Published: January 22, 2021
Lights! Camera! Intern!
In Abby Byrne’s three and a half years at UT so far, the film and media arts major has found herself on film sets and in production studios getting the kind of exposure to her career field of choice that many dream of, and she did it through networking with a UT alum.
Byrne ’21 met Doug Tower ’95 through family friends when she was in high school. Byrne found out that Tower, who received his bachelor’s in communication, worked in the film industry, and the two struck up a conversation during which Tower spoke highly of his alma mater. That conversation led to Byrne’s trek south to Tampa from her hometown of Naperville, IL.
“I loved UT from the moment I stepped on campus,” said Byrne. “I loved the opportunity for such an individualized, hands-on filmmaking experience … I have been given so many amazing opportunities.”
Her connection to Tower has led to several internship experiences with his film production company, Urban Legends, which produces long-form true crime content, sports documentaries and movie marketing content for networks including FOX, Discovery, HGTV and TNT.
“Most often we’re asked to develop stories and ideas and then connect them to brands,” said Tower. “For example, Modelo beer asked us to tell a soccer story, so we headed to Brazil to capture that campaign for them.”
Byrne has had the opportunity to work on set with the development, creative, production and post-production teams. So far, she’s worked on four large-scale productions for Discovery, HGTV, FOX Sports and Investigation Discovery.
“I was very impressed by her passion for the business and her willingness to work,” said Tower, who said it’s been fun to see Byrne learn and grow over the years. “I can actually see her mind expanding when she gets on set. There’s a lot of magic that happens, and she’s getting in on the ground level.”
During this winter break, Byrne was able to work as a production assistant at a studio in Los Angeles for four weeks with Urban Legends producing Food Network’s Walmart+ branded content. Although this wasn’t her first time helping out on set, it was her first official internship: what the two called her “winternship.”
“One of my favorite parts about this “winternship” is that I was given the opportunity to try different things,” said Byrne. “There were some days where I was on set helping out as a production assistant, other days where I was at the studio observing and editing, and others where I was out and about running errands.”
Most days, Byrne was working one-on-one with the director and producer to ensure that the vision of the production was coming together, whether it involved helping set up for shoots or running out to pick up some props. Working on a large-scale project full time from start to end opened Byrne’s eyes to the collaborating that must be done during production in order to arrive at a completed product.
"When working on an independent project, the creative decisions tend to be my sole decision,” said Byrne. “But in the industry, I have learned so much about adapting a vision to create an even stronger project.”
She sat in on meetings with clients, helped generate ideas for production and assisted in the writing and editing of scripts.
“As a production assistant, you are the go-to person to get things done,” said Byrne.
Although Byrne was able to complete her internship in person in Los Angeles, the COVID-19 pandemic still impacted her experience.
"Los Angeles is experiencing some really severe healthcare challenges due to COVID-19, so everyone's on high alert," said Byrne. "Shoot dates are more flexible, meetings that would be in person are held over Zoom and each day has a little bit of extra time added to it with protocols like temperature checks and sanitizing everything."
Still, Byrne is able to walk away from her "winternship" with reassurance to pursue a career in the film industry as a producer and skills to carry with her back to UT and beyond.
“I learned so much with this entire experience and look forward to bringing my new skills and experiences to the classroom and sets on campus,” said Byrne.
Story by Mallory Culhane '21, journalism major