Purdue’s film and video studies program provides students with technical knowhow that is essential to work in the industry. However, it takes more than technical skill to become a competent crew member on a film or television set.
This is where internships become an indispensable part of the FVS student’s educational journey.
In a business that is particularly reliant on personal connections, student interns can greatly improve their chances of success by proving themselves to potential employers or co-workers through capable work on a real-world production.
“Coursework is crucial for creating a fundamental foundation, but nothing beats practical, real-world experience for building on that foundation,” said Bobby Chastain, director of the FVS program and assistant professor of practice. “Along with that experience, networking is vital for establishing and cultivating a career in this industry.”
Within the last year, Purdue students Nayli Husna, Catherine Tracy, and Parker Whitmore all took advantage of opportunities to develop connections and an understanding of how to work on a set – experiences that industry veteran Chastain said will benefit them as they launch their own careers.
“For our students to seek out and land these extraordinary opportunities for hands-on, practical experience puts them ahead of their peers in every measure,” Chastain said.
Once they completed their internships, the students described the productions they assisted and the ways they benefited from these experiences:
Husna surprised her new co-workers on “Abang Long Fadil 3,” the forthcoming third installment in a popular Malaysian action-comedy film series, when she expressed a desire to work on the technical side of moviemaking.
The senior in film and theatre production – a native of Putrajaya, Malaysia – soon found that the crew was excited to help her learn.
“Malaysia’s film industry is definitely more male-dominated. Most of the women go into acting,” said Husna, who worked on the project in the summer of 2019. “When I came on set for the production, there were only five women, and all of them were either in the makeup department or the costume department. So, when I told them I love doing the technical side, they were like, ‘Oh really?’ They were surprised that I wasn’t interested in makeup or costumes. They were kind of taken aback, but they were open to letting me join their team.”
Cinematographer Rahimi Mahidin noticed that Husna spent free time examining camera setups and took her under his wing for the rest of the production. On top of offering to review a short film that she created for cinematography class, director Syafiq Yusof even allowed her to operate a camera during an office interview scene.
“It was quite nerve-wracking because I guess they felt like I am coming back to Malaysia to learn, and they trusted me enough to operate a camera during a scene,” Husna said. “But I think one of the reasons why they trusted me is that the scene was probably one of the easiest ones to do that day, so they were like, ‘Oh yeah, you can operate the camera for the 10 minutes.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ ”
Following a common trend throughout the film industry, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of “Abang Long Fadil 3” until 2021. The previous installment in the series, released in 2017, is one of the highest-grossing films ever made in Malaysia, so the new movie should become a valuable credit for Husna once it finally hits theaters.
Just as important are the pathways the internship created for her to work toward a long-term goal of creating nature documentaries.
“I initially wanted to be a marine biologist because I do love the ocean, and something about the unknown fascinates me,” Husna said. “I’ve always loved biology, but I knew going into that major I would have to be strong in all of my other science subjects, and I had no interest in chemistry and stuff like that.
“Then I think, ‘OK, if I go into film, which is my other passion, I could potentially do a career helping marine biologists, but with film.’ I grew up watching documentaries like ‘Planet Earth’ and Discovery Channel, so I want to do documentaries,” she continued. “That’s my goal because I do want to make something that could spread awareness and potentially help all the science out there.”
Tracy’s experience on “Mayberry Man” started as one might expect for an intern on her first movie set. As an assistant in the production office, she and her co-workers completed the many tasks – planning, coordinating, communicating – that kept filming on schedule.
But thanks to the sewing skills she learned at Purdue, Tracy was soon able to add unexpected responsibilities that she called “equally terrifying and exciting.” Because of COVID-related logistical issues, she actually became the movie’s wardrobe coordinator.
“I walked in the first day to this pre-production meeting and sat down and the producer actually made a joke of, ‘Oh, ha-ha, do you know how to sew?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, actually it’s kind of funny you ask,’ because last semester I had just taken a costuming class here at Purdue,” Tracy recalled.
