On Thursday, October 13th prolific director Bruce Bilson brought more than just a lecture to the BFA Filmmaking students on the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, he brought the history of Hollywood with him. Mr. Bilson took over David Newman’s class for the day and spoke with the students about the “nuts and bolts” of directing.
Bilson’s notable credits include: The Flash (1994), Hogan’s Heroes, The Love Boat, The Six Million Dollar Man, Sanford and Son, Mary Tyler Moore, Get Smart, The Patty Duke Show, Bewitched, Dynasty, The Fall Guy, and Dinosaurs; to name just a few.
Bilson recounted the tale of filming TheAndy Griffith Show title sequence. A six-year-old Opi, played by Ron Howard, would stroll in next to Griffith. They hit their mark as they walked down the dirt road, but when Howard had to throw the rock he couldn’t quite make the lake. After several failed attempts, Bilson decided to have the prop guy sit behind a bolder and throw the rock. Bilson said if you watch the opening the timing of the rock hitting the water is visibly off. But, that’s the only tell.
Bilson had some advice for the students. “Learn as much as you can about anything that interests you.” He credits his two years in the Air Force helped him direct an episode of Pensicola. “Nothing’s wasted,” he continued, “Lessons will come back to you.” He expanded by saying he hated taking the class that was most helpful to him, playwriting. Even though he never became a writer, being able to understand what made great storytelling was indispensable.
His final bit of advice was to, “Research your project.” The obvious job is to watch the show and knowing the stats on the most popular episodes. “Do the show you were hired to do.” Perhaps not so obvious is to know who all of the people involved in the show from the Executive Producer to the Office Production Assistant. Bilson encouraged his students to “Get to know the secretary. They control everything.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Bilson for taking the time to come speak with our students. You can continue to watch Mr. Bilson’s work in syndication everywhere.
On Wednesday, October 19th, 2016, famed comedy director, Paul Feig, came to the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his beloved film Bridesmaids. Feig’s prolific film and television directing credits include Spy, Ghostbusters (2016), The Heat, The Office, Nurse Jackie, Freaks and Geeks, and Arrested Development. NYFA’s Director of Industry Lecture Series and successful Hollywood producer, Tova Laiter (Varsity Blues, Glory) hosted the event.
Feig began the conversation by talking about his relationship with Judd Apatow. As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know.” A lot of Mr. Feig’s career has been closely tied with Apatow’s career. “I’ve known Judd since he was seventeen. If he produced something, I’d act in it.” When Feig made a short film, Apatow liked it so much he helped him to get Freaks and Geeks green-lit. And in 2007, Apatow once again called Feig, this time for a table read of an untitled female comedy about a wedding.
Feig said of that first table read, “I remember thinking ‘my gosh this is such a great vehicle for a bunch of funny women.’ Now, of course, this was the early days and the script needed a lot of work so I gave a bunch of notes. I called Judd (several months later) and asked him what happened. He said it was dead, so that was the end of that.”
Three years later Feig got a call from his agent saying they were trying to revive the “bride movie.” The first name Feig thought of was Kristen Wiig. He had cast her in her first film role, “Unaccompanied Minors,” a few years before and “instantly fell in love with her.”
When he started looking at how he was going to approach filming the script he used a standup comedy trick; write a bunch of jokes and then test them on audiences. The jokes with the best laughs stay in the movies, everything else is left on the cutting room floor. “I like doing action stuff. How can I make it physical and suspenseful so you’re scared and screaming at the same time? To get that kind of reaction out of the audience is a good time,” Feig said.
One student asked, “When it comes to directing is there a difference between working with stand-up comedians as apposed to straight actors?” Feig responded, “Most of the funniest people I work with are really funny. If they’re going all out I usually tell them to pull back. [Directing] it’s really kind of guiding them. That safe environment is really important. Actors need to feel they can make mistakes. Let them try everything and don’t ever be punitive with them.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Paul Feig for taking the time come speak to our students. Ghostbusters is now available on DVD, and look out for his next film Song of Back and Neck coming out in 2017.
On Thursday, October 13th, 2016, Golden Globe winner Jacqueline Bisset brought her film The Last Film Festival to New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. Bisset’s credits as an actress are wide and varied from her premiere role in Roman Polanski’s Cul-De-Sac, Casino Royale, Welcome to New York, Two for the Road, Murder on the Orient Express, and Nip/ Tuck. NYFA’s Director of Industry Lecture Series, Tova Laiter, and Acting for Film Professor, Phil Kaufman, led the Q&A discussion after the screening.
