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November 11, 2014

CNTV 457: The Entertainment Entrepreneur: Getting Your First Project Made

A class teaches the necessary entrepreneurship skills for breaking into the entertainment industry

By Phillomena Wong

In the changing media landscape, entrepreneurship should be a primary skill many media makers at the School of Cinematic Arts learn and practice. The Entertainment Entrepreneur: Getting Your First Project Made, taught by alumni and adjunct professors, Jason Michael Berman and Michael Jenson, teaches students how to connect the creative side of entertainment with the business side.

Above all, you need to be entrepreneurial to make things happen. “In media there is no clear cut path. You have to make your own,” Jenson says. With their entrepreneurial mindsets, Berman and Jenson set out to create a class that would teach students how to work the industry. For Berman, an entrepreneur is, “Someone who can think outside the box, is extremely passionate, persistent, and can figure out ways to connect the dots in non-traditional way by utilizing all their resources to make something happen.”

What makes the class unique is the fact that both professors are young, have years of experience and come with an impressive network of like-minded individuals in the industry. The class itself is a testament to how being entrepreneurial can open a lot of doors into the industry. Both professors have personal relationships with the guests they bring in. Some of the high-profile guest speakers in the class have been SCA alumni Bryan Singer (X-Men), John Chu (G.I. Joe), writers Justin Wilson and Sheldon Candis (Luv), director Luke Greenfield (Girl Next Door), and executives from Sundance, AMC and Warner Bros.

Each class meeting begins with a lecture and is then followed up by a guest speaker, whose discussion informs each student’s final project for the semester. Final projects can range from pitches for short films, televisions series, web series and other forms of media.

Former student and USC alum, Hunter Higgins, says one of the benefits of the class is being able to speak with a panel of guests directly. He says, “the class brought a level of high profile guests but they were speaking to twenty or twenty five kids. So, it was really personal and the answers were far more candid.”

Through the Business of Entertainment program and the Marshall School of Business, the course invited students from a wide range of majors. At the beginning of the course, students form groups composed of writers, directors and producers with business and finance students, joining the creative and business perspectives.

CNTV 457 is the first course of its kind that provides a specific entrepreneurial skillset for students who want to get their first project made. The course takes students through every step of the process from pitching and development to production and marketing.

Through the class, some students were able to start creating their projects and some gained a better understanding of the industry. Tulica Singh, an MFA Production student says, “When you go into the real world, you’re going to be working with financiers and marketing representative and you have to know their motivations. But also realize it’s not all about money for them because there is a creative side.”

Berman says the class would not be possible without the help of Larry Auerbach, a mentor and Associate Dean of the Student Industry Relations Office, for getting the class started. Both Berman and Jenson worked with Auerbach through FilmForward, an initiative meant to connect student filmmakers with industry contacts and to provide funding for new projects.  Through this experience, Berman saw the value in starting a class that would not only help students network, but also bring to light the inner workings of the business of entertainment.

Through the close relationship Berman developed with Auerbach, the course became a reality last year. “What I liked about the class was the energy and the fact that I found two young kids, two recent graduates to teach a class. There is an advantage sometimes to having a contemporary teacher,” Auerbach says.

What makes the class successful is the fact that both professors are teaching with their experiences as graduates of SCA and working professionals. In the first 5 years out of college, Berman had already produced 15 films, with some films premiering at Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca film festivals. Jenson also produced a number of films such as Luv, with writers Justin Wilson and Sheldon Candis. What drives both of these producers and professors is their entrepreneurial mindset. Berman says, “I feel like in this day and age in entertainment landscape, you have to entrepreneurial. ”