Johnny Carson, namesake of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s film school, is a UNL graduate who achieved everlasting fame in the annals of television history.
Now, two Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film students are hoping to follow in Mr. Excitement’s footsteps in America’s La La Land.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation selected two UNL students from the Carson School to partake in television internships in Los Angeles over the summer.
Michaela Wadzinski, a senior film and new media major, was hired onto the Academy’s animation internship and was sent to work at Bento Box Entertainment, which produces FOX’s hit animated series “Bob’s Burgers” in North Hollywood.
For Wadzinski, an avid “Bob’s Burgers” fan, it was a perfect fit.
"It's really exciting,” she said. “I've been watching it since season one, and it's definitely cool to see how it gets made.”
Wadzinski said while she doesn’t work directly on the show, she still gets to sit in on production meetings and see how the professional animators make decisions to put the show together. Outside of meetings, she said she works on cleaning up animations for the studio’s online content.
"I spend a lot of time sitting in on meetings, which is probably some of my favorite parts of the day. I really enjoy sitting in and hearing what everyone has to say," she said. “It kinda just varies by day.”
Candace Nelson, who graduated from UNL in May with a degree in film and new media, received the Academy’s directing internship, and has since worked on shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
Like Wadzinski, much of Nelson’s work consisted of learning by shadowing industry professionals, taking notes and learning from firsthand experience on the different sets.
"I get to sit in on meetings and the actual sets and just kind of observe and see how things work,” Nelson said. "Everybody so far has been really nice and talks about how once you're in the internship with the Academy it's kind of like a giant family, which is pretty cool."
One of the things Nelson said she hoped to learn was how to adapt to the Los Angeles filmmaking industry. Before the internship, she had never worked on a project outside Nebraska and was curious to see how the two scenes were different.
According to Nelson, working on student films and independent projects in Nebraska meant crews had to learn the different tricks of the trade and be flexible on set, compared to the more focused, specific jobs crews tackle in Los Angeles.
“We're used to knowing everybody who works on set with you, and it's a lot easier in Nebraska to move between jobs,” she said. “You might be hired as an assistant director, but you might help out the costume department or the makeup crew. It's easier to bleed over into other areas, which is not really a thing on most LA sets.”
Wadzinski said the working experience was valuable for her, but the most important aspect of her internship was networking and soaking up as much information from industry professionals as she could. She said the Academy would invite the interns to networking events as well as panels they could sit in on and listen to celebrities and acclaimed professionals, such as actresses Rachel Bloom, Mandy Moore and actor Paul Scheer, share their wisdom.
“It's been reaffirmed how important networking and getting to know people is,” Wadzinski said. “You never know where your next job will come from, so it's really important to be nice to everyone and meet as many people as you can.”
Wadzinski and Nelson’s internships offers were special in that they were part of a rare instance where more than one Carson School student received an Academy internship. Both of them heard about the opportunity from their professors and students who previously received internships. Nelson and Wadzinski said between five and 10 students applied.
Nancy Robinson, director of education programs at the Television Academy, said the internship program receives close to 2,000 applicants each year, though they only choose 50.
Voting members of the Television Academy select finalists for each internship category before finalists are then asked to submit a video interview in response to questions posted in the notice of final candidacy.
“Our interns are vetted by Television Academy Foundation members, the same individuals who vote for the Primetime Emmy Awards,” Robinson said.
She said the Academy looks for mature, sincere candidates who exhibit a clear interest and talent in their chosen area.
“The goal is to expose students from colleges/universities (both large and small) across the country to opportunities within the television industry, provide them with meaningful work experience and help them build their professional network,” Robinson said.
Wadzinski said she received a phone call telling her she had been accepted while she was in the middle of applying for other internships, having not heard back.
“I was home at the time and my first reaction was to run to my mom and tell her,” she said. “We both freaked out together. It was so incredibly exciting.”
Nelson, on the other hand, missed her phone call.
"When I listened to the voicemail, I immediately started crying,” she said. “I got so excited.”
Both Wadzinski and Nelson said the Carson School helped prepare them to become professional entertainment industry workers. Neither said they were caught up in Hollywood’s dazzling bright lights and often high-pressure competitive work environments, despite the vastly collaborative nature of filmmaking.
“The school has been really great at teaching me how to work with other people really well,” Wadzinski said. “I feel that collaborating with other people is really easy and fun, and I think that's the biggest thing they helped us with.”
Nelson agreed, saying the school taught her to be a quick learner by forcing herself and her peers to delve into the different aspects of film and television production. Even though her focus was in film directing, Nelson said she also took courses in screenwriting and sound.
“It made me very aware of all the other areas as a filmmaker, and it made me appreciate the other jobs that happen on set,” she said. “And because of that reason, we have to work on multiple film sets as students. You're never working with the same people, which is really nice because it teaches you how to work in different scenarios.”
Both Nelson and Wadzinski said they entered UNL with a focus in film but have come to appreciate television. For Wadzinski, it’s what got her interested in the entertainment production field in the first place.
"Television was how I first got interested in filmmaking and animation in general, so it's always been a huge interest of mine,” she said. “Watching cartoons as a kid is kind of what inspired me.”
She said she chose animation specifically as a way to tell stories completely unrestricted stylistically and to not be bogged down by the physical limitations of reality.
“It really combines all of the fun storytelling elements of filmmaking with drawing and art, and I think there's so many things that can be done with it that haven't even been done yet,” Wadzinski said. “With [computer-generated imagery], it's really merging that gap with what we can do and can't do with live action, which is cool, but I think there's a little more creativity with animation because you can get more stylistically diverse.”
Though Nelson was initially focused entirely on film, she said she began to see television storytelling as a passion halfway through her college career. Now it’s full steam ahead for her in what some industry professionals are calling another golden age of television.
“Something about TV just really started to intrigue me more,” Nelson said. “When you watch television shows, you watch these characters grow over a longer period of time rather than having to squeeze everything in.”
At the core of their experience, Robinson said the interns are valued by the Academy, even after they complete their internships. The working experience may be invaluable, but Robinson said the industry connections Wadzinski and Nelson make will make all the difference in their futures going forward.
This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of The DN.