Show stoppers

issue 01 | winter 2024
Film clapper board

There have been times during his decade-long run at Mythical Entertainment when Chase Hilt ’14 has felt like he’s back at Denison, doing a bit of everything in the cinema department.

Hilt is a senior supervising producer at the Los Angeles-based entertainment company best known for the comedy and variety series Good Mythical Morning, which has more than 18 million YouTube subscribers.

Mythical has grown to nearly 100 staff members, but when Hilt landed his first job in 2014, he was one of just eight employees. In those early years, he did everything from managing props to creating strange culinary dishes to making memorable on-camera appearances with co-hosts and creators Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.

“Across the board, the shows have maintained that kind of film-school feel that Denison created to empower us to solve challenges and to wear as many hats as we wanted to,” Hilt said. “I think it flowed really well from one to the other.”

Hilt grew up in Los Angeles and had connections to the entertainment world through friends and family — so some in his circle were surprised he chose Denison.

“A lot of people asked why the hell I went to central Ohio for film,” Hilt said, laughing.

He’s never regretted his decision. Working in the cinema department, Hilt gained experience in almost every facet of the industry. His versatility made him a perfect fit for Mythical, which debuted Good Mythical Morning on YouTube in 2012. The company’s signature show has won multiple streaming and web awards and has more than 9 billion total views.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve built,” Hilt said. “I wasn’t expecting to be on camera, but that’s been fun, too.” Hilt has appeared in segments dressed as the Easter Bunny, a Hershey’s Kiss, and a dart-dodging cartographer. He’s created a strong social media presence with more than 85,000 Instagram followers.

His value to Mythical is evidenced by his climb up the company ladder, landing as a senior supervising producer in 2023.

Hilt stays connected to Denison by networking with fellow alums in the business and interacting with current cinema students who make treks to Los Angeles for mentorship and behind-the-scenes peeks.

“Denison has a proud tradition in entertainment going back to Hal Holbrook ’48, Steve Carell ’84, and Jennifer Garner ’94,” he said. “It feels good to be part of that tradition.”

His first attempt at standup comedy earned Tom Cotter ’86 a disqualification from Denison talent show judges — but admiration from fellow students.

While Cotter’s jokes about campus life weren’t profane, they were pointed. Two faculty members serving as judges weren’t impressed, refusing to rate the act.

“Obviously, I didn’t win,” Cotter said. “But for the next two weeks, guys who had never given me the time of the day were high fiving me, telling me how great it was. That was the first bite.”

The second was attending the standup routines of Joe Bolster ’75, who used to perform twice a year on campus as part of an athletic fundraiser.

“I fell in love with standup,” said Cotter, who was a senior political science major at the time. “Law school was pushed to the back burner and then completely off the stove.”

Cotter has made a nice living “working one hour a day,” as he puts it, in front of audiences around the country. He’s appeared on network late-night talks shows, Comedy Central specials, and the television competition Last Comic Standing. His career highlights include finishing runner-up in the seventh season of America’s Got Talent (2012) — Cotter was the first comedian to reach the finals — and returning in 2019 to compete against some of the show’s top acts through the years.

All of it started with that first performance on campus.

“Going to Denison was the best decision of my life ­— and I’m saying this in front of my wife right now — but it’s true,” Cotter said. “I adored my time in Granville. There’s still a group of us from school who get together every year for a canoe trip in the summer and a ski trip in the winter.”

Cotter said the idea of passing on law school took some time for his father, Walter, a respected neurosurgeon, to embrace.

“He spent a lot of money on six kids to go to private school and college,” Cotter said. “To have his youngest declare that he wants to tell jokes in basements in front of drunks was not a proud moment for him.”

But Cotter’s career longevity has validated his decision. Along the way, he married a fellow comedian, Kerri Louise, and the couple has three sons.

“She doesn’t bounce ideas off me, she bounces frying pans,” Cotter said. “We defuse marital tension quite often with laughter. Humor brought us together and has kept us happy.

“We each wrote a book. Hers is called Mean Mommy and mine is called Bad Dad. So we know our kids are going to be in therapy, and we’re OK with that.”

It was a life-changing moment that could have been scripted in Hollywood, a place Chelsey Warner ’11 now calls home.

Attending Denison’s 2009 commencement, she watched her sister, Britni Warner Eisler, receive a diploma while perusing a booklet with the names and majors of the graduates. Warner was intrigued by the number of cinema majors.

Originally a pre-med major, Warner was ready to rewrite her script and transfer to Denison. After Britni tossed her cap, Warner walked toward her destiny, making a quick stop at the admission office.

