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And … Action! Newhouse Students Get a Taste of What It’s Like Developing a Hollywood Movie Script
Students in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications are getting a taste of what it’s like to take a script for a Hollywood movie from the development stage to the big screen.
A new immersive learning opportunity lets television, radio and film (TRF) program students pitch ideas about actors, directors and producers to senior executives in the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. The executives are also getting feedback on their scripts through virtual conversations with the students. This learning experience is all part of a capstone course this fall for TRF students interested in careers as executives in media, entertainment or the arts.
The collaboration is spearheaded by Erin Westerman ’04, president of production of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, and J. Christopher Hamilton, a TRF assistant professor. Conversations about the idea started when Westerman returned to her alma mater in May to deliver the keynote address at the Newhouse Convocation Ceremony for the 2023 graduating class.
“We wanted to offer Syracuse students real feedback to projects they are developing and workshopping,” Westerman said. “Access can lead to opportunity and this class offered real insight from executives who are working in the business.”
It’s the latest example of experiential learning opportunities that Newhouse has developed for Syracuse University students in the TRF executive track. Other experiences this semester included a class trip to the Toronto Film Festival to screen movies, learn from industry veterans and network with filmmakers, as well as Newhouse visits from Robert Halmi ’79, founder and chairman of Great Point Studios, and Joseph Cohen, president of American Entertainment Investors and author of “Investing in Movies: Strategies for Investors and Producers.”
Lionsgate Motion Picture executives Brady Fujikawa and Chelsea Kujawa, as well as department coordinator Alex Tannebaum, have also been instrumental in implementing the studio’s collaboration for the TRF executive track course.
“All of these experiences culminate with students interacting with Lionsgate executives to pitch scripts they have in active development,” Hamilton said.
“Students must identify the actors, directors and producers that they think would be the most compelling talent choices to transform their project or literary property into a greenlighted success story and present a compelling business and creative analysis for their project,” he added.
While pitching to studio executives might sound intimidating, senior Samantha Meir said the process was conversational, though preparation was key. The TRF major hopes to draw from the experience as she builds toward a career of working at a talent agency to represent television writers.
“The partnership has been really helpful for us to get a more present view (of the entertainment field) from current executives,” Meir said. “They’ve been able to give us a lot of valuable insight on where the industry is going.”
Mia Rodriguez, a TRF senior minoring in theater, said she appreciated the feedback that students received about realistically making cast pitches according to budget. The Lionsgate interaction, coupled with the trip to Toronto, also helped students focus on the business side of the industry and practice their networking skills, which will be important to hone as they enter the entertainment field.
“It was really nice to be able to take this kind of class, especially as someone who wants to enter the business side of the industry,” she said. Rodriguez, who wants to go into the music industry, is thinking about specializing in copyright law.
The foray into motion picture development with a major Hollywood studio comes on the heels of Newhouse offering students another immersive opportunity in the field of talent representation. United Talent Agency (UTA) and Newhouse launched a robust partnership for Hamilton’s artist representation training course in 2022, which includes in-person instruction from the company’s agents.
Students spent a day at UTA’s New York City headquarters in the Fall 2023 semester, learning from seasoned agents and executives representing clients in music, television and broadcast news. The students also spent part of the day pitching the agency on talent they’ve tracked and who they believe the company should represent, in addition to networking with Newhouse alums working at UTA.
In 2022, Newhouse also launched a partnership with Halmi’s Great Point Studios to offer internships for TRF students enrolled in the Newhouse NYC program. Lionsgate has also partnered with Great Point Studios on three production facilities in cities including Yonkers, Atlanta and Newark.