Published: March 05, 2020
Holly Myers ’21 had just finished watching her favorite movie, the 2014 film Comet staring Justin Long, for the umpteenth time when she ran into her advisor, Aaron Walker, in Plant Hall early this semester.
Walker offered her an opportunity to intern on a film that Long would soon be filming on UT’s campus. She couldn’t believe it and agreed immediately.
A couple weeks later, Myers found herself standing in Plant Hall, watching Long, who is acting as well as co-directing the film with his brother, Christian.
“I had a really surreal moment,” said Myers, a double major in film and media arts and communication from Delafield, WI. “I’ve been so used to watching him for so long and now I’m working with him. It’s crazy.”
Myers is one of a handful of UT students who interned in various roles on Long’s film, currently titled Lady of the Manor. Beyond Long, the belated coming-of-age comedy stars Ryan Phillippe, Judy Greer, Patrick Duffy, Luis Guzman and Melanie Lynskey, who were on campus filming for two days in mid-February.
The director and several of the producers had previously filmed projects in the Tampa Bay area and were familiar with the region, said Tyler Martinolich ’05, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission, also known as Film Tampa Bay.
“The University not only provided a great location, but had the added benefit of willing and capable students who provided an added value to the crew by way of providing production assistants and additional crewing,” said Martinolich.
“It takes a Herculean effort to produce a film under the best circumstances. Independent films often find themselves lacking critical resources,” Martinolich said. “By partnering with a university, they are able to supplement their workforce effectively, while also providing a great opportunity for students to learn through hands-on experience.”
Out of the three weeks or so of filming in Tampa Bay, two were on UT’s campus. For Tamsen Simpson ’21, a film and media arts major from Melbourne, FL, who was an art intern working under the production designer, it was the first time she had worked on a movie set, aside from her own.
“It was exhilarating,” said Simpson, who wants to become a production designer to combine her love of art and film. UT classes were a great stepping stone that prepared her for the experience. “It’s great to see what I can achieve at a grander scale once I keep going.”
As an art intern, Simpson set the scenes and backgrounds to reflect the different time periods involved in the film. The job involves noticing the small stuff — the foods on the kitchen counter, the way a tablecloth lays across a table, what flowers are in the vases, the location of candlesticks.
“When I watch a film I notice the color palettes, I notice what the characters are wearing and why they are wearing it. That’s more of what I’m in to,” Simpson said. “Working under the production designer, I see how he communicates to Justin, removing certain things from the scene and what makes sense. I realize that’s what I want to do too.”
Walker, associate professor of film, animation and new media, said the direct experience from a major production is incredibly valuable, not only for validating students’ career paths but in learning the practicalities of the business.
“They got to see the complexities and challenges of actually hiring people for a major film crew, and they got to see the hierarchy, flow of work and decisions, and even some major conflicts with labor decisions on set, all of which help prepare the students both to join film crews and to build crews for their own movies.”
Walker said Martinolich has been a steadfast supporter of UT’s film department, from donating equipment to connecting students with experiential opportunities like this.
“Now more than ever film and digital media is integrated into every industry imaginable. The tools and knowledge students are given will provide a firm foundation no matter what career path they follow,” Martinolich said. “To that end any time I am able to connect productions with the film department I feel it’s a valuable opportunity to provide students with hands-on opportunities, as well as the chance to network with industry professionals. Both Tampa Bay and the University are stronger for those experiences.”