Podcast Episodes

Eric: Hi, I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.

Aerial: And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum. And in this episode, we bring you a knighted performer who’s portrayed everyone from Vladimir Lenin to Moses to Gandhi,.

Eric: From infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann to you, to Itzhak Stern from Schindler’s List to legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

Aerial: From a chess master to gangster to cinema visionary George Mellies The Oscar winning Sir Ben Kingsley.

Ben: The camera. The lens is allergic to acting. It flies off the lens like fried egg off Teflon. However, if you can present the camera with the behavior of your character, then the story you’re trying to tell will communicate to your audience.

Clips: I am the pale horse of death and hell follows me, boy.

Clips: One hundred thousand Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians if those Indians refuse to cooperate.

Clips: You have to have contempt for your opponents. You have to hate them.

Clips: As far as the actual jobs concerned it’s a piece of piss monkey could do it. That’s why I thought of you.

Clips:  Happy endings only happen in the movies.

Clips:  I’m trying to do something that people, yourself included, don’t understand, and I’m not going to give up without a fight.

Clips: And you’ll never see me coming.

Eric: He’s also brought fictional characters to equally riveting life, the intense and intensely profane Don in Sexy Beast, or his Oscar nominated turn as the tragic owner of the House of Sand and Fog.

Aerial:  And he’s now brought his steely intensity to TV as Pastor Byron Brown in Perpetual Grace. All of these amazing performances can be traced back to being a young boy who just wanted to be noticed.

Ben: I had an absolute compulsion. As a child. And then as an adolescent, however motivated and whatever caused this obsession is debatable, but I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions when I tell you that my absolute desire. Was to be seen and heard. Clearly, there are some negative implications to what I just said because the unheard child and the unseen child is in a sense unacknowledged and can’t feel his or her own. Perimeters. Space. Feet on the ground. Belonging. And it became clear to me that I was best at being seen and heard. When I was perhaps impersonating the person who had just left the room or I was able to impersonate very accurately to my school colleagues in the classroom the teacher who just left the room. In other words, I found that because of the to a certain extent, vacuums in myself. And this is either a good thing or a bad thing. Nature abhors a vacuum. It will be filled. Impersonation gave me great comfort in that I could for a fleeting moment. Acquire an identity and a voice and by the accuracy of that impersonation, entertain and connect with people. And this became empowering to me, certainly as a schoolboy and certainly as an adolescent. And then eventually it was clear to me that I could, in fact, turn what one could call an itch, a wound, an urge to be seen and heard into a craft. But without the urge to connect, one isn’t really an artist. You have to have. And it’s very, very easy for me to say this one has to be blessed with a sense of urgency and sometimes a sense of urgency can come out of loss, a sense of urgency can come out of indignation, a sense of urgency can come out of some clumsy act in one’s childhood. However buried that sense of urgency may become over your career, over your life. It is that sense of urgency that drives you rather like the oyster who cannot build a pearl unless there is a grain of sand that’s irritating it so my grain of sand was to be seen and heard. The oyster, the pearl, I mean, is sitting here now. So unless you do feel that compulsion, that urgency. I don’t think you’ll find your self propelled very far. But if you do feel that, then you’ll have a wonderful career. Of course you’ll have disappointments, but you’ll have triumphs. The main thing is that you’ll be seen and heard.

Aerial: I think it’s really cool how he put it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it that way before. Grain of sand, a pearl of being irritated to perfection. Basically, I thought that was very beautiful.

Eric: It’s like when you’re an artist like him, it’s like an itch you’ve got to scratch. And when you’re a kid, you don’t have the wherewithal, you don’t have the skills yet or the channel to do it. And then he found it

Aerial: And you don’t even think of it that way. You just think, oh, I want to play. Oh, this is fun.

Eric: Math is boring. Science is boring. But imitating my math teacher is not boring. And for him then to become an actor of his magnitude with his body of work. So much of it was about playing so many different roles so quickly, one after the other. And that’s what put him on the road to doing a hundred and forty plus of these parts since then.

Aerial: And let’s have him do a hundred and forty more.

Eric: At least.

Ben: Fortunately, I entered this beautiful craft. When England was populated with repertory companies, the finest of them was, and thank heaven it still is the Royal Shakespeare Company. And when you’re a member of that company and I was on and off for about, well, gosh, 15 years, let me give you one particular week out of season at the RSC. We call it Bertolt Brecht Baal. Iachimo in Cymbeline. Brutus, in Julius Caesar. Those three rolls. One played twice a week, two nights a week, so every six day week we worked. We did three different plays, so we alternated them. They are radically different, the characters. And eventually, very soon, in fact, as a matter of survival, you learned you had to get off that horse and get on another one. And, you know, the horses are very different. It simply is practice. But unless you have that that muscle practiced in you that can switch from one role to another, it’s going to be very difficult after a nine month grind, as you say, in one character. However, I think it’s even more specific than that. I have learned through my work on stage and through my work in the great rehearsal room with giants like Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, Bosco Buddy, these amazing people, John Barton. I learned that after each take on the film set, I let go. So it’s not even after nine months. I’m constantly letting go so that I can take the arrow out of my quiver. I can load it into my bow and I can literally let go. And in the meantime, I’m refreshing myself. I’m thinking nothing. I’m thinking blank. But there are molecules lining up inside of me that are preparing for the next take. But I have learned honestly to let go. I do not stay in character between takes and I do not stay in character when I go home. Therefore, even after a long shoot, I let go quite quickly. Physically, sometimes you don’t realize how exhausted you are at the end of a marathon. So physically it takes time. But then again, if I had to go from film to film as I do sometimes I have an airplane flight between films. Sometimes the adrenaline of the next challenge actually kicks in and your body responds. It is remarkable what the human body can do when those demands are made on it. But I think the answer to your question is I learnt very early on how to let go and how to just completely wipe the slate and start afresh on the word action. The loading of the bow can take a very, very long time, although that’s a wonderfully swift gesture and it’s emblematic of what we do for a living. The loading of the bow can take months. It is studying the script. It is finding that connection, not necessarily empathy, but that connection or that urgency to inhabit that person and tell that story. And I suppose the first step towards the loading of the bow is, am I compelled to be this character or not? It’s a very, very tough business. None of us want to be unemployed. We are given a role and we accept it sometimes out of starvation, not out of motivation. But if you are fortunate enough to be offered a role with which you can connect in as much as you can pour your energy into it, then I think the loading of the bow. Can be a very laborious process. But then the arrow flying through the air makes everything worth it, especially if it hits the target or gets very close. So I would say the loading of the bow is the appreciation of the other actors with you. How you learn to work as a group. Perhaps you can think of it this way. I remember. Oh, dear. It was so sad. I was working with somebody and the actor said to the director, What do I do while he’s talking? And what should be happening and indeed, for the most part is, is that you are listening and poised to react as your character and you’re listening to how the other words and actions coming towards you can impact and mold and shape your response. That also is part of loading the arrow is listening, listening to the other. My dear chap, I’ve worked with some actors. And I think you know what? If I tiptoed quietly backwards out of this scene, you’d carry on without me. You just carry on. This is not a duet, but it must be a duet or a trio or a great ensemble. It must be. So listening to the other is very much part of loading your bow.

Aerial: I love hearing someone who is so successful. Talk about listening to other people.

Eric: Right. You would imagine Sir Ben Kingsley would be so kind of zoned in, so focused, so intense, like he’s kind of in the space. But that is the space. Space is everyone around you and not being a solo archer, right.

Aerial: And knowing and paying attention to the other people on stage with you really helps inform you of your next move.

Eric: And part of that, too, for me is like if ever there was an actor you might think was method.

Aerial: Right.

Eric: You would potentially make the assumption that Sir Ben Kingsley was that guy. He’s always so tuned in.

Aerial: So good.

Eric [00:12:07] But in fact, he said quite the opposite. This is something he cautions about, is the archer who is only worried about themselves.

