Our Trip to Hollywood and Back

Puneet Ruparel
Puneet Ruparel

Puneet is a rising second year GMBA student and the Founder & President of Johns Hopkins Carey's Business of Entertainment Club (BoE). Recently, he won the prestigious "Johns Hopkins Brand Ambassador Award" for advancing and promoting the brand of the Johns Hopkins University & the Carey Business School in an outstanding way. Puneet has 10+ years of experience in Entertainment & Entrepreneurship. He has a diverse background in business and arts that gives him a unique understanding of how to come up with creative solutions for making strategic decisions. Post graduation, Puneet is looking to get into business strategic consulting or business development roles to hone his skills.

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Neville Longbottom is one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter series, mostly because he is naïve and underrated. No one expected him to slay Nagini. Yet, when he did, we jumped in joy. Most of us can relate to his ‘underdog’ character. We have been underdogs at one time or another. It’s disheartening when you are against all odds and no one gives you a chance, but when you rise above the doubts and prove your worth, your achievement is much sweeter.

Recently, we did just that. Our career trek to LA was a first for the Business of Entertainment Club (Facebook / B-Involved) and Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. It took hard work, persistence, and support to make it a reality.

Shreyas Koti and I started planning a career trek to Hollywood in August. In December, we were joined by Seul Rhee (MICA’17), and the three of us had an initial Google hangout to assign responsibilities. Purchasing a premium LinkedIn account allowed us to send 100+ emails to various studios, but unfortunately to no avail. We understood that we would need to leverage our own personal connections to make the trip happen. I made a few calls, spoke to a few friends and got confirmation from Maker Studios (a Disney subsidiary) and Mahesh Pailoor, an award-winning, independent director. Shreyas then confirmed a dinner with the JHU Alumni Association. Simultaneously, we received support from the Career Development Office: Corinne Brassfield confirmed with Walton Isaacson, Lionsgate and Mark Victor Productions. Within a month we received 6 confirmations! Shreyas and I knew we could do better, so we picked a date to give us a deadline to work towards.

With a solid deadline in place, we started getting the word out about the trek through posters in high traffic areas. Thirty students confirmed interest; however, when the time came to book flights, no one did. I was surprised by this, but we knew all along that making this trek happen was going to be a challenge.

Again, fliers went out, and this time 18 people RSVP’d, including students from Harbor East, DC and Homewood. Shreyas and I attended an SGA happy hour in DC and met with interested students, as well as Michael Mort (ever-helping friend and well-wisher of the club) who helped secure MPAA for the trek.

Come February, many DC students realized they had exams the week after the trek, thus cancelling the trip altogether. That left us with only ten students. I remember having a moment of hesitancy wherein I asked myself, “Career trek to Hollywood? What if it fails? We would be a laughing stock.” But we had put in so much hard work, I realized we had to go. I went ahead and booked the tickets. Slowly, we received ticket confirmation from all ten participants.

Next on our agenda was to groom the group and become a cohesive unit. We needed to have one voice when speaking with potential employers, thus we decided to divide all the studios among the ten of us. We would each perform research, and in a week’s time present findings to the group members (along with any current job openings in the company).

Meanwhile, the news of our trek was slowly spreading. Professor Chris Harris offered help and took the initiative to arrange a lunch with Mr. Chris Kelly, Lead Production Accountant from Warner Bros. who worked on shows such as “Two and a Half Men,” “West Wing,” and “Mom.” In the same week, Katia Todd, an MS in Marketing student, informed me that her best friend works for Netflix and she would be more than happy to make an initial introduction. She did and Netflix was on board. I was overjoyed, yet I reminded myself not to count the chickens before they hatch.

Next on the agenda: logistics. Shreyas, smartly, pinned all the studios we were visiting on a map, secured an airbnb, and booked an SUV. We made sure the group members wouldn’t need to worry about any logistics.

7 Days Out: Our group had a grooming session with Corinne regarding “do’s and don’ts.” On the same day, Professor Chris Harris gave us several important tips about the trek. Later that evening our group presented our research to each other and I was quite proud to say that everyone exceeded my expectations.

4 Days Out: We thought of drafting a booklet with student contact information. The booklet would be handed over to each employer’s HR department. Each student was given two pages: one with a headshot / power paragraph and a second one with their resume. Nikita Unmov oversaw this aspect of the trek and created the entire booklet. Nikita also made some calls and got us an appointment with United Talent Agency (UTA). As the departure date drew close, the trip became more robust.

