The BU/LA program, as it's called, is just one of a handful of out-of state university internship and education programs established in the Southland.
It's the only one that counts actor Jason Alexander,best known as “Seinfeld's ”George Costanza, as an honorary dean. Backing from alums like Alexander and other major industry players –like Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment and Joe Roth, president of Revolution Studios – is what differentiates the BU program from most.
Five years ago,they established BU/LA in the hopes of creating something more involving than the average alumni club get-together.
The first group of about 20 students, many of whom are now working in the industry, arrived at the iconic Park La Brea apartments and had only a few classes and internships from which to choose.
Today, the program is bigger and more popular than ever with four different program “tracks”advertising and public relations; film and television; acting; and writing – a roster of 8 classes and an internship database of over 400 opportunities.
Next semester, a track through the BU School of Management makes its debut. The program might even move to a high-rise on Wilshire in the future.
What makes the program so unique, according to program director Bill Linsman is this: “The classes are not reproductive of what's going on at BU; they're individualized for L.A. We monitor the internships carefully. We take advantage of everything there is here and we monitor it to make sure it's quality.”
The importance of simply being here, in the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world, is something that can't be stressed enough to students.
Reece Cardwell, a second year, BU graduate student went into the program because :“Boston's on the other side of the country from where I want to work.” Cardwell, who interns with Brillstein-Grey Entertainment and Red Wagon Productions, hopes to become a producer.
Writing instructor Brian Herskowitz couldn't agree more with Cardwell's career building decisions.
“There are some conceits of the industry that don't filter out into the lowlands, or places outside of LA. This city is the greatest proving ground for talent in this particular industry,” he says.
Proving oneself is de rigueur with any internship and especially so in Hollywood.
“There wouldn't be an entertainment industry without the interns,”says former BU/LA participant Katelyn Tivnan, an intern with “The Insiders” and “The Young and the Restless.”
Students are placed in demanding, high-demand internships with production companies, television networks and shows, talent agencies, studios and offices like Scott Free Productions (headed by filmmaker Ridley Scott). While most internships are rich in rewards,if not poor in pay, some don't always work out for the best. So far this semester, two students have left their previously assigned internships and sought others.
Linsman, who has each student submit journals on his or her experiences, says, “We had one student who was only getting coffee and making copies, which was terrible.”
More positive experiences, however, are the norm. Some internships have led to immediate employment.
Awaiting their return from a hard day's work are the instructors, all working professionals ready to school them in such topics as “The Business of Hollywood”and “Professional Production Methods.”
The majority of classes are taught inside a Park La Brea apartment that doubles for the administrative offices.
Signed posters from “Lost,” “Grey's Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” X-Men: The Last Stand and Haven line the classroom walls – each show or film is somehow connected to a BU alum.
Some classes are held elsewhere; acting class takes place at the nearby CBS Television City. Gems of advice include such memorable lines as: “There is no Rosetta Stone in this business and “You're not going to be a pariah if you sue someone from stealing your material.”
No big surprise coming from instructor Larry Weinberg, a former entertainment lawyer, now a film producer. Even donning a longsleeve, bright orange Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, baggy, khaki- colored cargos and flip flops, Weinberg still manages to cut an imposing figure.
You never know who'll make an appearance either. Alexander occasionally drops in on acting classes.
Most recently, Ted Harbert, president of E! Networks, was a guest speaker for “The Creative Life in Television,” a class that, according to instructor Marcia Lewis, revolves around “the life and death of a TV season.”
Harbert's advice for success?
“Go find someone you can make look like a genius,”he says.
Making others look good is one thing, but most Angelinos are notorious for knowing how to make themselves look good first and foremost.
“I have definitely seen my fair share offake-looking,plastic people ... a huge stereotype for LA,”says BU/LA student Melissa Wilson, a senior from the University of New Hampshire.
“But,”she continues,“I have also met a lot of really nice people and I love the slow-paced lifestyle.”
Debunking, or in some cases, substantiating typical L.A. myths is an implicit program requisite. Sure, there are celebrity sightings. Former student Niki Kazakos boasts,“I sawLindsay Lohan get into her car accident.”
As for Wilson: “I've seen a few, but no A-listers yet.”
And, yes, the traffic really is that bad. Luckily for them, BU has a corporate account with Enterprise Rent-a-Car that provides students with life-saving car rentals. It seems the BU/LA students aren't so different from a majority of the natives,either.
“I do not take public transportation and I don't know anyone on the program who does,”Wilson says.
On their first day, Linsman tells students, “Stay cool. L.A. is fright- ening. The system is frightening.”He explains, “A lot of students come here and are scared of L.A.” Michael Symonds, a former participant and an assistant with the Fox Legal Department says of the immersion,“It's like coming to L.A. with training wheels.”
While some,like former student Dana Cyboski, may view it as a completely “foreign culture” there are those who find L.A. not so far from home, at least in a figurative sense. Florida native Cardwell says, “I gave up one Mickey Mouse for another.”
Making students feel at home in Park La Brea is also important.Four students share a single, two-bed- room apartment with each receiving a prized parking spot along with access to a gym,pool and recreational classes held on the premises.
When students actually find the time to relax, they might walk to the Grove, head to the beaches, hike along Runyon Canyon or indulge in a quintessential college extracurricular:drinking.
“Having to go to class when you're already so tired can be tough,” says Jessica Smialek, a busy BU senior who interns some 40 hours a week.
When asked what she and her fellow students do in what little downtime they have, Smialek replies,“We drink.”
And while it's nice to see that most things don't change from coast to coast, one thing seems certain.
“Students definitely acquire maturity by the end of the program,” says Linsman.
“They definitely acquire a deep knowledge of how show business works in Los Angeles. They know how to talk, who to talk to, what to say. The program is doing exactly what it's supposed to do.”
For more information on the
BU/LA Internship Program, visit www.bu.edu/abroad.