Aerial: Right, where you can quietly tip toe backwards and the other person might not be paying attention.

Eric: Right. The danger of method. It’s like I’m so worried about my arrows and that one bullseye that I might be noticing all the other archers around me. There is the potential of being too invested in your performance at the expense of the whole part of his metaphor of archery is you’ve got to know when to put the arrow in and when to let the arrow go and when to move on to the next arrow so that you’re not stuck in that. And you’re also making sure you are connected with the other people in this show, in this play, because otherwise you’re just out there alone.

Ben: There is a danger that one can disappear so much into one’s own solipsistic bubble that it ceases to be collaborative and it must be collaborative. If you’re not reaching your fellow actor, you sure as hell aren’t reaching the audience. If it’s not going that far, it’s not going to travel. Look let me be honest. I don’t know what method acting is. I don’t quite know what it is because I came into the business without any training whatsoever, and I have created my own system of approaching a character, my own metaphors, my own terms of reference. Look, everyone has a different way of approaching a task. But I did say earlier that I consider myself a portrait artist. So let me give you a classic example. Having just played Adolf Eichmann.

Clips: My name is Adolf Eichmann.The architect. Of the final solution.

Ben: My canvas was blank. I started to create his portrait with my brush and my paints and I put my brush down. I washed the paint off my hands and I went home. And the next morning I picked up the brush. I was never him, not for one tiny second. I have to say only because I know my craft well enough to say this amongst company that I totally respect, my performance was good.

Clips: My job was simple. Save the country. I love being destroyed.

Ben: But I was never him and I would say in peril of your sanity and your sleep, do not approach Adolf Eichmann as a method exercise. If you do not have to be a Nazi to paint the portrait of a Nazi.

Aerial: As an actor, you’re always told, don’t judge your characters. Now you could be that character, but sometimes your you know, obviously it’s a good thing that you’re working, but sometimes your character is an awful real life human that you have to find a justification on how not to judge them so much so where you don’t do any disservice to the art. You know, in order to become this horrible, horrible character, he chose to focus on all the victims and survivors and really honor them. And I mean, he had a point about he was a real man.

Eric: They all were.

Aerial: They all were real.

Eric: Every last one of them.

Aerial: They kissed their puppies; their kids. And he was able to put all of that together because he wanted to honor the survivors. I’m getting emotional right now.

Eric: And then how he also part of that journey as a performer is also being able to let it go.

Aerial: Right.

Eric: Like if you’re playing some of these and he’s played some some real SOBs over the course of his career. You take that home with you. It doesn’t help the art. It only messes up your life. And I think that comes with a maturity as a performer. You know, he’s been obviously at this for many decades now, but the ability to, like, not push harder than you need to to instead of acting or trying just sort of inhabiting that space.

Aerial: Right. Finding that balance of being able to give enough, but also to be able to let go.

Ben: There is a very famous Japanese painter called Haiku, and he said that when I was a younger artist, I painted the mountain and the lake and the fishermen and the birds. Many, many strokes. But when I’m 100. I shall paint the fishermen, the mountain, the birds and the clouds with one stroke of my brush and put it down. And I think as one is blessed to progress through a craft. And it’s not an easy word to translate. Accuracy Economy. Sharpness of target. Become the key things, what are the key elements in this scene? What are the key elements in this man’s voice? Where is the most important word in this sentence? Simple as that. But of course, these wonderful challenges, as you so rightly put it, only emerge. After you realized that when one was younger, one did an awful lot of acting. And as one matures into the craft, paradoxically, you do less and less and less acting and you hopefully, especially for the camera, embark on a process of being. The camera, the lens. To my mind, is allergic to acting. It flies off the lens like fried egg off Teflon. Remember that phrase. However, if you can present the camera with behavior, the behavior of your character, then there is a very good chance that the story you’re trying to tell will communicate to your audience and you’ve unblocked it by over translating him or her into your acting. But it really does take a lot of practice, and the challenge is to do less and less and less.

Eric: It’s funny you wouldn’t necessarily think doing less and less is a sign of improving as an artist. But in fact, it’s like when you are first acting or directing or writing, doing any of this, the tendency is almost to try too hard. I know when I directed plays and I was a lot younger and like I’d come to rehearsal with like everything spelled out. Beat it out. Like you go there across left at that. And then after a while I realized, well, these actors know what they’re doing too I gotta sort of trust the process a little bit. Knowing that I had a goal.

Aerial: Right.

Eric: But realizing we’re all kind of going together.

Aerial: Right. And every director, every actor, everyone in this business has their own way of going about doing things and finding that Zen that trust is ultimately when, you know, you have a good partnership.

Eric: And when someone doesn’t have that that same attitude, how it can be incredibly difficult even for even for a Ben Kingsley.

Ben: Another challenge, of course, is with whom you work. And are they listening to you or not? Are you being seen and heard by this director or is this director slapping an image onto you that they are insisting they see? I’m really fortunate sometimes in working. With a director who appreciates my preparation. And also appreciates that. I’m allowing my character to behave. Rather than cluttering him with my acting. Therefore, Chris Conrad, our wonderful director, printed the first take every time. Possibly the second. Because he filmed the behavior of Pa, take one print it. I was astonished. Print it. Move on. Print it. Move on. Print it. Move on. Another director I worked with and here one has to learn as students how to communicate and how to drop the arrogance and listen to the other. I was working with a director. We were discussing takes. And to be honest, I am take one or take two. Honestly, I I said quite casually, not arrogantly to this director who fortunately will be nameless today. I think I’m take one or two. Seven. That’s what he said. Unbelievably rude. Clearly, clearly not watching or listening to what I was doing. Seven. He thought that he’d appropriated a pattern of my behavior. Tucked it into his little bag and thought, Kingsley 7. So what about six? What about 5? Not watching? Does he want to prove a point? Seven? Then he went on to say. Now you did something on take 2 I really liked this too, this is we’re about take five. Now, if I were a total narcissist, I might remember how clever I was on take 2. But as I’ve just at great pains explained to you, I haven’t got a clue what I did on take 2. I have let go. I’m drawing out another arrow for the director, putting it in my bow. You did something really good on take two. Well, print it, then put it in the movie.

Aerial: So if I ever have the amazing opportunity to cast Sir Ben Kingsley and anything I do, I will never ask him for a seventh take.

Eric: And you all heard it. All right. We’re going to hold you to that.

Aerial: I mean, if I’m doing my job, he’s gonna be doing his. And I should trust that. And I know he’s gonna give it to me first time, maybe second time, but definitely not seven.

Eric: Yeah I don’t know how he would have worked with Stanley Kubrick, but that would have been an amazing film to see.

Aerial: Right.

Eric: Stanley Kubrick famously would go 60, 70, 80 takes. But I think more times than not, when you have an actor of this caliber. If you’re asking for that seventh take means maybe you didn’t do the homework you needed to do and you better do your homework when you have an actor like him because he’s gonna come ready to rock. He’s not intimidated by any challenge. That means you as a director can’t be either. You have to be ready because he knows what he needs to do.

