Many New Yorkers have glimpsed their city’s frenetic film industry only in passing: streets blocked off for location shoots, production crews crowded protectively around actors. But alumni Mike McGrail '07CPS has earned an inside view of the film industry’s mystery, glamour and “grunge.”
As a former television and film major at St. John’s University’s Staten Island campus, Mike has gained valuable professional experience in the industry. He has served as an intern at two major New York production companies, as well as an extra in a soon-to-be released motion picture.
The aspiring actor/director thanks the television and film studies program at St. John’s for unlocking doors to a competitive industry. “I’m very glad I graduated from St. John’s,” says Mike. “I learned things and made contacts that some people think are only available at major film schools. Of course, if you’re interested in film and TV, being a train ride away from Manhattan is a definite plus.”
Last summer, Mike began an internship at Mercy Productions in Manhattan’s trendy TriBeCa district. The company was producing East Broadway, an independent film starring writer/actress Faye Ann Lee and Gale Harold, who has appeared in the television series “Deadwood,” “Queer as Folk” and “Law and Order.”
Working on location, Mike assisted with the photography, editing, wardrobe and production—“the works.” He adds, “I would get on the Staten Island ferry for Manhattan at 6 a.m. every morning, and work 14- to 15-hour days, seven days a week. It was hard work, but I had a chance to see film production from every angle.”
During his senior year, Mike completed a second internship at Mad Mad Judy, a major post-production company. “The company mainly works on television. Most movies use digital editing, but television commercials still use film, so it’s valuable experience.”
The contacts Mike has made in the industry led to a job as an extra in the film—Music and Lyrics starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. “There were hundreds of extras,” Mike notes, “but it was exciting to be there, and it was a paid position.”
Equally vital, says Mike, are the skills he has gained and the contacts he has made thanks to his professors at St. John’s. “They’re experienced professionals, so they’re able to teach us every angle of the industry—editing skills, networking, creative and business—bottom to top. That’s what you need to succeed.” His classes also have taught him to use state-of-the-art digital editing software like Avid and Final Cut Pro.
Mike is a third-generation St. John’s student. “My grandfather and my mother are both graduates.” An older brother and an aunt also graduated from St. John’s.
“I always knew it was a great school,” says Mike. “But now I see how different St. John’s is from other colleges my friends went to. This is a very caring campus—it’s easy to make friends here, and the professors are really interested in your success. Going to St. John’s was definitely the right choice for me.”