One-of-a-kind film internship program brings Hollywood pros to ASU

June 19, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that if you want to break into the film industry, you need to go to Los Angeles. But a unique new program in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University is turning that wisdom on its head – and bringing Hollywood to the students.

"There is no film school in the world that is doing what we’re doing," says Janaki Cedanna, clinical assistant professor in the school, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. "We took a lot of years as the film faculty to figure out how to do this." Actor Lochlyn Munro and ASU film production instructor Chris LaMont Download Full Image

This, also known as "the template," or more officially the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre Summer Feature Film Internship Program, is an ambitious plan to make one feature-length movie a summer with a predominantly student crew, supervised directly by department heads who are working film pros, and mentored by faculty from the school.

The goal is to create a professional film set where students can gain experience and earn academic credit in a safe learning environment.

Eligible students must be at a minimum GPA and be majors in the school. Cedanna and Chris LaMont, a film production instructor, serve as faculty internship supervisors and as producers on the film. Professor Ellery Connell, also with the school, is the visual effects supervisor and lead artist on the film, and will manage a team of student interns to complete the visual effects by the end of the summer. Jake Pinholster, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, is executive producer.

LaMont notes that the summer schedule allows students to focus exclusively on the project without having to juggle schoolwork, and allows the School of Film, Dance and Theatre to offer deep discounts on unused resources because there are no production classes in session.

“Car Dogs,” the first film created by the internship program, wrapped in 2013 and has just been submitted to the Toronto Film Festival, Cedanna says.

This summer, the movie that the students have the opportunity to intern on is “Justice Served,” a psychological thriller that is the directorial debut of Marvin Young, better known to most of the world as Young MC. This summer also happens to be the 25th anniversary of Young’s monster hit, “Bust a Move.” (You probably know the song, even if you think you don’t. It was that big.)

Young wrote and stars in the movie, alongside such familiar faces as Lance Henriksen (“Aliens,” “Terminator”), Lochlyn Munro (“Scary Movie,” “White Chicks”) and Gail O’Grady (“Revenge,” “NYPD Blue”). His production company is also financing the film.

“Even though students are involved, it’s not a student film,” Young points out. “It’s my film.”

“This is not just some big student film,” Cedanna confirms. “We’re using the camera that was used on almost every Oscar-nominated picture this year. It’s a multi-million dollar camera. The post workflow is high, high level. It’s amazing."

Cedanna says that rental companies cut their rates for the production “because everybody I tell about the template loves it. Because we all went to film school, and we all say, ‘I wish we had that when I was in film school!’”

“This project is a win-win-win,” says Jake Pinholster, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Marvin and the team behind the film win because they get to leverage their resources and finances in a way that wouldn't be possible elsewhere. The School of Film, Dance and Theatre generates national visibility, and, most importantly, the students win because they get to participate in a true rarity in the entertainment industry: an internship that has been structured from the ground up to give them a substantial leadership role in an educational environment."

“We are offering students something very special here,” LaMont adds. “This is not your average internship where they run and get coffee and donuts for the principals; these students are working and learning right alongside professional filmmakers.”

For “Justice Served,” Cedanna and LaMont brought back at least six ASU alumni in paid positions, including four who got their degrees in May of 2014.

One of those recent grads is Haley Peterson, who just earned her bachelor's from the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and is headed to Norway in the fall as a Fulbright Scholar to study costume design. Peterson earned academic credit as a costume intern on “Car Dogs,” and she’s getting paid to be the costume designer on “Justice Served.”

“It's a big leap” from costume intern to designer, Peterson acknowledges. “It's a huge opportunity, which is one of the big reasons I'm doing it. I love the creative collaboration of film and dance and theatre and what costumes can do within that.”

Young says that he decided to make “Justice Served” in Tempe after discussions with LaMont, whom he met though the Phoenix Film Festival, which LaMont co-founded.

Young didn’t really have any reservations about working with students, he says, even though people told him they’d be “unreliable.” But instead, he says, “It’s been brilliant. Everybody’s so polite and so well-mannered, but also enthusiastic.”

