Semester in L.A. program goes on, virtually
Three days a week, senior Daniyal Kidwai works from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. remotely at his internship with L.A.-based Highland Film Group.
One of about 20 students in The Media School’s Semester in L.A. program this semester, he’s gaining hands-on experience and connections through an internship with a media company and classes taught by L.A.-based professionals — just like the program’s students do every semester.
But he’s completing the program from Dubai.
Like most IU classes, events and programs, The Media School’s Semester in L.A. program is virtual this semester due to coronavirus restrictions. Students accepted into the fall program were given the option to defer or participate virtually.
Instead of taking media classes inside Raleigh Studios, which is just right across the street from Paramount Pictures Studio, students log onto Zoom. They aren’t going into a film distribution, public relations or music production office to intern in-person. Instead, they’re attending virtual meetings and receiving their daily tasks through emails and phone calls.
Senior Maddie Haltom knew she wanted to secure a post-production internship out in L.A. Even after The Media School canceled the residential component of the fall program, Haltom still planned to live in a family friend’s home in Orange County.
But after discussing with several professors the impact of the coronavirus on L.A. media companies’ operations, she decided to stay in Cincinnati with family and complete a remote internship.
“Not a lot of things are being edited right now because not a lot of things are being made,” Haltom said.
So she secured a development internship with Mandalay Sports Media, a company that specializes in producing sports programming for various media platforms. She works with the company three days a week, from noon to 7 p.m., since the company is on Pacific Coast time.
Every Monday, Haltom attends a production meeting via Zoom.
“It is nice because two other people from Bloomington are interning there, so there are some friendly faces in the Zoom calls,” Haltom said.
Her internship duties include script coverage (reading a script, summarizing it and commenting on it) and logging video clips such as NBA games.
Kidwai’s internship tasks resemble Haltom’s. Highland Film Group is an independent worldwide sales, production and film financing company. As a creative intern, he mostly works on script coverage and attends weekly acquisition meetings where employees talk about new projects, developing projects, projects that are getting ready to go into production and budget financing.
These meetings are where students are encouraged to speak up.
“When there’s a barrier put between you and your supervisor of not being able to actually meet in person, I think that kind of ups those networking skills and makes them a little sharper,” said Isabel Shanahan, Semester in L.A. program manager. “You pick up on nuances through writing, video calls and phone calls.”
An international student who lives in Dubai, Kidwai was given the option to complete his internship tasks on local time. But he didn’t want to miss out on team meetings or work on projects while everyone else was asleep. So, three days a week, Kidwai interns from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. in Dubai, which is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. California time.
“For the first two weeks, I barely saw my family,” Kidwai said. “My nights and days are completely flipped.”
But the company’s virtual meetings provide an opportunity that Kiwai wouldn’t have experienced if his internship was in-person.
“You’ve got the CEOs, the CFOs, the marketing heads — you’ve got everyone in this one Zoom call. If I was in L.A., I wouldn’t be able to sit down as an intern and listen to what they’re saying and learn about new projects,” Kidwai said. “I feel like that’s something that none of us would have been able to experience if our internships weren’t virtual.”
In addition to their internships, Haltom and Kidwai are enrolled in the three required Semester in L.A. classes.
In New Media: Digital Technology in L.A., students discuss how technology has shaped the film and television industry over the years. The Media Industries and Cultural Production class invites media professionals to speak about their work.
“A lot of different people will be coming into the class,” Haltom said. “We will watch something of the speaker’s and then discuss it with them afterward.”
For the final class, students choose between Public Relations Campaigns and L.A. Production.
In L.A. Production, students usually work in teams to create their own short film. The project requirements have changed this semester to accommodate the virtual format.
“Professors are having students use what they have in terms of gear,” Shanahan said. “It will be heavily focused on storytelling and scriptwriting and not so much getting a large group together to shoot a film.”
Many of the aspects of Public Relations Campaigns are the same as usual. The students meet with clients virtually.
The courses are taught by adjunct instructors who have been with the L.A. program for years.
“Our faculty really cares about all of our students and having a relationship with them, so that’s a real high point of the program that can translate to virtual as well,” Shanahan said.
While remote work and learning presents new challenges, students said the experience has allowed them to learn about themselves.
“This whole experience has put a lot of things into perspective for me,” Haltom said. “Before COVID-19, L.A. was the definite thing I was going to do after graduation. Now, I’m keeping my options open because I was able to do production work over the summer in Cincinnati while most of the production work in L.A. was shut down.”
Applications for the summer and fall 2021 Semester in L.A. programs are due Oct. 30 and Jan. 22, respectively. Plans are being made to hold the programs in person, subject to change.