Industry Aspirants to Be Honored

Mar 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation on Sunday will host the 25th anniversary edition of the College Television Awards, a national competition that recognizes achievements in student-produced films and videos and awards $60,000 in cash and prizes.
The day after the Hollywood black-tie event, which will recognize students in nine categories, the College Television Awards Festival will be held at the TV Academy in North Hollywood, Calif., and will feature screenings of the first-place winners as well as montages of the second- and third-place pieces.
Most important, the festival will allow the student filmmakers to network as they showcase the persistently high quality of the productions, many of which have caught the eye of the industry over the years.
“That’s really the crux of it,” said Tom Sarnoff, who has been chairman of the TV Academy Foundation for more than 20 years, “to find students who are capable in their various areas and give them a chance to connect with the people in the industry. Many of those students who have produced films or tapes, or done the music or whatever, have wound up in our industry. Which is really great because we are helping to build the future.”
“We hope that it boosts careers,” said Price Hicks, director of educational programs and services for the academy. “It gets them started outside of school. They’ve got great calling cards. That’s the important thing. They’ve got their films and that’s their calling card.”
For the past 30 years the TV Academy Foundation’s mission has been to help guide those who are the future of the TV business and preserve the history of the medium. It accomplishes its mission through the awards and its annual internship program, faculty seminars and a program that sends TV professionals out to interact with students, faculty and others.
“I think the internship program is considered the jewel in our crown over here,” Ms. Hicks said.
The internship program, created more than 30 years ago, has grown into a national program. Undergraduate and graduate students apply for the 35 L.A.-based positions in one of 29 specialized areas within the telecommunications industry.
“It’s truly a golden door into the business because to say you have done an academy internship means something in this town,” Ms. Hicks said.
The positions, which pay $4,000 for a full-time, eight-week stint, are highly competitive. Last year saw about 900 applicants for the 35 available positions.
“[The program] gives [the interns] a hands-on experience either with production companies or whatever they are interested in,” Mr. Sarnoff said. “We maintain a very close relationship with the interns and host. We don’t just let them go in there and file papers; we have them go in there and do a specific job.”
For 10 years running, the Princeton Review has named the program one of its “Top 10 Internships in America,” which Ms. Hicks said puts it “right up there with the Supreme Court. We take this very seriously, and it’s something that we have to live up to each year.”
Mr. Sarnoff said about two-thirds of the interns obtain jobs in the industry. The program generates a group of close-knit students who often give back by hosting an intern once they have established themselves professionally.
While the nature of the program tends to place people in behind-the-scenes roles, many of the interns’ professional accomplishments have garnered notice. Brannon Braga was a scriptwriting intern in 1990 and has become co-creator and executive producer of UPN’s “Enterprise.” “The Sopranos” producer Martin Bruestle got his start as an episodic series intern in 1987.
“This is an incredible network. It’s a very dense network that is constantly being created,” Ms. Hicks said. “It’s just great. It’s a wonderful community of people. They do very well in the job market because they have had this very special experience.”
In an attempt to take advantage of that network the foundation created a faculty seminar program in 1987 that brings 20 professors from colleges and universities around the country to Los Angeles and gives them the opportunity to learn from academy members in a weeklong educational seminar.
“The faculty seminar was created because there was such a need for that type of program,” Ms. Hicks said. “Teachers in the middle part of the country have no access to the Hollywood community.”
Faculty members interested in participating in the program send a letter of application explaining why they want to attend and how the experience will positively influence their institutions.
A highlight of the experience is the opportunity for faculty members to meet with the programming chiefs of many major broadcast and cable networks.
“20 professors have an hour of access. It’s just really very, very special,” Ms. Hicks said.
The foundation’s visiting professionals program sends academy members to schools around the country to share their expertise. About 800 of the nearly 12,000 academy members are registered in the visiting professionals program.
“The mission is to utilize the experience and expertise of the various members of the academy to go to universities and colleges around the country to lecture,” Mr. Sarnoff said.
Last year the academy sent out directors Daniel Attias and Rob Lieberman, among others. This year “Sex and the City” executive producer Cindy Chupack is lined up to visit Trinity University in San Antonio on March 29.
Putting on all of these educational programs requires some financial backing. “Our biggest chore is trying to continually raise funding to try to do these programs,” Mr. Sarnoff said. “We fund our own and administer our own programs in the educational field.”
Through donations and the support of the academy, the foundation is continually able to raise enough money to complete its mission.
“I look at the foundation as focusing on the past of television and on the future,” Mr. Sarnoff said. “Everything we do is directed toward having people learn the backbone of the industry.”