Movie producer alum plays mentor role

August 31, 2010

Soon after graduation, Nick Green ’10 set off for L.A. to launch his movie career. Awaiting him was a film production internship and a mentor, Jim Wilberger ’72, who is a successful producer of TV movies for the Hallmark Channel.

Green worked as a production assistant on the set of “Mulligan,” a romantic comedy starring Jenni Garth (from “90210"), Marilu Henner (“Taxi”) and Fred Willard (“Modern Family”), which is due to air sometime next year. Besides helping with behind-the-scenes logistics during the 20-day shoot, he was also responsible for organizing the background actors, or extras, and making sure they were in position and were quiet when they needed to be.

“It’s one of those basic jobs that isn’t part of the filmmaking but needs to be there in order for the filmmaking to happen,” said Green, who aspires to one day work as a film editor. “While I was there, I got a chance to see all the jobs being done, so I got a real sense of what it was like to make a movie.”

Wilberger, who majored in Theatre Arts as an undergraduate at then-WMC, said he was gratified to be able to bring Green on as an intern. Opportunities to break into the industry were nonexistent during his time on campus, when only one film course was offered; now there’s a Cinema department and major with two full-time faculty members who have M.F.A.s and “street cred” from working in the field.

Every semester, Wilberger makes a point to get back to the Hill so he can share with Cinema and Theatre Arts students what he’s learned about making it in the industry he loves.

“Jim has been unbelievably generous, even flying to campus from Los Angeles on his own dime to guest lecture, give script notes, and meet one-on-one with our Cinema students,” said Associate Professor Jonathan Slade. “It's really impossible to calculate how valuable his real world experience is to our undergraduates.”

Wilberger routinely tells students “Be willing to start at the bottom,” explaining that he worked his way up from crew-related jobs, like grip and electrician. He also advises: “Get to know people and studios, and eventually the opportunities will come.”

Those opportunities aren’t necessarily limited to Hollywood, said Slade, who just completed production of his second independent film, “Cinder,” which was shot exclusively in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Juliann Guiffre ’10  made strong connections through an internship with Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Md., which led to work on commercials for the lottery and Yuengling beer. And in August she completed a job as a second-second assistant director on a movie film crew in Northern Virginia. Courtney O’Grady ’10 is currently volunteering as a production assistant on an independent film being shot in Philadelphia called “Future Weather.”

“I tell my students at some point you have to roll up your sleeves and get your fingernails dirty in the industry, preferably when you are young and you heal very quickly. That way you can start making decisions about where you'd like to work. Maybe it will be in Hollywood. Maybe it will be Florida or New York. Or maybe it will be using a flip-cam and a laptop in your own basement,” Slade said.

After “Mulligan” wrapped in L.A., Wilberger arranged for Green to spend a few days observing the film editing process. “He started to fit in pretty well and got to know people. I think he had a good experience,” said Wilberger. Green, a Colorado native, concurred. He’s decided that he’s going to try to make a go of it in L.A. So far, he’s landed a full day of paid production assistant work on Wilberger’s latest film, “Mystery Girl” and is busy working the phones and e-mail to find more paying gigs.

Coming in the Sept. 14 issue of News@McDaniel – Communication department adds Cinema major.