“He kind of did this double take and was like, ‘Actually, do you want to be head of wardrobe?’ I thought he was kidding because that position is usually filled, and it’s usually filled early on,” she continued. “But what happened is they had someone hired, and then, for COVID purposes, this person couldn’t do it. They couldn’t travel here and everything. So, they had to find someone else and they were kind of scrambling, and so he’s like, ‘Great. You’re hired.’ It just kind of fell into my lap, but it was a happy accident.”
The movie – a modern-day homage to “The Andy Griffith Show” and the wholesome values it espoused – shot for three weeks in September in Danville, Indiana, and then for an additional week in North Carolina. Not only did Tracy and the wardrobe team coordinate the fit of the primary cast’s costumes and work to ensure wardrobe continuity between scenes, Tracy also served as the wardrobe contact point for hundreds of extras who participated over the course of the shoot.
Tracy hadn’t expected to travel with the production in the middle of fall semester, but just a few days before departing for North Carolina, the producers asked their suddenly invaluable intern if she could fit it into her schedule. Thankfully her professors in dance, theatre, and nutrition courses were willing to accommodate this special request.
“That was another happy accident,” said Tracy, a senior in film and theatre production from Wabash, Indiana. “I was kind of scared to ask my professors, but all the liberal arts professors were fantastic about it and all super understanding and excited for me.”
Tracy said this year’s opportunities to work on a movie set, and as a virtual multimedia intern through the Ryan Seacrest Studios program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., taught her valuable lessons about flexibility and creativity that should serve her well in the entertainment industry.
“I had to get creative with the tools that I had at my disposal,” Tracy said, “whether it was making videos or on wardrobe, whether it was just figuring out a costume off hand by just what I had or figuring out how to quickly mend something, or whether I had to figure out a solution to a problem that came up because we didn’t have room in our budget or in our time schedule to always go to the store and grab something new.”
If ever there was a time where adaptability was a necessary job skill, 2020 fit the bill. COVID-related upheaval prevented Tracy’s internship experiences from playing out as she might have anticipated, but those circumstances also created opportunities that she never would have enjoyed otherwise.
“I thought 2020 was just going to go down the drain,” Tracy acknowledged, “but I’ve had some cool experiences within it, so it hasn’t been too bad overall.”
Like many FVS students, Whitmore has long dreamt of someday becoming the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese, but it wasn’t until he actually worked on a set that he felt confident he could build a career in his chosen profession.
During a two-week stint as a production assistant on the second season of “The Encounter,” a TV series available on the Pure Flix streaming service, Whitmore did everything from cueing actors during scenes, to managing craft services, to standing in as a background extra. He quickly determined that this was work he wanted to keep doing after graduation.
“Being able to do that was awesome – just being able to be on a set and have that professional atmosphere and realize that I made the right choice. Up until then, it hadn’t been put to practice,” said Whitmore, who traveled just south of Atlanta in May 2019 to participate in the TV shoot. “Being able to learn it at Purdue and take that into a professional workspace and realize that, ‘OK, good. I like this. I’m enjoying this. This is something I’m passionate about,’ that was probably the most valuable thing. Just to really be there physically was great.”
In the wake of his first experience working on a professional set, the Chesterton, Indiana, native now intends to further develop his filmmaking skillset and make himself more marketable by attending film school.
His experiences on “The Encounter” taught him that he will not have to become an acclaimed director to find fulfillment within the movie business, but that remains Whitmore’s dream job as he prepares to complete his undergraduate degree this month.
“It really comes down to just being able to creatively and artistically express myself and tell stories that I want to tell, or tell stories that people want to tell that I connect with,” Whitmore said. “That could be short films, that could be feature films, that could be blockbusters, or that could be independent movies.
“Everyone wants to see their name up on the big screen, I’d love in the next 10-15 years for you to go to the movie theater and see a movie that I made. That would be really cool,” he continued. “But obviously you’ve got to walk before you can run, too. I’m definitely pragmatic about it. I have one foot on the ground and one reaching toward the dream and trying to reach up to that kind of place.”