Ben: I have to be honest, I don’t find acting challenging. I find other people challenging. Like Mr. Take Seven. But if I am left alone metaphorically with my brushes and my canvas, I can paint a wonderful portrait and be tremendously happy and hopefully communicate that portrait accurately. I do like to talk as a portrait painter. When I was in the theater, I was very much a landscape artist because as a theater actor, you have to bring onto the stage the hills, the mountains, the Royal Court, the army. You know Shakespeare’s great soliloquies populate the stage with thousands of people and there is a painted back cloth. You have to bring the whole world, the whole landscape of the story onto the stage with you. Whereas in film, thanks to the extraordinary capacity for the camera to capture nature, one can be a portrait artist all you have to do is behave as the person you are portraying. I think my starting point. Has to be related to my work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’m afraid Shakespeare was my first writer. He’s a very tough act to follow. And when you realize how empowering it is to decipher. A marvelous line of Shakespeare’s. And communicate it over 400 years to an audience who gasp. In astonishment at that mighty line. It’s thrilling. It’s thrilling because the line, the writing is engineered and architectured to really penetrate the audience. And look how long it’s lasted. It’s extraordinary. And in a strange way, I grew to love Shakespeare as if he was my friend. It’s very strange. There’s a wonderful book by Howard Bloom called. The invention of the human being, and he credits Shakespeare with being one of the first people ever to dramatically. Describe and dramatize pure patterns of human behavior. A long time before Freud, a long time before Jung. Pure patterns of human behavior that can withstand to this day all the modern pressures of psychology and psycho analysis. They’re absolutely pure. Patterns of behavior. Iago, Othello, Desdemona. Rosalind Jaques so that feeling the magnificent gift he gave to his actors. And he was an actor. He wrote with actors. Of giving them these beautiful lines, these beautiful ideas, this wonderful, multilayered language. He therefore empowered me and it stayed in my DNA and I have a hunger for that kind of language that expresses patterns of human behavior purely. So it’s very hard. It’s very hard. Page one. Page two nope. Nope. Never going to get there. Never going to get there. That is a copy of a copy of a copy that is very lazy writing. It may well be made, may well be watched. It won’t move anybody an inch or an ounce. It’s just a copy. But when I read something original. I know the tricks, I’m with him. I recognize him on the first page and stay with him until the curtain drops. Writing is my starting point and I build a character from how the author has so brilliantly constructed the way he speaks. He thinks. What is the most important word in his line? What is the most important word in all these sentences? If it’s good writing, you’ll find it. Is it anger? Is it love? Is it loss? Is it envy? What’s driving him? Ah there it is. It’s in The writing it’s in the writing, all the clues are there. If it’s weak writing literally, you don’t have a clue. Not given you one, he or she is not writing for his or her actors saying this will make a few bucks.

Eric: Yeah. Shakespeare’s Shakespeare. But I mean, did he ever write a movie featuring a tornado and a shark? No.

Aerial: Anyway, Shakespeare is amazing. And.

Eric: Yes he is amazing. I admit it too.

Aerial: It’s great to to hear an artist at his caliber. Talk about how he respects the text so much.

Eric: And what’s great to hear, especially as a writer. It’s like sometimes actors feel like it’s their job to make the text better. You know.

Aerial: Let me just rewrite this.

Eric: Yeah. No, I don’t think it needs to be those words. But here’s an actor who could do that and I’d be perfectly okay with it. But he has such appreciation when text is good.

Aerial: He respects the text.

Eric: Right. It’s like it gives him his starting point as a performer. He has such a love of text and the possibility of language, even though he was not actually formally trained or educated, though he does have a lot of honorary degrees, including a very well-deserved one from this very school.

Ben: I have an M.A.. From this establishment. But I never went to school. I never I went I never went to drama school and never went to film school I never went to university. I have an honorary M.A. From here an honorary M.A. from Stanford. A D. Lit. From Sussex and a D. Lit. From Hull. All of that. For which I’m eternally grateful. Comes from my experience of life. The grain of sand that I talked of earlier. Around which we labor to build our pearl to smooth things out and to glitter. So if I cannot recognize a decent pattern of human behavior in the writing, I’m afraid I can’t do it and I can never truly bring life to it. But once I have found that pattern of human behavior, the rhythm and timbre. Of, in my case, the man. And why he. Is what he is. The dialog starts to go in, and so perhaps I don’t learn, I study I study like an archaeologist brushing away layers and layers and layers of dust and dirt until I find the bones. And when I find the bones, then I can assemble the man. But you’re not gonna find any bones if the writing’s weak. So the writer and the actor have to meet halfway. Sometimes as an expedient. But then again, it is in addition to or it complements what I’ve just said. I will record the script and listen to it as I fall asleep to familiarize myself with the music of the writing and of the character. Always try and work on good material. I know it’s hard, but you must say no to bad material. The material that is, let us say, tone deaf. And you must work on material in which you personally can recognize a genuine pattern of human behavior. Ah I know him. Or if I don’t know him, I want to know him. And then the dialog will go in so sufficiently and so confidently that when you are totally surprised by the fact that yipes there’s another actor in this scene I’d forgotten about that I thought it was all about me. The other actor in the scene will throw lines at you, and you will respond from that perfect pattern of human behavior that you yourself have worked out. You can keep it secret sometimes. Don’t tell the director. Just say I have a pattern of human behavior. I know this guy’s pattern because you might tell the director and he might say seven. He’ll rob you, you know. Or she. So it’s a private process. But my starting point is let’s hope you are blessed with good material. So if you do have a musical ear will help you enormously. Sexy Beast was written beautifully so well that it reads like a Jacobin tragedy could have been written in the seventeen hundreds.

Clips: You’re the problem, you’re the f**king problem. You f**king Doctor White honking jam rag arcane spunk bubble. I’m telling you Aitch you keep looking at me. I’m gonna put you enough in the f**king ground, I promise you.

Ben: And the patterns of human behavior, the characterizations are so specific and so individuated that I could discern from the page and then from inhabiting Don on set for maybe one or two days, I realized regretfully. But also it gave me power to communicate him. He was a dreadfully abused child and he would spend the rest of his life abusing others because he was unhealed. And as soon as I recognized that and it became embedded in my performance and his pattern of human behavior, he poured out of me.

Eric: When I find the bones, I can assemble the man. Man he is really killing it with those metaphors. And for a writer, I think it’s all the more important that you put enough in there that you give the actors something to expand upon. But if it’s not there at all.

Aerial: The actors will have to make it up. And that might not be what you intended.

Eric: Yeah, there’ll be no bones.

Aerial: No bones. I mean, it’s nice to be able to see the difference it makes when the writer really puts the work to really lay down the groundwork for the actor.

Eric: Right it’s that happy marriage where writer meets actor.

Aerial: Oh I like that.

Eric: And thus character.

Ben: My starting point with the craft of acting is transformation. Transformation gives off a certain kind of energy that the audience recognize and thrilled to, I promise you. Transformation I sometimes attempt to describe it quite simplistically. The audience at the circus and they’re watching a trapeze artist. And she’s swinging on one trapeze and there’s another one impossibly far away from her and she will swing triple somersault in the air and grasp the handle of the other trapeze. And then the audience start breathing again. Her holding onto one trapeze is her. Her transformation is the spinning in the air that is utterly thrilling to the audience who say to themselves, I didn’t realize a human being could do this. I’m a human being. She’s a human being. We can we can do it even a part of me, my DNA, my molecules can do it. So, my dear, I would say retain your original self and thrill people by how much you can transform that original self. And then when you want to go right back to it. So you will always be you. But you will find extraordinary means of telling stories where you transform to tell the story. You transform to communicate the truth when it’s appropriate. If you find and this is quite difficult for an actor that the only way you can communicate a certain set of truths is not by wearing a mask. Because we all know the old saying, give a man a mask and he’ll tell the truth. But not wearing a mask makes you very, very vulnerable. And sometimes I know that the actor has chosen that craft to wear a mask and therefore not be seen and heard as his or her original self. But the starting point of the craft, I think in all modesty, should be the original self. So it is the spinning in the air. You have that trapeze. That’s you. You have the other trapeze. That’s your character. But the transformation into it is what will thrill audiences and what will get their attention. The energy, the urgency, the accuracy, the risk of you letting go of that with nothing. Actors have nothing. What do they have? Nothing. And then onto the other side. Wonderful. So however you wish to translate that, I hope you can. But the original self do not stretch yourself beyond your point of elasticity it’s the law of physics. If you stretch something beyond its point of elasticity and let it go, it will not shrink back to its original self. And you must. It’s very frightening sometimes when actors feel that they must transform so much and never between takes let go and always take the character home. They are distorted and it can be very dangerous. You must be able to always shrink back to your original self and then leap from that into your story.

