BU Today

Arts & Entertainment

BU in LA

Part four: learning to live in la la land

Monday night at BU in LA: a private screening of Flyboys, a just-released film about a group of American pilots fighting for France in World War I. The event is held at Raleigh Studios, an 85-year-old studio on Melrose Avenue that’s currently home to the new ABC sitcom Ugly Betty. After the film, director Tony Bill, producer Dean Devlin, visual-effects producer Mark Franco, and actor David Ellison answer the students’ questions about taking a concept and making it into a movie.

Tuesday night at BU in LA: two-day-old doughnuts and Animal Planet on television in Apartment 4603 at the Park La Brea complex.

“I feel like I’m the same person I was at BU,” says Greg Feldman (COM’07), a film major with internships at Focus Films and EUE/Screen Gems productions. “I just have to get up earlier.”

For the past three years, BU has offered acting, writing, film/television, and public relations internship programs to students at the College of Fine Arts and the College of Communication who are drawn to television and film. Those accepted into the intensive, single semester programs, which are run through BU’s Division of International Programs, live in Los Angeles and combine study of their craft with internships in the offices of agents, casting directors, and public relations firms.

Students work on collaborative projects and are taught and coached by BU alums who are Hollywood success stories, including Krista Vernoff (CFA’93), writer and producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Jason Alexander (CFA’81, Hon.’95), who played George in Seinfeld and has starred in many other stage, film, and television productions, and Nina Tassler (CFA’79), president of CBS Entertainment. Students are also given opportunities to audition for TV and film projects and to showcase their work to agents, managers, producers, and development executives. Applications for the spring programs are due November 15, but will be accepted until the programs are full.

For many students in the LA internship program, the semester is an easy transition into both Hollywood and the real world. A number of the students in the film/television and advertising/public relations programs are in their last semester of graduate school and plan to stay in the city after the program ends. Most of the acting students graduated from the College of Fine Arts in May and view the extra semester as a “safety net,” as one student says, that will gently release them into the real world.

But for the undergraduates in the program, BU in LA is a different sort of experience. While they’re learning as much about the industry, the lingo, and the power players as any other student, they won’t parlay those connections into jobs right away — instead, they’ll return to Boston in January. And as a result, while the students spend the majority of their time getting acclimated to Hollywood, on their free nights Park La Brea starts to resemble Warren Towers, albeit with the Hollywood sign in view. “The palm trees make it exotic,” Feldman says.

Each group of four students at Park La Brea lives in a fully furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, which comes with one all-important (in Hollywood, at least) amenity: a digital video recorder in every living room. Feldman shares Apartment 4603 with Matt Agnello (COM’07), Jay Fuller (COM’07), and Garth Whitten (CAS’06) — all of whom, except for Whitten, will head back to Boston next semester to complete their senior year.

None of them regrets his decision to spend the first half of senior year off campus: BU in LA has offered them an unprecedented opportunity to work in the film and television industries. “I get much better experience here than in a class at BU,” says Agnello, who works on Dr. Phil. “And the networking is huge,” he adds, noting that at Monday’s screening he met alums who work at George Clooney’s and Brad Pitt’s production companies.

Two or three nights each week, they have classes designed to further their knowledge of the craft of movies and television, such as Professional Production Methods, and The Creative Life in Television. On off nights, they sometimes get to go to film screenings, where the focus is on meeting BU alumni and learning from the professionals.

But for the other nights of the week, they’re still in college. And sometimes they just hang out and watch Animal Planet.

The day after the Flyboys screening, all four roommates arrive home from their internships by 8 p.m. Whitten sits on the couch, playing guitar and sipping a cocktail. Fuller works on his laptop. Feldman watches TV. A framed watercolor that came with the apartment is on one wall; a surfboard rests against another. The floor of one bedroom is littered with DVDs, which Feldman says is a matter of convenience — he doesn’t have to get out of bed to watch them.

After a month, they’ve determined that Los Angeles is different in both good ways and bad. Fuller says it’s annoying not to be able to walk down the street to get some takeout food. Feldman says the people are more attractive, but less interesting. Whitten likes the weather.

The biggest difference between last semester and this one? The hours they keep.

“I didn’t usually have class until the afternoon, so I’d probably go out four nights a week,” Feldman says. “Here, I have to get up at seven. I guess I’m becoming responsible.”

Read part one of the BU in LA series, Learning and Living The Biz: The actors.

Read part two of the BU in LA series, At Lions Gate Films, script readers learn what studios really want.

Read part three of the BU in LA series, Writers learn to roll with the script.

Students living in apartment 4603 at Park La Brea give a tour of their LA home.