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A virtual Hollywood experience

The Hollywood Semester is usually an opportunity for students to spend time in “the City of Flowers and Sunshine” while taking Hollywood-centered classes and having a hands-on internship with professionals in their industry of choice.

Now, the Hollywood experience is being lived through a laptop from the students’ homes, wherever that may be. There are students participating in this fall’s Hollywood Semester from Illinois, Texas and Puerto Rico.

There are 15 colleges and universities involved in the Hollywood Semester program, and the program’s executive directors attend webinars hosted by the Los Angeles County Health Department. 

During a meeting in September, it was stated that Los Angeles County would not be open to any outside college students to study for the rest of this year and the spring semester.

According to B.J. Lawrence, associate dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, remaining online for the spring was a necessary protection for both students and faculty. She said the department has tried to make the experience as positive as possible

“It’s just unfortunate that they’re caught in this timespan of inactivity right now,” Lawrence said. “But, it’s most important that we keep them safe. I don’t want to send anyone out to Los Angeles and have them get sick.”

Students who are currently juniors or could afford to wait were given the option to continue with Hollywood Semester in the spring of 2021 or wait for the 2021-22 school year. Lawrence said many students have decided to wait and see if an in-person Hollywood Semester is in the future. 

The cost of this spring’s Hollywood Semester is the same as Bradley tuition, considering there are no travel, housing or textbook fees. Students can take 12-15 credit hours while working at their internship.

Krystal Scott, a senior television arts major, is currently enrolled in the remote Hollywood Semester this fall and using the experience as an opportunity to network with professionals in the entertainment industry.

Scott said she had been looking forward to the Hollywood Semester since freshman year.

One disadvantage of doing the Hollywood Semester remotely is that I don’t get the real Hollywood experience,” Scott said in an email interview. “I will say that my professors have made sure that we have gotten some type of Hollywood experience so far by welcoming guest speakers of different professions in Hollywood to give us an inside look on what it’s like working in Hollywood.”

According to Lawrence, companies like Disney, Sony, Pixar and Paramount are offering virtual internships.

“Face-to-face, in Los Angeles, the real Hollywood experience – that’s what they want, [and] we can’t give it to them. It’s not anyone’s fault; it’s the pandemic, and we have no control over that,” Lawrence said. 

She said that she has helped students find online internships by connecting them with professionals interested in working with Bradley students. In a virtual format, students are not limited to internships in the L.A. area.

“There’s nothing that says an animation student couldn’t work at Pixar in the San Francisco area; there’s no travel involved,” Lawrence said. “So, we’ll be doing a little more exploring of internship opportunities for our students.” 

Devan Wilbur, a senior television arts major, is going to participate in the virtual Hollywood Semester next spring. Since the spring will be Wilbur’s last semester at Bradley, she didn’t want to delay receiving her degree without a guarantee of an in-person Hollywood Semester. 

“I carefully planned my entire course schedule at Bradley around going out to Hollywood for my final semester before graduation, so it sort of feels like all of my hard work was for nothing since it isn’t happening how I planned,” Wilbur said in an email interview.

However, Wilbur said she understands that it is not safe for colleges to send students to California.

Wilbur is interested in working at a studio set and said that the virtual experience won’t compare to the actual work.

“I don’t get the opportunity to interact with all of the moving pieces around me, and I won’t get the sense of being out in the production capital of the world,” Wilbur said.

Doug Frank, the executive-in-residence of the Hollywood Semester and an instructor for Bradley in the music department, said the online format is better for the guests than the in-person classes because it is more convenient for Hollywood executives to appear on a Zoom call than in the classroom.

He added that the students are still meeting many professionals in the industry and having an interaction with the guests. Students will also be able to follow up with the guests if they have further questions after the Zoom call.

“Do I want to go back to the way it was? Yes, I do, because that would signal that there’s not a problem with the coronavirus anymore,” Frank said. “But, are we doing well and are we thriving under the current circumstances? Absolutely.”

Frank lives in L.A. and has already taught Bradley students online through Skype for several years. He said he now prefers teaching on Zoom because he can see all the students. 

He said the format allows him to think of different and additional material on the spot. He does not issue written tests to his students, but rather, has them do different projects or papers and formats the courses to be more engaging and interactive.

For instance, a producer was recently brought in as a guest speaker and shared his screen to show his horror film. He was able to pause and discuss certain scenes. These interactive elements of the courses being taught this fall will also be implemented in the spring. 

Frank wants people to know that the Hollywood Semester is “alive and well” and is still a worthwhile endeavor. Part of it is because the courses and opportunities are unique to the Hollywood Semester and are not offered during a regular semester at Bradley.

“What choice do you have? You have to adapt, you have to adjust,” Frank said. “You can’t just drop out of life. You gotta go with the flow and hopefully, we’ll be better for it.”


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