Category Archives: Making It

Stunt performers compete with CGI for jobs

By Alicia Canales

 (Courtesy of)

Bridgett Riley believes humans cannot be entirely replaced in stunts. (Courtesy of Bridgett Riley)

It’s no surprise that the movie industry has evolved over the years. Silent films turned into surround-sound features. Digital replaced film. And with the increased use of special effects, computer generated images (CGI) are enhancing physical performances.

“Yeah, a lot of us are like, ‘Do we still have a job? Do we still have an industry?’” said Bridgett “Baby doll” Riley, a stunt woman with a 20-year stunt career. “But you can’t replace a human. You just can’t.”

Computer generated images are digital graphics that enhance a film production. They work alongside special effects in creating scenes that are otherwise nearly impossible to film. Some examples of CGI include having people look like they are flying or creating a large crowd by multiplying a few people.

Riley, a 39-year-old former five-time world kickboxing champion, said she notices the difference with CGI and it takes her out of the movie. She prefers organic stunts, like when she fought 18 men in a narrow prison cell for “Watchmen.”

However, she said special effects are like stuntmen’s “brothers” because both sides need trust involving timing and coordinated actions. She said an example is when stunt performers need to have faith that the people working with special effects will blow up the glass at exactly the right time the stunt performer “crashes” through so he or she is not hurt.

Hugh Aodh O’Brien, 48, has been in the stunt industry for 28 years. O’Brien, treasurer of the Stuntmen’s Association, said he specialized in motorcycles and car crashes at the beginning of his career. This includes a time where he rode a car on fire off a 180-foot pipe ramp jump for “In the Shadows.” He’s also been set on fire more than 130 times.

Now O’Brien works more with rigging and wire systems, either as a performer or stunt coordinator. O’Brien said he thinks computer generated images present an upside and a downside for the stunt industry, but it’s a matter of finding the balance.

Caption goes here. (Courtesy of)

Hugh Aodh O’Brien says computer generated images have pros and cons. (Courtesy of Hugh Aodh O’Brien)

“In some ways, the computer has made the stunt safer, because we can have more safety systems, we have more control over the body, and then erase those controls and safety systems in the computer to make it look more dangerous than it might really be,” O’Brien said.

The safety features with computer generated images can affect a stunt person’s salary. O’Brien said a stunt adjustment fee is taken into account on top of a base contract for stunt work. The fee is tied to factors such as skill level, danger to life and limb, amount of times and more. A stunt where technology reduces the risk means less money for the stunt person.

However, O’Brien said CGI can generate more work as well. What might once have been a single-shot stunt could take more days to film. For example, a stunt person used to jump off a 120 foot building one time. Now, one day may have the stunt actor jumping off a 20 foot building, with the camera crew shooting from a lower angle to make it look higher. Then the next day could be focused on shooting the landing. Computer generated images will make it look like the stunt person is still jumping off a 120-foot building. The stunt actor will be paid for those two days instead of a one-time shot.

Grant Jewett, 37, has been in the industry for 13 years in many productions such as “Revolution” and “The Dark Knight.” He said stunt performers have adapted to the increased use of visual effects instead of fighting it.

“We’re embracing and trying to partner with visual effects as a tool to do things that are sometimes impossible, or do things that are faster to do or easier on the budget,” Jewett said. “It’s not an us-versus-them kind of thing.”

O’Brien said the stunt industry is more competitive now because, in addition to more uses of CGI, audiences are more aware of the job and how fun it can be.

“There are very few people who dream of doing something as a kid and actually getting to do that job as an adult,” O’Brien said. “And the reality of the job is better than the imagined job was as a kid.”

For aspiring stunt performers, Riley said it’s good to make connections with people in the industry, as well as having a stunts, live theater or serious athletic background. Though it may seem obvious, Riley said it’s important to do a good job when filming.

“That’s the key because bad news travels quick, and it’s an unforgiving businesses,” Riley said. “You have to know what you’re doing.”

Jewett said he thinks learning from a mentor like he did is the best way to become a stunt person. He said contacting legitimate film workers and asking questions is a good way to learn about the business.

“You can get in other ways, but they tend to make a couple bucks and get chewed up and spit out,” Jewett said.

O’Brien advises having a specific skill set because most stunt performers are an ex-professional or current professional at something. He also said it’s important to realize stunts are not about just being beaten up.

Stunt performers must act well because they have a character to play before dying, usually. O’Brien also suggests learning the overall production process to understand the art of storytelling better.

“If all you can do is fall down, you’re going to have a limited career,” O’Brien said. “It’s learning about the entire process, not just stunts.”

Financial exploitation of child stars still a problem

By Daisy Prado

Children all over the United States are still engaging in child labor in the entertainment industry.

Laws protecting working children in the United States have been established and observed since the early 1900s, protecting children from terrible working conditions in factories, mines and other strenuous jobs. However, children are not protected from the terrible working conditions of being a child actor in the entertainment industry.

A Minor Consideration is a non-profit organization running only on donations that aides past, present and future child stars and helps them protect the earnings made during their careers.

Paul Petersen, a former child star on “The Donna Reed Show,” founded AMC in 1991. He said the organization helps about 300,000 youths a year.

