Emerson College is an institute of higher learning in Boston, Massachusetts, founded more than 130 years ago. It includes facilities for training in the media, including film and television, theater, screenwriting, marketing, communication and journalism, and has produced a large number of graduates working in the fields of the arts and communication. The university has another important base, Emerson College in Los Angeles. Students who spend a semester at Emerson LA are in Hollywood, sacred ground for the film industry, and can now do all their studies at a campus which includes dormitories.
Students enroll at the main campus in Boston and can apply to spend a semester at Emerson in Los Angeles. Most of the students are seniors who come to Los Angeles just before they graduate, and many choose to stay in LA to begin their career. One such student, senior Keira Johnson, talks about the program.
“Most of the students who come to Emerson LA have majored in film or television,” she says. “I’m also a film major.” Emerson LA is an internship-based program, and all students participate in internships. “I’m out for my internship from 9am to 5pm, then come back to take classes from 7pm,” Ms. Johnson says.
The top priority for Emerson LA is that it provides students with a great deal of experience. In other words, to ensure the experience of actual work sites during the internship then, after graduation, to provide the mechanism to smoothly move into society and work. With the campus as a base, students live in Los Angeles, an exciting city of professionals, while experiencing the work world, studying and living in an environment conducive to 24-hour collaboration with other students.
“The Los Angeles program started in the 1980s, but the current campus was born of an idea five or six years ago,” says Kevin Bright, Founding Director of Emerson LA and one of the producers of the popular TV show Friends. “At that time, the program had been in Los Angeles for more than 24 years, and the number of Emerson graduates living in Los Angeles had grown to some 4,000 people. Because of this, we decided that there was a need to make a major commitment to LA, and so we purchased the land.”
However, simply buying the land doesn’t mean that a building is going to be constructed. “It absolutely had to be a symbol for Emerson in Los Angeles,” Mr. Bright says. “It had to be a building that would be a symbol of commitment to the city of Los Angeles, to the students, and to the Hollywood community.” Therefore, they selected Morphosis, the architectural firm of noted architect and Pritzker Architectural Prize winner Thom Mayne.
The reception area of Emerson LA.
No. of students: 3,700
Lecture room. Students who finished their internships in the day study here in the evening.
Student housing was an important part of the Emerson LA concept, to create a living learning experience. Also, because Emerson LA specializes in film and television, students want to be able to shoot anywhere on the campus outside of the residential spaces. It was the Morphosis design that actually granted that wish.
“As a result, professional production companies now shoot in the Emerson LA building,” says Mr. Bright. “The TV drama Scandal, which is a hit in the US, was filmed here, as well as a movie co-produced by Tom Hanks.” And it’s true; the design really is suitable for shooting. It’s one of those rare campuses where the buildings became art.
But it’s not just about the appearance. There is ingenuity in the environment that has been created to support the lives of the young students. “The main aim of Emerson LA is about providing collaboration with the community,” Mr. Bright says. “Because of the spread of the Internet, modern students are able to have a good level of communication even when there is actually a great distance involved. But for me, though, I don’t think you can beat old-fashioned face-to-face collaboration.” Within the campus, there are many different spaces where students often gather, including a terrace where barbecues can be held, and a space where students can bring food and screen movies. This is also part of the plan to improve and encourage collaboration between students.
A variety of events are held at Emerson LA. Apart from the regular teaching at the college, experts in the entertainment industry, journalism and marketing are invited as lecturers, so students have many opportunities to talk directly with leaders in these fields. Many of the experts are alumni of the college. Students are also required to perform eight hours of community service each half-year. Some join in volunteer or charity activities, others help through NPOs, but each is nurturing their place as a member of the Los Angeles community. “It’s eight hours per person, and with a total number of 200 students, this means that Emerson LA contributes a total of 3,200 hours annually to community service,” Mr. Bright says. “This is important in terms of showing our commitment to the city of Los Angeles.”
Just a few years after the new campus was born, there seems to have been a very positive change—for the students, naturally, but also for the community. The collaboration with the professional associations of the entertainment industry is one example. Working with the noted improvisational comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational comedy class was established. Of course, students gain credit for this course. Another class is being held with Funny or Die, a website featuring comedy videos. And as the collaborating with high-profile professional organizations increased, so too the number of students grew. There have also been an increasing number of requests from international educational institutions and professional organizations, so plans are being developed to work with overseas institutions as part of the International Program, something that will further raise the visibility of Emerson LA.
While it’s true throughout the business world, there are especially intense changes now occurring in the entertainment industry. Emerson LA is therefore working to create an environment that can quickly move to respond to changes in the industry. The first-ever for-credit virtual reality filmmaking course in the US was offered right here at Emerson LA. “We hope to continue to rapidly send out our graduates into the Los Angeles community,” Mr. Bright says. “Today most of our students are active in the creative area, but we also hope to foster managerial talent as well. Emerson graduates aren’t only film directors and playwrights, but, in fact, there are more executives. And as long as we are in Los Angeles, we want to do everything we can to give strong support to our graduates.”
text: Yuki Miyamoto
photo: Hirotaka Hashimoto
One of the dorm rooms.
The computer room. Students study using the latest technology.