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From Chicago to Hollywood: LA Quarter launches careers in TV and film

Screenwriter and alumna Alex Otto shares journey to the writers’ room

Woman in white shirt poses in front of Frankenstein movie poster
DePaul alumna and screenwriter Alexandra Otto says LA Quarter kickstarted her career. (Image courtesy of Alexandra Otto)
Alexandra Otto is from Los Angeles, but she knew it would take more than hustle to break into a screenwriting career. During her senior year in the School of Cinematic Arts, she returned for LA Quarter, DePaul’s 10-week immersive experience in Hollywood. Otto lived in student housing and held internships with The Jim Henson Company and The Montecito Picture Company, while taking DePaul classes on a studio lot in the evenings.

“My boss from The Jim Henson Company got me in the door at Disney, which led to where I am now,” says Otto, who graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television. Otto is now an assistant writer on the Disney Junior show, “Firebuds.”

Undoubtedly, the heart of DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts beats in Chicago. But the brains behind the programs — faculty working in the entertainment industry — maintain strong connections in Hollywood. More than 600 students have participated in DePaul’s LA Quarter since its 2011 launch, and the real-world experience has launched hundreds of careers, with most participants landing jobs in the film, television and gaming industry.

“Major studios and networks are all based in Los Angeles, so it’s advantageous for our students, especially in screenwriting and producing, to have a foothold here,” says Matt Quinn, associate professor of screenwriting and director for DePaul’s LA programs.

The immersion program connects every single participant with a Hollywood internship. Adjunct faculty and guest speakers are professionals working as screenwriters, producers, agents and more. Last year, DePaul opened a larger space on the historic Sunset Las Palmas lot, which includes multiple classrooms and places for students to network and gather. LA Quarter is now offered year-round, and the MFA in Creative Producing is also based in the facility.

Fast-tracking Hollywood careers
During her LA Quarter internships, Otto worked in coverage—evaluating scripts and book adaptations for film or T.V. She also practiced pitching and was sent on some memorable errands. “They sent us to pick up a Ghostbusters proton pack from the Sony archives. We were trusted with a pretty big piece of movie history!”

Cartoon children riding on emergency vehicles in a poster for Firebuds
Alex Otto works as an assistant writer on the Disney Junior show "Firebuds." She is proud of the show's diversity and willingness to take on "heavy" themes. (Image courtesy of Disney)
At night she took classes with her cohort and learned from guest speakers who cemented her desire to land a job in screenwriting. In the “Firebuds” writers’ room, she offers story solutions and pitches ideas for new episodes. She was drawn to the show’s diversity and openness to taking on heavy themes, including queer experiences and disability. “Some of the characters are Filipino, and as a Filipino myself, I don’t see much of that in preschool programs,” she says.

Some students wonder if they should try and “make it” in Hollywood, and it’s certainly not the only path to thrive in film and television, Quinn says. Many independent filmmakers have found ways to succeed outside the L.A. bubble — including in Chicago’s thriving film and T.V. industry. LA Quarter gives students practical steps and insight to find a way forward in their career.

“By the end of the experience, students have a sense of what it’s like to live and work in L.A. It also gives them a realistic view of the industry, so it’s not just a fantasy,” Quinn says.

LA Quarter is open to all current DePaul University graduate and undergraduate students, as well as recent alumni. While most are from the School of Cinematic Arts, actors and designers from The Theatre School as well as public relations majors from the College of Communication have also participated. In the summer, the program hosts a cohort of Animation students and hires adjuncts from that discipline.

Otto credits her DePaul education and the LA Quarter experience with fast-tracking her career. “I didn’t expect to get here this early in my career,” she says. “I hope to just keep climbing because there’s always something bigger and better. I want to find that.”

Learn more about LA Quarter.