An aspiring comedy writer, senior Ilyse Reisman got a chance to be on set and in meetings to pitch production ideas during her Penn-sponsored summer internship at a film studio in Los Angeles.
At Indigenous Media, she worked in development on a series of short documentaries and as an assistant during the production. The opportunity was made possible through a Real Arts@Penn internship, which provided a $4,000 stipend.
“My dream is to write comedies and sitcoms and be in the writers’ room, and this is the closest I’ve been able to get to that,” says Reisman, who is from Short Hills, New Jersey. “I felt like this was a great fit for me.”
Reisman is a double major in English, with a creating writing concentration, and in cinema studies, as well as a music minor, in the College of Arts and Sciences. Al Filreis, Kelly Professor of English and the Kelly Writers House faculty director, is Reisman’s academic advisor.
“Ilyse writes beautiful, thoughtful, not-easy sentences. When you read her writing you know you are in the presence of a complex thinker," says Filreis, who is also the director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. “She is constantly inquisitive, and she loves to want to know things—the college teacher’s ideal of a student’s disposition.”
During the summer, she often went into the offices and several times met Jon Avnet, co-chief executive officer of Indigenous Media, who has directed, written, and produced more than 60 motion pictures, Broadway plays, and television movies, including “Risky Business,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and “Black Swan.”
“The office is not that full, and so I’m able to just talk to Jon,” she says. “I’ve done assignments for him as well, which has been an amazing advantage.”
Reisman’s work at Indigenous built upon her experience in a previous internship with the London-based communications firm Luther Pendragon and added to her experience in marketing, she says. She worked with Rebecca Luxton, Indigenous Media’s senior manager of digital marketing.
“With involvement in everything from working on set as we filmed for our latest brand campaign, to pitching concepts and writing copy for new episodes, Ilyse impressed us with her drive to foster success in every project that she touched,” Luxton says. “Her endless energy, active contributions, and obvious dedication to supporting the team in full made her a true star player.”
The first part of the summer Reisman worked in development and production for “60 Second Docs,” one-minute videos released on video platforms and social media that feature people in the entertainment world.
“It was a really cool experience. We comment on pitches and talk about them and feed off each other’s ideas. It’s great,” she says. “I want to be a part of this collaborative process.”
During the latter part of the summer Reisman assisted on development, pre-production, and production of a larger documentary film for Indigenous Media, working on location, while also doing marketing for “60 Second Docs.” The shoots were part documentary, part advertising for an event, she says.
“I’m actually on the set, working with clients. It’s been a really exciting opportunity,” she says. “Ultimately I am seeing a lot of different people with different skills sets who come together to create a product that is so interesting. I am really excited to see how it turns out.”
Since she was 7 years old, Reisman has played classical piano, and is now writing songs and composing her own music while pursuing a music minor at Penn. “Eventually I realized how the instrument can become a conduit for expression,” she says. “When words fail the piano can take those words and say them for you.”
She may try scoring a film or television show or writing a theme song, she says. But what she is really drawn to is storytelling and comedy, encouraged by a class she took her sophomore year, Sick and Satired, taught by a lecturer in the Annenberg School for Communication, Dwayne Booth, also known as Mr. Fish.
“I did a stand-up monologue for the final project about being in my sister’s shadow growing up, and Mr. Fish suggested I incorporate comedy in my career,” says Reisman. “This class really fundamentally changed my career path because it actually gave me one. It made me think about using creativity for my career.”
Booth says satirists typically rely on lessons learned from personal experience to communicate the questions and concerns they have about how the world both functions and dysfunctions.
“Ilyse, always fearless about asking questions and remarkably curious about how one’s emotional and intellectual integrity might coexist and thrive in the world, figured out a way to brilliantly use her personal life, often in a self-effacing way, to express her search for deeper meaning and invite others along for the ride, her writing masterfully encouraging them to be brave and to revel in all that blatant honesty can offer,” Booth says.
“Beyond that, she’s naturally funny and, as her professor, it was simply my job to reveal that such a path of comedy existed and then to get out of her way while she discovered and shaped her innate talent in a way that was truly inspiring.”
From there, Reisman chose to take screenwriting courses with Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve and a course on writing for television with Scott Burkhardt, as well as a few film classes. “I just really wanted to learn more about the industry and keep writing,” she says.
She is a member of Bent Button Productions, a club of about a dozen students who write and edit scripts and then film and edit the video. “It’s like a mini production company,” she says. During the pandemic she wrote and directed a “whodunit” comic mystery, “D_STANCED.”
She also was an opinion writer for The Daily Pennsylvanian and became a regular at Kelly Writers House. “Professor Filreis said take classes that you are interested in and don’t worry as much about requirements,” she says. “Taking a class I was interested in led me to my path.”
Where that path will lead is still a mystery, but Reisman is hoping to become part of a creative team in the entertainment industry. “It’s going to show itself to me at some point,” she says. “I love writing, and music. Creativity is part of who I am, using different mediums for expression.”