Eric: Years back when I was but a wee lad in college, I did act some and when I would try to do a role, I felt like I had to change everything. I had to change my voice, change how I walk. It took a while for me to realize instead of coming at this from an angle of how is this character different for me? How is this character similar to me? You know, you don’t have to change everything about you to make character work.

Aerial: It helps when you have directors. You trust you enough to allow you to be real, and allow you to find that character as an actor going in, you know, you’ve auditioned, you’ve done your homework then you go to set and you feel like you have to prove yourself every single time that wastes a lot of energy. And as an actor, it’s nice to be trusted. And then you can truly find your character easier because now you’re confident. And I think that’s what Sir Ben Kingsley does so well.

Ben: The greatest experience I’ve had with directors and certainly the material you saw this afternoon is a prime example of this, is that once the directors cast you in the role confidently, you have that feeling. Absolute appreciation of the fact. That you have been given that role to portray to the best of your ability that you never for a second in the best cases feel that this person is auditioning you every day. Because once you feel that you’re being auditioned. The whole of your performance alters, it is no longer behavior. It is watch these tricks and there is a terrible difference in a huge difference, so the director, who has the capacity and the bravery to come to the film set and think to his or herself. What is going to happen today? What is my camera going to capture today? The camera has to capture behavior. And the wonderful thing about all the great films that we love and the great scenes that we love. Thinking of the trapeze artist in midair is also when the actors in the scene are discovering one another while the camera is turning. And for a director to give the actors that space. In which to discover one another through the character of their behaviors is a very, very good director indeed. So the most paramount. Aside from rigorous preparation and masterly casting, I would say the ability to have an open heart and an open mind. Knowing your story so well. And then allowing the camera to film behavior, behavior from confident actors who are in an absolute state of grace between action and cut. Because you put them in a perfect place. And I have given examples of control freaks who think that they know to the number. What take to print even before you’ve walked onto the set. It’s terrible. They’re not listening. So listening, listening, listening and alertness and also, as I say, preparation, casting and listening to that artistic Geiger counter in oneself and not be cluttered by people who say, oh, those actors, they really rub each other in the wrong way. I think they’d be great if we put them together. But it’s all about trust. It isn’t about an irritant. It’s about trust. And that willingness to learn and listen to the other actor in a space given to you by that director. So preparation is important and the ability to listen so clearly in an uncluttered way. Martin Scorsese is a master at this as well as dear Steve Conrad, with whom I’ve just worked. Martin watches the action from a black tent on a monitor with his assistant and one or two other of his lieutenants and generals and he’ll say cut after a take. He’d be led out of his tent because you come out of the tent into a dark film set. You’re blind as a bat. And the cables all over the floor. So his assistant leads him across the floor it’s quite dramatic, leads him across the floor. And then your face to face of the maestro. And the maestro says. Should we do another one. That’s all he says. That’s all he says. And of course, you are delighted to do another one for him because, you know, he’s watching. And putting on the screen. Every single thing that you’re offering to him on the floor of the set on that day. He will always capture the most important word in the line, if you know what I mean. He’ll get it. He’ll put the camera in the right place.

Aerial: I really enjoy listening to him talk about being on set and working with a great director. You know one who doesn’t make you feel like you’re auditioning every day. He’s worked with some of our greatest directors, you know, from Spellberg to Scorsese. And you can really see him come alive when you have the right collaboration or a really great dance partner. If you want to do another metaphor.

Eric: But also to use one of his metaphors. This idea of painting with one stroke of the brush, you know that he’s gotten to a point as a performer. He can do that. He doesn’t need a lot of strokes to get it. When you’re working on a lower budget film, an independent film, which he has done many times, you don’t have the luxury of multiple takes. You don’t have the luxury of a lot of money to throw at the screen. So you got to make every stroke count. You’ve got to be really precise with your storytelling. You want it to look like that was a choice. Yeah. No, no. We only needed the one take.

Ben: To be taking your first steps when the purse is almost empty is a very privileged position because it’s going to force you to be absolutely essential. When you discover through your limited resources what the most important word in your story is, what the most important gesture is. What’s the essential message? If you’ve got a few dollars, you have to be accurate. And then if you learn how to do this with great accuracy. You’ll never fall into the trap of throwing money at it. Because that won’t work. It will not work. The only thing that will work is your commitment to that essential gesture of the character and the essential word at the heart of the story. Often when I’m working on a complex character and they usually are quite complex. I try and reduce the mandate into one tiny sentence that I can hold in my pocket. And hold on to that mandate and it becomes irrespective of the budget and the size of the film or one’s responsibilities financially. I remember when I had the great privilege of playing Otto Frank Anne Frank’s father.

Clips: Good people and bad people have one thing in common they both make mistakes. Only good people can admit their mistakes and learn from them.

Ben: I had this perfect image in my head that I reduced it to one sentence. That Anne is at school. School is over. She’s in the yard with her friends chatting. Her father arrives at the school gates. She looks at her dad. Then she turns back to her friends. And she says her friends see that man over there? That’s my dad. That gesture. That’s my dad pushed me through the film. He was not there for her. He couldn’t be. He was separated from her by Adolf Eichmann. But early on in that film, I knew that the diamond in the center of that very, very big budget mini series was. That’s my dad. Hang on to that, little diamond.

Aerial: And with that we have gone from pearls to diamonds, an important element to starting out in this business is to connect with yourself and make sure you are taking care of your most important asset.

Eric: Your car?

Aerial: No, you.

Ben: I think that gaining strength through disappointment, which will inevitably come because of what we do, is perhaps the best we can do. Gain strength from the disappointment to learn physically and mentally how we cope with it. And certainly on the film set I’m a hermit, quite anti-social, partly because I love my own company, partly because I know that I need to conserve my energies and my strengths for the task in hand. The task in hand is Dame Maggie Smith. She’s a wonderful, wonderful performer in Downton Abbey, as you will probably know, she said to a colleague of mine. You can’t be a star in the dressing room, dear. I mean, just before I came on with dear Chris and had this conversation, I was pacing up and down by myself, all by myself in the room. I could have been entirely alone. I wanted to be find space where you must and can be your original self. There are many, many distractions that always connect with. Your original self. Because I think the quest for the original, uninterrupted, untarnished, undistorted self is our greatest quest. And if we can find that it’s a wellspring of energy and joy and is wonderful to be with the original self. So take time for yourself. Try not to compromise. Be very careful of the company you keep. Because there are amongst us, those of us through either bitterness, disappointment, laziness, will rob you of your energy and you leave the evening feeling. Why do I feel so soiled? Why do I feel so compromised? We had fun. We had drinks. We laughed a lot. Why do I feel so weary? So be very careful of the company you keep and how much you spread yourself. We are creative people. We’re blessed to lead creative lives. And it’s alarming how much that cloying of other people’s appetites can debilitate you. So aside from whatever wonderful classes you do, I have my own physical regime I eat. Well, aside from all that, take care of the original self. Cause basically, that’s all you have.

Eric: That’s a good note to end on, you know guys. Take care of yourself. You can’t do your best work or even good work if you’re not taking care of you. And Sir Ben Kingsley at 75 looks like he’s got another hundred forty performances in him, which I’m fine with.

Aerial: Me too, and I hope he does. You know considering he did not get a formal acting education. He is so fabulous and he’s wonderful to listen to. He’s got great advice. He’s a great teacher and our students really benefited from listening to him.

Eric: And hopefully you guys did, too. I feel like listening to him talk about his craft is like a bit of a master’s education just by listening to him speak.

Aerial: We want to think, Sir Ben Kingsley, for his talent, his art, and for speaking with our students. You can watch his new show, Perpetual Grace on Epix.

Eric: And thanks to all of you for listening. She is Aerial Segard and she is leaving us going to Japan. I will have to say that anytime Aeriel was in this booth, it was an episode that was so much fun to record. And really, hopefully for you guys showed the excitement. We both feel in talking about this, but mostly it was just nice having a friend in the room. So, Aeriel, thank you so much for doing this. And I don’t know we’ll have to fly you back from Japan for every episode. We can’t afford that, right?

