Last week, Academy Award-winning producer James Skotchdopole held a Master Class at the New York Film Academy New York with Short-term Filmmaking Chair Jonathan Whittaker. Skotchdopole has worked alongside some of Hollywood’s leading directors, including Quentin Tarantino, Tony Scott, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, with whom he won Best Picture for Birdman. His filmography includes many memorable and award-winning films like Django Unchained, The Revenant, True Romance, and dozens of others.
Skotchdopole broke down his path to becoming an Academy Award-winning producer, which developed over time from being an Assistant Director to Line Producer. As a Line Producer he is heavily involved with the day-to-day responsibilities of production. His hard work and problem solving skills have been noticed and appreciated in the industry and, due to his integral involvement with each project, he is now well respected in the business.
Since climbing the ranks, Skotchdopole has had the privilege of choosing his own projects wisely. “For me it’s about keeping a connection to the creative process,” said Skotchdopole.
During the Master Class, Skotchdopole went through several of his projects and explained how he and his team overcame some major obstacles to create some of film history’s most memorable scenes. He recalled a time during the middle of production on Django Unchained when Tarantino came to him and said he has an idea for an epic hero moment for his main character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx. Tarantino had hand-written an eleven page scene at the estate where Django blows away dozens of men — a scene that is now a staple in the film. It was up to Skotchdopole and his team to make that scene happen, no matter what. So, he immediately took action calling in favors, extras, special effects teams and, most importantly, more money.
Another incredible scene that required a tremendous amount of preparation and time was the bear attack in The Revenant. The team spent days researching bear attacks and needed the choreography to be perfect between Leo DiCaprio and the stunt man (who is one of the tallest stuntmen in the business). With the choreography between the two perfected and shot over a few weeks, a special effects team was able to come in create the bear, which is practically indiscernible from a real one.
Some final general advice that Skotchdopole provided the NYFA students was to keep their expenses as low as possible, so that they can take risks in life. If you burden yourself with a great deal of overhead, it’s difficult to take on some of the entry level jobs that enable you to break into the business and climb the ranks — just like he was able to do.
Be sure to look out for Skotchdopole’s most recent film with Brad Pitt, War Machine.