Five SCU students go behind-the-scenes with Assistant Professor Nico Opper on the set of an independent film.
By Nicole Calande
The day starts as early as 5 a.m.—with Starbucks in hand, of course—and an hour-long carpool to Hayward. Upon arrival, the cameras and costumes are ready, scripts are passed around, and then it’s go, go, go…
“We were often on our feet for 12-hour days. It felt like I would finish the day, blink, and then I’d be getting ready to drive to the next day’s scene,” describes Allison Hoff ’24. “It was a lot, but it was such an incredible opportunity to have at this stage in my career.”
Hoff was one of five SCU communications majors who spent winter break interning on the set of Thirsty—a locally-made indie film featuring Thora Birch, Sung Kang, and Kyra Sedgwick.
Since the Bay Area film scene is so tight-knit, roles for aspiring filmmakers are highly coveted. Luckily for these Broncos, one of their professors had an in.
“All of my first film jobs out of NYU were with small crews, giving me an opportunity to see things up close,” says Assistant Professor Nico Opper, who served as one of Thirsty’s producers. “There’s no substitute for learning this craft in the field, and I want to give that to my students.”
As production assistants, Hoff, Kaliray Arison ’23, Skye Blount ’23, Samson Lothschutz ’23, and Jerry Wang ’24 supported the casting, art, camera, and grip & electric departments. The first day on set was equally exhilarating and nerve-wracking for each student, but they quickly picked up professional lingo and tricks of the trade, such as “continuity” and the over-under method of wrapping cables.
“It was very fast-paced,” recalled Blount. “But that’s something that [Professor Opper] set us up for very well.”
While on-set, Opper remained a constant resource for their students, checking in on what they were learning and answering questions like why were there so many producers and what each one’s role entailed.
“When you read the credits for a movie, you wonder what a script supervisor is, but seeing what that person actually does, you learn a little bit more,” said Lothschutz. “Moving from the classroom to the set, I saw that the 11 things I did for a short film at school were 11 different jobs for different people.”
Connecting classroom learning to professionally-driven experiences like this internship is something Opper and every other faculty member in SCU’s film program strives to offer to their students, from arranging class trips to Pixar Studios and SF Film, to leading annual alumni shadowing programs in Los Angeles, and even hiring students for their own film crews.
Before their on-set internship, some students had already explored some of these career-shaping opportunities. Last year, Lothschutz worked at Actual Films through an Ignatian Fellowship, and more recently, Hoff’s advisor, Professor Michael Whalen, connected her to a research internship at Story Force Entertainment under Director of Development Mariah Chappell ‘16.
For Arison, the relationships she made on the set of Thirsty have already led her to her next film gig, and she couldn’t be more excited for what’s next. “All of my communication professors have truly gone above and beyond to help me achieve my goals and to encourage my learning and discovery of who and what I want to be.”
“The fact these students now see how to strategize specific ways to develop their careers is a big deal,” agreed Opper, adding that the film program—SCU’s “hidden gem”—provides an equally important space for future filmmakers to discover their unique voices as storytellers.
“You can make great work here, and you can find your people here, people who believe in the same kind of stories you believe in and want to bring those stories to life.”
Meet the Crew
As these Broncos look to their futures, we asked them how this internship will impact their post-SCU careers.
Internship Department: Camera
I knew since I was 12 that I wanted to be a director. This internship has given me a clearer idea of the trajectory I might take to get there, maybe going from digital loader to second AC (assistant cameraman) and then first AC, and then DP (director of photography), and so on…
Internship Department: Casting
After taking a gap year to travel, I'd like to go into retail or business and build on what I’ve learned at Santa Clara’s Retail Management Institute. This internship provided me the skills to connect with people that I don't know in a business context and start a conversation.
Internship Department: Casting
After graduation, I plan to move back home to LA and try my luck at working in the industry. My initial goal is to land a job at a talent agency and to eventually work my way up to one day becoming a showrunner.
Internship Department: Grip & Electric
Because I am a double major, I am planning on applying to grad school for either filmmaking or business analytics. But just seeing people on-set building relationships makes me really wanted to go into the film industry eventually.
Internship Department: Casting & Art
I see myself discovering stories and finding a way to tell them that resonates with my audience, so I want to work towards being a producer or screenwriter, but I don’t know exactly. Just by being on set, I learned about tons of roles that I didn't even know existed and how they all come together to create an incredible experience.