Aerial: Okay yeah we can afford that ticket.

Eric: We’re starting Kickstarter right now for that to happen. So thank you. One last time to the fabulous Aerial Segard round of applause.

Eric: We will be missing her very much.

Aerial: Thank you so much and I’m gonna miss this. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be able to be a part of this.

Eric: She’s Aerial Segard.

Aerial: And that’s Eric Conner.

Eric: And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane. Chris, thank you again for bringing in Sir Ben Kingsley to our school to watch a full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

Aerial: This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson, who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner.

Eric: Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler a special things to our Events Department Sajja Johnson. And the staff and crew who made this possible, including Drew Hughes for always finding the perfect place to take a picture.

Aerial: To learn more about our programs, check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

Eric: We won’t see you next time.

Aerial: I won’t see you next time.

Eric: But I’ll see you next time.

Aerial: Have fun.

Eric: Bye Aerial.

Just a quick heads up, the episode today will be playing clips from a rated R film and some of those clips are going to have some salty language. So if you have any kids listening, you may want to put on some headphones.

Hey, this is David Nelson, creative director of the Backlot Podcast. We have a special episode today. We have instructor extraordinaire, senior directing instructor here at the New York Film Academy Nick Sivakumaran. How you doing, Nick?

Pretty good. How are you doing, Dave?

I am excellent. So the audience should know, Nick and I have known each other for a while our entire time in Los Angeles.

That’s right.

Went to USC together. We’ve been teaching here together ever since I stopped. He still continues to teach. I now do this stuff. We’ll cut that out.

Yeah. We’ve no yeah from the East Coast all the way to the West Coast.


Just like John McClane.

Exactly, I’m from Jersey though. He’s he’s he’s a New Yorker, but not not New York City.

I lived in the city.

Did you live in the city.

I lived I was in town, Glen Oaks. I lived all over, but then we moved to Rockland County.

Oh, nice. How old were you when you did that?


Okay. And here we are today. Here to talk to you about a movie of our youth, Die Hard.

Yippee ki ya motherfucker.

Just an awesome action packed romantic love story as we’ve discovered Christmas movie, romantic love story, a you know a film for for everyone.

Perfectly described. One of my favorites.

So tell me when you first saw it. Like, how old were you when you saw Die Hard? What was the.

This will age me but I was 15 years old. I saw it. I don’t know if it was opening weekend, but I saw it with my dad and my neighbor. And it was probably one of the first rated R movies. I don’t know how I convinced my father to take us to see it, but.

Do you want to know what my first rated R movie was that my parents took me to unknowingly.



Yes. Wait Flashdance was rated R. Yeah it was rated R.


Okay. That’s unknowingly.

Yeah. I mean.


So my mom my mom was a dancer and she’s like, oh it’s a movie about dancing.

That’s awesome.

So I was like I think 8. I don’t remember how old I was but first of all, I think we could do this is like a Christmas podcast, even though Bruce Willis didn’t think it was a Christmas movie, apparently.

Is that what he said?

Yeah. That’s apparently like there’s.

Yeah, but I don’t think it was designed as a Christmas. It came out in the summer. Right. So it wasn’t designed as a Christmas movie, but it is the best Christmas movie ever.

No, totally. I was listening like even the from the very beginning. He asked for Christmas music. Guys like.

He’s like this is Christmas.

Do you got any Christmas music.

This is Christmas music.

Wait. So how? Because I know when we’re talking about what movie to choose. And right and I was. You said I think you said 80s films.

Yeah. Like 80s, 80s, 90s, 80s.

I got to tell you, because whenever, you know, the first day of class, whenever we talk to students about, you know, talk about like your favorite films or films that have influenced you and stuff. I always say die hard. And it’s sad that now most of my students have no idea what I’m talking about. And I have to explain, I go die hard or we talk about directors and I mention John McTiernan and no one knows him. And when I mentioned Predator and and they go oh yeah yeah yeah, of course they know that.

So they know, yeah, well, I guess that’s been remade right there’s been.

Probably yeah. But die hard’s got like five of them now, right. So you’d think they would know that.

So they just they don’t know the series or they haven’t seen the first one.

I don’t know. But then it’s also like, you know, everyone sits there and they go around the room. They’re like, you know, mean streets and taxi driver and Pulp Fiction. And I always I talk about like Bridge on the River Kwai and Casablanca and Die Hard. And they’re like, who is this teacher?

All right. So, yeah, I mean, that’s why die hard.

Two things. One. I mean, I think it’s the nostalgia, right? Like, I was 15 years old. I saw it with my dad and my neighbor was one of the first films I saw rated R film in the theater. And it was so violent. While my father you know, he had no idea. He just took us to the movie. And I remember still thinking it was the greatest movie I ever saw when I was 15. And I would just watch it constantly. So I think it goes back to that time period. But then it holds up. And I think it’s the I think it’s the best action film ever made. That’s why.

All right. I mean, I just watched it again last night. Obviously, we’re the same age I grew up with it. It’s an amazing film. I think so. But like, what about it? I mean, I want to break all that down.Yeah what about it holds up?

Well, you know, when I say holds up. I think it’s it’s so. It’s so well constructed. I love how everything just works together. The plants and payoffs. It’s such a self-contained film. Right. Just also just, you know, I mean, literally self-contained in that building. And, you know, the story works so well and so many different levels.

It it’s such a good story. And like I forgot that the story’s about. It’s like the building and the theivery, the theivery, the robbery, all of it’s like second place to this romantic.

It is it’s romantic, right?

Not only is it romantic, cause it’s funny there’s a lot of things that don’t play to today. I thought.

Like, what.

Alright so like in the very beginning. The woman’s like, can I have a drink? And then Holly turns to her and she’s like, oh, yeah. You know, you’re you’re almost she’s just about to give birth. She’s like, yeah. Go. Go ahead. Have a drink.

Jenny, it’s five forty. Go join the party. Have some champagne. You’re making me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Thanks a lot Ms. Genero. Do you think the baby can handle a little sip?

That baby’s ready to tend bar.

That’s true.

Like you can’t do that. Honestly, like in the party, when I was watching the party, there’s only one African-American character and he’s the guy serving drinks.

Oh, really.

Yeah. In the party. So like there were little things.

The terrorists are more diverse, I think.

Yeah. Yeah absolutely.

Oh that’s interesting.

But like, honestly, on the flip side, I was thinking like you look at Holly and she is I mean, the whole thing is predicated on the idea of this woman who is not going to just. She has her own career. She travels across the country with their kids. He’s this old fashioned dude who wants her to come back. And ultimately, he goes to her in the end.


But I interrupted you. You were so. Yeah. What. The greatest.

I don’t know. You know, and it’s again, like I do think there’s so much nostalgia there. And like, you know, you just go back to that. That summer like being a teenager. Watching that. But the fact that it plays now, like we just mentioned like Christmas it plays every Christmas. Right. Just nonstop. I saw it when did Alan Rickman die. He when Alan Rickman passed away. There was a retrospective on his work and I saw a double feature of Die Hard and Robin Hood, prince of theives,.

He was. He was great in it.

Yeah, but it was just like, you know, like the ultimate villain. And watching Die Hard and especially 35 film print. You know, I saw that and I was like, oh, my God, I love this. Just like how I you know, I used to Robin Hood. Not so much.

Yeah no.

That was but when I was I was watching yesterday and I had it with the commentary on with John McTiernan. And it was it was so like and I was sitting there going like I’ve never seen this with the commentary. And I’ve had this DVD or different versions of it Blu ray, whatever, for so long. I’ve never heard his commentary, but I don’t know. Sometimes, you know, you have some really good ones. This guy. He gave some good feedback here and there. But there was it wasn’t ultimately.

Yeah, I don’t.

I don’t think it was enough.

I don’t remember a lot of like commentaries I’ve watched where I’ve been like, I really learned something.

