Shawn Johnson got an unexpected query back on February 11. The Director of Edgewood College Career Services was expecting a Monday like any other when a call from Chicago came into her office. Joan Philo Casting needed student interns to help with selecting extras for the production of Public Enemies in Wisconsin, and needed them fast.
The film directed by UW graduate Michael Mann and boasting an all-star cast that includes Johnny Depp and Christian Bale shot in numerous locations throughout the state over the spring, including Madison, and utilized tons of local folks as extras. The Philo casting company's job was to manage these non-speaking parts.
Shawn Johnson recalls the moment. "I was thrilled they called Edgewood," she says. "My first thought was 'How exciting! This is a great opportunity for our students.'" Her second thought was how the heck she was going to make it happen by the next day, when Philo and her team would be in Madison to conduct interviews.
"The beauty of working on a small campus is that we can make things happen fast if needed," explains Johnson. "There are not as many layers as you might experience at a larger university which is why she chose to work with us."
Joan Philo had hit some layers indeed. Edgewood College, with only 1500 full-time undergraduate students, was not the first campus in town to receive a call. The extras casting director actually contacted UW-Madison first in her search for interns. But when she did not get a timely response, a Google search revealed the name of Edgewood College.
After speaking with Philo, Johnson immediately sent out an all-campus email with Johnny Depp's name in the subject line, figuring that was likely to garner some fast response. Indeed, resumes from eager Edgewood students came streaming in, and by the next day the interviews were conducted and twelve interns selected.
For these students, it was the chance of a lifetime. "Sometimes students think they need to come from a large name institution to have opportunities like this," says Johnson. "In the end, employers are seeking students who can talk about their education and experiences in a way that demonstrates that they have a thorough understanding of what they have learned and can apply it."
Did I mention that these interns worked 12-hour days, all unpaid? For Johnson, Edgewood College made sense as the perfect source for hardworking, dedicated students. "Many of our students have a very good work ethic," she says. "They were told that they needed to put in at least 20 hours a week -- unpaid -- and needed to be available at a moment's notice."
Edgewood student Sarah Duxstad was available at a moment's notice -- even when that moment came in the middle of the night. When the senior majoring in English Literature got an email letting her know that she had been chosen as one of the interns, she was so excited she called her mom, forgetting that it was nearly midnight. Sarah says her freshly awakened mother was just as thrilled!
As an intern on the extras casting side of the Public Enemies production, Duxstad worked on everything from loading vehicles at casting calls to working inside the casting office answering phones. She says that while her work wasn't all that glamorous, it was fun, mostly because the folks aiming to be extras in the film were so excited about their chance at stardom. "Plus," adds Duxstad, "we're so busy the time goes by pretty fast!"
What does she think of the movie itself, which tells the story of bank robber John Dillinger during his final year in action and on the lam back in the early '30s? "At first I didn't even know what it was about," says Duxstad. "I was given a one sentence synopsis, but I wasn't entirely sure of the history. While I had heard of John Dillinger, my grandparents clued me in with some of the historic details . . . [Plus,] I think it's great for Wisconsin businesses, especially with the state of the nation's economy."
And don't forget, Public Enemies is filled with places familiar to many around Wisconsin, with locations like the historic Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters appearing as itself, while other locations in Columbus and Oshkosh standing in for towns in Indiana and South Dakota. The production has since moved on to Chicago, with several shoots conducted around that city over the last few weeks and with more planned through June.
The hard work isn't without gain. Sarah credits her experience working on Public Enemies as an intense learning experience. "I have more confidence handling hectic or rushed situations," says Duxstad, "being in the office gives you more organizational skills and teaches you how to work under pressure . . . the pace is just back to back and there really isn't that much time to think. It teaches you how to make fast, yet concise decisions."
Even though she didn't meet any stars, Duxstad is immensely satisfied with her work on the film. "I wish I could say I have met Johnny Depp, Christian Bale or any of the other stars, but I work off the set," she concludes. "I think being able to say you helped make the film is just as great."