SALISBURY, Md. - Two recent Salisbury University alumnae are going Hollywood … via New York.
Amber Augone of Bronx, NY, and Tori Paris of Westminster, MD, both earned their degrees from SU earlier this year — Augone in theatre and Paris in communication arts. It wasn't long before their SU connections led from diplomas to jobs in New York's film industry.
Both credit Leslie Yarmo, costume designer in SU's Theatre and Dance Department, for their opportunities. Yarmo recommended Augone to her friend and colleague Maria Kenny, associate costume designer on a small film called Urge, with Pierce Brosnan. (Kenny was Yarmo's assistant designer TV series Law & Order: SVU.)
Through Kenny, the movie's costume designer, Stacey Battat, offered Augone an internship — and entry into the world of show business.
“I was really excited because for a while, I thought I would never get anything,” said Augone. “Being in contact with Leslie after graduation is what really made this all happen.”
With Urge still in the pre-production stage, Battat also was working on another movie, Freeheld, a dramatic comedy starring Ellen Page, Julianne Moore and Steve Carell. She was so impressed by Augone's work on the first movie that she offered her a paid production assistant (P.A.) position in the costume department on the second, which is currently filming.
“She thought I was sharp and saw potential in me. I was very grateful for that opportunity,” said Augone, who has since returned to Urge as a costume coordinator.
Her promotion left a vacancy in the internship position for Urge, and once again Yarmo had a student in mind: Paris.
“Leslie and I had spoken several times about different career paths, what options would be the best fit for my skill set, caring about my future and taking the opportunities presented to me,” said Paris, whose first job in the industry was as an intern on the independent film Ping Pong Summer, shot in Ocean City, MD, and released earlier this year.
When Yarmo called with the opportunity for Urge, Paris accepted without hesitation. Within a week of beginning the internship, Battat tapped the second SU graduate to work briefly on Freeheld as a P.A., as well. She has since returned to Urge as a P.A. under the new costume designer, Gina Ruiz.
“It is unbelievable and amazing to me that I am in New York City working … and living,” she said, adding that now that Urge is shooting, the experience is much different than her internship as a set P.A. on Ping Pong Summer.
“As a student, school came first, so I was part-time on Ping Pong and loved every second being on set. My days were still 12 hours long, but it was only a few times a week and [close to SU] in Ocean City. Ping Pong was an '80s comedy and coming-of-age story, so the atmosphere on set was a great time. Urge is a psycho thriller, so it's a little different mood.”
The jobs are also different. Urge is Paris' first time working with costumes, which “is a whole new creative ballgame,” she said, adding Ruiz “is challenging me creatively more than I ever was as a set P.A. That is the best, hardest and most fun thing about this job.”
While her earlier film work helped prepare Paris for the job, Augone credited SU's faculty for giving her “the tools that prepared me to be successful in my field. Studying theatre design and production at SU opened my eyes to what I wanted to do with my future.”
In addition to Yarmo, whom she (as well as Paris) called a mentor, she acknowledged theatre professor Robert Smith, whose acting class “helped me learn that when getting a job, you have to show your true colors and not be shy because what truly captures a person is your personality.”
Along with Yarmo, Paris said SU's communication arts faculty, including Drs. David Burns, Frances Kendall and Andrew Sharma “went out of their way to educate me on every aspect of production,” adding that her film professors, Drs. Elsie Walker and David Johnson “were amazing,” helping her narrow her career focus to movies.
Yarmo enjoys watching her two former students continue to blossom in the profession.
“When Maria said she needed an intern, I was thrilled I had first Amber and then Tori to recommend,” she said. “Both had proven to be sharp and hard working, and they possess a particularly valuable skill for this high-pressure work — they know how to be calm and focused under fire. They are making me very proud.”
What's next for the two former Sea Gulls? Paris hopes to eventually get into producing, using the contacts she is currently making to land additional film work. With a passion for fashion, Augone would like to join the wardrobe or costume union, and possibly branch out into set design.
Regardless of where the industry takes them, however, they both agree it was their time at Salisbury that helped them get there.
“I feel strongly that SU fully prepared me for this field,” said Augone. “The connections I made and the experiences in theatre have been invaluable.”