Off-Campus Spotlight: Ben Douma ’20, Los Angeles

It’s been quite an experience to move off of Hope’s campus for the fall semester and immerse myself in LA’s Hollywood industry. It’s pretty different out here, but I personally enjoy this environment a lot. I figure I’ll share some of my experiences and observations in a short blog-like format for those on Hope’s campus. 

School is a 10-minute walk away from my apartment, on the 16th floor of a building that also houses a bunch of casting agencies- so there’s a constant stream of actors going in and out. The view from my school is phenomenal. It directly faces the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, and you can see the city sprawl for miles and miles.

I am taking 10 credits of classes which meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My fellow students are all very passionate about making art through film production, which is really cool. Our big semester project has split the students (30 total) into two teams. Each team is working on producing an original 10-minute TV pilot episode. I am one of two cinematographers on our team, so we are in charge of setting up the lighting and operating the camera equipment. Pre-production has all come together so we are starting filming this weekend, and, man… 10-hour shooting days are draining.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I have my internship. The program that I’m taking classes through has set me up with an internship at a camera rental house, where I’m occasionally able to get my hands on some top-notch industry-standard cinema cameras. Pretty cool stuff, as seen below.

It’s interesting to see how many of my expectations about LA have been proven false. I assumed that LA would be a bustling place of people with city-smugness on their faces. But wow, is LA chill. Often, people even give you that signature “friendly passerby smile when you make eye contact” that you see everywhere at Hope. In LA, most people’s craziness is reserved for when they are driving on the road. That expectation was fulfilled and then some.

I’ve been lucky enough to get an inside look at the Hollywood industry, and it’s unique to any other industry I’ve seen. On one end of things, there is a great comradery between people that are working together on projects. But you also see that many people are operating with a socially transactional mindset. This is mostly due to the fact that you need to have good connections and a broad network if you want to move up the ladder in the film industry. You sometimes see that people in the biz won’t take the time to get to know you if they realize that you don’t have anything to offer them in terms of their career advancement. Which is a little off-putting.

Being out here and focusing so much on storytelling has made me very thankful for the experiences that I have been given by Hope’s Theatre Department and Vanderprov. I find myself at an advantage within these creative circles in LA because for the past three years, I have spent hours upon hours entrenched in the nitty-gritty of story development and character exploration during rehearsals. And not to mention the level of professionalism that is expected while being involved in a Hope theatre production. It’s something I hadn’t truly realized until I got out here and had to start applying my storytelling skills to a further extent. 

So if you’re thinking of coming out to LA anytime soon, I highly recommend it. I haven’t even begun to mention the thrill of celebrity sightings, studio tours (as seen in the photo, I got to hold a real Oscar award!), and free tickets to shows like America’s Got Talent, Jimmy Kimmel, etc. It’s fun stuff. Plus, the sun is always shining. But believe it or not, I’m starting to miss the brisk breezes and changing colors of autumn of Hope’s campus… 

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