When Kevin Bright arrived at 99 Summer St., an Emerson office space, workers in the quiet area were well-aware of who had walked through the doors. With his dramatic rustlings of his long gray hair, and his loud, raspy voice, Bright livened up the place.
Between bites of a salt bagel, Bright reclined in his seat and explained his vision for Emerson’s new Los Angeles campus, located on Sunset Boulevard, which will open in January. In spring 2012, Bright, an Emerson graduate and producer of Friends, was named the center’s director.
He said his goal for the new campus is to help students have a “California experience.”
“Up until now, the LA program has been in the model of study abroad program,” said Bright. “There haven’t been a lot of demands; students go there, get their internships and supporting classes, have a good time, and come back. But now you’re going to be in middle of Hollywood, not stuck in Burbank.”
The school’s new central location will make traveling to classes and internships simpler, and help build a connection among Emerson students, said Bright.
Erinn Pascall, a writing, literature, and publishing senior, didn’t apply for the LA program based on the lack of housing, she said.
“I did not consider the LA campus, one of the reasons being that I didn’t have a place to stay,” said Pascall.
Andrew Tiedemann, the college’s vice president for communication and marketing, said consolidating students into one building will help them feel more comfortable during their time across the country. Currently, students live in the Oakwood apartment complex in Burbank, Calif. among about 3,000 other young people, said Tiedemann.
“Now, there will be a sense of community,” he said.
Jake Schwartz, a freshman visual and media arts major, agreed that the dorms will make the move easier for students.
“It’s nice that in LA, a place where so many filmmakers go, having a place to stay will ease the transition,” he said.
Bright said he hopes to better integrate students across the college, not just those in visual and media arts, journalism, and marketing communication students, who he said apply to the program most frequently.
These plans include forging partnerships with local theaters for performing arts majors, and magazines for writing, literature, and publishing majors, said Bright. He said he also hopes to have more communication disorders majors come to LA, because the area has a need for speech pathologists.
“There is a tremendous demand for these students,” said Bright. “The jobs are really competitive in Boston, but they are more available in LA.”
In the future, Bright said he hopes to develop a fifth-year program where visual and media arts students can study the business side of Hollywood, with a focus on how to pursue employment.
Now, graduate students will also be able to apply to the program, said Tiedemann. Bright said in coming years, students — both undergraduates and graduates — may be able to come to the campus exclusively to take classes without having to intern, which is a requirement in the current program’s structure.
Bright’s plans were vague, but he said this is because he does not know how the campus will function yet.
“It does take time,” he said. “It’s a new building, and it doesn’t have its sea legs yet. We don’t know how we can best use it; the first semester will be a learning experience.”
This year, the LA Program has seen its highest number of applicants to date, according to an email from David Griffin, director of international study and external programs, earlier in October. Applications are due Nov. 1, but Griffin said his department received 134 applications for summer 2014, fall 2014, and spring 2015 combined. There are 325 applications in progress for those semesters as well, said Griffin.
Last year, Griffin said he received 99 applications for summer, fall, and spring combined.
Bright said he is happy with the increase, because the building is being built to house more students. Currently, the school accepts 90 students; this January, 130 students will participate in the program, and in the fall, the facility will reach its maximum capacity with 200 students, he said.
Inside the building, a “distance learning” room with video conferencing equipment will be available so students can take courses with professors from Boston and across the globe, Bright said. New projection technology will be installed in the facility’s theaters, and high-tech sound mixing studios will be put in place. The sound mixing equipment will be an improvement from that available at the Boston campus.
“My hope is that students start their films in Boston, edit it, and bring it to LA to sound mix,” he said. “There is a lot of potential for students within that building.”
Dormitory rooms in the building will follow the model of the Colonial Building, said Tiedemann. The rooms will be primarily singles within suites, but a few doubles will also be available, he said.
A common cooking area will be on the fifth floor of the 10-story building, said Bright. This large space will connect to a terrace with a barbecue, where students can sit around tables and fire pits, he said.
At the street level, Emerson Kitchen, a cafe, will serve snacks and sandwiches. In the morning, students running to their internships will be able to order breakfast from the cafe on their phones, or pick it up from a cooler within the building.
The building was designed by award-winning architect Thom Mayne, who has designed structures for Cooper Union in New York and the University of Toronto.
“I can’t say enough about how great this building looks,” said Bright. “When you see the real deal, it’s pretty incredible; it is a work of art.”
Another perk is access to two Zip Cars, or on-the-go rental cars, so students can use them for errands.
Along with a larger number of students, the Will & Grace set, a fixture of Emerson’s Iwasaki Library, will move to California.
According to Tiedemann, this was Bright’s idea, and was approved by President M. Lee Pelton after he checked with Max Mutchnick, the executive producer of the show and an alumnus of the college. Bright said he hoped this would ease student complaints with a lack of space in the library. The move will free up about 600 square feet, which will be dedicated to more seating. The library occupies 22,000 square feet in the Walker Building, said Robert Fleming, executive director of the library.
In the coming weeks, the original set designers from the comedy will fly to Boston to dismantle the apartment, said Tiedemann. The set has been in the library since 2008, when Mutchnick donated it.
“The Will & Grace set is coming home,” said Bright.