“I had started watching the series True Blood while I was at my old school,” Warner recalled. “Writing was always my passion, and seeing all the cinema majors at Denison made me realize I could pursue my dreams.”

Three years later, after earning degrees in cinema and English, she packed up her old Chevy and drove to Los Angeles.

Warner found her footing in the industry, landing work with reality shows including Survivor and The Amazing Race. She transitioned to scripted television as a writer’s production assistant on Black Sails, a show co-created by Robert Levine ’00, before finding her niche in post-production.

“Denison is such an amazing place,” Warner said. “I had great professors there, and when I got to Los Angeles, I had this group of Denison alumni who were willing to reach out and connect with me.”

Since 2019, Warner has worked for Amazon Studios and is the post-production associate producer on the series The Boys.

“It’s been an incredible opportunity,” she said. “It can be challenging at times, but the work is rewarding. I love what I do.”

Kerry Bailey ’92 spent much of the past few years in front of a laptop writing for multiple mediums.

He was busy writing and producing a pilot, while also working on a book about Bill Murray. Yes, that Bill Murray. The ghost-busting, varmint-hunting, it’s in the hole-bellowing Bill Murray.

Bailey is also pitching his pilot, Project Paranormal — a cross between Ghost Hunters and Reno 911 — to studios with hopes of turning it into a series.

He’s a 30-year veteran of the entertainment industry, working in post-production on movies such as Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.

Disillusioned with the 2016 presidential race, he took a two-year break from Hollywood to serve in the Peace Corps. Bailey, who grew up on a Kentucky farm, worked on improving agriculture in the West African nation of Senegal.

Since returning to Los Angeles, he’s turned his focus back to his first love — entertainment.

Bailey’s first attempt at writing a book, Keeping Bill Happy, examines three years in the 1990s when he worked as Murray’s assistant on two films. The book is semi-autobiographical, as it reveals his decision to go public with his own sexual orientation.

Bailey treasured these years, which included him making a cameo in the 1996 movie Larger Than Life dressed as a clown.

The book also contains several Denison references. He tells how Murray wrote him a $10,000 check to help pay off his student debt on their last day working together.

“Bill walked out of the room, and when he came back, he handed me a personal check,” Bailey recalled. “I was shocked. I thanked him. These were the days before I had a cell phone. I remember stopping at a gas station and calling my mom. I was in tears.”

The book — he’s still shopping it to publishers — also includes tales from his time at Denison. Bailey had a crush on a certain first-year theatre major whom he cast in two of his student films.

Jennifer Garner was just amazing,” Bailey said. “She had this magnetic personality that drew everyone in. You could see she had the talent to become a star.”

Dan Ewen ’96 feels like a kid again. That’s what comes with working with a 101-year-old legend.

The writer, producer, and longtime improv performer is the showrunner on the Amazon Studios series Clean Slate, scheduled to debut in 2024. The project is being produced by Norman Lear, who created iconic 1970s sitcoms such as All In The Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, and Good Times. (Editor’s note: Lear died on Dec. 5, 2023, after this issue went to press.)

“I am humbled to find myself a colleague of the most storied television producer of all time,” Ewen said.

Ewen himself has built an impressive resume and credits his time at Denison for launching his career in the entertainment world.

He recalls seeing a “cozy Denison booth” at a college fair in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, and being immediately intrigued. The university offered cinema as a major — Ewen grew up idolizing filmmaker Mel Brooks — and the brochure noted that Denison meets 100% of demonstrated financial need.

“Denison was the most important growth experience of my life,” Ewen said. “I was a food stamp kid, and wouldn’t have been able to attend without a generous financial aid package. Once there, I was immersed in a cinema department flush with equipment and spearheaded by a pair of legendary professors — cigar-wielding Elliott Stout and unrivaled hummus connoisseur Dave Bussan. I was immediately telling stories while simultaneously studying history and theory.”

Ewen also joined Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company, the nation’s longest-running collegiate improv comedy troupe, which helped him hone the skill of quick thinking for project pitches and fast-paced writers’ rooms.

These are busy times for Ewen, who wrote the feature film Dear Santa, starring Jack Black, which debuts during the 2023 holiday season.

Beyond his film and movie credits, Ewen wrote a book, Laff It Off, with comedian and Atlanta native George Wallace. Ewen and Wallace also teamed up with actor and writer Laverne Cox to co-create Clean Slate.

“We are both Georgians, and we share a sensibility,” Ewen said. “What started as just kicking around material has blossomed into a dream project. (Wallace) went to college in Akron, Ohio, but I looked past that and am so glad I did.”

Published December 2023
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