Alums find their way through Hollywood

by Rebecca Leffler | 11/3/03 6:00am

Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles profiling alums working on the big and small screens.

You've finally graduated from Dartmouth. Your GPA is approaching 4.0, you have more extracurricular activities on your resume than an overachieving high-schooler on speed, and you've taken every film class offered at Dartmouth for the past four years. Hollywood, here you come.

But before you fork over the down payment for that mansion in Beverly Hills, be prepared that your first job will probably entail making coffee for your boss' boss' boss' assistant's ... dog. Yes, the road to Hollywood success is a long one, and even an Ivy League education doesn't have quite enough gas to speed up the process.

Just ask alumni Tim O'Hair '88 and Joseph LaBracio '00 who have both succeeded in the entertainment and media industry, but who learned the hard way that the cream really does rise to the top.

"Coming out of Dartmouth, you think you know everything, and you feel a sense of entitlement that you should have a great job with great pay right away, but you have to loosen up your ego a little bit coming out and take jobs that can lead to really, really good things," LaBracio said.

O'Hair agreed. "An Ivy League education," he said, "helps you get attention on a resume, even though you have to start at the bottom level. You need to take an apprenticeship approach to your career when you first start out."

O'Hair started at Orion Pictures in New York in International Sales and Distribution. He then came to Los Angeles and became a story analyst for Imagine Entertainment, directors Ridley Scott and Wolfgang Pedersen and Tristar Pictures, among others.

When many Tristar employees made the jump to Universal, O'Hair was brought to Universal as a story analyst and soon promoted to Production Executive. After a six-year run at Universal, O'Hair left the studio last June to start his own independently financed production company.

O'Hair's company is in its incipient stages, and he and his associates are in the process of reading scripts and getting everything up and running to soon begin production on what O'Hair hopes will be "smart movies for the youth audience."

After almost 15 years away from Dartmouth, O'Hair can finally be his own boss. Yet despite his success, O'Hair hasn't forgotten his roots.

"Hollywood is a nepotistic system," he said. "I've always tried to help out the younger alumni out here because this becomes your form of nepotism. Dartmouth alumni ties are very strong, and your undergraduate education can help get you a foot in the door somewhere."

O'Hair was not a film major, but he did take a number of courses in screenwriting and film history. "My Dartmouth courses gave me a solid foundation for movies and cinematic history," he said.

"They gave me a more literate approach to movie-making; understanding story and story structure, for example, which comes to bear in my experience as a reader and story analyst."

O'Hair also feels that "the most important thing as an undergraduate is to take a broad range of courses," he said.

Case in point: Joe LaBracio '00 who was a government major at Dartmouth but has since gone into the field of television media. At Dartmouth, LaBracio wrote a political column for "The D," was active in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, sang in the popular a capella group Final Cut and participated in soccer intramurals.

As an undergraduate, LaBracio knew he wanted to go into media journalism, but had not yet decided exactly what he wanted to do.

Then, one night in the winter of his senior year, after a night of studying and a game of pong, he went back to his room at around 3 a.m. and looked up jobs on A posting for a fellowship with "Nightline" popped up, and LaBracio seized the opportunity.

After beating out over 400 people for the job, LaBracio accepted the offer for the one-year journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C., which would teach him how to be a producer.

Within the first five weeks of his fellowship, LaBracio was sent to Alabama to help out a Nightline producer with a series on crime and punishment where he worked with Ted Koppel one-on-one and was soon asked to take over as Koppel's assistant, ending his fellowship.

According to the recent alum, "It was a no-brainer decision to make."

He describes the experience as "two years of having more access to Ted than even his family. As his assistant, I was the gatekeeper to Ted ... Whenever he was working, I was working. I learned from him good journalistic integrity."

Though LaBracio was officially an "assistant," he was able to write for the "Nightline" website in addition to pitching a few projects of his own and "just soaking up as much as I could during those two years."

According to LaBracio, Koppel is "one of the most down-to-earth, most low-maintenance people I have ever dealt with."

Soon, however, LaBracio's career took a dramatic turn. He moved himself out to Los Angeles for a job in the more creative side of television media, keeping in mind that, as he points out, "everyone starts as an assistant."

CSI's Josh Berman told him "If your ego can handle it, come be an assistant," LaBracio said. He accepted the humbling offer and moved to L.A. around nine months ago as the assistant to the Senior Vice President of Alternate Series Development at CBS, where he is involved with such popular reality television shows such as "Survivor," "The Amazing Race" and "Big Brother."

Though he has been there for less than a year, LaBracio is on the brink of being promoted to an executive position. He has learned that "everyone has to start at the bottom and pay your dues."

Like many Dartmouth alums in the entertainment industry, LaBracio says, "I like what I do. I make television, ya know? ... When I worked at 'Nightline,' I looked forward to going to work every day. As long as you're having fun, and you like what you're doing, nothing else matters."

LaBracio added, "My career in the world of news/entertainment/television is still very young. The few things I realized quickly after Dartmouth -- and still keep in mind -- are the need to always keep my ego in check and to always be open to learning from whatever situation I am in. I don't believe there is such a thing as the perfect job, but it's important to take a risk, do something you enjoy and make sure you surround yourself with at least a few people you can learn from and respect."