Biola University alumni Sydney Patapoff (’09) and Nick Patapoff (’10) have worked steadily in the L.A. entertainment industry since graduating from Biola. Sydney is an assistant director and member of the Directors Guild of America with a wide array of credits on TV series such as “The Office” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” She is also co-founder, with Andrew Watkins ('09), of the 558 Network, an independent organization for Biola alumni in the entertainment industries that encourages collaborative interaction and job sharing. Nick, whose credits include “New Girl” and Marvel's "Runaways,” among others, works as a production supervisor.

In Spring 2020, Sydney and Nick teamed up to teach a two-day weekend course for Cinema and Media Arts students at Biola, “The Role of the Production Assistant.” The class was successful, drawing together several industry guest speakers to instruct over 20 students how to land and keep their first Hollywood job. We talked to Sydney about her experience with the class.

How did the idea for the course come about?

My husband, Nick, and I are a part of the CMA Curriculum Committee that meets every couple of months to advise the School of Cinema and Media Arts on how to craft a curriculum that will be most effective for students once they graduate. One repeated theme has been that while students are well versed in the big picture aspects of film and television, they often lack essential “hirable skills” that the average PA or assistant needs. Eventually, those conversations evolved into “The Role of the Production Assistant” course — a hands on, practical weekend seminar that taught students everything from how to fill out “start work” before a new show to what a Prop Gang Boss is. 

Who are some of the speakers you brought in for the class?

We were really fortunate to have a lot of alumni and other Christians in the industry join us for the class. Nick and I taught the class, but we also had current Office PAs, Production Managers, Set Dressers, Editors, Directors, Writers and Camera ACs join us. As a part of The 558 Network, a networking and fellowship group made up of over 500 Biola alumni working in entertainment, I was able to reach out to the network and connect with a variety of different alumni who all wanted to help. That’s the really special thing about Biola’s CMA alumni — they’re all eager to give back, whether by volunteering through 558 or offering to come speak and teach at Biola. 

What is the value of a class like this in today's economy? What do you hope students got out of it? 

Students today face significant competition when applying for entry level positions like PAs and Assistants. It’s not simply enough to have an interest in the industry — employers expect even green PAs to come in with a basic understanding of set procedures and etiquette. Likewise, students should know what to expect before embarking on this journey. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, and it’s often a lot of manual labor. My hope is this class gave the students both realistic expectations as they begin their industry journey, but also encouraged them by giving them the hands-on skills to make it through their first show. 

Would you consider doing a class like this again? 

Yes! It’s encouraging as an alumnus to see students engage in new material, and you celebrate with them when they finally “get it.” On a personal level, it helped spark an excitement in me as the students reminded me of my own passion and drive that led me to start this crazy journey in the first place. Of course, getting to scout the next generation for potential PAs is a great perk as well! 

The class took place February 8 and 9 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., mimicking the hours of a typical PA job. The feedback from the students was resoundingly positive.

“A highlight from the class was the hands-on opportunity it offered,” said Cinema & Media Arts major Ellie LaFrombois. “While all of the information Sydney and Nick gave the class was really valuable, the practical skills were what I most clearly remember. Having us make sides, coordinate coffee runs, and learn how to prep, care for and coordinate handing out walkies felt immensely useful and seemed like the part which most strongly prepared me for actual PA work.”

According to Biola junior Perry Bigelow, the highlight of the course was the guest speakers.

“Getting to talk with so many people that are actively in the industry was very insightful,” said Bigelow. “Overall the class taught and prepared me for the film industry in ways I thought I would have never been prepared for.”

The power of alumni networking played a crucial role in the creation and execution of the course. As the School of Cinema and Media Arts continues to develop unique classroom opportunities for students, Biola alumni continue to be an invaluable resource, offering budding filmmakers their hard-won wisdom and experience.

For more information about different programs offered at Biola’s School of Cinema and Media Arts, please visit the website.