The Last Film Festival was a big hit with the students, who laughed from the first scene on in recognition. Dennis Hopper’s last movie holds a bit of bittersweetness amongst the hilarious nature of the film. Director Linda Yellen’s crafted a film about passion and hope when everything is going wrong for your movie.
Bisset had this to say about working with female directors, “Women directors have to adjust, particularly to the men. That was a big lesson to me. Female directors can’t behave like me. Their voice level, their tone, their gestures all have to be controlled at all times. The minute she gets a bit wobbly, everyone jumps on her and tries to seize control.”
Laiter kicked off the conversation by asking Bisset the age-old question, “How’d you get your first break?” Bisset responded with, “The biggest break was me going, ‘well I might give it a try.’”
Two comments she received in her youth helped define the direction of her career.
“My Latin teacher told me once, ‘You’re such a chatterbox. You might make a good actress.’ Then I went to a dinner party; I was fourteen at the time and Roman Polanski was there. He said to me, ‘You’re quite the introvert. You might make a good actress.’” She tried her best to bring these two separate thoughts together to envision what kind of actress she would become.
After making her decision, she had one fear. “I was very nervous about telling them [her parents] because I knew my father wasn’t going to pay for anything.” So Bisset began to work as a waitress in her spare time after school. She was cast in a Polanski film and did a few other projects before being offered a multiple picture deal with 20th Century Fox. She joined a talent pool and legendary director George Cukor (My Fair Lady and Philadelphia Story).
But, coming to America wasn’t a waltz for Ms. Bisset. She was accustomed to English tradition, which stipulates one give up their chair to an elder and say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am.” “People in Hollywood want to be treated with respect, but they don’t want to be treated as if they’re older. It took me a little time to figure it out.”
Bisset went on to answer some questions from students. One asked, what advice Bisset would give to women entering Hollywood, “Don’t do anything that you don’t want to do. I mean anything sexual you don’t want to do. I think a lot of people get caught up in the seedy part of life. How you dress has a tremendous effect on how men treat you. When I hear some of the tales people tell, particularly in books, I’m mortified. You’ve got to be very sure what you want. Never do any of that to get the job. It won’t guarantee the job. Absolutely not.”
Another question asked was, knowing what you know now, what advice would you tell your younger self? “Educate yourself. We are the breath of other people. We have to empathize with the world and people around us. What you have in your eyes will tell a story. You emanate in your energy and passion. It’s about the make-up and the costumes, of course, I think if you educate yourself you become a more interesting person which means you have more to give. Don’t have a silly life. Try to have a deep relationship soon. All of that stuff.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Ms. Bisset for her time. You can see Bisset in her upcoming films Nine Eleven and Backstabbing for Beginners coming out in 2017.
Famed writer and director, and the man credited with saving Star Trek, Nicholas Meyer came to New York Film Academy to screen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. New students filed onto the historic Warner Bros lot to discuss his classic film as part of the New York Film Academy’s exclusive Guest Speaker Series for students and alumni. Meyer sat in for an informative Q&A with Producer, and moderator, Tova Laiter of Varsity Blues and Glory.
Meyer hadn’t been a fan of Star Trek before he was asked to direct. “When I saw it on TV, I saw the guy with pointy ears and I just kept going,” Meyer said. But then Harve Bennett, a friend of Meyer’s and one of the film’s producers, handed Meyer the script.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t understand… But, I was aware later, that it did remind me of something I rather liked. It took me a while to figure it out what it was. Then I remembered the books I read when I was twelve or thirteen about Captain Horatio Hornblower from the C.S. Forester novels. He was a British sea captain during the Napoleonic Wars and he has a girl in every port.”
From those naval stories, Meyer simply placed the navy in space. He spoke to James Horner, the film’s composer, about including the sounds of famed naval composers such as W.C. Handy and Jean-Baptiste Lemire.
Other essential changes Meyer made to the series was setting a time period. “I put at the beginning: In the Twenty-Third Century because I thought my father wouldn’t have a clue what he was seeing if it didn’t say something. Then, I realized… I was really putting it in for myself because I was trying to explain it. People say it’s science fiction, but it’s really rather Earthbound in terms of its subject matter.”
