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BU Abroad: Cutting Your Teeth in Tinseltown

BU in LA’s aspiring writers and actors prepare for life in the industry

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In the video above, Julie Civiello (CFA’10) and Newt Calkins (COM’10) talk about the value of their BU in LA experience. 

The call came in just before 10 p.m.

“We need a script. Two people in a room, talking. And we need it by tomorrow morning.”

“No problem,” Newt Calkins (COM’10) said. He had just arrived in Hollywood, and he was ready to show the town what he could do.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a high-powered entertainment industry executive on the other line—it was BU Today. Last fall, we visited the BU in LA internship program and wanted to put some of BU’s acting and writing students through their paces.

Calkins was part of the graduate program The Writer in Hollywood, spending one day each week in a workshop class, working on his own scripts with other students under the tutelage of lead instructor Brian Herskowitz. The rest of the week, Calkins interned at Lionsgate Studios, reading other people’s scripts. “One of the most important things for a screenwriter to learn is structure,” he says. “At your internship, you’re surrounded by people whose job is to decide whether or not their studio is going to produce a given script, and I’d say 9 out of 10 times that they choose not to, it’s because of structure.”

Calkins delivered a script the following morning, and we put it in the hands of Julie Civiello (CFA’10), who was enrolled in the Acting in Hollywood program. Civiello interned four days a week in the casting office of the CBS drama Criminal Minds and took classes on auditioning techniques and on-camera and self-image work. “I came out here not knowing what ‘type’ I am,” she says, “and that’s a huge part of the process. You know what kinds of projects you like to work on, but you don’t know what you’re right for.”

Civiello enlisted the help of colleague Collin St. Dic (CFA’10), and together they spent the morning going over the dialogue supplied by Calkins. The production team met that night. “We did so many takes,” Civiello recalls. “Millions of takes, back and forth, over and over again. It was cool, because it was so much more like the kind of work we would actually be doing out here.”

The next day the finished scene was screened in Civiello’s acting workshop, with a surprise guest on hand to provide valuable feedback: Michael Chiklis (CFA’86), star of ABC’s No Ordinary Family. When Chiklis asked Civiello and St. Dic what they would have done differently, both said that they would have liked more time. “You work for any of the big writers,” advised Chiklis, “and what’s going to happen is you’ll get the scene the night before, go over the nine pages or whatever. Then the next day Aaron Sorkin will send down the pink pages, and you’ll look at it and you’ll go, ‘But it’s got nothing to do with what you gave me last night!’ And he’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s right,’ and you’ll just have to do it.”

Now, a year later, Civiello and Calkins are still in Los Angeles. Civiello says she’s auditioning as much as possible. She’s been cast in a number of small film and theater roles, but is still looking for her big break. Calkins is working as an assistant to the story editor at Columbia Pictures, a position he snagged through one of his BU in LA internships last fall. The high point of his career so far? Offering script notes on the upcoming Spiderman reboot. “I’m a comic book nerd,” he says, “so at one point I just wrote up a memo outlining my thoughts on the project. My immediate supervisor was so impressed, he forwarded it to the creative executives, who actually discussed it at their weekly project meeting.”

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

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