“Children in entertainment, agriculture and sports are exempt from federal child labor laws. Add that up, and up to five and a half million children are not protected by the government,” Petersen said.

Financial exploitation is a major problem for child actors, he said.

“Around your 30s, you are no longer bringing in the big check and everyone dismisses you. Particularly professionals dismiss you; agents, producers, journalists and even your parents. Journalists who used to break an ankle to get over to your house to get a story 10 years earlier, don’t even return your phone calls now,” said Petersen.

In 2009, Petersen and celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit against Nadya Suleman, also known as “Octomom”, for allegedly “pimping out” her eight newborn babies. They wanted the court to appoint a third-party guardian to make sure that the children’s funds are protected from their mother’s clutches. The guardian would also make sure that the children have futures outside of their mother’s reality TV show.

“She was getting $40,000 per interview online, yet later she filed for bankruptcy,” said Petersen.

Reality shows such us “Kate Plus 8” or “Teen Mom” are said to exploit their children, making them work day and night on the “set.” Those children often never see any of the funds when they are older, Petersen said.

“There are 10 members of the family; 8 children and mom and dad. Mom and dad were paid handsomely. But the kids did not get paid. Eighty percent of the cast didn’t get paid! So where is their banking account? Where is their trust fund? Who is going to take care of these kids once they turn 18 and need to go to college? Because John and Kate, I promise you, spent every dime they made,” said Petersen

Discovery Communications reportedly made $200 million after six years of raising the Gosselin’s kids on reality TV, but no records show that the children will receive any of the profits.

“This means this is not their money; it’s their parents,” said Petersen about reality shows.

Marketing company helps new actors ‘get discovered’

By Kyle O’Donnell

Caption goes here.

Ian Michaels started Padded Envelopes, a company that disburses resumes and headshots for actors, in 2009. (Kyle O’Donnell)

While making it in Hollywood seems like the impossible dream, just getting an agent to respond to an email or a phone call can be a fairytale itself.

For aspiring actors, getting access to agents is a difficult and time-consuming process. That’s where one industry has emerged in Los Angeles – marketing companies that match potential talent with agents.

These marketing companies help actors to get headshots and resumes in the hands of agents.

Ian Michaels, an actor and filmmaker whose acting credits include “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “High Fidelity”, originally moved to Los Angeles in 2001 after graduating from Loyola University Chicago.

In 2009, he started Padded Envelopes, a company that sends headshots and resumes to agents and talent directors.

With classes and research for roles, actors do not have the time to put into mailing out headshots and contacting agents, Michaels said. Often the creative mindset of an actor does not matchup with the business mindset.

Kara Ortiz, owner of AMP Subs, originally moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and founded her company in 2010. She found success as an actor, but it only took up so many hours in the day, she said.

“I have been very successful as an actress and been very blessed,” she said. But Ortiz also wanted to help others find success.

“They don’t have to do everything on their own,” she said about the need to try to make business connections.

Michaels said that the goal for Padded Envelopes is to increase the exposure for an actor.

Most of the company’s clients eventual sign with an agent, he said.

Padded Envelopes sets its limit at 80 clients at a time, and the goal is to have constant turnover as actors sign with agents, Michaels said.

Most clients should be with Padded Envelopes for only three months before they’ve moved on to representation, he said. If a client is with Padded Envelopes for four months, that’s his clue that the company needs to figure out what’s not working in order to best serve the client.

The company’s services range from customized postcards for casting directors to headshots and resume services, according to Padded Envelopes’ website. Postcard services cost $115 to design, print and send 100 postcards, while basic resume service is $75 per month with an initial fee of $120.

Ortiz said that AMP Subs currently has about 200 clients, but it can take on as many as 300 aspiring actors.

AMP Subs charges $125 for the first month and $50 for each additional month, according to its website. A four-month commitment is $225 for the first four months and $150 for the next four months.

Michaels said that the industry is filled with rejection, and actors need to treat their craft like any day job. Success requires hard work.

“It’s like anything else, but tenfold,” Michaels said about acting.

Any sort of tool that can help an actor needs to be used.

“They need to take that opportunity,” he said.

Michaels admitted that some aspiring actors aren’t so realistic. If a prospective client wants a regular gig on a television show and representation by Creative Arts Agency within six months, Padded Envelopes will probably pass, he said.

Animation Academy trains young artists starting careers

By Lindsay Ivins

At Charles Zembillas’ Animation Academy, students learn the ins and outs of the business behind an animation career. (Lindsay Ivins)

The art of creating and bringing to life a new character, scene or backdrop is the job of an animation artist. But the success of these artists sometimes goes unknown when studios own the rights to their work.

At the Animation Academy in Burbank, Calif., students are being taught how to deal with the struggles of working for large studios and how to take ownership of the animations they produce, in addition to enhancing their artistic capabilities.

“Hollywood relies on animation artists,” said Charles Zembillas, founder of the Animation Academy. “But they are treated poorly. Artists need to stand up for themselves and embrace independence from studios; that is our future.”

With more than 20 years in the animation industry, Zembillas has created characters for video games and TV shows such as Spyro the dragon, Jak and Daxter and PlayStation’s mascot, Crash Bandicoot. With his experience working for studios, he imparts his knowledge on students to prepare them for jobs.