Yeah. Because a lot of times I think it’s they’re sitting around watching it and like reminiscing about what happened on set or they’re just joking around they’re drunk or something. There’s there’s rare commentaries that work. This one, though, is him and the production designer. So the production designer’s going on about of course, production design and Fox Plaza, which that’s another thing I think why this film, why I love it so much, is living in the West Side every day I drive by the 405, whatever the 10 and I see the building and I’m always like, Nakatomi Plaza.

Right is it is. So even though the base of it, where like the guy, that’s all the same with the building there, right?

I’m pretty sure. I’m pretty sure they actually didn’t they. Oh man I don’t know enough about that. I thought they blew up like the first or second floor because it was in construction when they shot it there.

Oh right.



They were under construction or just building it. So they were like, you know, we could do whatever we want to the building I guess.

It’s weird for like the first two years here, I would pass by that building and I’d be like, I know it. That’s from. That’s a familiar building. I don’t I don’t know when it finally clicked, I’m like, die hard. The other thing I do want to say is on the flip side, I did notice there are three African-American characters, well-placed. One guy is, you know, of course, Alan Rickman’s second. But then there was also forgot his name in the limo.

Argyle. I’m your limo driver.

Oh Argyle.


And then Sergeant Powell a hugely important character.

And you had Agent Johnson. Remember that guy.

Oh, God. Yeah.

I’m Agent Johnson. This is Special Agent Johnson.

Oh how you doing?

No relation.

The other agent Johnson.

Yeah the other agent Johnson. And it’s something it’s so funny because I I still I don’t know, I quote the movie. And when I was watching it yesterday, I was thinking like there’s other lines that came up and I was like, oh, that’s a pretty good line. I didn’t even think about that. But there’s the line that I quote all the time is the I was in junior high dickhead. Remember that line. And I say that. And no one knows what I’m talking about. I just I say it to Rick Ross a lot, actually. He’s old.

And well, the thing like. And it’s it’s funny because again I just watched it last night. And at the time I was like, yeah, because this guy is old. And now it’s like, oh, my God, I’m old because. So what were they referring to is one guy says.

Just like fuckin Saigon ay slick.

And then his partner, Agent Johnson, says.

I was in junior high dickhead.

And I gotta to tell you. It came back in. Which one was it? The fourth one. Live free or die hard? I remember there was like this one line where he said something like someone said hi I’m Agent Johnson and you just saw Bruce Willis give him a look.

Oh really.

And I laughed. And I’m looking around, like, I don’t think anyone gets this in the theater. Like, how come there’s no diehard fans like literally?

That’s a great moment when the because like, you have this asshole head cop who comes in and screws everything up. But when he turns, he goes, we’re gonna need two new FBI guys.

I guess we’re going to need some new FBI agents. That’s awesome.

We’re gonna need some more FBI guys I guess.

So John McTiernan did this first one, he also directed the third one, and everyone like loves the third one. I didn’t like it at all. And I remember clearly being so excited to see it.

What was the remind me?

Third one was in New York City. And it’s him and Samuel Jackson running around defuzing bombs. And it’s Hans’s brother,.


Right? And I was like, what thehell? What is this movie? This isn’t. And I think what I was annoyed about was that diehard was about the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right. And also somebody like trapped in a building or an airport or a plane or you know whatever, all those variations of that. And New York City just running around like it didn’t make any sense. And after I saw the movie, I read somewhere that it was originally a script for Lethal Weapon it was supposed to be a lethal weapon. I was like, that makes sense, but die hard. And then the movie or I think in the beginning of the movie he’s not with his wife, with Holly. Right. And like the whole.

Right. Right. Right.

And actually, even now, what is die hard five, six, whatever came out, divorced. They don’t even talk anymore.

Yeah see. You’re totally right

Like that defeats the purpose right if the whole.

No. And it’s something I’d never thought of, which is you’re right. The first one, he’s stuck in this building. The second one he’s stuck in an airport. And so you get that joke of like, oh, here we go again.


But like I mean, maybe you can get away with a third. But you’re right that.

But the third one they tried to tie in it was Hans’s brother out for revenge. And like and now he’s back in New York City. Right. So I don’t know.

Well and we were talking about it earlier, which is that the coolest thing about this film I think for me when I was re watching, it was how much time the whole setup wasn’t devoted to the terrorists that happened like this it was. You know, it completely was about his relationship with her, about the complexity of it. It was. And that how this ultimately brought them back together.

And you know, and the first one it did that, the second one also, she’s up in the plane.

Mm hmm.

And that’s why he’s trying to bring her down.

That’s right. Why would you ruin that. This is turning into a critique.

No no. But it’s fun, but I think yeah maybe she. What’s her name? Bonnie Bedelia wanted more money to be in it or I don’t know.

That’s okay. He could refer to her.

Yeah he could he could? But you know, what’s interesting is the first one like what you’re saying about the setup is that’s that’s why I love. I don’t know I love the script because there were so many plants right throughout it. And all these moments of exposition and the way it’s like the opening they’re on the you know, we were just watching right now that he’s on the plane. And we find out that he’s a cop from New York City like the first or second line. Right. When he’s talking to the dude next to him. And like the whole thing with Argyle. Argyle makes fun of him saying, oh, you thought she was just going to come running back to you, right?

Why didn’t you come with her man? What’s up?

Cause I’m a New York cop I got a six month backlog of New York scumbags I’m still trying to put behind bars. I can’t just pick up and go that easy.

In other words, you thought she wasn’t gonna make it out here and she’d come crawling on back to you. So why bother to pack right?

Like I said you’re very fast Argyle.

And Gennaro, like her last name, was not in the. You know, is not in the directory.

No, it’s tight.

It is.

I was realizing that like everything. You know what’s crazy? My entire life. Like every time I take a flight, I’m always like, take off your shoes.

You want to know the secret to surviving air travel after you get where you’re going. Take off your shoes and your socks. Then you walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes.

And I don’t.

Does it work?

You know, not really. I’d rather take a shower, go to sleep but like I would do that. That was always in my mind every time I’d get to the hotel room and I forgot till I just watched again I’m like. Oh, yeah, that’s for that’s for this movie. That’s what that’s from. And then I’m like, I can’t believe I’ve been thinking this my entire life for plot point for a way for this guy to not have any shoes the entire movie.

Genius but it’s great though. Again, it’s like snuck in there. Right. And then you realize. Oh, yeah. That’s why he’s barefoot.

Yeah yeah.

And the Rolex. All right. That’s another. Do you remember the Rolex?

I yeah yeah.

So in the beginning they yeah. She’s there for the Japanese company. And that guy. What’s Hart Bochner’s?




Ellis the you know who’s doing coke on her desk or whatever.

I was just making a call and this was the nearest phone.

But when he yeah, he’s bragging about the Rolex. And the Rolex is the final thing that Hans is holding onto on the roof. Right when he’s falling off and he unbuckle unclasps the Rolex. Genius.

I didn’t I never put that together. That’s great.

Let me ask you something so. What do you think the end of the film? You have this great moment. Hans falls off. All that stuff and then you have this main bad guy coming back to life.

Yeah how does that happen? Is that what you’re. I have no idea. He’s hanging dead on the highest floor. And what somehow falls? Or did they bring him down?

.No. He came down himself with a gun to take out john McClane.

I mean I.

I think that’s that’s my weakest part of the film.

I agree. But it does allow Sergeant Powell his redemptive moment.

I know.

Which is funny because I kind of like. I love that he was like this pacifist. He had this bad experience and only in the 80s are they like, no, no, we got to give him redemption. He needs to shoot someone dead at the end of the movie.

He’s got to draw his gun again. But it’s what it’s great because it happens. Also, the first like that moment’s beautiful. It’s the first time they see each other. Right. Like they’ve been talking all this time and they see each other. And then when the guy shows up, I think still when I watch it, I remember even the first time you know I’m like 15 watching it. And I did feel like, come on, this is crazy. Like the music plays, he comes out slow motion, out of the fog, you know. And then Al shoots him and we don’t even see I think we hear the gunshots. Right. And then it’s that big moment of seeing him. And I don’t know, I still when I watch it now, I’ll still watch when. What’s the guy’s name? Karl. Right. Who? The bad guy. I think it’s Karl. When Karl gets.