Once the naval themes were cemented in his mind, Meyer knew what the story needed to be. And he let NYFA students in on a secret, “I wrote the script. There were five drafts, but they were really five different attempts to get a second Star Trek film.”
There was a fifth draft coming in and Meyer was getting excited. Five months went by and he hadn’t heard anything. Meyer called Harve Bennett and asked him to send each draft over. After a long discussion, they decided to make a list of everything they liked in each draft. Then Meyer would make a final script with one caveat; he had to have the script finished in twelve days.
So then Meyer made what he called a “big mistake.” Producers told him they couldn’t even write his deal in twelve days, so he fell on the sword. He said to forget the deal and wrote the script for free in twelve days.
When it came time to film, money was in short supply. The first film went way over budget, had multiple script changes daily, and never found its footing with audiences. A second splurge wouldn’t be allowed, so they recycled set, reused special effects, and reduced the number of sets and costumes. Because of these restrictions, the story of Khan was allowed to thrive.
On this note, he gave the students some advice, “All great artistic media rely for their success on something they leave out. Paintings do not move. Music has no intellectual content. Words are just code on a page. It is only when they intersect with the auditor, the viewer, the listener, that it comes alive. When you bring your imagination to it, the painting moves when it meets your eye. Beethoven’s Fifth becomes profound when it hits your ear. Otherwise, it’s just catguts and tubing. And the words that make you laugh or cry on the page is when you decode them. Movies alone… have the hideous capacity to do everything for you.”
Meyer put this thought into practical application, “So, as a director, not only am I working to make a little money go a long way by invoking people’s imagination, I am also at pains to leave things out of the movie to make your imagination kick in as opposed to simply presenting you with two hours of eye candy. When you’re making your movies, you have to look for ways to do things that may be counter-intuitive in order to get the audience to exercise their imaginations. Every time somebody points to something in a movie, you don’t have to show what they’re pointing to. When someone asks a question, the other person doesn’t have to answer it. You can leave things out, because the audience participates.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Meyer for speaking with our students. You can read more about Meyer’s adventures and his thought on art in his books Views from the Bridge and The Seven Percent Solution.
Gordon Smith began his career as an assistant to creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan, during his Breaking Bad run. He was promoted to full-time writer on the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul. Smith wrote the episode “5-0”, about how Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) became an officer of the law. The episode was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and helped earn Banks an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama. New York Film Academy instructor, and screenwriter, David O’Leary hosted the event.
Smith attributes most of his success to luck. While in college, he wrote a script that would become Gennifer Hutchison’s directing thesis. Hutchison went on to be a writer’s PA on Mad Men before moving to Breaking Bad. During season three, Gennifer was getting freelance work and that created a need for a new writer’s P.A. She called up Smith. Gennifer was hired on as full staff and Smith was able to fill her space.
The transition from being Gilligan’s assistant to becoming a staff writer was mostly an easy one. The one challenge was being out of the know. As the assistant to the showrunner, you have to know every little bit of information including, who’s on set that day, what chemical they used three seasons ago to blow out a window, which outlet are coming to do interviews. That goes away when the staff is locked in the writer’s room trying to churn out the best possible material. But, soon he was happy to be just writing and didn’t miss the chaos.
“We work very slowly,” Smith said of the writer’s room. He commented that it was nice to move at a speed that wasn’t breakneck. The first two weeks of production are focused on what that season’s story will be. “We will lay them (ideas) out on a board. But big guiding light stories will move around a lot.”
He continued, “This is a virtue of the way we work. We have ideas and if wherever we think we want to be and where we are don’t match up we’re just like, well this is what we do. We don’t say, ‘Well we have to get to here by episode five so we have to do this and this and this to get to that.’ It’s almost always backward looking. What have we done and where should the characters most logically go next? That has served us in good stead because it allows us the opportunity to investigate things. It feels like we’re planted to something.”
“We break everything together. For a show as serialized as Better Call Saul, you kind of have to. If a person leaves to write his or her script everyone knows what’s happening in that scene. We usually get a couple weeks out of the room to write, but the rest of the time you have to write at lunch or on the weekend.”
As demanding as the workload is Smith joked that he still has struggled. “My process tends to be… I have to trick myself into it because I want to procrastinate so badly. I’ll go in and slug everything.” Slugging is placing in the scene headings as a way of outlining the script. Once the scenes are placed in order Smith said he knows he’ll, “…just keep going back to write more and more.” It never feels like writing.
