The students visit Anthony Hopkins' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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Contacts: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
June 19, 2006
Editor’s note: For more information about “Slipstream,” contact Gregg Brilliant at (310) 838-7526 or email@example.com.
DeKalb, Ill. — Six Northern Illinois University students in the Department of Communication are shooting for the stars this summer, as in the Hollywood variety.
As part of a unique summer course, the students are in California working on “Slipstream,” an independent film written and directed by Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, who also stars.
Other cast members include Christian Slater, John Turturro, Michael Clark Duncan, Camryn Manheim, Jeffrey Tambor, S. Epatha Merkerson, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Lawford, Stella Arroyave, Lisa Pepper, Kevin McCarthy, Gavin Grazer, Aaron Tucker and Lana Antonva.
The NIU students, who all have advanced production skills, traveled to Los Angeles two weeks ago to begin working on the film. They are keeping brief diaries of their Hollywood adventure online at www.niu.edu/hollywood/.
“It’s been amazing,” said Laura Vazquez, an NIU professor of communication who developed the internship-like course. “We’ve been on a sound stage with Anthony Hopkins. He shook each student’s hand and tried to remember all their names. They are so warm, friendly and welcoming. The students are just blown away.”
In addition to several locations in the Los Angeles area, filming will take place in the California desert. The students are working long hours, six days a week, but they don’t mind the grueling schedule.
“How many chances do you get to work on a feature-length film made by Anthony Hopkins? I couldn’t pass that up,” said graduate student Mike Gentile of Lindenhurst. “It’s pretty wild. We’ll have five days off in five weeks.”
The other students involved are Becca Berry of Kenosha, Wis., Jeff Negus of Palatine, Dan Marder of River Forest, Mark Hoffmeister of Naperville and Tim Piper of Lombard.
Vazquez credited NIU communication alumnus Robert Katz with developing the opportunity for the students. Katz is a veteran Hollywood producer whose film credits include “Seabiscuit,” “One Hour Photo,” “Dave Chappelle's Block Party” and “Crash,” winner of the 2006 Oscar for Best Picture. Katz, Hopkins and Arroyave are producing “Slipstream.”
“Robert proposed the possibility of having students go out to Los Angeles,” Vazquez said. “I then created a course where the students will actually earn credits.
“It’s my hope that this will be the first of many such summers,” she added.
Shortly after graduating with honors from NIU in 1987, Katz moved to Los Angeles. By his own account, he “worked for free, kicked, scratched and clawed” his way into the film industry. Once he began working regularly in Hollywood, he reconnected with his alma mater.
“I offered to come to NIU to share my experiences in the film business,” he said. “I was inspired by (director) Robert Zemeckis, who did the same when I was an undergrad.”
Katz has frequently come back to NIU and, remembering his own early career struggles, was eager to develop an opportunity that would allow students to experience what it’s like to work on the set of a major motion picture. “There is nothing like practical experience to enhance study,” he said.
Hopkins’ film is a noir-comedy about an actor and would-be screenwriter who, at the very moment of his meeting with fate, comes to discover that life is random and fortune is sightless as he is thrown into a vortex where time, dreams and reality collide. The creative team features acclaimed cinematographer Dante Spinotti and celebrated costume designer Julie Weiss.
Vazquez said the students have been placed in mentored internship positions that match their interests: Mike Gentile is working with the cameramen; Becca Berry in the sound department; Jeff Negus with the assistant directors; Mark Hoffmeister in the props department; Tim Piper with the grips; and Dan Marder in the electric and lighting department.
“They’re learning more than any one person could teach them,” Vazquez said. “They’re in heaven.”
Vazquez, who is a video documentary filmmaker, also will serve as an intern working with film editor Michael Miller. “I'll be available for the students, but I want to learn as much as I can, too,” she said.
The students also will meet regularly with Vazquez and keep journals.
“I know some of my students are interested in finding careers in the film industry, and part of this experience is about reaffirming that career path and making connections,” Vazquez added. “They’re learning practical things about moviemaking, such as the responsibilities of a producer, director and other crew members. They also are finding out just what it takes to make a movie look like it does. They’re seeing how important light is in making a movie.”
Tim Piper plans to make the most of the experience.
“I’m going to be observing everything, just trying to take it all in and learn as much as I can every day,” Piper said. “This is kind of the first step toward getting your foot in the door, so I also hope to meet a lot of people and do a lot of networking. This is definitely the field I want to get into.”
Vazquez also is arranging meetings with NIU alumni who work in the Hollywood movie and television industry. The students already have met in Los Angeles with Bill Weinman, who was on campus this past spring to judge a music-video competition. Weinman is a film and sound editor whose credits include “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Fugitive.”
“Robert Katz and Bill Weinman have been generous with their time, coming back to NIU to talk with students and encourage and support them,” Vazquez said. “They also continue to be very helpful to our graduates who have moved out to L.A. Our Hollywood alums have been great in that regard. To have these busy people take time out of their lives and give back to their alma mater in this way is just amazing. Their life experiences and connections are invaluable.”