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Even in TV’s new golden age, with its surfeit of content, breaking into Hollywood is a Herculean challenge, especially for those who lack industry connections. But the uninitiated can take heart from tried-and-true entry points like the Television Academy Foundation’s College Television Awards, which offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to aspiring creators. The deadline is Oct. 19 to submit projects for a trophy and a cash prize of $3,000. But, as every college and grad school student knows, the real bounty is a chance to visit Hollywood and rub elbows at the awards ceremony, which will take place next March (nominees will be announced Jan. 14).
Since 1979, the College Television Awards have recognized students working in various disciplines, serving as an entry point for a career in television and media. Past winners include editors, writers, producers and other personnel on shows like Ray Donovan, Grey’s Anatomy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mad Men, 60 Minutes, Parks and Recreation, Empire and others. Many of the more than 600 College Television Award alumni continue to attend networking opportunities like the awards ceremony and other events throughout the year.
“They had a soiree afterward and I got approached by a whole bunch of people there, Pixar and other companies interested in up-and-coming talent,” 2017 winner Ben Hoff tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I got work out of winning that award. It was a blast.”
Hoff began his career the previous year, after earning his MFA at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and winning a placement, through the prestigious Television Academy Foundation Internship Program, at Sparks and Shadows, composer Bear McCreary’s company responsible for scoring shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Walking Dead.
Touted as one of the 10 best internship programs in the nation by The Princeton Review, the program offers eight-week paid, full-time positions. Each year, 50 hopefuls are selected in more than 30 categories; in 2017, 73 percent of the program’s interns were female and 45 percent were nonwhite. Five former interns were nominated for 2017 Emmy Awards and two were named winners: Writer Rachel Axler won for Veep (her third statuette) and director Rich Preuss won for The Oscars: All Access. Other alums work on shows like Saturday Night Live, The Fosters, The Simpsons, Dancing With the Stars and Orange Is the New Black.
“My initial reaction, I audibly cheered out loud. I was at a FedEx place. I jumped up and yelled and everybody stared at me,” Hoff recalls of learning he’d scored an internship. “For film music, it’s the best internship you can get. The entertainment industry as a whole is hard to break into, but the film and TV music world is incredibly small. It really was the catalyst that has enabled me to have a career so far. It’s changed everything.”
Over the past few years, Hoff has come to see the importance of mentoring and is eager to give back in a town built on contacts. Since completing his internship at Sparks and Shadows, he has become a full-time orchestrator but continues to assist clients on movies like The Nun, currently in theaters, and the upcoming Venom.
“I’m at my dream gig right now. I’m working with some of the best orchestrators in Hollywood,” he says with a grin. “I’m on track to do what I want to for the rest of my life.”
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