Christine Wang ’14, Shine America

Christine WangOver Reading Period, I had the chance to shadow Danny Steiner ’10, the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Shine America. I walked into the Shine America building a little nervous because I had practically zero knowledge of the entertainment industry beforehand. I have some experience in small-scale video production as ancillary content for marketing and journalistic purposes, but I want to take those skills and apply them on a much larger scale. Given how much of my free time is spent on binge-watching episodes of Breaking Bad or House of Cards, I was curious to see if a career in entertainment might be something I want to pursue after graduation. This Princeternship was the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the industry and the variety of opportunities within it at a company that produces and distributes high-caliber content like The Office and Ugly Betty. Danny was an excellent host and set up several meetings for me with people from practically every department at Shine including: marketing, acquisitions, digital, business and brand development, clearances, scripted/unscripted production, post-production, research, and human resources. Despite my primitive understanding of the industry, everyone I met at Shine was incredibly welcoming and excited to share their work with me. I looked over a presentation for a new reality TV show, flipped through the final proof of a MasterChef cookbook, and watched a Google hangout for The Biggest Loser with the Digital team and listened to their comments. Of course, being the editing geek that I am, I leaped at the chance to check out one of the editing bays at Shine. They have desks that can be elevated to standing height, which is CRUCIAL when you spend 10+ hours a day in front of a screen.

Any reality TV junkie would be at home here, especially with posters for The Face and the aforementioned shows decorating the offices. While all these mini-tasks were super fun, the best part of this Princeternship was being able to talk to people who were so passionate about their jobs in entertainment. Their enthusiasm is absolutely contagious and I walked away from many conversations seriously considering whether or not I could hack it in whatever department I had just talked to. I picked up a lot of new vocabulary (i.e. deficit financing, formats, AMORT) and learned a lot about how studios and networks are organized by departments and how they collaborate with one another on any number of projects.  It was also fascinating to talk to Shine employees about the direction of the industry from the insider’s perspective. One of the many great conversations I had was with Kevin Ivey from Research. Kevin spends most of his time going through ratings and numbers to track how well a show is doing. I have to admit that walking in, I wasn’t totally sure that I was going to understand or appreciate what Kevin does, but his explanation of the Nielsen ratings system and how those numbers translate into ability to generate advertising revenue was really accessible. It helped that Kevin framed our conversation in the context of the Duck Dynasty and Paula Deen scandals. We also talked about how video on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu are changing how people prefer to watch television and challenging the traditional model of ad sales based on projected ratings. I think I walked in with this idea that the entertainment industry has this weird impenetrable force field that selectively allows people to succeed. But my conversations with the people at Shine assured me that, like any other industry, given a little luck, some quality hard work, and time, anyone can work their way up. It was also great to take my personal observations about the state of television and develop those ideas through my conversations with industry professionals.

Overall, this Princeternship was an eye-opening experience for me and went by far too quickly. It was an incredibly effective crash course in the ins and outs of television production. While there is only so much that can be learned without actually working in the industry, I now know enough to intelligently think about the path I want to pursue within it. Thank you Danny and everyone at Shine America and Princeton Career Services for this amazingly educational and enjoyable experience. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and everything that the people at Shine were willing to share with me.

 

Whitney Sha ’17, neXus Arts

Whitney-ShaI met with my Princeternship host, Mr. Richard Olson ’65, on a bright, sunny Saturday at the beginning of Spring Break. A prolific playwright, theater director, and performer, Olson founded neXus Arts, an organization that combines music with other art forms such as dance and poetry. After we discussed our shared interests in writing and life as an artist, Mr. Olson invited me to talk with him at his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In preparation for our meeting, Mr. Olson sent me the script for The Bookcase, a play he wrote after graduating from Princeton that helped him get into Yale Drama School. I found The Bookcase daring and avant-garde, and I came to Mr. Olson’s apartment with many questions about both the play and his career as a writer. We first talked about his experience at Princeton in the early 1960s. We marveled at how much has changed since then (the university was still all-male when he was an undergraduate) but, at the same time, how much has stayed the same (he lived in Edwards, a building I pass all the time on my way through campus). We then talked about his experience at Yale. One benefit of an MFA program, he told me, was that it immersed him in a focused, collaborative environment with other writers. After that, we discussed neXus Arts, which Mr. Olson founded with his wife. The organization puts on various mixed-media productions, many of which are on display at www.nexusarts.org.

