Internship launches student's film career in Los Angeles

Derek Johnson

How’s this for a job description – working long days, often late into the night, for weeks on end, sometimes outdoors dealing with changing weather conditions. Life in the film industry isn’t as glamorous as you might think, but it’s exactly where Derek Johnson wants to be.

An aspiring cinematographer, Johnson completed requirements for a bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance (IAP) this past December. (He will officially receive the degree, offered through ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, once he has completed a few elective credits online.) Johnson is now working for Hurlbut Visuals, a Los Angeles-based film production company.

The job resulted from an internship he landed with Hurlbut, thanks to his talent, initiative and determination and the skills he acquired in the ASU program.

“My mentor and professor Charles St. Clair encouraged me to set my sights for a good film internship in L.A. and guided me through the process of preparing my resume, reel and website,” Johnson said. “I planned and prepared for a semester and had everything ready to go.”

Johnson, himself, was obviously ready to go: After completing the internship, he was hired as the personal assistant to innovative cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) whose feature film credits include “Terminator: Salvation,” “We Are Marshall,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” “Drumline” and “Act of Valor.”

Johnson also freelances in L.A. as a camera assistant on commercials, documentaries and short films. “I’m hoping to get into Local 600, The International Cinematographers Guild and work on feature films soon,” he said.

“I definitely believe the IAP program developed me into the artist I am today and set me up for success in several ways,” Johnson said. “The faculty taught me to pursue creative work independently. More importantly, they stressed collaboration, which is an essential skill in the entertainment business.”

Collaboration on multiple levels is a key to the value of the IAP degree program to its students, said Marlene Tromp, director of New College’s Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS), which houses the IAP degree program on ASU’s West campus.

“Our IAP program offers a cutting-edge approach to the arts – in part because of the ways in which technology can be blended with traditional artistic practices and in part because the program is genuinely interdisciplinary, bringing students into the material from a range of perspectives, intellectually and creatively,” Tromp said. “From the sound studio to the stage to the digital environment, our students have the opportunity to grow exponentially as they make art. We also have the good fortune to have a world-class faculty that strives to serve the students and to provide great role models of innovative art themselves.”

“Derek is a great example for our IAP students and all students,” said St. Clair, who teaches acting and directing courses and serves as technical director for the HArCS division.

“Many students have skills, talent and great aspirations. Derek stands out because he possesses the main ingredient, determination,” St. Clair explained. “He listened when I told him, ‘You only get once chance to make a first impression, you’re not ready for L.A. yet, you need more tools in the toolbox.’ Over the next 18 months he worked very, very hard and sacrificed his social life, determined to acquire those tools. That determination provided him this great opportunity; he did it himself.”

Johnson is by no means the only IAP student to benefit from an internship experience. St. Clair and his faculty colleagues have helped students land internships with organizations including The Africa Channel in Los Angeles, the Fox 10 and Univision TV stations in Phoenix, Spectrum Video and Film, Tall Cat Studios, and Phoenix-area theatre companies such as iTheatre Collaborative, Arizona Broadway Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and Theater Works. Several of these internships have led to job offers for IAP students.

Johnson expresses gratitude not only for the career doors the IAP program opened for him but also for the ways in which it has facilitated his growth as a creative artist.

“The IAP program served as a foundation for me to build upon in my own pursuit of the arts,” he said. “It laid the groundwork for thinking creatively and exposed me to several disciplines and artists, which allowed me to find where my interests lie. It has given me the chance to create my own work and developed it with constructive feedback from all of the IAP professors.”

Along with that artistic growth came some important nuts-and-bolts training that has served Johnson well in his career.

“All of my classes in the Media Lab were very useful as well,” Johnson says. “Learning programs like Photoshop and Final Cut served as a great platform where I learned the principles which helped me overcome the initial learning curve. I now use video editing software on a weekly basis, cutting together a variety of videos. Recently I was tasked with creating a manual to go along with a complicated camera system, and without hesitation I was able to create it in Photoshop. These skills have saved me several times in tight situations and have made me valuable as an employee.”

Students from several Western states who choose to pursue the IAP degree (and dozens of other bachelor’s degrees offered by New College and three other ASU colleges) may be eligible for a reduced nonresident tuition rate of 150 percent of Arizona resident tuition plus all applicable fees. Information and eligibility requirements for the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program may be found at