BU in LA
Part five: when the game gets real
After finishing the BU in LA program in December 2005, Monica Mitchell (COM’05), Allison Reames (COM’05), and Laura Troxel (COM’06) found a four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment near San Vicente Avenue. They painted their bedroom walls in light colors and papered a coffee table with back issues of Variety. But nine months later, their living room walls are still bare. Three unframed prints are propped up on the back of the couch. They’ve been meaning to hang them, Mitchell says, but “personal time is not so much of a reality.” Weekdays can start as early as 6:45 a.m. and finish at 10 p.m. They’re on call for whenever producers and writers need them. And weekends?
“I’m doing revisions on a pilot,” says Mitchell.
“I’m talking with a friend about an idea for a pilot,” says Reames.
“I’m sort of starting a novel,” says Troxel.
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. 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.
Robert Shampain, the director of the acting track at BU in LA, estimates that 90 percent of the internship program’s graduates find full-time jobs in the entertainment industry within six months. “We wouldn’t claim that 90 percent will get jobs as actors and writers right away,” he says, “but we can promise that right out of this program, they have a big leg up on the people who don’t do this.”
The roommates, all of whom received master’s degrees in film and television from the College of Communication, prove the point: Reames, who interned on The Young and the Restless last year, is now a production associate on the show, and Mitchell’s internship at the Patricia Arquette series Medium led to her job as a writer’s production assistant. Troxel obtained a job at Scout, the production company she worked at during BU in LA, but she switched jobs in June and now works for Fox’s reality television division. She’s an associate producer on Rob and Amber: Against the Odds, which follows a couple from the TV show Survivor on their quest to play professional poker.
Like the students currently in the internship program, they spent the semester learning the names and faces, scouring the industry publications, and becoming fluent in Hollywood-speak. Now they’re discovering that everyone they know is working at a studio or an agency, is writing on the weekends, and is glued to the television set when the fall lineup premieres. It’s not a job — it’s a way of life, and it doesn’t ease up until you leave town. And most of the time, they love it.
“I used to program my VCR before kindergarten, for My Little Pony,” says Reames. “I didn’t think about it as a career until late in high school. My dad was like, you can study the TV. And I was like, you can?”
Now, Reames studies the TV for a living — one of her responsibilities at The Young and the Restless, or Y and R, is watching the tapes for consistency as the show is filming. “Hair over left shoulder, hair over right shoulder,” she explains. “Arms crossed, arms not crossed.”
At Medium, Mitchell — who says her interest in working in television became a certainty as she finished college — does whatever the writers need. Her day-to-day tasks can include delivering scripts, answering phones, and ordering lunch. And Troxel, who grew up in an 800-person Wisconsin town with two TV channels, books shooting locations, handles release forms, and picks up smaller tasks as needed.
Everyone they know does something similar — a situation that Mitchell says would be “unthinkable in Boston” — and everyone they meet understands what their jobs are like and why the work is important. When the networks start the new season in September, Reames says, “it’s like my whole life. The whole town knows that it’s a big deal.”
This shared knowledge is why they have to be here — a reality each states with a shrug, because the need to be in Hollywood to launch a television career is so obvious it doesn’t require elaboration. When they started the BU in LA program a year ago, they hoped to learn the ropes. They stayed because, having been through what Mitchell describes as a baptism by fire, they now understand what all the Hollywood hype is about — and they want to be part of it.
Los Angeles can be too much of a good thing at times. It’s refreshing to visit home, they say, or to talk to friends in Boston and New York who don’t live and die according to which shows get picked up and which are canceled. And they know that while they love their jobs now, the demands will only grow as they move up in the industry. The days never get shorter, and the responsibilities don’t lessen.
“I knew that getting into it,” says Mitchell. “I like it.” She realizes it could be “many years into the future” before she achieves every writer’s dream: getting her own show picked up.
“I guess I knew it was going to be hard work, but whoa,” says Reames, who wants to write and produce. “I think I vowed this morning to be in New York by 2010.”
“I’m working in reality right now,” says Troxel, whose novel is about her experience growing up in Wisconsin and showing sheep with the 4H Club. “Obviously, I don’t want to work in reality my entire life.”
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.
Read part four of the BU in LA series, Learning to live in la la land.
Click the slide show below to hear Laura Troxel on going from 4H to Hollywood Boulevard.