Wharton Students Learn: How to Succeed in Hollywood


Thank you to Wharton Magazine for sharing my article about my day at Paramount Studios with Wharton Students and Alumni.

Lisa Niver writes for Wharton Magazine about Paramount StudiosHow to Succeed in Hollywood: Wharton students met with alumni in show business through the Wharton Industry Exploration Program

Last month, 40 students flew to Los Angeles for a week as part of the Wharton Industry Exploration Program (WIEP) to learn about and experience the entertainment industry. I was able to participate with them in the Student Alumni Networking mixer and joined them for a day on the Paramount lot.

Lee Kramer, Mike Karz, Lisa Niver and Alejandro Rodriguez at Wharton Panel at Paramount Studios

At the Sherry Lansing Theater at Paramount Studio, Doug Belgrad C87 gave the WIEP group a mini-course on film production. He explained how the film-studio pipeline works, from development (acquisition into screenplay), packaging (talent, director), green light, production, and marketing. Belgrad shared stories and insights from more than a decade as head of production at Columbia and Sony Pictures and from his new company, 2.0 Entertainment. He explained that with the seemingly unlimited forms of entertainment available to audiences today, the biggest challenge for all media is this: How do you grab and keep the audience’s attention?

Doug Belgrade Wharton ParamountBelgrad then moderated a panel of industry experts which consisted of Sara Scott C00 from Universal Pictures, Mike Karz C89 W89 of Karz Entertainment, Jordana Mollick from Black Sheep Entertainment, and Robert Cort C68 G70 WG74 of Robert Cort Productions, who just produced his 57th movie. The panelists shared their winding journeys to success and the alumni speakers mentioned how being part of the Wharton and Penn network has helped them in their circuitous routes. Karz remarked, “I owe a lot of where I am today to Penn,” explaining how connections at networking events led to a series of jobs and the start to his career.

Wharton Panel at Paramount StudiosScott’s journey began in Philadelphia in casting. Like several of the others, she spoke about how her early jobs were not glamorous. When a fellow alum encouraged her to take an entry-level position, she replied, “I went to Penn and I am going to answer phones and be someone’s assistant.” The friend responded, “What do you think I am doing?” Being willing to start with those jobs led to an incredible future and she is now vice president of production development at Universal Pictures.

Cort emphasized that there is no straight path to success in this industry. Many parents are worried about their children entering Hollywood, as there’s no clear path to success. However, after 35 years, Cort continues to love his job producing movies.

It was clear from each speaker that they love what they do and each path was very individual, but mentors and networks made the journey possible. Belgrad said, “My joy is building relationships with creative and brilliant people. You need EQ to be in this field.”

Lisa Niver and Wharton StudentsI was surprised when Karz spoke about how long it takes to make a movie. “It is basically a miracle when a movie gets made,” he said. “‘Valentine’s Day’ was a nine year process.” He was working on the movie with New Line Cinema and they went out of business. Then he worked with MGM Studios and they went out of business. He had Gary Marshall as the director and then New Line was back in business at Warner Brothers. At this point, Marshall was able to get Julia Roberts involved and the movie was finally made. “It was not easy but when great things happen like having the biggest opening weekend, it is gratifying,” Karz said. Cort agreed and added, “It took nine years to make ‘Runaway Bride.’”

The speakers also discussed which movies get nominated for Oscars, the impact of globalization on movies internationally, and studios being owned by giant corporations. They shared about how much money it takes to get a film from story idea to movie theater and the changes to their jobs with streaming and future technologies. That said, Cort explained, “Currently there is more opportunity in the TV world and it is more orderly.” Belgrad agreed that television is a booming business. “It is a golden age for content and you can go back and forth between movies and TV. Chase down great stories and then find them a place to live.”

In his closing remarks, Belgrad reminded the students that, “One of the biggest risks is not taking chances. You need to create something that breaks through the clutter and brings audiences what they want. Prudent risk-taking is incredibly important. The audience wants something fresh and different.”

See this article on Wharton Magazine

Paramount Studios

Lisa Ellen Niver

After exploring 99 countries and sailing for seven years on the high seas, Lisa Niver is ready for more active adventures! Find her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.25 million views on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and YouTube. Her stories include Dutch designer villas for Luxury Magazine, interviewing Fabien Cousteau for Delta Sky, skiing with the blind for Sierra and WWII for Saturday Evening Post and Smithsonian. She is verified on both Twitter and Facebook and is the Adventure Correspondent for The Jet Set TV. Her latest projects are 50 new things before she is 50 and Facebook Live for USA Today 10best. She has run 13 Travel Writing Awards publishing nearly 2000 writers from 75 countries and this summer is the first We Said Go Travel Photo Competition. She was a winner in the 59th annual 2016 Southern California Journalism Awards for her print column in The Jewish Journal. She was invited to the United Nations as a Champions of Humanity ambassador, to the red carpet at the Oscars with United Airlines and to New Orleans with American Express and Starwood Hotels. She also contributes to USA Today, Wharton Business Magazine, the Jewish Journal and was a 2012 nominee for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, a 2014 nominee for the Charles Bronfman Prize and a finalist in two categories for the 59th annual Southern California Journalism Awards.

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