Actress Dayci Brookshire ’04 brings life to animated characters, and now she’s a leading voice helping connect the next generation of Carolina creatives — and other Tar Heels — with their first gig in Hollywood.
Brookshire’s credits include voicing two characters in The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, an animated Netflix comedy series. She recently added a new role as director of the UNC Hollywood Internship Program, which is offered by UNC’s department of communication. Started in 1992, the program gives Tar Heel students hands-on entertainment experience in a variety of roles ranging from production to writing to marketing and more. It also provides a lecture series connecting Carolina students with alumni working in various areas of the business.
The dozen Carolina HIP interns this summer were placed with the likes of NBC Universal, CBS TV’s comedy series The Neighborhood, independent comedy production studio Funny or Die and the digital production company Watched Entertainment. Each student had either a full-time internship or two part-time ones. Brookshire said most were in-person positions.
The summer program culminated with a reception in a very Hollywood setting: an inconspicuous doorway with no signage led up a flight of stairs to a trendy event space overlooking West Hollywood’s famous Sunset Strip. About 60 people attended, including alumni and faculty members gathered to celebrate the interns and network. Notable alumni included former HIP intern Brian Ferguson ’03, who works as a post-production manager for Netflix; actress Sharon Lawrence ’83, who stars in the series Joe Pickett on Paramount+; Bill Martin ’86, executive producer of The Neighborhood; and Rayna McClendon ’09, a producer for Disney+ and Lucasfilm Ltd.
“It was the first in-person event since 2019, and it was incredible to connect with everyone,” Brookshire said.
Jalen McKoy ’23, a Morehead-Cain Scholar and the HIP program’s only junior last summer, interned at NBC Universal. At the reception he spoke effusively about how much he had learned and how much he enjoyed the experience. “I didn’t know what an entry-level job looked like in Hollywood, or how to get one, before the program,” he said. Now McKoy knows Tar Heels who can help make Hollywood jobs happen.
In January, Brookshire replaced David Merritt ’94 (MA) as HIP director, just as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was spiking. She had been Merritt’s assistant since he became director in 2020. Throughout the outbreak, they managed to secure remote internships for all 17 Carolina students. They also set up Zoom lectures with guests they may not have been able to get otherwise, because of logistics and the costs involved, including former HIP intern Sam Hargrave ’04, director of the action-adventure film Extraction.
Merritt, a former HIP intern, assigned 21 students to mostly in-person internships in 2021. He then stepped down as HIP director due to professional demands on his time as a writer and story editor for NBC’s drama The Blacklist, which stars James Spader as a spy-turned-criminal mastermind.
While all 28 speakers in 2022 remained remote, Brookshire plans to return to in-person lectures for the 2023 session. The ’22 speakers included Lawrence, Hargrave, cinematographer Johnny Simmons, and Ania O’Hare, head of casting at Dreamworks.
Brookshire started as a volunteer with HIP soon after moving to Los Angeles more than a decade ago and is excited to build on the program’s legacy. “Looking at the possibilities of where this program can go and knowing it’s on my shoulders to take it on, after what has been an incredibly successful run, it’s exciting,” she said.
“I want our program to be talked about like film programs at UCLA and USC, and we’re working towards that. I want our interns to be in that same pool of prestige.”
Screenwriter Paul Edwards ’71 (’78 MA) helped set the stage for HIP’s success while he was program director for 25 years. He resigned in 2019 after introducing more than 400 UNC student interns to the industry, to established entertainment professionals and to each other.
Edwards said his goal was to help students transition to the West Coast more easily than he and his wife did. “I was trying to find a way for other people to do it without struggling. I taught them in three months what it took me three to five years to learn,” he said. “It’s a unique business, not a lot of posting of jobs, [but rather] it’s through friends. People work with people they like.”
Edwards also stressed to students they were each other’s first industry contacts and to explore all facets of the business. To that end, the program has brought in successful UNC alumni including director Peyton Reed ’86, director of Marvel’s Ant-Man, and Oscar winners Andrew Carlberg ’07, producer of Skin, and Hughes Winborne ’74, editor of Crash. “People know they come from Chapel Hill, and that gives students a sense of, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’ ” Edwards said.
The program has also created a virtuous cycle in which former HIP participants now hire UNC interns at their own shops, including Liz Wile ’09, who works for Universal Content Productions. Wile and her husband, Kristopher Wile ’09, also a past HIP intern, have hired or helped other Hollywood Heels find work since landing their first full-time gigs. “Because of our experiences struggling to find our first jobs, my husband and I both gravitated towards helping interns find those full-time jobs after their internship,” she said.
The couple started an unofficial advisory board with other Hollywood Heels to help Brookshire cast a wider net for intern placements and to post job information for alumni.
The communication department and HIP are working to create endowments and scholarships to make the cross-country program — which costs between $9,000 and $10,000 — accessible to as many students as possible. Some students receive scholarships that offset a portion of the cost.
“One of the best things about being a Tar Heel is we are supportive of each other and want to help each other out,” Brookshire said. “My dream and my goal are to connect us all better. I want to create a database to connect students and all the Tar Heels in the industry out here.”
Tracking down all the Tar Heels in Hollywood may be a moving target in the fluid, peripatetic entertainment industry, but Brookshire said the big-name-Hollywood alumni continue showing up for their alma mater. John Altschuler ’85 and Dave Krinsky ’85, both of whom created the smash hit TV comedy series Silicon Valley and King of the Hill, returned as HIP guest speakers this summer, and they underscored the importance of utilizing the Carolina connection to pay it forward by hiring fellow Tar Heels.
Edwards said the HIP alumni network has established a good reputation for its Carolina Blue-collar work ethic. “They’ve become known as hardworking, intelligent and [for possessing] a Southern charm that puts co-workers at ease,” he said. “They’ve come a long way to be in Hollywood and are appreciative of any opportunities offered. That attitude goes a long way with host companies.”
Avi Santo, the newly installed chair of the department of communications, said he has been impressed by Brookshire’s leadership, dedication and initiative. “Students and alumni that I’ve spoken with have repeatedly emphasized that Dayci brings a lot of energy and engagement to her role and that she is serious about getting interns to take full advantage of the opportunities they are given,” he said.
Santo said the department is exploring expanding the internship program into a year-round hybrid arrangement, as well as ways to increase engagement with HIP alumni and other Tar Heels in Los Angeles while raising the program’s profile.
He said, “We need to do this to attract more students, more internship providers, more people willing to donate time, money, support and more resources from UNC to make HIP, as Dayci has repeatedly talked about it, the best non-LA-based internship program in the country.”
— Robert Gray ’91
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