Zembillas started the Animation Academy in 1998 at the back of a small café. After teaching about 4,000 students, he opened up many career opportunities for his pupils, some of whom have gone on to work at Pixar with his teachings in mind.

One of his students, Chance Raspberry, now works as a character layout artist for “The Simpsons” after attending the academy from 2002 to 2004. In 2005, he was a character designer for Cartoon Network’s “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” and a sketch card artist for the “Family Guy” season two trading card series.

“When I was a baby, my parents started showing me all the cartoons from when they were kids like Max Fleischer, Looney Tunes and Tex Avery classics,” Raspberry said. “I was born drawing, and it was enhanced throughout my childhood through trips to the mall bookstore with my mom. I always found myself in the humor section looking at the comic strip collections of Bill Watterson and Jim Davis.”

Zembillas has taught about 4,000 students since opening his academy in 1998. Some alumni have gone on to work for the likes of Pixar. (Lindsay Ivins)

Part of Raspberry’s profession entails using the storyboard, script and voice dialogue tracks to create the scenes for “The Simpsons.” A director usually assigns him 15 to 30 scenes initially, adding more once the first are completed. He fine-tunes, fixes or creates key poses of animation before they send the animation to their studios overseas.

Zembillas created animations for Hallmark and Filmation, where he saw his work regulated by the companies, limiting his creativity. When creating cartoons such as “She-Ra Princess of Power,” “Bravestarr” and other Saturday morning shows, he discovered the power toy companies had over his cartoons and was forced to market them in certain ways.

“Artists need to have more creative control,” Zembillas said. “How do you expect viewers to be inspired and motivated if the artists behind the animations aren’t?”

Zembillas now describes himself as an underground activist, aiding other animation groups in reforming the business. In the late 1980s, he wrote letters and provided other activist groups with material as proof of the dysfunction in the animation industry.

This assistance led to the passage of the Children’s Television Act of 1990, which “increased the amount of educational and informational programming for children available on television,” according to the Federal Communications Commission website.

Zembillas believes animators are entering a second golden age because of the new opportunities to show animations on different platforms. (Lindsay Ivins)

The Animation Academy strives to get its students paid jobs and internships. As Zembillas has seen in the past, he said studios have taken advantage of students for thousands of dollars of work and fail to get the students noticed by larger industries, sometimes by refusing to pay them or give them credit for their work.

He said simple cartoons can run up to $10,000 per minute to create, and the students miss out on valuable opportunities when they are asked to do the animations for free.

Raspberry said he has encountered a few negative experiences in studios, like people trying to get out of paying him or getting him to work for free or credit, but has turned these instances into positive memories that he continues to learn from.

“Charles was the first teacher or person to ever touch on the extreme importance of being independent as an artist,” Raspberry said. “You don’t have to rely on your job or job availability in the studios. He always stressed the power of Youtube, Blogger and Deviant Art and the importance of creating an online presence and independent economy for yourself as an artist.”

Zembillas believes animation artists are entering the beginning of a second golden age with the creation of new platforms to expose new artists’ work and gain them notoriety. Kickstarter is at the forefront of his mind when getting students exposure; this website allows anyone to participate in “crowdfunding” where projects are proposed and gain funds from people who support the idea. Another site similar to this is Indiegogo, which Zembillas has been using frequently.

“We are not just teaching students how to draw, we are teaching them how to find their own way into the business,” Zembillas said. “We show them how to build a fan base and become an independent entrepreneur. Students have hope and self-respect when they come here. They come here for therapy.”

Raspberry was recently able to fund a long-time project of his on Kickstarter called “Little Billy: The Ultimate 1980s Nostalgia Cartoon,” the first animated series ever for kids with special needs. He was able to promote his campaign through his personal newsletter mailing list, Youtube, blogs, Facebook and Twitter and exceeded his $30,000 goal by more than $1,000 in 30 days. He now has the initial funding to start production of the pilot episode.

“Crowdfunding is the closing argument of the ‘do-it-yourself independent artist’ approach to the industry today,” Raspberry said.

Zembillas hopes to get back into the industry after he grows the Animation Academy to include new projects, upgraded equipment, online classes and a larger staff.

“I’m not just managing a business,” Zembillas said. “I’m creating through my students.”

For Phoenix resident, road to stardom a long commute

By Aaron Rop

Caption goes here.

Victoria Paege is saving up to move to Los Angeles. In the meantime, she is pursuing an acting career from Phoenix. (Courtesy of Victoria Paege)

Twenty-eight year old Victoria Paege is an actress living in Phoenix, but for her, living in Los Angeles isn’t the dream like it is for most in the film industry. It is just a destination in the dream she is already living and loving.

Paege was raised in Ohio by her mom and grandparents, eventually moving to Phoenix in junior high. Monetary challenges keep her from moving to L.A.

“It’s very expensive. It’s necessary, so I’m saving up for it,” she said. “But as of now, I’m fortunate enough to have friends in L.A., so I always have a place to stay. It’s only a six-hour drive so it’s not too incredibly inconvenient.”

Her most recent project was as a supporting actress in “Salvation,” and she has been involved in the movie “Piranha 3-D” and starred in an episode of the TV show “My Boys.”

Fortunately for Paege, most of the productions she’s been involved in that were L.A.-based were filmed outside the city, even in Arizona.

When she does travel to L.A., she said it’s not always a good experience.

“I drove from Phoenix to L.A. but didn’t leave until about midnight. I hit about six hours of traffic congestion so didn’t make my audition. That was definitely my worst experience,” she said. “The traffic in L.A. drives me crazy.  You have to be two hours early to everything or you’ll be late.”

Paege said that on the projects she has worked on so far, she was paid per day, with the studio providing  transportation to the set every day, and lodging during filming.  But monetary compensation isn’t what draws her to acting; it’s about the experience with people.

“I grew up watching TV. As much as I was outside playing, which was a lot in my small town, I seem to have watched just as much TV. SNL was my favorite. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap, watching Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Steve Martin, all the greats. I never missed an episode in high school. I fell in love with the idea that someone just starting out could land an amazing platform like SNL and entertain millions. I used to put on little puppet shows for my younger cousins to make them laugh and laugh. I loved being able to make them that happy. It’s also an incredible feeling being able to bring forth a character and live in their world,” she said.

Paege has been involved in films and shows including “Salvation,” “Piranha 3-D” and “My Boys,” often commuting to LA. (Courtesy of Victoria Paege)

One of the disadvantages of not living in L.A., Paege said, is the inability to network and attend red carpet events or be involved in local projects that happen on very short notice.

Paege has found ways to promote herself, including through her IMDb page (Internet Movie Database), multiple profiles on multiple social media platforms and by writing articles and conducted interviews for the website

It takes more than the Internet to get your name out there in the film industry though, so Paege said she takes special interest in promoting herself by attending comic conventions, modeling in fashion shows, making appearances at comic book shops, and cosplaying, which is when an actor wears a costume or accessories to represent a character from fiction.

For her, comic conventions are a great opportunity to network because they have become more and more focused on movies. In 2010 Paege was the spokesperson for the Phoenix Comic Con and was interviewing celebrities John Schneider, Felicia Day, Daniel Logan, and Wil Wheaton. She also met Mark Millar, writer for Marvel and the movie “Kick-Ass”, who she still keeps in touch with and interviewed for

Paege believes in being versatile to be a successful actress and attends acting school to improve her skills.

“I belong to an acting studio in Burbank, and they host various different classes led by casting directors.  I got to be a part of an acting course led by Jason Alexander.  It was an incredible experience. I believe that it’s important to go to classes, read books on the matter and to practice as much as possible.  I am constantly learning new things.  I love that about acting.  It’s hard, it’s a challenge.  It’s something that you need to put time and work into,” she said.

While on set for “Piranha 3D,” special effects consultant Donnie Dean got to know Paege. Dean has worked on special effects for the movies “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “The Book of Eli,” as well as television shows “Duck Dynasty” and “Deadliest Warrior” among many others.

Dean said he met Paege for the first time when she was working at Verizon Wireless and she helped him with a newly purchased phone he was having problems with.

After seeing her on set during “Piranha 3D,” Dean recommended her for “Salvation.”

“She is a successful person who has the talent to act. I feel what makes her a successful person is the strength to pursue a passion where most people would not. It takes real determination and faith in yourself to risk everything on a venture. Acting is an even riskier venture than most,” he said.

Dean is successful in his own right, having been mentored by special effects consultant Matt Kutcher who is working on the upcoming “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” sequel to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Dean is ranked as one of the top in his field on

“I have always loved the escape from reality that films provide. For me it feels great at the end of the day to have contributed to the creation of a film for others to enjoy. Special effects, to me, are the action of the movie, those ‘trailer moments’ that people always ooh and ah over,” he said.

Dean believes that L.A. has hindered its grasp on the film industry because it is now less expensive to go to other places where there are more resources for less money.

“Where you live isn’t as important as the flexibility to go where the work is,” Dean said. “I think the key to being successful is to never, ever give up and always do every job as if you are being paid millions. If a person has true passion for their life and what they do, it shows in everything.”

Finding income a challenge for L.A. dancers

By Aja Hood

Dancers and dance studios in Los Angeles find multiple income streams to pay the bills.

L.A. is a place where there is great demand for dancers in music videos, commercials and movies. This invites fierce competition. Natasha Vogt of International Dance Academy in Los Angeles said that making her studio unique and using different sources of income helps keep the business running.

“We have two sides to the company, one that’s commercial with open classes,” Vogt said. “Then we also have the three-month certificate program. It’s academic. It has midterm and final exams.”

IDA also stands out from the competition being one of the only dance studios located on Hollywood Boulevard in the center of L.A. This location alone has made it the ideal studio rental space for popular dance shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“We do studio rentals. That’s been a big money-maker for us,” Vogt said. “Because of our location I would say we’ve gotten more television shows claiming IDA as the home of their TV show than probably any other studio.”

IDA has been the home of every single season of “America’s Best Dance Crew,” multiple seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars” and a variety of reality shows.

The competition among dancers also forces those seeking work to find other forms of income while waiting for their big break. Dancer Tricia Fierro has been a character dancer for Disneyland theme park and is currently a dancer for Universal Studios.

“If you don’t have a back-up job, it’s going to be a very big struggle,” she said.

In addition to working as a character dancer for Universal Studios, Fierro works at a juice bar and as a house manager for a theater in Orange County. The United States department of labor estimated the average hourly wage for a dancer to be $11.82, as of May 2011. Dancers often obtain certifications and teach dance classes as a way to supplement their income. Fierro is working on a dance certification with IDA.

“Until you’re really noticed and you have that one big name on your resume, it’s hard to break through,” said Fierro. “I’m still working on that.”

According to the Small Business Administration, more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first five years. Dance studios are not exempt from the trend. Offering a variety of options for students and creating a welcoming atmosphere has helped IDA make the cut.

“Our first two years our classes had maybe four or five people in them. Then fast forward to today where we have classes with 50 students on a weekly basis,” Vogt said.

One thing that draws students is the skill and popularity of the teachers. IDA boasts faculty such as Dejan Tubic, who has traveled around the world through dance and has choreographed for big names such as Soulja Boy. IDA pays their instructors by attendance instead of an hourly rate, which encourages instructors to provide a great class and advertise to boost numbers.

While hip-hop has ruled the dance scene for quite some time in the heart of the U.S. entertainment scene, Vogt said contemporary dance is gaining steam. Series like “So You Think You Can Dance” have showcased the beauty and grace of contemporary dance. This increased its popularity and the demand for both instructors and dancers in Los Angeles, she said.

This sets L.A. apart from the dance needs in New York, where technical training and ballet are in greatest demand for Broadway musicals and local theaters.

American Film Institute trains L.A.’s future movie stars

By DiAngelea Millar

It’s tough to make it in Hollywood in front of or behind the camera. That’s where film schools come in.

Southern California is home to many universities and colleges, and a few in Los Angeles offer top-notch programs in cinematic arts.

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the American Film Institute No.1 on its “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. AFI started in 1969 and has five disciplines: cinematography, directing, editing, producing and production design and screenwriting.

“The idea is to train the next generation of storytellers,” said Joe Petricca, executive vice dean of the conservatory.

AFI’s fellows produce about 150 short films a year. Fellows also show their projects during the thesis showcase.

AFI has an internship coordinator who helps fellows get internships with specific companies or within the discipline they are most interested.

A new career office also helps connect fellows to employers and is available to fellows up to 18 months after graduation.

A lot of companies call his school knowing that AFI has a fellow that can do the job, Petricca said. Past graduates include Jonathan Levine, who directed the recently released “Warm Bodies,” and cinematographer on “The Dark Knight Rises,” Wally Pfister.

“They’re looking for a mix of professional craft,” he added. “More graduates are finding that initial job sooner after graduation.”

Petricca credits the success of graduates to AFI’s program that allows fellows to explore their own voice. The school is located in the heart of Hollywood, which also allows fellows easier access to companies in the industry.

AFI has a relationship with Sony that provides the institute with new equipment regularly. Fellows have access to the newest equipment, which helps prepare them for a job.

Many people leave AFI and work with a team they met during schooling, Petricca said. Film school can help people get into the industry if they work hard, but there’s no guarantee, he added.

“Some people take years to make it or quit,” he said. “Film school can help you jump out of some of the places that you can get stuck.”

The University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program is ranked No. 2 on the Hollywood Reporter’s “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. The college’s notable alumni include Jon Landau, who produced “Titanic” and “Avatar,” and Judd Apatow, who produced “Bridesmaids.”

USC’s cinematic art’s program started with film production and introduced more programs over the years as the industry changes. The newest program is digital media, which focuses on the newest technology and online trends in the film industry.

The program offers several degrees for both undergraduates and graduate students including disciplines in animation, writing and p

Online channels and visual effects have become big tools in the industry, said Associate Dean Brian Harke. There’s a shift in Hollywood that has people dabbling in all different areas in film, he said.

“We no longer solely teach students to work in a studio setting,” Harke said. “We are now a cross-platform school.”

That’s the benefit of going to film school, he added. Students take classes across all disciplines so they understand how everything works. Without an education, you would start at the bottom, Harke said.

Everything in the industry is becoming more interactive and visual, which creates a great opportunity for students, he said. The next big thing will be streaming on wire-free platforms. He believes fewer people will be watching televisions and will instead watch everything on their laptops and phones.

The college also has a partnership with Sony that provides them with the newest technology.

“Professionals expect our students to understand the business and be assets to their company,” Harke said.

Not all graduates go into the industry, he added. Some use their USC education to go to law school or open up businesses. A liberal arts degree, such as USC’s, makes you more marketable, he said.

“An education is valuable no matter what you’re going to do,” Harke said. “A liberal arts education gives them (students) what they’re going to create. The education opens their eyes.”

Acting academy aims to create community among students

By Xi Chen

Los Angeles is a place that can chew you up and spit you out.

Statistics show that there are 50,000 new people who move to L.A. every year and about the same number who leave.

There are as many who come to pursue their dreams as those who give up and move on.

Lifebook is a place that makes things easier. It is more than simply an acting school. It is a community of artists working together to try to achieve their dreams Many students go on to produce and star in films with their fellow students.

There are actors, musicians, comics, writers, directors, producers and more. Lifebook’s community has artists of all backgrounds, experience levels, from multiple fields, all working together.

The founder of Lifebook, Allen Levin started the school in a room that he rent for $300 a month. Then he recruited more than 60 students in two months and now the school has two locations in L.A. and a third is opening in May 2013.

“I never have to borrow any money. It was an experiment. I just thought it would work and it did, partially because my students start to get big professional jobs,” Levin said.

Levin said that many students have helped other students get auditions, and Lifebook artists often book professional work on the same project together.

This community of artists stands powerful in an industry where it’s almost impossible to succeed alone.

Levin doesn’t have any employees. He provides scholarships for students and those students work for him in the school.
“Some of the students are on full scholarships here because they work for the school. It’s a trade. So I don’t need employees,” he said.

“With a lot of my students, say they have a lot of talent but they don’t believe in themselves, so a lot of times they’ll come to me and study for four weeks and quit. And it’s a real shame. If they would continue to be trained and trust the process they could have their dreams, but many of them won’t,” Levin said.

When asked about how many students become real actors after the training, he said, “I would say that every single one of them who don’t quit.”

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Tanissia Sprull is a dreamer. Born in a small town in South Carolina, Sprull can’t imagine her life there as a waitress. She said she knew that she was too good for that. She moved to Santa Barbara for college at the age of 18.

“Back when I was 18, I thought I could do photography school and do acting at the same time because L.A. is like an hour and a half drive,” said Sprull, who ended up choosing acting over photography after graduation.
Just like many other young people, Sprull came to L.A. to become an actor. However, what she found was that she needed to have a job to live.

“I once got stuck just working to pay my bills and that’s it and not pursuing acting at all,” Sprull said.

Sprull said it is hard because sometimes you don’t have any direction.

“Since finding Lifebook, I’ve been able to find a better balance,” she said. And if she had found Lifebook earlier, she could be far beyond where she is right now, she said.

Regardless of the hardships, when asked whether she has ever thought about quitting, Sprull’s answer is, “Never.”

“Some people are like, you’ve been here for 10 years or whatever, you haven’t made it yet, but what is made it? To you it might mean one thing, to me it might mean another thing,” she said.

Everyone’s journey isn’t the same, she said. It takes time to be good at something. “You don’t get out of medical school and become the best doctor in the world,” Sprull said. “It can happen, I guess, but it takes experience.”

Sprull recalled that the hardest thing she has ever gone through is being homeless.

“I’ve been homeless for two and a half months,” she said.

She slept on the beach, in the stores, sometimes she would crash people’s couch when she could, and she has even slept up on the mountains.

“It’s the craziest thing you’ll do, when you want something so bad.” And going back to South Carolina is not an option for her, Sprull said.

“What am I going to do? Waitressing at a Waffle House?” she said.

“There is nothing I’d rather do in my life than being an actor; that’s the road I have to take,” Sprull said.

She said that she keeps her sights on the future, not what’s happening right now.

“Now, things could be really bad, really bad. Like, where am I going to sleep, what am I going to eat?”

But Sprull believes that as long as she can keep performing, learning new things, that makes it worth everything.

The youngest student in Lifebook is 18 and the oldest is in his late 70s, according to Sprull.

“Bob, for example, he’s spent his whole life being a lawyer,” she said. Then one day he said, “You know what, I want to be an actor.”

Sprull used the word “amazing” over and over to describe Bob. “He’s got all the talent stored up in his whole life and now he’s got his own agent.”

Living your dreams.

Sprull’s dream is coming true. A couple of days ago she got into an audition for a commercial and was selected by the show 30/60, which is a student-run showcase produced by Levin.
“He invites all the producers, directors and agents to our show and many students get booked after the show,” she said.

Sprull said she is really excited about the show, and her future.

As Levin always says, nobody can play the role of you better than you.

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” he said.

Los Angeles filled with challenges for aspiring writers

By Chad Garland

Hollywood is full of stories. Film, television, comics and music all rely on stories for content in some fashion. But it’s also a city full of stories about how content is created.

You might have heard the story about the writer whose mother’s next-door-neighbor’s hairdresser’s husband got him an agent, and now he’s writing for a hit show.

“Everyone’s going to have a different story,” Amanda Pendolino said. “You could do what person ‘A’ did that was successful and then it wouldn’t work for you, or you could not do it and then you’d be successful without doing it.”

Pendolino is an aspiring screenwriter for film and television who created The Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriter Blog shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 2007. Even if they can write from anywhere, she said aspiring writers should come to L.A. because it’s a place where writers can get industry jobs, typically as assistants at either an agency or on set with a film or television production, and make connections in the business.

“Work your way up and eventually, the idea is, you’ll have someone to send your stuff to,” she said. “Agents and producers don’t accept unsolicited scripts.”

Los Angeles can be an expensive place to live, and film and television writing jobs can be tough gigs to land. Some people don’t like the uncertainty of not having a set path to a writing career, Pendolino said, and it can be frustrating for them to imagine spending five years working at something without getting any closer to success.

Yanique Sappleton graduated from California State University, Northridge with a degree in screenwriting in December 2012.

“I had a professor tell us that if there’s anything else we can do, we should do it,” she said.

But Sappleton can’t imagine doing anything other than writing for film and television, she said. She’s has been working on two unpaid internships—one with a talent agency and one with a casting website—since late January. She also volunteers for The Scriptwriters Network, a nonprofit created by writers to provide educational programs and improve opportunities for aspiring writers.

For the moment, Sappleton is living with family, but she hopes that one of her internships will lead to a full-time job. But, even if it does, that doesn’t mean she could afford to live on her own.

An apartment in a decent area of town would be $1,000, Sappleton said, and there are the other expenses such as car insurance, gas and parking (nobody walks in L.A.), not to mention food.

In 2012, Los Angeles ranked as the ninth worst city for renters, and nearby Santa Ana ranked 10th, according to Forbes magazine. The median rent in Los Angeles is nearly $2,300 per month, with half the rents above that mark and half below, compared to the U.S. median that’s under $1,300, according to real estate website

Rent for about 40 percent of efficiency apartments in Los Angeles County falls at or below $911 per month, according to the 2013 Fair Market Rent data published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For a two-bedroom apartment, that figure is $1,421 per month, ranking the county among the 10 most expensive in the state, along with neighboring Orange to the south and Ventura to the north.

Pendolino estimated that, even splitting an apartment with a roommate, people coming to Los Angeles should expect to pay at least $1,000 for monthly rent.

“If you’re willing to live out in some suburb, it really wouldn’t be that bad,” Pendolino said. “I prefer to live here (in Hollywood) because I’m in the middle of everything, but you could go rent a place out in the suburbs for $500.”

Adam Wilson came to Los Angeles from Edmonton, Canada for an academic conference in March, and decided to stay and apply for a visa so he can try working his way into a TV writing career.

Even though the cost of living isn’t any lower in Los Angeles, than it is in Edmonton, the city has advantages over home that make it worth it for Wilson.

“I paid $800 a month for a studio apartment in Edmonton, and it’s cold nine months of the year,” he said. “I feel like you can work a menial job for 35 hours a week, pay your rent and go to free comedy shows, go to the beach. There’s enough else going on that it’s worth being here—you’ve got to look at a [writing] career out here as a bonus to living here.”

Wilson is willing to work at coffee shops and bookstores to pay the bills as he did for several years in Canada, he said, but he may not have to after submitting a spec script for ABC’s Modern Family to a contact at Disney.

Wilson’s path to Los Angeles is one of those unlikely Hollywood stories. While completing a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Alberta, he began to develop a reputation not only as a “serious writer,” as he puts it, studying under a Nobel laureate, but also as a humorist for his posts on Twitter.

Through his comedy on the social media platform, Wilson caught the attention of TV writers who invited him to visit them in L.A., where he visited the shows they worked on, such as The Simpsons.

“Just being slightly associated, just hanging out and having those guys be like, ‘You’re cool enough to actually come and watch what we do,’ last year I had a grand tour of Family Guy,” Wilson said. “This year I got to meet with people at Nickelodeon, I got a big tour of Disney TV Animation. I also got to give them a spec script.”

This latest visit to L.A. was his third after making connections with successful writers on social media. When changing his return flight home was going to be more expensive than canceling and rebooking later, he made plans to stay—permanently if his visa gets approved. His friends from social media have been helping him out by letting him crash on their couches or paying for a night in a hotel.

Even though Twitter gave him a direct channel to communicate with the Hollywood writing community from far away, Wilson said he still has work to do now that he’s in L.A.

“I still have to do it the old-fashioned way, but I have connections that would’ve taken years to develop otherwise,” Wilson said. “I still have other issues, like I still have to get a visa and I still have to get a job… My life might not be any different, except it’s here and I’m working toward something.”

Pendolino made her way in Los Angeles a more conventional way, working her way up from the mailroom at a talent agency where people made as little as $350 a week to a coveted job “on a desk,” the industry lingo for working as an agent’s assistant.. But there are many types of assistants in Hollywood and the pay can range widely, Pendolino said.

Some assistants make $500 to $600 a week on average, she said, but that can range from as low as $400 to as much as $800, with some salaried studio assistants making around $50,000 a year.

For aspiring writers coming to Hollywood, Pendolino recommends having at least enough saved up to cover a month of expenses while looking for an industry job—she said getting such jobs from outside Hollywood could be difficult. It also helps to have help from family, if possible, she said.

Andrea Zevallos is an aspiring screenwriter who grew up in Burbank, a suburb of Los Angeles where Warner Brothers Studios and NBC Universal are located. She moved back to live with her parents after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 2011.

It took her about three months to find a job as an assistant at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she now helps with a directing workshop for women, but she can’t yet afford to live on her own. She expects to work a “nine-to-five job” until she lands a paid writing job, she said.

“All of my writer friends work day jobs and then go home at night and write,” Zevallos said.

She said she usually writes for three hours a night, working on her first script.

While the benefit that makes living in L.A. worth the expense is developing connections working on sets, in agencies or, like Wilson, on Twitter, writers still need to find time and energy to write.

“A lot of people have one of two problems,” Pendolino said. “Either you’ve written a lot of amazing scripts and you have no one to send them to, or you spend all your time networking and have these amazing contacts, but no scripts to send.”

