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Making the scene on the set of Portlandia

When the quirky TV show Portlandia films on location, the set crawls with dozens of crew members barking orders, lugging equipment and placing props just so.

And a bunch of them are Portland State students or alumni.

It’s an arrangement that has benefitted both the Emmy-nominated show and PSU’s growing film program. Students get unbeatable experience working behind the scenes on a major production while networking with pros. Portlandia thrives on the energy the students and recent grads bring to the job.

“There’s a great vibe” on a Portlandia set, says Julie Lew, a junior film major at PSU. The pace is fast, the directors and stars are demanding, but the mood is good-natured.

Her job is to help the assistant cameraman, which entails taking care of the camera staff, making sure they have everything they need when they need it.

“You really have to know what your job is at all times” or you fall behind, says Lew, whose goal is to become director of photography for TV or cinema.

Will Whitley, also a PSU junior film major, says he was used to a more laid-back production approach from his work on a number of not-for-profit productions. Not so with an investor-backed comedy show that is heading into its seventh season on IFC.

“You learn how to behave correctly on a professional film set,” Whitley says. His job as a production intern means “constantly being there,” whenever he was needed, he says, “and not being there” when he knows he would be in the way.

Film, he says, “is a networking-based industry. The more friends you have, the more chances you’re going to get a paid job.”

Recent PSU grad Briauna McKizzie found a quick way to a paid Portlandia gig. After interning for month and a half, she was offered a job as an assistant to the show’s two main stars, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

Armisen is funny and personable; Brownstein is focused and professional, McKizzie reports. Her duties ran from making sure their phones were charged to taking care of Brownstein’s dog, Toby.

McKizzie, who has moved on to work for a non-profit that helps low-income families buy their first homes, says she plans to keep her hand in showbiz and would like to write screenplays. Working for Portlandia gave her invaluable experience, she says.

“Some of my favorite moments were watching them interact with some of the guest stars, seeing how they played off each other. A lot of the jokes that end up in the episodes aren’t the same as what was in the script.”

Watch behind the scenes at Portlandia >

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