Student Spotlight: “It’s About Who You Know”

According to Ben Asciutto, the best place to learn things is outside of the classroom. The rising senior studying film and business was recently in Los Angeles, talking to executives at Lionsgate and working for HBO. His journey to the entertainment capital of the United States started back in Asciutto’s first year at Pitt, when he met career consultant Erin Wheeler.

“One of the first things I did during orientation week was check out the resources at the Career Center,” Asciutto explains. “I wanted to get a good sense of what students had done in the past to advance their careers while in undergrad.”

Wheeler and Asciutto discussed Handshake, internship prep workshops, and the Shadow in Your City program. Asciutto then attended the internship prep workshops, where he bolstered his LinkedIn profile to impress potential employers, and got tips on how to search for internships in the media and entertainment industry.

Asciutto especially appreciated the Shadow in Your City program, a program where a small group of students visits the headquarters of a company to gain exposure and meet key personnel in the organization. Asciutto likes to attend the program each year, having visited NBC Universal and CNN, among others.

“We get to chat with these prestigious employers and network with them,” Asciutto says. “It helps you make connections early on and also get a good sense of the types of opportunities out there after you graduate.”

All of those connections and preparation led Asciutto to discover the Pitt in LA program, a study away program through Pitt’s Global Experiences Office. In this month-long program, fifteen students take night classes at Lionsgate entertainment company and work media-related internships during the day.

Asciutto notes how diverse the program was, introducing students to multiple facets of the entertainment industry, from the music industry and licensing to movie producing.

“It was super widespread, so you get a great sense of all the possibilities in the industry,” Asciutto recounts. “It was very eye-opening and I was exposed to so any different career paths in entertainment. I made a lot of great connections and also got to explore the city and see if that’s a place where we could see ourselves working after we graduate.”

The connections he made are especially important to Asciutto, since he is familiar with the power of networking. During the Pitt in LA program in June, Asciutto was simultaneously working an internship with HBO in their documentary films department, a role which will extend until the end of August. Asciutto was able to secure this impressive position by relying on past connections – specifically, a former professor of his.

“The film industry is really about who you know,” Asciutto adds. “The daughter of one of my professors in the business school works in the documentary films department at HBO and so I chatted with her about her work and she wrote me a referral that helped me get the internship.”

At that internship, Asciutto reviews new documentary submissions and pitches that HBO receives and decides whether or not to present them to his team for consideration. He tracks which documentaries receive awards at festivals to get a general sense of which films exist and to see whether HBO might want to add successful documentaries to their platform. He catalogues HBO’s current documentary library to determine which genres are missing from the collection.

“It’s been so cool and I’m super happy I have the chance to do this internship,” Asciutto expresses. “I’m meeting a lot of very successful people in the industry and getting a good sense of what HBO is about and what Warner Bros. Discovery is as a company.”

For students interested in gaining some out-of-the-classroom experience, but unsure of where to start, Asciutto suggests interning for a start-up, which he did during his freshman and sophomore years.

“Start-ups usually have a small team, so you can meet the whole company and see how it’s run. It’s a great way to learn the basics of what exactly goes into a specific industry you want to be a part of, and those internships are usually less competitive to get. It’s easy to come across a company that has a niche interest that aligns with what you’re interested in learning about.”

Asciutto also advises students to from those strong connections with their career consultants.

“Absolutely take advantage of what the Career Center has to offer,” Asciutto says. “Erin and I have stayed in close contact since I first started going there freshman year, and it’s really great to have a mentor out there who’s providing me resources.”

Looking to the future, Asciutto has both short-term and long-term goals.

“Short-term, I’d like to have a job that I’m happy to start with right after college,” he notes. “Long-term, I’d like to not work a day in my life because I’m doing what I love, so it doesn’t feel like work.”

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar