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ASU in Hollywood brings top executives to class


students watching live feed projection of person speaking

ASU film and media students on the Tempe campus listen to Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate, speak during a live feed of a "Welcome to Hollywood" class at ASU's California Center in Santa Monica.

December 05, 2014

Aspiring stars of stage and screen have tried many things to get their shot at fame and fortune. But one Arizona State University alumnus who has made it to the top of Hollywood has simple advice: hard work and dedication can get you where you want to go.

“Find something that you love and stick to it,” said Michael Burns, the vice chairman of Lionsgate, speaking to an ASU film class this week in Santa Monica, California. “Devote time to it.”

Burns shared his experiences, some life lessons and personal advice on how to make it in a notoriously competitive industry at the “Welcome to Hollywood” class taught at ASU’s California Center by film professor Adam Collis.

He argued that, along with dedication, the ambition to strive for big things is crucial to being able to achieve them.

“When looking for a job, you have to ask yourself, where would you be great?” he said. “And then dare to be great.”

Burns has close ties to ASU, where he studied political science and was the president of his fraternity. Now he is the leader of Lionsgate’s corporate management team, and has been involved in the acquisition and production of some of Lionsgate’s biggest box office hits.

The “Welcome to Hollywood” course is part of ASU in Hollywood, a collection of ad hoc classes, programs and internships run by Collis, a professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The goals of "Welcome to Hollywood" include broadening ASU students’ exposure to leaders in the film and television industry. The program also aims to connect ASU to California’s biggest metropolitan area.

In fact, Burns’ speech was streamed live onto the Tempe campus, where 20 Arizona-based students had the opportunity to participate in and interact with the class.

Steven Wallace, an ASU grad who attended the lecture on the California side, said he learned details about budgeting and foreign affairs from Burns’s talk, in addition to getting to hear his words of wisdom.

“He was a very personable speaker, and I just liked his overall message,” Wallace said.

One of those messages was that new technologies can create openings for new opportunities in storytelling.

“You want to go where the puck is going,” Burns told students. “You don’t want to go where it’s been.”

Lionsgate was ahead of the media curve when it came to technology, Burns said, but around the globe technology continues to grow.

Burns is also a believer in social media and argues YouTube can be harnessed to increase someone’s profile: the perfect tool to broadcast uniqueness and get a name noticed.

While Burns touched on the technical and corporate side of the entertainment business, he said he shared his experiences to prove that people have to dig deep in order to survive in this industry.

“Everyone has something unique about themselves. Everyone has a hook. Make yourself stand out,” he said.

Written by Jillian Lopez

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