Smith went on to describe the writing room as liberating. For example, in most visual writing it’s considered in bad taste to call a shot. Shot lists are for the directors to make not the writers. But, in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, they’re allowed to call a shot. They know they’re going to talk to the director. The shot can be cut if the director doesn’t think it will work or if they have another shot in mind. The freedom to try things and switch at the last minute give a sense of freedom.
One student asked, “Since Saul and many of the characters already existed did you use pre-conceived backgrounds or create new ones, and how did you decide what history to go with?” Smith described going back to Breaking Bad and trying to determine whether or not the things Saul said were true or false and to what degree. Mike didn’t have too much of a background story. Banks pitched an idea that Mike’s son was a boxer who died in the ring. It was a theory Banks had been working around as he tried to dive into the character of Mike. The writers loved it and picked up the story from there.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Smith for stopping by and sharing his work. Catch Smith’s next writing assignment on season two of Outsiders returning to WGN in 2017.
Recently, the ultra-talented Tim Tori dropped by our Business of Screenwriting class at New York Film Academy Los Angeles to discuss everything from writing independent horror movies to penning the #1 smash hit Vietnamese romantic comedy and everything in between.
Tim Tori kicked off his career as a writer/producer by penning the surf-horror movie “Trespassers,” which was released in 2006 by Image Entertainment.
Tori then went on a tear, selling his creature feature spec “Prowl” to After Dark Films. The film was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, and released in the U.S. in 2011.
After Dark continued hiring him to write, produce and consult on multiple projects, including the science-fiction horror movie “51” starring Bruce Boxleitner and Jason London (released in 2011), and he continued his After Dark collaboration by writing the Joel Silver-produced action film “Dragon Eyes” starring none other than the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme and Peter Weller (released in 2012).
Tori discussed how he broke into the business and answered student questions on everything from how to “write scary” to tips for getting representation.
Tori discussed his recent departure from genre fare with the Vietnamese-language romantic comedy “How To Fight In Six Inch Heels,” which he wrote and executive produced in collaboration with producer Timothy Linh Bui and producer/star Kathy Uyen. The Galaxy Studio film was a smash hit in Vietnam, spending two weeks at #1. It was released in the U.S. in 2015…
Currently, Tori is also co-writing and co-producing the action thriller “Die Laughing” with director/producer/co-writer Bui for Sony’s Stage 6 Films.
The latest project on Tori’s slate is “Legacy,” a dark, unique thriller to be produced by Bellevue Productions, yours truly, and Davis Entertainment, who has a first-look deal at Fox. Tori is repped by The Agency For The Performing Arts (APA).
New York Film Academy was proud to welcome Producer Rob Cowan to the Los Angeles campus this past week. Cowan brought all the knowledge gained in his thirty-five years in the entertainment industry, as well as the pulse-pounding San Andreas. Denise Carlson, a Producing instructor, hosted the event.
Cowan’s lengthy career includes producing Life as a House, which netted Hayden Christensen and Kevin Kline a Golden Globe nomination. He also produced the Cole Porter musical bio-pic De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. From there he transitioned into horror and action films with Enough, starring Jennifer Lopez, and the Robert De Niro and Al Pacino led thriller, Righteous Kill. He next sought comedies with Tammy and The Boss, both starring Melissa McCarthy. His biggest win was in producing The Conjuring, the fourth highest grossing horror film of all time.
After the San Andreas screening, Cowan sat down for a Q & A with the students. The first thing they spoke of was the logistics of filming the scene. “Every big sequence that there is in there, even the smaller ones are a big challenge on many levels. How do you make something look like it’s shaking when it’s not shaking? So we had to sit down with all of the teams and ask, ‘Ok, what’s visual effects? What’s special effects? What’s a real part of the set we need to do?’ Normally when you’re doing a movie you have to dress an entire set but the CGI guys would tell us ‘just give us a little rubble and we’ll destroy the rest,’ so that was nice.”
“Even up to the day we were going to do the shot the special effects guy wasn’t sure it was going to sink.” It was moments like these that Cowan described as, “the most fun.” He also mentioned a complicated one take where the set would be completely destroyed after the take. They only had once chance to get it right.