1 Day Out: Before our departure we received a call that the Netflix date isn’t working and the Warner Bros. meeting might not happen. (YIKES!) We were tense, but there was no turning back. We prepared for our trip and appointed Victoria Yang as our social media manager for the trek.

Trek Tip: Bring small but thoughtful gifts for employers (e.g. Carey souvenirs, thank you cards, etc.). This can go a long way with making a lasting impression while helping spread the school’s brand.

The day for take-off arrived. I remember sleeping no more than 3 hours. Shreyas, Nikita, Victoria and I were the first ones to reach the airport, feeling anxious. It was still unreal to me. Shreyas patted my back and said, “It’s happening.” I smiled. I reminded myself to enjoy the moment. Regardless of how the trek shapes up, we were boarding the flight and making history by conducting the first-ever trek to Hollywood.

We landed on the west coast and an hour later so did the others. We all felt upbeat. The next three days went by in a flash. We were welcome everywhere we went, and meetings were rich in discussion.

On the penultimate day, Shreyas left for San Diego to spend time with his family and I decided to stay back to watch the Oscars with friends.

On the last day, February 29th, a phone call woke me around 8.30am. Sleepy, I answered the call and to my surprise it was Mr. Raphaelson, an alum we had met on the trek. He wanted to connect us to someone in Sony Pictures Entertainment that same day at 4.30pm. I was suddenly awake. He told me to check my email, and when I did, I saw a reply from Disney stating they were ready to meet us around 2.30 pm (an organization we reached out to months before). As if the universe was finally smiling down upon us, Shreyas’ contact at Viacom said he could meet us for 30 minutes.

Clearly, when the universe gives us an extra day—leap year reference here (wink, wink)—we know how to make the most of it.

We had three major studios lined up on the last day of our trip. Shreyas left San Diego immediately, drove back, and picked me up; I dumped my suitcase in the car and we headed to Viacom. Once again, our stint of fruitful meetings continued.

Highlights of the trip include:

  • Chris Kelly invited us to the shooting of “Mom.” We were thrilled.
  • Netflix scheduled a coffee meeting. The same day we had a meeting with an alum, Mr. Chris Aldrich, who went out of his way to secure a meeting with another alum, Mr. Joshua Raphaelson.
  • The VP of Sony Picture Entertainment invited us for snacks. He asked about our background and after hearing about Johns Hopkins Carey Business School’s signature projects—Innovation for Humanity, Discovery to Market, Digital Marketing—he took our resumes and promised to personally make sure they reach the HR department.
  • Emily Hughes, Cultural Ambassador of Maker Studio, told us that she looks forward to receiving our resumes if we apply for internships.
  • The CEO of Lionsgate hung out with us for an hour and answered all our questions.
  • MPAA gave each one of us an authentic original film poster.

We also managed to leave a great impression:

When Puneet Ruparel of the John Hopkins University Carey Business School reached out to set up a tour of the Maker Studios facilities for their ‘Business of Entertainment Club’ I was immediately impressed. The professionalism with which he conducted the interaction was above expectations and I knew they would be reliable and gracious guests of Maker. Meeting with and learning more about the students was an even greater pleasure. Their enthusiasm for the organization and industry, as a whole, was infectious and reinvigorating, and the thank-you hoodie didn’t hurt either! I look forward to seeing the mark they make on this ever-growing industry!”

– Natasha Chandel, Managing Editor Programming at Makers Studio

I studied the resumes. I think a lot of work went into them, and they look very polished. Since resumes are designed to get you in the door (i.e. get you the interview), I think your resumes are fine. Your stamina and persistence in following up, is what is unique and I think bodes well for your success.

– Tilmann Gruber, Executive Director, Sales Planning at Sony Picture Television.

By the time we reached the airport on the way back, Shreyas and I were numb. We sat in the plane and didn’t speak to each other for 15 minutes. We were still soaking it all in. Did we really make this happen? A week ago we were less than confident when boarding the plane, and now, we were returning to Carey with the experience of interacting with four of the biggest studios in Hollywood. Two dudes from India leading a trek to Hollywood and leaving a Johns Hopkins Carey Business School trail across fifteen companies. Doesn’t sound real, does it?

That is the reason I love underdogs. When no one gives you a chance, it makes you work hard. It makes you want to go the extra mile. Not because you want to prove it to the world, but because you want to prove it to yourself.

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