Hooray for Hollywood!

California’s entertainment industry is booming, and the CSU Entertainment Alliance is helping students prepare for some of the most coveted jobs in the business.

 

INT. HOME IN LAGUNA NIGEL, CALIFORNIA – EARLY AFTERNOON

Farid looks down at his packed luggage in the foyer of his home. He takes a deep breath, cocks his head to the side and lets out a sigh. Clearly, something is weighing on the 29-year-old’s mind.

FARID (V.O.)

I don’t know what to do. I could take off on the European vacation I’ve been planning for six months…. Or I could seize the opportunity of a lifetime to work in the film entertainment business…


While this fork-in-the-road scenario could have been lifted from countless scripted shows or films, it actually happened to California State University, Fullerton alumnus Farid Toloui in October 2018.

Two days before a two-week, nonrefundable trip to France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands—a graduation present to himself—Toloui was offered an unpaid marketing and sales internship at The Orchard, an indie film and music company owned by Sony, starting immediately. Up to that point, he’d applied to multiple internships and not heard back.

“It was a very difficult choice, but I decided to take it,” he says. “I wanted an opportunity to show how committed I was.” Toloui’s chance to break into the incredibly competitive entertainment field came courtesy of the California State University Entertainment Alliance (CSUEA).

Photo of California State University, Fullerton alumnus Farid Toloui

California State University, Fullerton alumnus Farid Toloui


A Career-Changing Pipeline

“The Entertainment Alliance was started to create a pipeline of diverse talent from CSU campuses directly into the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry in California,” explains CSUEA executive director Dina Ibrahim, Ph.D. “The idea was to see how the CSU can meet the workforce needs of California.”

More specifically, the alliance helps to prepare students for coveted jobs by removing some of the financial and industry roadblocks students encounter while trying to get their foot in the proverbial door.

After graduating in spring 2018 with a degree in communications, Toloui applied to be an intern at 50 different Los Angeles movie studios in hopes of gaining more experience. But nearly all required applicants to earn school credit while interning; since Toloui was already out of school, he was no longer matriculated anywhere he could earn credit.

CSUEA addresses this common challenge: “We offer a low-cost, three-unit internship course for students who need credit in order to complete the opportunity, and welcome students from any CSU campus at any grade level and up to two years postgrad,” says CSUEA managing director Simone Nelson.

When Toloui registered for the course, the tide finally turned in his favor. “It gave me a path when I thought I didn’t have one,” he says. “I was ready to give up on my dream and just settle for any old job.”

As the only intern at The Orchard, he learned the ins and outs of marketing and sales, spending three days a week for three months emailing media with links to "screeners" (early-release films), creating social media content for movies, updating IMDb pages and invoicing third-party vendors such as Hulu and Amazon.

Since February 2019, Toloui has been working at what he calls his dream job, in international sales for TriCoast Studios, and says it wouldn’t have been possible without help from CSUEA.


“The CSU student body is the most creative, the most interesting and the most hardworking group of students ... and I think that by empowering students from the CSU, we’ll make entertainment healthier for the next 50 to 100 years.”

— David Eilenberg, chief creative officer of ITV America and
CSUEA Advisory Council member


Taking on Tinseltown

In addition to its internship program, the CSUEA connects students and faculty to the industry through grants that pay for on-campus workshops, guest speakers, panels and screenings, or entry to industry conferences. “That money is particularly helpful to CSU campuses that are far from San Francisco or Los Angeles,” Dr. Ibrahim notes.

And every summer, the organization’s housing program enables 10 CSU students to live in Los Angeles rent-free for 10 weeks while completing internships they secure on their own. “Many of our students are getting incredible internships with the biggest names in the business, like NBC and Warner Music," Ibrahim explains, "but they can’t afford to take them because they can’t solve the housing piece.”

“It’s about connecting them to opportunities so they can be at the right place at the right time.”

The alliance also cultivates partnerships with entertainment companies and enlists the assistance of an advisory council made up of high-profile representatives from DreamWorks, Disney, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. and more.

“The CSU student body is the most creative, the most interesting and the most hardworking group of students I’ve had the pleasure to interact with,” says David Eilenberg, chief creative officer of ITV America and a CSUEA Advisory Council member.

“They come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. We need their point of view in entertainment, and I think that by empowering students from the CSU, we’ll make entertainment healthier for the next 50 to 100 years.”

Photo of San Francisco State University alumnus Mahelet Gezachew (right) and filmmaker Ava DuVernay

San Francisco State University alumna Mahelet Gezachew (left) and filmmaker Ava DuVernay


Scripted for Success

If career success is all about who you know, that may be doubly true in the entertainment business. That’s why the CSUEA creates essential networking opportunities for students as part of its mission. San Francisco State University alumna Mahelet Gezachew was a senior when she connected with CSUEA at a mixer event in spring 2018.

Simone Nelson advised Gezachew, encouraging her to apply for the Evolve Entertainment Fund launched by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, filmmaker Ava DuVernay and producer Dan Lin to boost diversity in the entertainment industry. “I got into the program and was hired as an activism intern at Anonymous Content and the following semester interned at Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s female-driven multimedia company as their film and TV development intern,” she says. “I learned so much, from development to pre-production and understood what the execution process looked like. These internships set a foundation for me as they are launching pads, not landing pads.”

Armed with a firm understanding of how production companies function, Gezachew was ready for her next step: In February 2019, she was hired as an executive assistant at the Walt Disney Company.

“I feel like I was better able to go from San Francisco State and launch my career with the help of the CSUEA and its internship program with the Evolve Entertainment Fund,” says Gezachew, who earned a bachelor’s in communication studies and Africana studies and plans to become a producer.

“The opportunity positively changed the trajectory of my professional life.”


California’s Creative Economy: $604.9 billion | 2.6 million jobs | Employment is expected to grow 3.3% through 2020.

Statistics from the ​2019 Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California​

Nice Work If Үou Can Get It

Here are a just a few of the internships CSU students have recently completed, thanks to the CSUEA:

  • Creative marketing intern, E! Networks
  • Intern, JuVee, Viola Davis’s production company
  • Marketing intern, Nickelodeon
  • Production assistant, Mandalay Sports Media
  • Production intern, Cartoon Network’s “Craig of the Creek!”
  • Casting assistant, “Conan”
  • Radio station intern, Power 106 FM
  • Sales and marketing intern, Univision
  • Intern, Merchants of Venice Entertainment recording studio
  • Marketing assistant, Valerie Allen Public Relations
  • Intern, Westlake Recording Studios

Learn more about the CSU Entertainment Alliance and find out how you can support their work, find an internship, enroll in the internship course and more.

Story: Michelle McCarthy

Photography & Videography: Patrick Record, courtesy of Mahelet Gezachew

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California’s Creative Economy: $604.9 billion | 2.6 million jobs | Employment is expected to grow 3.3% through 2020.

 

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