Johnny Kubelka, an L.A.-based professional who is running the sound department for the film, says that he particularly likes the teaching aspect of his position. “It's great,” he says. “I forget that they're students. They're on it."

Almost all of the actors did lunchtime Q-and-A’s with LaMont so that the students got a chance to hear professionals talk about their trajectory in the industry.

Lochlyn Munro gave this advice: “Do your job, do it to the best of your ability and be someone people want to work with.” Chase Coleman, a young actor who appeared in “Boardwalk Empire” and is on hiatus from the CW show “The Originals,” talked about the days in New York when the only thing in his cupboard was a can of beans, and he'd eat half for dinner and save the other half for breakfast.

Coleman told the students that he loved working with them because “you don’t have anybody that’s jaded. Everybody is excited to be here. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. You can feel the energy.”

For the 60-some students interning on “Justice Served,” including about 15 who worked on “Car Dogs” and are back with promotions on “Justice Served,” the film is a chance not only to earn academic credit, but to gain a foothold in the world of professional film.

"Actual, real-world experience is paramount (for students)," Cedanna explains. “And walking away with a credit on a full feature film – not just a student film, but a professional set experience – is unheard of among any college programs.

"We have a lot of students graduating and worried about getting jobs, and I say, 'You’ve literally started your career. You’ve started it at school.'"

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU Cronkite School dean to chair Hearst Awards Steering Committee

June 20, 2014

Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, will be the new chair of the Hearst Journalism Awards Steering Committee.

Known as the Pulitzer Prizes of collegiate journalism, the Hearst Journalism Awards Program provides support, encouragement and assistance to journalism education at the college and university level. The program’s steering committee offers guidance and counsel, keeping the organization abreast of changes in journalism education. ASU Cronkite dean Christopher Callahan speaking at graduation Download Full Image

Callahan will succeed Douglas A. Anderson, who is retiring at the end of June as dean of Penn State’s College of Communications. Anderson, the former director of the Cronkite School, was named chair of the steering committee in 2005 following Richard Cole, the former dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We are delighted that Chris has been nominated as chair of the Hearst Steering Committee,” said Jan Watten, program director of the Hearst Journalism Awards. “He has been a wonderful contributor to the meetings during his tenure; his school enters the competitions fully each year, and performs extraordinarily well. He not only has full knowledge of the contest rules, he has the energy to lead the committee for many years. I am looking forward to working with him.”

Callahan has led the dramatic transformation of the Cronkite School into one of the nation’s top and most innovative professional journalism schools. Under his leadership, the school has finished in the top 10 nationally for the past nine years in the Hearst Journalism Awards, including two first-place finishes and six top-five finishes.

“For more than 50 years, the Hearst Foundations have been making journalism better by setting the highest standards for what has become the world’s premier intercollegiate journalism competition,” said Callahan, who has served on the steering committee since 2008. “It’s an honor to help the Hearst Foundations continue to improve journalism through the Hearst Awards, and it is truly humbling to follow one of journalism education’s great leaders in Doug Anderson.”

Callahan also is vice chair of the Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, serves on the National Advisory Board of the Poynter Institute and was the first dean to serve on the Board of Directors of the American Society of News Editors.

Located on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, the Cronkite School’s 1,600 students are guided by award-winning professional journalists and world-class media scholars in a state-of-the-art media complex. The school continues to lead the field of journalism education with full-immersion professional programs that give students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in a real-world setting under the guidance of professionals.

Founded in 1960, the Hearst Journalism Awards Program provides scholarships to students for outstanding performance in college-level journalism, which includes matching grants to the students’ schools. Participation is open to undergraduate journalism students enrolled at domestic universities accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

The William Randolph Hearst Foundation was established by its namesake in 1948 under California non-profit laws, exclusively for educational and charitable purposes. Since then, The Hearst Foundations have contributed more than $925 million in the areas of education, health care, social services and the arts in every state.

Reporter , ASU Now