Former Elkhorn man's TV dreams gain momentum with CBS internship
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Television Academy Foundation intern Brendan O'Connor designed and built this 1400s English cottage for his Chapman University graduate thesis film. Photo submitted.
Brendan O’Connor has known most of his life what career journey he wanted to travel. But the necessary paths of timing and opportunity didn’t cross until recently.
O’Connor, 27, is a Chicago native who moved to the Elkhorn area with his parents about eight years ago. However, his fortuitous convergence of factors didn’t occur until after he moved to California.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
“I was living in Orange County and working on my master’s degree, and one of my instructors told me that I should apply for it,” O’Connor said about the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation internship. “I was a finalist last year, but this year I got it.”
O’Connor earned his master’s in May and then concentrated on the eight-week internship, which he completed in mid-August.
Only 40 applicants, who must be college or graduate students, in a pool of more than 1,000 are selected for the internship, which O’Connor attended at CBS Television/Hollywood Studios. The foundation is the charitable wing of the television academy, the organization that puts on the Emmys.
“It was a great opportunity,” O’Connor said. “It wasn’t so much hands-on as it was observing everything and everyone, from art designers to set designers. It was mostly one-on-one following these various directors around and watching what they do. I got to sit in on meetings and sessions with cameramen, light crews, directors and producers, and (see) how everything fit into the budget.
“It was great because I learned about so many different aspects that go into putting together a TV show or movie.”
O’Connor gained experience being on the sets of such CBS shows as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” and Fox shows “Dexter” and “Shameless.”
“I got to do hands-on activities like building set models in the office and doing graphic design work to make posters, which I could use some of my background and skills,” he added. “But the most important aspects were getting to be side-by-side with production designers and making contacts and building relationships.”
O’Connor, who admits to missing Midwest cooking, will return to Walworth County this fall for a short respite from what he calls “the Hollywood bubble.”
Although it was a struggle at times, O’Connor knows that he gained invaluable experience before leaving those Midwest roots.
He attended and received his associate’s degree from Gateway Technical College in interior design, attending classes at the Elkhorn and Kenosha campuses. He then moved back to Chicago and got his bachelor’s degree at Harrington College of Design, an institution that one of his Gateway instructors also had attended, in 2010.
“While I was at Gateway Technical College, I worked as a visual merchandiser at two stores in Lake Geneva,” O’Connor said of Global Gourmet and Scents and Sensibilities. “I was responsible for seasonal storefront windows, in store and print advertising, and product displays. I also maintained a part-time design assistant position with Speakers and Events R Us based out of Williams Bay.
“Under the guidance of Judy Ippolito, I learned how to conceptualize event spaces, shop for materials while staying within a budget and execute a successful design plan. I worked with Speakers for over five years. This was my production boot camp, and I truly owe the team at Speakers a huge thank you for training me and pushing me to design independently.”
But those accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible if not for his family.