As an undergraduate English major at Vanderbilt, Rich Hull never considered working in Hollywood. That changed the summer after graduation, when he left the archaeological dig that he was working on to escape the snow. He wound up in Yellowstone National Park, where he volunteered to work for a few theater producers in exchange for a free room. On the play’s opening night, the lead actor got hurt right before curtain. Hull, knowing all the lines, stepped in to save the day and took the stage, instantly falling in love with the entertainment business.
Since that moment, Hull’s resume reflects his success in the entertainment industry. Hull (‘92) is the Executive Chairman of Pongalo, a Latino streaming site, and a movie producer known for She’s All That, Get Over It and Daddy Day Camp.
While his heroic performance convinced Hull to make the move to L.A., he and Chad Gervich (‘96), screenwriter and producer for TV shows including Wipeout, Cupcake Wars and Dog With A Blog, decided to found the Vandy in Hollywood internship program. They wanted to ensure that other Vanderbilt students thinking about pursuing a career in Hollywood didn’t have to rely on coincidental encounters.
“What we decided to do was to create the bridge between Nashville and Hollywood that didn’t exist when we were in school,” Hull said. “I kind of wandered into the entertainment business, and once I was exposed to it, this lightbulb went off. I was like, ‘All my life makes sense!’”
The Vandy in Hollywood program places about 30 students into major studios, networks, talent agencies and production companies so students can begin networking, acquiring work experience and getting a taste for the industry.
While the media landscape is ever-changing with new types of digital media and viewing methods, it is also opening up new ways for emerging directors, producers and writers to turn their ideas into a reality.
“Some of the best stuff that’s being created right now is being created for television and the digital platforms,” Hull said. “I don’t know that I even watch that much regular TV anymore, but I watch House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale, and all these shows that are on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon. It’s opened up this whole new community of people that will write checks to produce your show.”
The steady demand for great content creates an opportunity for Hollywood hopefuls. However, having experience and preexisting contacts is another way to get one step closer to the red carpet. Two of the program’s success stories, Charlie Kesslering and Stacy Greenberg, relayed their advice for current students thinking about working in the entertainment industry.
After taking a screenwriting class on a whim his junior year, Kesslering decided that writing screenplays might be a viable career path. His Vandy in Hollywood internship placed him at Double Feature Films, a production company founded by Michael Stamberg and Stacey Sher, who produced Contagion, Pulp Fiction and other hit films.
“For that to be my first experience was a very valuable and exciting thing,” Kesslering said. “I got thrown into the deep end of the shark tank of Hollywood, and I learned a lot that summer and made the contacts I needed to get my foot in the door after graduation.”
His various assistantships over the course of six years brought him from Double Feature to the Creative Artists Agency—one of the bigger talent agencies in Hollywood—and finally to James Corden’s The Late Late Show, where he worked until he sold a screenplay for a sci-fi romantic comedy, Turned On, to 20th Century Fox last January.
Kesslering splits his time working long days and writing screenplays and TV pilots on nights and weekends, understanding the dedication and work ethic necessary to make it in such a competitive industry.
“You could say a lot of it’s coincidence, and a lot of it’s luck, which is probably true, but coincidence nor luck exist without working hard to put yourself in a position to capitalize on that luck,” Kesslering said.
Greenberg was a two-time Vandy in Hollywood intern during the earlier years of the program. For her first internship, she was placed with Gervich where she was a writer’s intern; the next year, she returned to the program as a intern at Reveille Productions. A contact from her Reveille days ended up connecting Greenberg with a job at Imagine Television, where she started working after graduation.
This past January, after six years of rising through the ranks at Imagine, Greenberg left the company to start Danny Strong Productions with Danny Strong, the Emmy-award winning Empire co-creator. Already, Danny Strong Productions has sold five TV show pilots, four for networks and one for cable, including a pilot for Infamy, a legal drama that’s already generating buzz.
Greenberg’s impressive rise from college graduate to production executive all started with her internships, which she encourages as a way to gain experience and try new things.
“Internships are incredibly important for a lot of reasons,” Greenberg said. “One of them is you meet people, but equally as important is that if you’re doing the internship of the job you want, you’re learning how to do the job by watching people and shadowing and doing assignments you might be doing if you’re working there full time.”
Whether you want to go into the creative side of Hollywood or not, there are still opportunities to work in the entertainment industry. Every company needs qualified professionals like lawyers, accountants and publicists. Despite the romance surrounding the stars, red carpet fashion and the novelty of movie releases, there is so much happening daily in nondescript office buildings.
“It’s easy to glamorize it and not really think about the guy spending 10 hours writing pages and eating ham sandwiches in a West Hollywood apartment,” Kesslering said.
That said, movies and TV shows are the stories that get us through our days, stories that are relatable, enjoyable or both. While streaming and digital content magnify the number of stories people consume on a daily basis, there will always be something special about going to the movies; there will always be a need for Hollywood hopefuls to pack up and move to L.A.