UT Student Screens Scripts for Major Film Studio

Published: Jul 21, 2008
It was just another day at the office when UT junior Michael Zeolla got to spend the day with Hollywood actor Jon Voight. As an intern in the New York City office of Lionsgate films, Zeolla was tasked with escorting the Academy Award-winning actor to a series of press interviews and promotional events for Bratz: The Movie.

It was a brush with fame that is a not-so-uncommon part of Zeolla’s internship with Lionsgate films, the movie production company responsible for such blockbusters as Hotel Rwanda, Hostel, and 3:10 to Yuma, among many others.

A writing major from Briarcliff Manor, NY, Zeolla works for Lionsgate on a year-round basis, spending summers in the company’s New York City publicity/marketing office and the rest of the year – in between being a UT student – reading scripts for the company’s Los Angeles production headquarters.

“I was already a huge film buff prior to working for Lionsgate,” Zeolla said. “But I never knew that the whole process starts with 110 (pages of a script).”

Zeolla’s involvement with Lionsgate was the result of a networking connection that put him in touch with the company’s president of production. It was through this connection that he landed the internship, which immerses him in a fast paced environment of film and media publicity.

Among his various duties, Zeolla is in charge of monitoring newspapers for celebrity news about stars involved in Lionsgate’s movies as well as helping to coordinate movie premieres and working with critics and press personnel who attend the events.

“There are numerous projects we have to complete involving the films such as reading the scripts for the upcoming movies and screening the films,” Zeolla said. “They have interns screen the films so that they can get an honest opinion as to what we really thought.”

After the completion of his first summer in the New York office, Zeolla returned to UT, where he continued his duties on a part-time basis reading undeveloped film scripts, known as “script coverage.”

He passes the good scripts up to his supervisor, who then passes them on to producers, who decide whether to develop the script.

“It’s tough to find that certain script that has it all, but there are definitely some that are close,” Zeolla said. “When I’m reading a script and I literally can’t put it down because I need to find out what happens, that’s when I know that it’s got it.”

Thus far, Zeolla estimates that he has read approximately 30 to 35 scripts. Of that number, only one is in the process of being developed into a feature film.

All of it is valuable supplement to Zeolla’s academics. At UT, his classes are divided between the writing department and film-oriented classes in UT’s communication department.

“I have noticed that my writing has been improving a lot,” Zeolla said. “And it has made me watch films in an entirely different way.”

Zeolla added that he hopes to make a career in the film industry, ideally as a writer of the same kinds of scripts he reads regularly.

“It’s to the point where everything has already been done and they’re remaking a lot of old movies,” Zeolla said. “I’d like to try to come up with an idea that no one has done before.”