It took Pendolino about five years to land her first paid writing job, she said, making connections and demonstrating her writing ability as she worked at the talent agency, then branching out on her own doing freelance writing work and doing “coverage” for a production company.

Coverage involves reading script submissions and providing feedback to a production company, but it’s not a job that’s easy to land without connections in the industry, Pendolino said. Companies are also paying less for coverage now, she said, because there are more readers than there are coverage jobs available.

“A writer/director that I’ve worked with used to be a reader in the ’90s and made the exact amount of money that readers get paid now,” Pendolino said. “So that’s not really a business that you’d want to be getting into, to be honest.”

Overall, Pendolino said it’s harder now to get started as a writer than it was when she started in 2007, due to the downtown in the U.S. economy.

“What’s ironic is, I don’t really remember the financial crisis at all,” she said. “I remember thinking like, ‘I don’t have any money anyway, how has this changed?’ ”

University of Rock aims to make music lessons cool

By Brandon Brown

Jon Kim, CEO and founder of Los Angeles-based University of Rock, is really excited about the new boxes he is going to start using to ship materials to his customers.

“It’s going to look like a little guitar case,” Kim said, “You’ll open it up and you’ll have everything you need to rock.”

Shipping materials might seem a bit unimportant, but Kim sees every business decision he makes as a chance to enhance the University of Rock brand. Right now Kim is working on getting the miniature-sized cardboard cases ready for his new customers. He will not move on to the next step until they are in the mail. That is how Kim has built his business one step at a time.

University of Rock started in 2009 when Kim moved to Los Angeles to attend the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He wanted to teach guitar lessons to get himself through school. He was making smoothies and going to class during the day and hiking to his lessons in the Hollywood Hills at night with his guitar.

Growing up, Kim tried taking lessons from multiple instructors at his local music shop but he said that playing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” did not really connect with him. University of Rock’s curriculum is based on teaching students music theory and correct form through songs the students want to learn.

In the winter of 2011 he decided to do University of Rock full-time and really try to make it work.

“I never raised money for this business,” Kim said, “I have never had any investors and no partners even.”

Instead of doing the normal things a start-up business would do, Kim said he just worked on a curriculum he thought would work best with his students and tried to present it in a way that was easy for them to understand.

He did not advertise University of Rock by traditional means. He would ask the parents of his students to refer him to others who might be interested, and when he got too many students to handle he started hiring other instructors under the University of Rock name.

Today Kim has 22 teachers working for him in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, Phoenix and Denver. Kim will find instructors in guitar programs at colleges and universities.

Kim’s teachers are all in their mid-20s. He wants to have young, hip instructors that teenagers can relate and look up to.

“I don’t hire based on talent, I hire based on personality,” Kim said, “No one cares how good you are, people care what you can do for them.”

Simon Nagel is a University of Rock instructor who has been working with Kim since 2010. He said he enjoys it and he thinks his students like it, too.

“I’ve had some if the same students from the time I started til now,” Nagel said.

With his jeans jacket, punk rock t-shirt, multiple piercings and bowler hat, Nagel has the young rock star look that Kim looks for in his instructors.

“I think my look appeals to people,” Nagel said. He said his style is very rock and roll, which helps when parents are hiring someone to teach their kids how to play rock and roll songs. Nagel plays in multiple bands in the Los Angeles area. He said he invites his students to his shows and that gets them more excited to play.

Nagel said he enjoys teaching for University of Rock, not just because he makes close to $40 a hour, but he gets to play songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin with his students.

Kim said he looks over resumes and then will do an interview via Skype when he needs to hire an instructor. If that goes well, he will put the new teacher through the University of Rock training.

“The training to bring on a University of Rock instructor is very rigorous,” Kim said.

He produced a series of training videos on YouTube and the rest of the training is in PDF form documents and handouts.

Kim’s training is not the only thing that University of Rock does online. Deal-of-the-day websites have been very successful for Kim.

“We quadrupled our revenue last year by using Living Social,” Kim said. “Living Social was working out so well in 2012 I didn’t feel I had to do any other type of advertising.”

Kim said that he will continue to use sites such as Living Social and Groupon to get the word out on University of Rock. Recently Kim signed a nationwide deal with Groupon for guitar lessons over Skype.

“We are open worldwide to do Skype lessons,” Kim said. “We are going to market that really hard this next year.”

Kim said that his use of the Internet has helped grow University of Rock, he also thinks his location in Southern California has been beneficial.

“Being based in L.A. has helped. It comes down to branding and perceived image,” Kim said.

He said he tries to make his company looks a big as possible without lying.

“I tell people our corporate headquarters are based out of Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world,” Kim said. “People hear that and think it is a big thing. No one knew I was in my tiny little apartment in Hollywood, dirt broke, trying to run this company.”

Kim is always concerned about the company’s image. He always is trying to make it look better and more recognizable.

He has started a clothing line based on University of Rock. He gives lectures on entrepreneurship and his fast success with University of Rock. He is now looking into making a series of YouTube videos to spread the University of Rock name.

Kim’s ability to take University of Rock in whatever direction he wants goes back to one of the very first decisions he made when forming the company and decided not to have any business partners.

“The advantage of doing it on your own is you get full control of your business,” Kim said.