Hoosiers in Hollywood

Indiana native Kathryn Begle on set in Hollywood (Photo courtesy Kathryn Begle).

There’s a kid with wide eyes and humble roots in Middle America who travels west with dreams of making it in Hollywood. She crashes on a friend’s couch because she doesn’t know anyone else. She begs for a job and works for free until someone recognizes her talent and she’s hired. It’s the hustle, the grind, the long hours. Shaking hands, making phone calls, sending emails and trading business cards has taken their toll, but she’s finally made it; except this kid will never get her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She’ll never see her name in lights. That’s because she’s the one behind the camera making the stars look good. She’s a Hoosier; Indiana born and bred. Her Midwestern roots have defined her drive and versatility. She still works as hard as anyone, and she’s still living the dream.

Kathryn Begle grew up in Ferdinand, Indiana, home to two stoplights. She took a job at Staples when she arrived in Los Angeles. Two weeks later, she quit. Begle had an opportunity on an unpaid feature that she found in an online posting. A year later after countless odd jobs, she’s still freelancing, hustling, but hasn’t applied for a job since.

“It’s all networking, it’s all word of mouth, it’s all keeping in touch, making sure you’re getting contact info and reaching out to people,” Begle said. “It just blossomed out from that in the beginning.”

Today Begle works the standard 12-hour Hollywood day, currently as a 2nd Assistant Camera, unloading carts off a truck and prepping fresh batteries or powering up the camera. She’ll help others by fixing on a camera lens for the Director of Photography, laying tape marks for the actors, or running clapboards and taking notes for the director. When she’s served as a 1st AC, or when this 1st AC isn’t around, she pulls focus, meticulously operating a manual focus ring to keep track of any actor moving around and in and out of focus.

“Whenever you work in camera, you’re thrown into a lot of expensive stuff really quick,” Begle said. “You have to be reliable and confident in your equipment knowledge because people are trusting you a lot of times with their personal gear.”

Begle felt this pressure when she was still inexperienced and hadn’t earned her peers’ trust, but she knows it even more now that she has added responsibility. Begle’s education in the Telecommunications Department of Indiana University prepped her to appreciate the movies and sparked her interest in the film industry, but only did so much to show her what a day on the job would really be like.

Her early experience involved projects with extremely small budgets, and she slowly worked her way up from lowly production assistant jobs to a new FX show starring Zach Galifianakis. Just a month into becoming a union member, Begle has seen her situation in the industry change overnight.

(Photo courtesy of Kathryn Begle.)

Begle’s experience isn’t unique, and as a member of the Facebook organization Hollywood Hoosiers, she’s one of many Indiana-bred artists who have all come to work behind the scene in Tinsel Town. The group includes cinematographers, directors, producers, composers, talent agents, and more. Like Begle, many consider themselves technicians or business professionals, but working with film, music, and television, they’re all artists in their own way.

There’s Andrew Appel, an admin for Hollywood Hoosiers and a producer on the KDOC show “The Flipside with Michael Loftus.” He also hosts his own podcast recapping episodes of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” called “So Fresh, So Prince.” There’s Ed Wu, one of Begle’s Indiana classmates who is immediately recognizable with a bright orange Mohawk and a big smile. He works as a cinematographer with the same irregular freelancing schedule as Begle, but he got his start in the smaller pond of Indianapolis directing music videos and commercials with dreams of one day making a bigger splash. Through Hollywood Hoosiers, Wu recently got the opportunity to film a documentary in China, just one example of how the group facilitates networking connections between Indiana Alumni.

“If people see you as something out here, you’ll work as that type of person,” Wu said. “You start working and people know that you can do a job. They know that you’re good at that job, and they won’t hire you in a higher position until you prove yourself.”

Begle too came to the industry making short movies and shooting her own footage. Her career goals have changed but her affinity for her past work has remained.

“That was a nice time in my life, and I’m really glad I made those things,” Begle said. “It was a great experience to realize the time and effort it takes to make something that you’re proud of.”

The one thing that sets Begle apart from many of her colleagues, however, remains her humble, Midwestern roots. The hustle you need to have is something you can acquire in just about any city. But the wholesome charm and the personality necessary to keep those connections? That’s a Midwest thing.

“It does get a little tiresome when you’re putting on a face all the time networking,” Wu said. “Being from the Midwest, it’s nice to not talk about filmmaking sometimes. And the people are so kindhearted that you can strike up a conversation with anyone. In LA, sometimes it feels like people are in their own world or in their own car.”

The Hoosiers out of Hollywood have some advice for anyone looking to come out west: have a goal in mind, know what you want before you arrive, and never underestimate how hard working this industry can be.

“It’s blunt to say this, but I want to stress how hard it is to be a freelancer,” Begle asserts. “I feel like hard work is something the Midwest is known for. I like to perpetuate that stereotype if I can.”

Reach Staff Reporter Brian Welk here.