They only had about seventeen weeks of prep. This may sound like a lot of time, but Cowan said, “I’m working on a similar film now and we have thirty-two weeks of prep.” Cowan was worried about getting the movie made so he sat down with the director, Brad Peyton, and asked, “Can you get this film done?” Peyton had a simple answer, “I’ll be decisive.” Instead of asking for multiple examples or tweaking last minute, Peyton trusted his team to give him the best options possible, then, he picked one and moved forward. This was key in finishing on time.
Denise Carlson asked about Cowan’s background as a writer and how it affected his producing work. Cowan divulged that initially San Andreas was written as an homage to Irwin Allen, who directed disaster movies like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno in the 1970’s. These films would cast A-list actors and give each a storyline. But Cowan felt that left the story a little flat. He brought in Chad and Carey Hayes, who wrote The Conjuring, to punch up the script. They cut some of the characters, instead choosing to focus the story on Dwayne Johnson’s character. Then, they layered in a heart-wrenching story of a lost child. Suddenly the film was more than just a disaster film, it was a story.
Next, they spoke about the two largest challenges in filmmaking, money and time. Cowan relayed the story of Rocky. The scene at the ice skating rink was originally supposed to have multiple extras. The extras needed skates, prop food, a catered meal, all things that cost money the production no longer had. The producers went to Sylvester Stallone with the bad news. Stallone sent the extras home and decided that Rocky should just walk Adrienne around the rink. “It ended up being one of the best scenes in the movie. I always feel that story has value because you realize there’re different ways and better ways to do things when you’re challenged.”
“James Wan, the director of The Conjuring, is great at that. If I tell him, ‘ Look, we can’t do it this way’ he energizes the team and always comes up with something better.” Cowan said, “One of your biggest challenges is time and money. We sunk it all into the set. And it was something we weren’t sure if it’s something we could pull off. That’s a character in the movie and we’re going to invest in that character.”
The investment paid off. The Conjuring 2 was released nation wide in June 2016. New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Cowan for sharing his expertise with our students. Look for Cowan’s forthcoming films Aquaman and The Hollow Season.
New York Film Academy was proud to welcome actor, producer, and now, director Jon Abrahams to their Los Angeles campus. Students from both the high school and teen summer program were in attendance. The comedy classic, Meet the Parents, was screened after which Tova Laiter, producer of The Scarlet Letter and Varsity Blue, and Christopher Cass, Associate Chair for Acting for Film Studies, conducted an interview with Abrahams.
Abrahams began his career when he was still in high school. He was discovered in Washington Square Park when filmmakers, Harmony Korine and Larry Clark, were casting their film Kids. Abrahams wasn’t their first choice. He was selected to play Steven after the first actor cast was arrested. Upon release, parents and school systems alike were outraged by the films’ perceived message, but Kids would later become a cult classic and the standard by which all gritty coming-of-age stories would be judged.
From there Abrahams went on to star in films such as House of Wax, Scary Movie, Meet the Parents, Mourning Glory, and Hitchcock. He’s also had a long established career in television. Some of his roles include Jerry on Masters of the House, Zach Fischer on Boston Public, and guest appearances on Boston Legal, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Astronaut Wives Club, and The Mentalist.
When asked about his preparation Abrahams described going to acting class like going to the gym. This work ethic was cultivated when he was still in high school. At his performing arts school, he would spend time after classes doing improvisational work with a teacher. The result, he was able to, “…better flex his (acting) muscle.”
He’s a fierce student having not only studied with The Groundlings but also with famed acting coach Margie Haber.
Abrahams revealed he’s recently taken a turn at directing. After being named the guardian of both his cousin’s children and his best friend’s children, Abrahams began thinking, “What if, god forbid, something should happen to both my cousin and best friend on the same day and I’m suddenly the guardian to three kids?” Abrahams, having grown up in Tribeca, still had some unresolved issues about 9/11 that he wanted to explore. His writing partner thought perhaps the two ideas could be combined to tell a story. They were able to secure an investor for their human-interest piece, a rare feat. They’ve just begun the festival application process and are hoping to sell the film later in the year.
Next, it was time for the students to ask questions. Makayla, a student in the high school summer program asked, “What tips do you have for high school and college students wanting to get a start in the industry?”
