Students intern on set of Good Catholic

The Media School Report • March 14, 2016

Interns talk about their jobs in this video by sophomore Therin Showalter.

Story by Emma Grubman and Hannah Lavine

When producers of an independent movie chose Bloomington as their shooting location, Media School students jumped at the chance to intern on the set, to soak up the atmosphere of a real-world production and get some hands-on experience.

That eagerness resonated with producers, IU and Media School alumni who chose their alma mater’s home intentionally.

For about two weeks starting in January, Paul Shoulberg, MFA’07; John Armstrong, MFA’07; Zachary Spicer, BA’06; and Graham Sheldon, BA’09 brought big-name actors and pro crew to Bloomington to shoot The Good Catholic, the story of a priest who falls in love with a woman he meets in confession. The film stars Danny Glover and John McGinley, among other professional actors, and was shot on the streets of the city, in a local church, at several businesses and in a couple of private homes.

Sheldon said he had Bloomington in mind from the beginning.

“I constantly come back to Bloomington. I don’t know what it is, there’s some magic here that I can’t escape,” said Sheldon, one of the producers. He studied with several faculty members while here, including lecturer Susan Kelly.

Sheldon turned to Kelly for help. Considering his experiences as a budding student filmmaker, he knew students eager to gain experience would be the perfect assistants on the set.

“You can take classes, you can talk about the theory of making a film, you can even make videos in your classes, but there is nothing quite like actually being on a functioning film set,” Sheldon said.

Connor Sunday
Connor Sunday was one of about 40 students who interned on the set. The film was shot in several city locations, including Trinity Episcopal Church on Kirkwood Avenue. (Jill Moore | The Media School)

Kelly quickly put out the call to Media School students, and 100 applied for the 40 slots to work as production interns.

“The most exciting part of this whole thing is seeing my students get to go work on a real feature film and to have it shot in Bloomington,” Kelly said. “That’s the best part.”

Freshman Mia Siffin jumped on the opportunity right away. Growing up in Bloomington, she’d long heard about Breaking Away, a 1979 independent movie that was nominated for a best picture, actor, director and supporting actress Oscar and won for best screenplay. Siffin said she always knew she wanted to work in the industry.

As an intern with the film’s art department, Siffin’s duties consisted of working on sets and organizing spaces so that the light and camera crew could set up most efficiently. But she also shared jobs with all other interns, including security, cleaning and even grabbing the occasional coffee when needed.

“It’s a lot general stuff, but occasionally you get to do something really specialized, which is exciting,” Siffin said.

For example, on her first day, she helped turn a local woman’s home into a movie set by moving furniture and decorating. Later, she was working security, which meant keeping onlookers off the set, when one of the production people asked her what she was wearing under her winter coat.

“I took off my coat, and I had on a plaid shirt, and he said ‘That’s hipster! Come inside!’” Siffin said. “And I got to be in the movie as an extra in the coffee shop scene. They rushed me down to hair and makeup to make me look glamorous. Zach Spicer’s entrance was closest to my table, so in between shots he would sit down and talk to me. That was awesome.”

Being on the set fueled her passion for film and affirmed her desire to be a part of the film industry.

“When you’re younger, and you’ve never been around a film, you don’t know exactly what it would be like,” she said. “I now know what kind of people are here, what kind of jobs I’m doing, what kind of hours I’m working, the opportunities, the setbacks. It feels more real now.”

Senior Ciara Doll already had production experience, thanks to classes and internships, including a gig as a teaching assistant for professor of practice David Anspaugh, BS’70, an executive producer of The Good Catholic known for his work on two other Indiana-based films, Hoosiers and Rudy. Anspaugh told Doll about the intern opportunity.

“I jumped on it immediately, because I loved working with David last year and serving as his assistant, so I knew I wanted to do something similar to that here for The Good Catholic,” Doll said.

Doll’s duties ranged from assisting unit production managers and shadowing producers to serving as an extra. On her first day on set, Doll and the rest of the crew had two hours to change that local woman’s home back to its original arrangement.

“It was almost like I Spy, because they took pictures of the way her house looked before, and we had to match it to the way it looked afterward,” Doll said.

A movie set is not glamorous, she said, as everyone pitches in no matter what kind of work.

“Being able to have this experience, especially for some of our interns on this film who are only freshmen or sophomores, is incredible because they’re going to walk into an internship in two or three years and be able to say that they have worked on a set,” Doll said.

She said she’ll use that herself when she beings to look for work in pre-production or development in film or television.

“I know that will really help me when I go out into the industry this year,” she said. “Having that opportunity and that experience, and even the connection and the networking, is so important.”

Nick Heighway
Student interns such as Nick Heighway heard about the opportunity from Media School lecturer Susan Kelly, who said more than 100 students applied for about 40 slots. (Jill Moore | The Media School)

Seniors Brielle Drelick and Rebecca Banks worked on marketing and publicity for the film, putting local media in touch with producers and cast, and conducting social media blasts and other campaigns.

Drelick said she used her classroom training and other experience to create a publicity plan.

“We don’t just go to any random person and say ‘hey, cover the movie,’” said Drelick, who is focusing on public relations and advertising. “We’re saying, ‘You’re the entertainment writer for the Herald-Times. Not only do we have local people working on this film, most of them are IU grads. Would you be interested?’”

Banks did not have the public relations training but has worked in production and directing. Still, she was eager to try something new and partner with Drelick.

“We wanted to have this grassroots campaign where we were taking local businesses and local sponsors and networking with what we had,” Banks said. “We reached out to broadcast, TV and radio stations all over Indiana.”

Besides print and television, they devised a social media campaign using Instagram and Facebook. The two also organized a panel discussion, “In the Mind of a Hoosier Filmmaker,” featuring the four alumni and Dean Jim Shanahan as moderator. Banks had worked with IU Cinema before and pitched an idea to director John Vickers to give the community a chance to hear what the Hoosier filmmakers had to say. The discussion offered a Q&A with the audience.

Hear an interview with Graham Sheldon in this podcast by senior Morgan Burris.

Banks and Drelick took advantage of opportunities. While in the area, actor John McGinley became a fan of IU basketball and wanted to attend a game. Banks contacted IU Athletics, which gave him tickets, but then she contacted WTIU and asked to have the actor televised on the Jumbotron during the game, giving The Good Catholic a bit of attention.

With a background in production, Banks’ role in public relations and marketing gave her a different perspective on the film industry. She said she gained connections through this film and hopes to keep those contacts down the road.

“These are some seriously talented people, and the movie is going to get recognized, I know it in my gut,” she said. “Those are the people I want to be able to stay in contact with 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road, because they’re going to be the guys making Oscar films.”

Future Media School students may have similar opportunities to network. Graham Sheldon said The Good Catholic is the first of three films the producers plan on making together. The next will be filmed in Indiana in the summer of 2017, and in terms of the third one, “we’ll see where these two take us in everything,” he said.

“A lot of our other fellow IU alumni have confirmed that we’re going to be working together, and we’re going to be doing this for a while,” Sheldon said. “You can accomplish something this size, and you can go about it the right way with people you really love. We all really care about each other, and we want to see our careers go forward.”

Hear alumnus Sheldon Graham describe the movie and its Bloomington location in this video by sophomore Therin Showalter. 

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