While the rest of us sad sacks in Kansas have spent the last month trying not to die from hypothermia or collapsing snow drifts, a handful of Lawrence residents received a golden ticket to sunny California. Don't hate too much - they were continuing their education. Five film and media students from Kansas University were selected as interns for a rigorous crash course in the Los Angeles lifestyle, complete with visits to the beach, Disney studios and the set of "The Office."
"The 'pinch me' moment was when I was going through the buffet line for lunch at 'The Office' set and Steve Carell and John Krasinski walk up and are standing right across the buffet table from me," says Laura Herrington, a St. Louis junior and member of the intern group. "I think Steve could tell we were visitors. He did a nod and said, 'Hi.'"
It was just one of many "pinch me" moments for Herrington and her four fellow Jayhawks - Josh Nathan, Alex Backus, Travis Bronson and Sarah Tucker - studying in Hollywood. They were selected to be interns for the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, one of the largest such competitions in the nation, founded by noted playwright, filmmaker and 1987 KU grad Gordy Hoffman.
"My experience at KU encouraged me to pursue my personal passions and continues to inspire me to this day," says Hoffman, a founding member of the Lawrence-cum-Los Angeles networking organization for KU alumni known as Hollywood Hawks. "It's important to give back and help the kids believe in themselves. KU alums all want to help the students. Jayhawks are not just alumni, they are family."
This is the first year of the BlueCat internship, which entails reading script submissions and coordinating marketing for the competition. It lasts the entire spring semester. Virtually all of it is done by the students here in Lawrence via e-mail, but the centerpiece of the internship - the fun part - was the weeklong trip to Los Angeles from Jan. 3 to Jan. 10.
While the primary thrust of the trip was to help with the screenwriting competition, just as important was acclimating the potential film industry professionals with Los Angeles culture.
"It's funny that the activity that most sticks out in mind was not film-related," recalls Josh Nathan, Moundridge senior and BlueCat intern. "One morning we all got up at about 4 a.m. and drove to Malibu to see the dolphins and watch the sunrise on the beach. We ended up arriving about an hour before sunrise, so we got some coffee at a shop where we saw a grumpy Ray Liotta. I mention this because seeing him was the most film-oriented aspect of our morning beach trip. Anyway, after coffee we returned to the beach and saw a magnificent sunrise and were graced by the dolphins swimming about 200 yards off the shore."
The budding movie moguls were also exposed to that most Hollywood of pastimes: networking. Thanks to well-placed Hollywood Hawks who work on such hits as "The Office" and "Heroes," the interns had the opportunity to polish their hobnobbing skills.
"It was important to network with the Hollywood Hawks because they have established themselves in an industry that is all about connections," says intern Travis Bronson, Minnesota senior. "Ninety-nine percent of people in Hollywood want to be writers, directors or producers. The problem is 98 percent of those people work outside the industry, waiting to get in. But these Hollywood Hawks can get you in some rarefied doors. They know where we come from, they understand where we want to go, and the only thing they love more than Hollywood are Jayhawks."
Los Angeles, apparently, is overrun with Jayhawk sympathizers.
"We made a few friends thanks to our KU T-shirts, even got a few 'rock chalks' while walking around L.A.," says Alex Backus, senior and Lawrence native. "During the internship we drove around in a mini-van with a large Jayhawk magnet on the side door."
Tough act to follow
Building that bridge from Mount Oread to Mulholland Drive seems to be a success, at least according to this initial crop of interns.
"The L.A. portion of the BlueCat internship definitely influenced my desire to work in Hollywood," says Prairie Village senior Sarah Tucker. "More than anything it banished any preconceptions I had about the people in the business. It also just as importantly helped Hollywood seem a lot less intimidating. It managed to calm my fears and inspire me to work harder."
Hoffman also is pleased with the results.
"The inaugural year is already a Jayhawk legend," enthuses Hoffman. "Yes, they did see dolphins jumping from the Pacific Ocean, and, yes, they did have lunch with Steve Carell. Frankly, I don't think we can duplicate the experience. That's why the KU Department of Film and Media Studies intend to take a much larger group next year and build on the week we had this year.
"We need to introduce our film and television students at KU to the center of the industry. We need to support their goals and effectively assist them in taking their educations at the University of Kansas and applying them practically and, more importantly, doing what they want to do with their lives. Everyone should be given the chance to live their dreams."