“My tip is do anything and everything that comes your way. I’ve always had a kind of blue-collar approach to acting. I like to work. I like to punch in and out.” He continues, “And no job is too small, for me. I love movies. I grew up watching movies all the time. I always will remember the guy who had one line in the movie, if they were really great. So, you know, don’t have an ego about it. Also, don’t hold it all so precious. Do something. Be bad at it. You’re going to do something else. You’re going to grow. No one is expecting you to be a high school actor be the most wonderful actor ever…”
“Work really hard, but to come into it and be a perfectionist in the first gig, is silly. Look at it as you’re going to be working for your whole life. Do anything and everything. Student films, commercials, whatever. Work extra so you know how a set works. And then, stick around. I think Clint Eastwood said, ‘Don’t go to lunch. Stay around the crew during lunch. Figure out what they’re doing. Know what lens they’re using. Knowing these things is great. Just learn. Just be there to learn. The best schooling you can get is working.’”
Later another student inquired about how to get back up after one has performed poorly. Abrahams responded, “I once had someone refer to making a movie as boxing match. If you lost the second round you can come back tomorrow shoot and do another scene. That’s round three. You could win round three. You could win round four.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Jon Abrahams for his time. You can learn about Abrahams’ forthcoming film by clicking here.
New York Film Academy hosted its first ever Pokémon Go hunt this month at the Los Angeles campus. About one hundred students, faculty, and fans joined Creative Director at Niantic Labs and Game Design Instructor at New York Film Academy, John Zuur Platten, to try and catch ‘em all.
Throughout the evening shouts of, “I leveled up,” “I just took this gym,” and “Oh my god, it’s *insert favorite Pokémon here*” filled the air. In the end, someone took over two gyms, several eggs were hatched, and a Bulbasaur made a surprise appearance just as the event wound down.
The event then moved inside for an industry meet and greet. Game Design students snacked on Poke Ball pizza while talking shop. Ideas for future games were exchanged as well as talk about whether virtual reality or augmented reality would be a better sell to the gaming community.
Finally, it was time for the main event. Platten threw away the traditional Q & A process and instead decided to have an open forum, allowing anyone to ask a question as it came up. An excited buzz ran through the audience as Platten began to break down the ins and outs of Niantic.
The majority of the talk was focused on Niantic’s breakout game, Ingress. Ingress shares many similarities with Pokémon Go, but instead of three teams, there are two: The Enlightened and The Resistance. Each team is trying to own portals that pop up all over the world. The Resistance wants to keep whatever’s trying to come through the portal out of their world. The Enlightened believe there’s something to be gained from whatever’s trying to come through.
There’s no violence within the game and, like Pokémon Go, the players don’t have to interact with one another to play. In fact, many fans of Ingress don’t play the game. Instead, they head online, where Niantic has created a wide series of gaming extras. This includes YouTube videos, comics, and short stories that tell extra parts of the story. This media is often cryptic mysteries that participants can solve, netting their team extra points.
Like Pokémon Go, Ingress has lots of fanatics. People make flags, costumes, and pins with the team’s sigils and show up for mass real world meet ups. Fans also have a civil service side. Many have seen encouraging memes asking players to drop lures outside of children’s hospitals so the very ill can play. Platten recalled a story where a famous Ingress player in need of a wheelchair received one through community donations and support. He recalled another story of an autistic teen who was barely able to leave his room until Pokémon Go was released. That teen’s mother said she felt as if she had gotten part of her son back. “That’s a pretty great magic trip,” Platten stated.
Actor, writer, producer, and director Seth Rogen dropped by the New York Film Academy Los Angeles campus on Wednesday, August 17th to show his new R-animated movie Sausage Partyand talk about his long acting career. Hollywood Producer, NYFA Director of Industry Lecture Series, Tova Laiter, hosted the evening.
photo by Kristine Tomaro
The auditorium crescendoed into a roar when Rogen took the stage. And he didn’t disappoint, making the students laugh all throughout. Laiter began the conversation with Rogen’s beginnings: Rogen began his stand-up career at just thirteen. He had the usual plan: become a stand-up comedian, land a sitcom, and then make movies for forever. The goal was always to make movies.
From his stand up, Rogen was able to land an agent. He auditioned for, and landed a role in, Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks when he was just sixteen. Then he began writing and acting on Undeclared. Next, he was hired on The Ali G Show, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. After conquering film in The 40-Year-Old Virgin he continued for two pictures with Judd Apatow: Knocked Up and Funny People.
