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Just starting off, ASU alum snags job on 'The Middle'

Chris Bradley, Josh Estes, and Kevin Sandler

Josh Estes (center) took advantage of mentorship and professional development opportunities at ASU. He studied screenwriting with Christopher Bradley (left) and secured a coveted Sundance Film Festival internship with Kevin Sandler (right), both faculty in the Department of English’s film and media studies program.

July 30, 2015

Josh Estes is humble, hard-working, stable – and not planning to couch-surf anytime soon.

The Arizona State University graduate just moved to Hollywood last week, but he doesn’t have to wait tables until he “makes it.” Estes has already landed his first job in Tinseltown as a production assistant on “The Middle,” a family comedy starring Patricia Heaton on ABC.

“And,” he added, “my wife and I have already found an apartment.”

Estes received his Master of Advanced Study (MAS) in American media and popular culture from ASU’s Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this past May. He is also a graduate of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013.

The MAS degree is offered completely online and provides a background in critical approaches to film and media studies. The program includes well-connected internships and professional development opportunities in addition to the rigorous academic curriculum.

Estes, who is an Arizona native, did an independent study with ASU lecturer Christopher Bradley. An award-winning screenwriter as well as a former Hollywood actor, Bradley was impressed with Estes’ maturity and work ethic.

“I knew from the first class that Josh was someone who had not only writing talent, but also had a great deal of drive,” Bradley said. “He wrote nearly twice what he needed to. He finished one thing and then immediately started something else. He’s the dream independent study student.”

Estes completed an entire feature screenplay and a television pilot during his sessions with Bradley. He points to the training and mentoring he received at ASU as keys to his success in rather quickly landing a post-graduation job in the competitive film world.

“The foundation that I have for understanding the television business stemmed from the MAS program here,” he said. “In addition to the networking opportunities it provided, the program gave me an understanding of how different variables affect storytelling.”

Another ASU opportunity that Estes took advantage of was the annual Sundance Film Festival Trip, led by associate professor Kevin Sandler. Each January, ASU student interns volunteer as members of the festival team, helping to usher, take tickets, manage lines and run its theatres. During their off-time, interns can attend movie screenings, meet filmmakers and hear guest speakers. Students are selected for the internship in a competitive process. Sandler said the internship has proven to be “instrumental” for past ASU interns in securing their first jobs after graduation.

Estes said the experience at Sundance was eye-opening and crucial to his current direction.

“Sundance was really my first exposure with the industry,” he said. “Going to different panels or listening to the guest speakers that professor Sandler brought in, learning from them, seeing the excitement around the films, hearing from the people who made them - just confirmed that this was what I want to do, that this was what I want to be a part of.”

The selective internship also added credibility to his experience during job interviews.

“Everyone was like, ‘you went to Sundance?’ It was a conversation starter on my resume,” he said. “It showed a level of seriousness.”

Ironically, Estes found a valuable contact not in Los Angeles or Sundance, but at an ASU event. It was a live-streamed webinar for online students that featured a Hollywood studio staffer discussing her successful career. He was the only in-person attendee. Estes later sent the woman his resume, and she alerted him to the open position at “The Middle.”

“He showed up. It’s sometimes kind of that simple,” Bradley said. “I think a lot of students miss opportunities like that. Josh had a very clear idea of what he wanted and was very good at grabbing those opportunities.”

During his resulting interview with the staff of “The Middle,” he was expecting to be asked about his work experience and internships. He was surprised by other questions.

“When I met the executive producer, he asked me what I watched and why,” Estes said.

Estes was able to answer in a way that showed he had a nuanced understanding of television: he described narrative, story arc and the business of film in general.

“I also said, ‘I can even offer feedback on screenplay formatting. For instance, I can tell you if there are extra spaces between letters,’” he joked.

Estes’s responses must have been the right ones, because he was eventually offered the production assistant job and will begin this August. The reaction from his family and friends was positive, if generationally skewed.

“When I told everyone I was working on ‘The Middle,’ my friends who were my age – mid-20s – had no idea what I was talking about. People my parents’ age and up – that was another story. My grandma, who is 84, said, ‘Oh, I watch “The Middle” every week!’”

Estes will work with the show’s producers and writers at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California. No doubt, his drive to succeed will push him far toward success.

“Two years from now, I see myself working as a writers’ assistant or assistant to a showrunner. Ten years from now, if I’m working on a television show as a writer: that’s where I would love to be.”

If he keeps his current course, that’s likely where Estes will end up.

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