After we talked about Sha 1his personal history, I asked Mr. Olson about his life as a writer. What inspires him? What is his daily writing process like? Mr. Olson explained that The Bookcase and much of his other work was motivated by his desire to push the boundaries of what “art” is and what it can accomplish. His influences include psychologist Carl Jung; The Bookcase, especially, explores the complex dimensions of the unconscious. As for his writing process, he writes longhand at a round table near a window that overlooks his garden. The ambient light is beautiful there, and the view provides a pocket of seclusion in the middle of Manhattan.

Lastly, Mr. Olson and I discussed my own writing and my plans for a novel I’m currently working on. He offered insights from a playwright’s perspective, and I was inspired by his suggestions. My Princeternship was short – only a few hours over one day – but Mr. Olson and I kept in touch afterwards over email, and he invited me to see neXus Arts’ shows if I’m ever in New York.

Jack Moore ’15, Will Staples – Freelance Screenwriter

Jack-MooreWhen you want to write professionally, there is no clear path to accomplishing that dream. There’s no equivalent to law or medical school, no test you can take to prove that you’re a good writer, no entry level positions at large writing companies. But still, somehow, people become writers. For Will Staples ’00, my Princeternship host, I learned, that path involved leaving investment banking, packing up a U-Haul, moving to Los Angeles, and starting to write.

My day took me to a variety of Will’s regular haunts: his house, two nearby coffee shops (the first one was completely filled with writers, so we had to find another), his favorite noodle restaurant, and his office, a small room on the top floor of church in Santa Monica, which he shares with another writer. But where we went wasn’t that important: it was all about the stories.

From when we first sat down in that second coffee shop, Will was sharing details from his life. Whether offering an anecdote about spending an evening with Navy Seals or talking about the various projects that he has worked on, every story he told taught me something about what it’s like to actually write in the real world. You have to put everything you have into each project. You have to do the research, plan, and edit. Then edit again and again and again. And then, if the project doesn’t pan out, you have to let it go. It’s a rough world; even when a script is sold, even when directors and actors are attached, it’s still a long way off from getting a movie made. It can dangle in development limbo forever, a fate worse than death. That’s why you should be careful about making it too autobiographical, Will told me, because it will be too hard to let go of, a piece of advice I certainly needed.

But under everything else, the most important element to Will’s world is friendliness. While this seems odd given Hollywood’s reputation, being an outgoing, trustworthy, loyal individual has helped Will more than a competitive attitude ever could (although there’s still a touch of that). Will’s expertise is in action movies, but he has an angle no one else has. A self-professed research junkie, Will had never fired a gun before working on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. While other writers might’ve been content to make it up, to copy other movies or games, Will needed to experience it firsthand. This led to him reaching out to military experts: Seals, Delta Force operators, Special Forces, and more. Today, not only does he know how to shoot (with night-vision, no less), but he also has a host of contacts that he can reach out to at any time. Because he commits to his research and honors the stories of men who have risked their lives around the world, these soldiers, his friends, offer Will insights and details few writers have access to. They know that he will use their information to tell the best, and most honest, story possible. This is Will’s edge: not the ability to undercut or slander another writer, but to show up at a pitch with a folder full of information and say, “I know how this works. I am the right man for this project.” Which is not to say that Will is always the right man for the job. Sometimes, a job comes up that you have to pass on, because you have to be honest with yourself and not make promises you can’t keep. But when the right idea does come along, Will can put himself out there, knowing that he really will do the job better than anyone else.

During my day with Will, I got to sit in on a phone call with TV producers, read screenplay drafts, and discuss possible future projects. But the greatest thing to me were the stories. A man who has made it where so few have was willing to take the time to share his thoughts on writing with me, and I cannot be more grateful. Will’s commitment to research, to editing, and to fostering strong relationships will influence my own writing process for years to come. Entering the world of freelance screenwriting is a daunting prospect, but it didn’t stop Will Staples, and thanks to the time I got to spend with him, I hope it won’t stop me.