Loyal fans regularly tune into their favorite TV shows to watch the characters’ antics play out, but what happens behind the scenes that viewers don’t get to see?
College of Charleston alumna Ali Varga ’15 is privy to this unique view as a production coordinator for ABC/Disney Television Group in Los Angeles.
Varga stepped back from her fast-paced job to discuss her time at CofC, her new gig at one of the most highly regarded studios in the country and what the right internship can do for you.
Q: What are your responsibilities as a production coordinator?
My job is two-fold. For one, I support my boss who is a vice president of production at ABC Studios. I essentially act as her assistant and manage her schedule, answer phones, and respond to emails. As a production coordinator, I provide support to our productions by establishing and organizing office space for production and writers, advising crew on ABC studio policies and procedures, overseeing all start paperwork for cast and crew, and creating production calendars which determine the shooting schedule for the run of the show from writers prep until the show airs on network TV.
Q: Describe your typical day at work.
My job is anything but typical! The thing about production is that one second everything is smooth sailing, and the next you’re putting out fires left and right. Now, we’re gearing up for two of our shows to start production, so we’re busy hiring crew, interviewing department heads, setting up office space, finding stage space, traveling the crew and actors, and making sure everything is ready to go for the first day of production. It’s crazy busy, super fast-paced, and I love every second of it!
Q: How did you ultimately land your current job?
My career at ABC began as an intern in the summer of 2015 and I haven’t looked back since. I ended up becoming very close with one executive in particular (she worked on “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” — I was in awe of her!) and she really took me under her wing. One day, she asked to see me in her office — naturally, I thought I was in trouble. She said that her coordinator was leaving the company that she’d love for me to take over the position. I was stunned! I went through a couple rounds of interviews and landed the gig.
Q: What media exposure did you have at CofC that helped you break into the entertainment industry?
One class that was invaluable to me was Introduction to Film, a subject that I’m super passionate about. I’ve always loved film, and since CofC didn’t offer it as a major, I wanted to take advantage of this class. It gave me such a deep appreciation for all elements of the filmmaking process. We talked about the creative, pre-production, production, post-production, and final delivery of a film, which very much applies to what I do at my current job. When you truly understand what the director, writers, and actors are trying to convey on screen it’s just amazing.
Q: What is the ABC/Disney Television Group atmosphere like?
The company and our department did such an amazing job integrating me into the group and making me feel like I was a part of their “family.” I have never felt so taken care of by a company and was really surprised at how welcoming everyone was. Even as an intern, the crews and casts welcomed me with open arms. During prep, I went to every meeting, all the location and tech scouts, and sat in on a table read for the episode. I got to shadow all different departments from the director to the art department and observe the entire filming of the episode. I truly learned more about production in those couple weeks than I could have if I studied it in college.
Q: How have you adjusted to life on the West Coast?
I absolutely love the West Coast and have no intention of living anywhere else (except when I retire to Charleston). It’s fun to be here. I still freak out when I see the Hollywood sign from the freeway and shamefully do get excited when I see a celeb (even if it’s a cast member from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”).
Q: What advice would you offer students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?
Take advantage of summer internships. Whether in Charleston or your hometown, you won’t regret having industry experience. Make connections – I can’t stress that enough. You never know where they will lead you. When you’re on the job, always, always have a positive attitude. Even if you’re getting your boss coffee and picking up lunch orders, do it to the best of your ability. If you do those menial tasks with a smile, and do them correctly, people will take notice and appreciate you.