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Hollywood Connections

Hollywood is a town built on relationships, so making industry connections is important to launching a film or television career. In April, a dozen University of Dayton media production students got the opportunity to network with some of the nearly 800 University alumni in Los Angeles as part of the third annual “Flyers in Hollywood” program.

Flyers in Hollywood is a week-long career immersion trip that first stops in Las Vegas, where students attend the joint meeting of the Broadcast Education Association and National Association of Broadcasters and their career fair. Students then travel to Los Angeles, where they tour film and television studios, and attend a networking event and panel discussion with alumni who work in the entertainment industry.

This year, alumnus and studio executive Tom Mazza ’81 arranged a visit to the Jeopardy! game show set at Sony Pictures Studios. Television and film director Jonathan Judge ’93 gave students a VIP tour of the Paramount Pictures Studio, where they watched the taping of the Nickelodeon comedy series Knight Squad.

“When students get a chance to interact with our alumni, you see what the University of Dayton is at its heart, which is a nationwide community,” said Joe Valenzano, associate professor and Department of Communication chair. “This is a tremendous opportunity for students to ask probing questions about the industry, learn how to get a foot in the door in one of the most difficult industries in the country, and learn what it means to be a University of Dayton Flyer beyond graduation.” 

In keeping with past trips, several students landed interviews, internships or job offers. At the NAB career fair, May graduates Tom Cook and Cody Rose were both invited to attend the Media Sales Institute’s seven-day broadcast media sales program for graduating college seniors in Washington, D.C.

Matt Hilliard ’18 was offered a position by game show showrunner and executive producer John Quinn ’96, whom he met at the alumni networking event. Shortly after graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in communication, Hilliard traveled to Los Angeles to become a production assistant on the new Game Show Network program America Says.

“This opportunity would not have been possible without the trip and meeting John in person,” Hilliard said.

Quinn, whose credits include the Emmy-nominated Match Game and Celebrity Name Game, was one of three panelists at the alumni networking event. He was joined by Kevin Dembinsky ’99, a freelance writer-producer for Hashtag Parodies, and Erin Dooley ’00, writer-producer at D.A.S.H. Entertainment. They discussed their experiences and offered advice about getting started in Hollywood.

“There is nothing I would rather do than support the students coming out of Dayton, because I came out of Dayton and know how tough it is — especially when you come out to Hollywood,” Quinn said. “You’re thinking, ‘What is it going to be like? It’s scary.’ But it’s not that scary, because if you work hard — like you do when you come out of the University of Dayton — I feel like everything takes care of itself.”

Getting behind-the-scenes access to television production studios also was valuable for the students.

May graduate Molly Moesner enjoyed touring the Jeopardy! set with “Clue Crew” member Jimmy McGuire and promotions director Grant Loud. “Hearing what they had to say about how they got into the industry and just seeing how (the show) is made was awesome,” she said.

On the Knight Squad set, students watched the taping of a stunt sequence in which a character seemingly leaped over an attacking giant spider. Between takes, cast and crew members spoke with the students and demonstrated the wire work and puppetry used to achieve the stunt.

Judge, who has directed episodes of Knight Squad, School of Rock and CBS’s Life in Pieces, also toured the group through sound stages where classic films such as Rear Window and The Nutty Professor were filmed, as well as a 5-acre backlot site that recreates the streets of New York City and Chicago.

“One of the most exciting things for me is to see where these movies got made,” said Johnny Antonini, a May graduate and self-described film buff.

Judge, a three-time Emmy nominee who received the University’s 2017 Alumni Award for special achievement, sponsored the alumni networking event with his wife, costume designer Chris Field. Judge and Field visited campus in February to lead media production students in an intensive weekend filmmaking workshop. Together, the group produced the horror-comedy short, Sunday Scaries.

“I have been incredibly impressed by the students,” Judge said. “They rose to the challenge, we shot a great short film, and everyone that I have been introducing them to has been very impressed with their questions, with their demeanor. So, hopefully, there will be more Flyers in Hollywood in the next few years.”

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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