He then began working with his childhood friend and partner, Evan Goldberg. Their work includes This is the End, Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Interview. He’s lent his voice to Horton Hears a Who!, Monsters vs. Aliens, Paul, and Kung Fu Panda. He’s recently turned his attention back to TV with AMC’s Preacher.
photo by Kristine Tomaro
Asked how the idea for the uniquely clever and funny Sausage Party came about he quoted two inspirations
“Honestly,” Rogen said, Home Alone is one of the movies that made me want to make movies. Seeing a kid just beat the shit out of adults- it was like an action movie for kids and I remember thinking I want to make movies like that.”
The second source: ‘When the Pixar movies started to come out I was just blown away by them. They weren’t just visually unlike anything I’d ever seen but the storytelling and the humor… It was completely a group of people working on another level. We were like, ‘Well, we’ll never be that good., so maybe we’ll do our own bastard version of that and we’ll get to take a sip from the well of glory for just a second.’”
But an R-rated animated comedy was not an easy pitch, even with Rogen’s popularity and success. “Getting it made was the hardest part. It took us literally years, and years, and years of going to meetings and being told ‘no’ by independent financing companies and by major studios. Then finally brave Megan Ellison agreed to do it.”
“So, that part was difficult. But we’d never made an animated movie. It was very different than anything we’ve ever done.”
Also, “the releasing of the movie is always the most stressful time because it’s the part that one generally has the least control over. You never know how much they spent. You know how much the movie cost to make. You have a million conversations about that. But there’s literally never a conversation where a number is said in regards to the marketing budget. “But, in the end, the journey was worth it, if it helps the next person down the line, “I think there’s a distinct possibility that if someone was on the fence about making an R-rated animated movie maybe this might nudge them to the other side of it. We hope to make more R-rated animated movies and I really hope that, if anything, this inspires other people to take this and make something better”
Laiter wanted to know what made Canadian comedians so consistently successful. “I’ve worked with British comedians before and they’re hilarious” Rogen Said, “but they don’t quite understand American culture to the degree they need to, to really infiltrate it. But Canadians grow up with American culture, but it’s not our culture. So, we probably more objective about it and a little more inclined to make fun of it”.
Rogen has a reputation for working with his friends. “When you’re working, it’s really hard to do something that feels good a lot of the time. So when I’m on set I feel so much better if Jonah or Franco or Craig or Danny are there because they are just incredible at their jobs. Of the hundreds of things I have to worry about in my job as the director, producer, writer, that is not one of them. It’s just a stress relief. On top of that, we just like each other.”
One student asked Rogen about how he handled criticism. “Honestly, that’s gotten harder as I’ve gotten older. When I was younger I was really aggressive and confident. Over the years, as I’ve read thousands of articles just saying what an idiot I am… I look back and honestly marvel at how little I thought about whether or not other people thought I was funny. It was all, ‘I think I’m good at this and I think I can do something different in movies, so I’m just going to write them’. The more I didn’t succeed, the more I’d get angry and I’d just try even harder… You just have to make sure it’s a good idea. Surrounded yourself with people who will be honest with you and give you good constructive criticism. Just never stop.”
photo by Kristine Tomaro
Another student wanted to know if Rogen had advice for actors who were older and hadn’t hit yet. Rogen responded, “Ian McKellan became famous when he was like 80. There’re so many actors that just keep going and don’t quit. And there’re actors who don’t become famous until they’re in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and in the meantime they keep working in smaller roles. And if you’re only an actor and (you) can’t write or create material for yourself, then… become friends with a writer. They’re always looking for actors. Become friends with a director. They always need actors. Just link up with someone who has a job you can’t do.”
“What is the most important ingredient in comedy?” a student asked.
Rogen said, “Superbad is about two friends who don’t know how to tell one another they’re going to miss each other. That sweet center allowed us to have period blood on his leg and other crazy shit that would otherwise be appalling. So for us, we talk a lot about balance- emotion with crudeness, intelligence with stupidity, unpredictability with plausibility and sensibility. I think balance is the most important part of comedy, also between what genres you’re trying to mix- finding the exact mix of horror and comedy, of emotion and comedy. That’s what makes a movie unpredictable.”
And as parting words Rogen emphasized the ‘unpredictability’ of great movies and asked the students to surprise him with the kind of breakthrough movies that make him ask: ‘How the hell did they do that?’
That brought the house up to standing ovation.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Seth Rogen for his time. Sausage Party is now in theaters.