "It was like a really big theater to me where I could see possibilities everywhere."
Instead of the normal guest tour given by the lot, Regent students got an in-depth walking tour with Gaffney and his wife Catherine.
"We actually got to see a lot of things that I don't think people get to see on a normal tour," said MFA in Script & Screenwriting student John Crowley. "It was very in-depth; an insider's look."
For many students, the program was their first exposure to Los Angeles and their closest encounter with the entertainment industry to date. And for some, it was more than a class—it was confirmation they're going in the right direction.
"I definitely want to go back to L.A.," Crowley said. "Deep down in my gut, I know that I have to be there. This trip really settled in me that I feel at home in L.A., I can take the challenges that will be thrown at me, and I really can make a life there. Now that I'm back, I'm trying to gather as many experiences here that will prepare me for life and work out there after I graduate."
LeBlanc concurred. "It gave me exactly what I wanted out of the trip, which was a good idea on how to plan my next step in my career, what to expect along the way and how to prepare for it," she said.
New to the program this year were visits with professionals in their homes—one with screenwriter, director and comedian Robert G. Lee, and one with producer Karen Covell and her husband, film composer Jim Covell. The Covells also direct the Hollywood Prayer Network for Christians in the entertainment industry.
"In addition to relaxing, both days included class sessions and screenings," Gaffney explained. "The change of venue allowed students to see, literally, how people live, helping shed some of the mystique of what it is like to live in L.A."
After two weeks of intense study and exploration, students came home with lots of advice on how to realize their dreams in film and television.
"It's very much a service industry," Crowley noted. "You have to learn to be humble and know that it's going to take time. You have to be prepared to be a production assistant or work at Starbucks or do something else as you're building your career."
"They gave us a good idea of where and how to start at the bottom and that was my question going into it," LeBlanc said. "I knew you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, but I didn't know how to even get to the bottom. Now I have a better idea. I feel a lot more focused."
According to LeBlanc, some of the most valuable advice had little to do with building the right resume.
"From the multiple sources we were able to connect with—who all had their own journeys in their career—a lot of their advice for newcomers was about community," she explained. "Get plugged in to a church right away, connect with other Christians, create a support system. That's how you make it in Hollywood."
Learn more about the Hollywood Experience and the School of Communication & the Arts.