Yeah yeah.

When he gets killed, when he’s hanging. I’ll stop watching and pause and I go, yeah. He’s not really dead. He doesn’t look like he’s his neck’s broken and he’s hanging there that long.

Well I mean clearly he’s not. But I. Yeah.

Well I don’t know.

Everyone walks past him. He’s just hanging there.

But that’s. Exactly everyone comes running by and he was still hanging there oh damn. That makes it worse. But I did. I do look at it going oh man everything. I enjoy everything in the film. That’s a one part I’m like it’s there just for his redemption.

Yeah. But it’s still a great redemption. And like, you want it for him and it’s a happy moment. So I don’t. I forgive it very quickly.

OK. All right. That’s fine.

You know something else I noticed that I like. Cause you see I mean, this is this disaster film, final ambulance, people kissing moment, which like is in every movie. And it’s always almost handled horribly.


Like I love that they get into the limo that’s been waiting for them the whole time and that the kiss is handled in the window as they’re driving away.

Oh that’s great.

You know, like.

That’s classic yeah.


And then it wait. Isn’t Argyle. He’s like, it’s snowing cause all the papers flowing coming down again. Christmas movie come on. That is. No no I was thinking that die hard 2. They do the same thing. They’re kissing and the explosion behind him.

Mm hmm that’s right.

Again it’s about it’s a romance. You know, my wife has watched it but I remember once really pitching it hard as a romance. She goes diehard. I know what die hard is. I go you don’t know it the way it’s supposed to be. It’s a romance.

Yeah, it is a romance. I totally agree.

But, you know what? Because I was thinking about that driving here like okay why do I like die hard so much? Right. But part of it is that that every man. Right. Bruce Willis is like he’s could be any of us, even though I mean, he’s a cop a New York City cop, but he’s not like when you think about Rambo and Commando. Right. You really think about Stallone and Schwarzenegger. A thousand bullets running by them, right. They don’t get shot. They don’t get hurt or anything. I mean, this guy’s bleeding his feet. He’s got shot, whatever, like he’s injured.

And he keeps having these heartfelt moments with with Sergeant Powell.


Yeah. He’s not. And in fact, I noticed they make fun of. Which is what I wanted to like. You know, he’s this obviously this man who’s. But I like that you point that out because the the the Superman with the you know they they come in and the guy gets pricked by the rose. And he’s like do you remember what he says. He’s like, ow that hurts. Or it’s like.

Wait who said that? One of the.

One of the special forces or SWAT guys.

Oh yeah. Yeah I do remember that.

And they kind of – they’re just all made to be like this tough group of guys who are just fools at the end of the day so.


Yet, you know, having this hyper masculine guy be the.

What. But you know, when you think about like just the opening, I think it’s like the opening shot. Is he’s scared to fly. You know, like you see him like. I think it’s his hand, you see his hand gripping the armrest and he’s scared. And then we find out he’s a cop. But that’s why I think it works so well when he does that whole you know, when he’s in the thingy. What’s it called?

Oh, the the air duct.

Well yeah the classic line in the air duct about like oh just the wrong place or whatever. Wrong guy at the wrong time.

Come to California.

Oh yeah. Have a few laughs.

Come out to California. We’ll get together. Have a few laughs. Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.

Did you so like when you watched die hard. Do you remember. Were you a moonlighting fan?

I was a moonlighting fan.


Moonlighting came first.


Yeah so I don’t remember how I felt about, you know, it worked, though. I do remember. I don’t think I had any problem transferring into him as that character,.

Because I didn’t I didn’t watch moonlighting, so I didn’t know him. You know, I just I was like Bruce. I had no idea who he was at all when I saw him. But I think. I remember talking to people and like especially adults at that time, they all loved him so much from moonlighting, so it was like this similar character, right?

Yeah. Yeah. He was like a private eye.

Slick talking and you know.


Yeah. That’s something that I don’t know. I think it’s the Bruce. Like whenever I think about Bruce Willis. I always think about him like in Die Hard. So when you see him now. You know, I saw what death wish or I saw these other films with him where he’s just like too masculine, like he was in The Expendables and he’s too much of a tough guy. And I’m like, that’s not the that’s not John McClane. That’s not the Bruce Willis, you know, like Live Free or Die Hard is like the fourth one. And he is he’s too much of a badass in that.

Well, yeah. I feel like there was an episode in the office about this.

You know what here’s the thing about die hard four die hard one. The original John McClane is just this normal guy. He’s just a normal New York City cop who gets his feet cut and gets beat up. But he’s an everyday guy in Die Hard 4 he is jumping a motorcycle into a helicopter in the air. You know he’s invincible. It’s just sort of lost from die hard 1. It’s not Terminator.

That’s kind of I mean, I don’t want to start sounding like an old fuddy duddy, but it’s like, isn’t that where all these shows movies are going like that whole romance, that whole thing that connected me to it, that brought like humor and life to it. Like, I mean, so I just saw John Wick 3.


And like I mean, yeah. Look, it is an amazing act of choreography. I have never seen anything like that before, but like there’s not. I love dogs. I don’t want to watch a man’s serial murder. Thousands of people.

Well, the first one, though. Do you like the first one?

Honestly like again, I think.

The choreography.

Yeah cause I might have like this third one even more than the first one.


Yeah cause I didn’t love the first one. So like I mean the third one.

I see I enjoyed I mean I love dogs. But the first one because it was the dog, but it was the the dead wife. You know, again, like that’s kind of what we connected to. But then it just went like, you know, went into that world of assassins. And I didn’t really. The second one, I can’t even remember the third one when the third one ended. I could be honest. I was like, are you kidding me? There’s gonna be another one. Like, he’d just bounced off the floor like 10 stories up, like. So. Yeah. You’re like, you know, that’s kind of like that superhuman. You know, you’re talking about.


That John McClane wasn’t. I think that’s what you need in these films for us to connect to. Right. Like to emotionally connect to them. So I was gonna ask you something about Bruce Block’s class. We took visual expression as Bruce Block.

Yes, we did.

He spoke in that class about diehard. And when he was talking about just visual expression and contrast and infinity and I remember at first I went. This is nonsense. Like directors don’t do all this. Come on. And then he proved it right when he’d show us clips and everything. And then he talked about Die Hard. And that’s like when I really paid attention to him. He talked about Jan de Bont the cinematographer, and about how he had red, white and blue in almost every image.

Do you remember this?


Yeah it was really interesting. Just that whole patriotic Americans versus the Germans, you know. And and it was all about appealing to the subconscious, you know, because I didn’t notice that. But of course, we probably feel that way. Right. Which is what that whole class was about.

Yeah. Yeah.

I think that’s amazing. I mean, I talk about that when I discuss visual expression with my students and then we’ll go back. I mean, when I watch it, I’ll just look for it and I go, yeah, there’s a little red, white, and blue. But I don’t know. I don’t know. How do you know if it subconsciously affected you or not? But the fact that a DP like actually thought about doing that. That’s pretty cool.

Yeah, absolutely. Didn’t he. I’m trying to remember didn’t. Wasn’t there also something about like the structure versus chaos of it like that when the building was structured versus like towards the end everything is a little more Dutch angled. I didn’t even think about that.

Well you talk about that, but also much more handheld like it was much more hand-held moving shots. And it’s funny, in his commentary, he was talking about how traditionally we always have moving shots and we have to wait till the shot stops moving, then cut. Right. Or static to static shots moving to moving shots. And he said, you know, that’s crazy. We don’t have to do that. So I just cut whenever I want. And it’s mainly it cuts because he wants it to be dynamic and you know crazy. And I could see that happening, like you said, more towards the end, or just like in any action scene. Right. But yeah, there’s a lot of hand-held stuff at the end of the film.

