This week New York Film Academy Los Angeles gathered to watch the new indie comedy Teacher of the Year and participated in a Q&A with the movie’s writer/director Jason Strouse and lead actor Matt Letscher. The event was moderated by Tova Laiter, who has producing credits on such films as Varsity Blues, The Scarlett Letter, and Cop and 1/2.
In a mockumentary fashion, Teacher of the Year depicts the honest efforts of a well-meaning teacher, surrounded by an eccentric faculty at Truman High School, as he grapples with whether he should accept a lucrative California Teacher of the Year award, which would mean leaving his job and abandoning the students he cares so much about. The movie was funny and played very well to the students who concluded its the kind of Indie movie they would like to make.
Jason Strouse began his writing career on NBC’s Caroline in the City and appeared regularly as a stand up comic before ditching it to become a teacher in L.A. He directed The Audience that premiered at the Palm Springs Short Film Festival. Teacher of the Year is his first feature film. Matt Letscher was most recently seen as “Charles” in the Academy Award nominated Her. His extensive film/TV credits include Scandal, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The West Wing, NYPD Blue, Criminal Minds, and Entourage. He currently recurs on the final season of Boardwalk Empire as Joe Kennedy and on Castle.
Writer/director Jason spoke about his roots in TV comedy show writers rooms and doing stand up comedy. The dynamics of both are very similar. He said that TV comedy writers are the funniest and smartest people you will meet, and keeping up with their witty banter in the room is quite a challenge. The writers room is where the magic happens. If your goal is write for TV, you should try to get in the room at all costs. Jason started out as a writer’s assistant, his talents were soon apparent to the writing team and he replaced a staff writer who couldn’t cut it. Later after having worked in the industry, Jason transitioned into teaching high school and works as a principle as he continues to write, produce, and direct. His teaching experience is what inspired Teacher of the Year. He used the mockumentary style to utilize his resources and tight shooting schedule to the greatest effect. The result is an outrageously funny and touching film coming from a truthful place.
Actor Matt Letscher spoke in depth about the actors process. He discussed the differences between theater and film acting—which he describes as an “acting out” (theater) as opposed to “letting the camera in” on what’s going on inside the actor (in film). However, regardless of the acting style, the process of breaking down a script and understanding the reasoning and motivation behind every action is always the same. He believes acting is just like carpentry or any other craft, and your skills improve only by “doing the work.” Matt carried a massive notebook around with him on the set of Teacher of the Year, filled with his own notes about his character and the story, and would delve into it every moment he got in between shots and takes. When he worked early in his career with Anthony Hopkins, he saw a similar scenario with Hopkins making notes on every paragraph of his script.
Jason and Matt stayed after their Q&A to mingle and take pictures with students. We sincerely thank Jason Strouse and Matt Letscher for visiting NYFA, and wish them the very best in their future filmmaking ventures!