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  • Silicon Valley’s John Altschuler Speaks With New York Film Academy (NYFA)

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    On August 15, 2018, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of HBO’s Silicon Valley followed by a Q&A with creator and showrunner John Altschuler. NYFA Director of the Q&A Series, Tova Laiter, moderated the event.

    As a student at University of North Carolina, Altschuler created the first comedy sketch show on the university student TV. He and his co-writer, looking to capitalize on their venture, sent written material in three boxes to three owners/editors of the National Lampoon magazine, adding a dollar to each to get their attention. It worked! He became a writer for the most iconic humor magazine of its time, until he moved to Hollywood.John Altschuler

    After moving to Los Angeles however, he realized that his previous work was not going to magically open doors in the industry, so he worked odd jobs until he started getting gigs as a production assistant. He was careful not to pitch himself, instead concentrating on the job at hand. He told students, “Whatever job you get, just do that well… make their lives easier and they will look out for you; they will want to help you because you made their day that much easier.”

    His first writing job, on HBO’s The High Life, led to his becoming an executive producer and showrunner on FOX’s King of the Hill for 12 years and the relaunch of Beavis and Butt-head for MTV. He then co-created Silicon Valley for HBO, and Lopez for TV Land, starring George Lopez. He’s also produced Mike Judge’s film, Extract (2009) starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis and Ben Affleck, and co-wrote Blades of Glory (2007) starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.

    A student asked Altschuler about his inspiration for Silicon Valley. He replied, “I was reading a biography of Steve Jobs and there was a quote in there where Bill Gates was ridiculing Steve Jobs: ‘The guy can’t even write code!’ Altschuler thought: “The guy created the biggest brand in the world and there’s somebody up in Silicon Valley sniping at him; I was like, “This is hilarious!'”

    To the question of whether the creators knew Silicon Valley culture or only did research when they wrote the pilot, the answer was, “Both.” Altschuler had family members who were engineers, but they also did further research:

    “We went up to Silicon Valley… and it was so funny, because… everybody kept talking about how they were making the world a better place… The sanctimony was so thick that I thought, ‘well this is something to make fun of.’ It’s… fun to take on the big guys and try to deflate them.”

    John AltschulerLaiter noted that sometimes it’s easier to make fun of something when you’re outside of it, and Altschuler concurred.

    One student asked about Altschuler’s tips for pitching a show or movie to a producer. Altschuler advised, “[When] you go in, have your story and try to start off with a topic sentence or a personal story… try to make it a conversation, not a laundry list of ‘first this happened and then that happened.'”

    Altschuler imparted to the students that no matter what, they have to like what they’re making or no one will want to consume it. And when they write, and a scene doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to let it go. “If it’s really great, it will get its way in back later.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank John Altschuler for sharing his industry expertise and advice for our film school students!

     

     

     

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    August 17, 2018 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2663

  • New Indie Comedy “Teacher of the Year” Comes to NYFA

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    Teacher of the Year
    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.

    Teacher of Year Director

    Jason Strouse (left) and Matt Letscher (right)

    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!

     

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    October 17, 2014 • Filmmaking, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 6194