Students assist “Daily Show’s” Chicago production

By Molly Walsh, Campus Reporter

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  • Several Columbia student, including Kendra Keeter-Gray (pictured) worked on set of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" as production assistants.

    Monica Westlake

  • Working as a production assistant gave students like Georgia Dimas, junior business and entrepreneurship major, the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals.

    Monica Westlake

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Though it may not be the most glamorous job, production assistants are an integral part of television or movie production. Provided with an opportunity to work in their fields on a nationally broadcast show, Columbia students were tapped as PAs on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” during its Oct. 16–19 Chicago taping.

PAs completed various tasks for the show, including handling prop runs and craft service needs, shuttling staff, transcribing footage, and assisting with field shoots prior to the taping at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., according to the Career Center’s job description of the assignment.

Natalie Toland, senior theatre major, said working as a PA on “The Daily Show” made her appreciate the extensive work that goes into daily television. Toland is the host of “Columbia Tonight,” a student-run late night talk show that produces an episode every semester.

“It was cool to see how a real production runs,” Toland said. “It reminds me that in order for it to run properly, you need to have a giant crew, and [‘Columbia Tonight’ doesn’t], so we do the best that we can with what we have. I definitely see how in the future it will only get easier because there will be more hands.”

Toland recalled stumbling over her words while handing Trevor Noah a water bottle and dropping the other bottles behind her.

 “[Working on the show] made the fantasy world of TV seem so much more real and mundane,” Toland said.

It was surreal watching the show the night after helping build the set pieces, said Kendra Keeter-Gray, a sophomore cinema and television arts major.

 Keeter-Gray helped shoot “The Daily Show’s” cold open, which was a parody of the iconic Chicago-filmed parade scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“I got to work with real-life producers who are currently doing a job that I myself could have,” Keeter-Gray said.

Georgia Dimas, junior business and entrepreneurship major, said she was never interested in being aPA until she worked on “The Daily Show,” which she applied for via email on a whim.

 “My favorite part of working as a PA was meeting so many new people and connections,” Dimas said. “You always hear, especially going to Columbia, about the people you meet and that’s how you’re gonna get the jobs. You never really see it until you’re working.”

 Associate Professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department Michael Caplan said working as a production assistant is a standard pathway for anyone looking to get a footing in the film or television industry.

Caplan said he worked as a PA for a 1991 film called “V.I. Warshawski,” which showed him how important every role is in creating a movie or television show.

Even though you’re at the bottom of the food chain, you’re still really important,” Caplan said. “People will turn to you and say, Hey we need this right away,’ and if you don’t do it, it can really impair what’s going on.”

Students are also preparing for internships at Columbia by learning from the range of professional experiences the professors offer, Caplan added.

Toland said the resources offered at Columbia, such as Handshake, create opportunities for internships like working as a PA for “The Daily Show.”

“I am so grateful for the opportunity,” Toland said. “Now It’s part of my network which is really cool. If I went to New York, I’d have people that I could contact and that’s really cool. It was a good reminder that this is what I want to do.”

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