Die Hard I think it felt very I mean, it’s an incredibly tight, incredibly structured movie.


Like you were saying like every especially in the opening like after a while. Like, I don’t know. There’s so much action that I start to. No I. It never loses its sense of humor. It never loses. Every one little thing like there’s not a wasted moment in that movie.

Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what I would think. And that’s when I. Yeah. When I think about all the scenes, like when we talk to our students, when we say, you know, what’s the job of the scene? What’s the function of the scene? And right. And some scenes are repetitive. So they get rid of them either in writing it or in post. I don’t in die hard and I haven’t seen in the DVD like the deleted scenes. I’m curious.


Because it is so tight. Right. Like everything has to be in there. You know, you were talking before about with masculinity. What about like the whole cowboy theme in the film? Like how they’re always talking about cowboys.

Yippee ki yay.

Well, that’s the big one. But from the reasoning when he like.

He’s Roy.

Roy, right.

You know my name. But who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne. Rambo. Marshal Dillon.

I was always kind of partial to Roy Rogers, actually I really liked those sequence shirts.

Well, that also goes with what you were saying with kind of the America vs. the European thing, too. Yeah.

Oh, yeah. When when Hans. When he starts giving his demands. Right. What he wants. And it’s all the fake demands. It’s all about like international terrorists being released.


There’s no I don’t think there’s any like, you know, white supremacist. Right or he wanted Americans. It’s all like he said something about Sri Lanka or Iran. I don’t know what. You know, like everywhere else. So, again, it does go back to that America. And then when the guy talking about Saigon and stuff right.

Right. Right.

It’s all about America. And even at the end like that last he says this line then about. When he’s got the gun strapped to his back, right taped his back and he says this thing about, oh, you think you’re John Wayne going off in the sunset with Grace Kelly. And he says that was. That’s Gary Cooper.

Still the cowboy. Mr. McClain, Americans all alike. Well this time, John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.

That’s Gary Cooper asshole.

But that’s from like high noon. And I remember thinking, you know, again, I was like, oh, that’s high noon that’s one guy standing, you know, facing down all the villains. Right. All the bad guys.

Alright so.

So yeah I think it just goes back to that cowboy theme about, you know.

Well, so that’s interesting.

It’s black and white right.

Like, look at look at. I mean, yes, he’s European, but like, he’s German. I mean, if I think about old Westerns and kind of like the German with like that facial hair and the like is do you feel like Hans Gruber is in, like this is in any way a Western? Hans Gruber is like. You know like stealing from.

I think at the end when he’s got them, he’s got Holly with him, right? Like you see that classic showdown right.

It’s a bank robbery. He’s got bearer bonds.

I am interested in the six hundred and forty million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds that you have locked in your vault.

Like that is very Western.

I mean, he. When John McClane takes him out and Al takes out Karl. Like the same it looked like, you know, a fast draw. I think it.


They didn’t show it. But that’s what has to be what happens right.

And it’s a revolver.

Yeah, exactly. Six shooter. Yeah there’s the Western theme. There’s the I mean, I do think it goes back to this America all about patriotism. You know, with the red, white and blue.

I mean, it’s about a New Yorker who went out west and got in a gunfight. Yeah totally.

Oh that’s interesting, I didn’t think about that.

They bring in gunships. Like what?

But they say that just. They’re like predictable it’s the FBI. And like they know that we’re gonna send them. We’re gonna wire C4 on the roof and send the hostages there. You know, like I think that’s why I like what we talk about, how tight it is. It’s when we watch films now and I always watch it and I go, yeah, that was fun to see. But then when we start analyzing it, it’s like, what the hell is your plan? Like like that was I don’t even understand what they were doing there. I feel like die hard, like they had a plan. Like I thought Hans. He knew every step of the way, like what was going to happen. Right like cut the power and the locks open. Right. I think that was brilliant. And that’s and that was also Alan Rickman’s first movie, which is insane,.

Right. I mean, I almost wonder now, like now the movie would be about Hans Gruber and his group.

Oh, my God.

Stealing the money and getting away with it.


Like, I don’t know. Maybe it’s gone too far.

I can see that movie.

Right. Because it was he was very Ocean’s Eleven about the whole thing.

He was. But it was also what was interesting. Was like Ocean’s Eleven. It was all in his head. Like he didn’t share that with anyone.


Like you remember the other his henchmen, the computer expert. Right. He didn’t know. He was like, I can’t get through this lock. And he’s like, you asked for a miracle. I give you the FBI.

Asked for a miracle Theo. I give you the FBI.

It’s like you didn’t think to share that information at all. So these guys have blindly followed him. Right.

Right. Right.

That’s that’s a good leader.

Yeah I mean, what a great. I mean, I just think about his first real interaction after walking in and threatening people with guns is he he starts talking about the the suit like.

Love it.

It’s like apparently Arafat also you know gets his suit made at the same place in London and then he shoots the guy.

What and again, which is. It just wasn’t – you’re not like the classic James Bond villain, you know, is was like a different type of a bad guy.


Just like how we you know, you’re saying like it’s a different kind of hero. It’s not Schwarzeneggar and Stallone. And in those movies, you had the same bad guys. Right.


I mean, I can’t even remember. They’re all the same. This is the same type of thing. I think, like it’s.

You you did have the Karl. There’s always a Karl in every movie.

There’s gotta be the sidekick right.

Yeah right who has the final. He’s the really scary one to fight with.

Yeah, that’s true.

I’m thinking of commando and there’s like that knife fight.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Even with Karl they’re like that whole thing about he’s not just like the main henchman. He hates him because this guy killed his brother. Right that was a big moment right when he was.


Kills the brother who puts the ho ho ho, whatever and then. That was a good moment also.

Yeah, it turned Karl into this.

Yes. So then he hated the guy like he didn’t care about Hans anymore. He just wanted to kill him.

There was that great moment when Holly realizes that John is still alive because Karl goes insane and he starts throwing something like he’s still alive.

She goes only one man can make someone that angry. Like yeah

He’s still alive. Only John can drive somebody that crazy.

So what I mean, because when I think about Die Hard, it was kind of that first. Like, I mean. All right. That’s not true. There’s always like disaster movies like in an airplane. But when I what I guess in my memory, like the terrorist movie in a building, it was like when the building blew up. I will say part of me, like gasped I forgot that part where they blew up that floor.

Oh, yeah.

And now, you know, since 9/11, I saw I was and I guess I’ve seen it since, but I don’t know if I’ve watched the whole movie through. But when that happened, I definitely I was like.


Oh, my God. Yeah I can’t believe they did that. But. All right. So you see that I mean, I think of like die hard on a battleship with Steven Seagal. There was like, what are the other movies that kind of die hard that came off of that.

Die hard on a bus is pretty much speed, right?

Speed yeah. Jon de Bont who is the DP for that.

I know that he did. Him and McKiernan did Hunt for Red October also.

Right great movie.

Die Hard on a plane was like executive decision with Kurt Russell.

Executive Decision.

Or Air Force One.

Air Force One.

Die hard in the white house. Can you say that die hard in the White House is kind of like.


White house down or what’s other one. Olympus has fallen.

Olympus has fallen.

Also, I think it’s anytime someone is just trapped somewhere where terrorists attack. That’s a die hard. But it’s one location. Right. Which again, is my problem with die hard three and four and five and six, whatever. But yeah die hard 2. In an airport.

Home alone.

There it is. Die hard is basically a remake of home alone.

I love. Ah shoot. What’s the one on the ship?

Under seige.

Under seige. I love under seige.

But that is such like that is the exact die hard on a boat.


Because it’s not only just he’s the cook, but he’s like a cook who is like a Navy SEAL. Like, I don’t even know why I can’t remember the story but why is he a cook? It makes no sense he’s not even like undercover. Like at least Speed when they say die hard on a bus. It’s not really because there’s a whole other thing going on in that film right.

Yeah, yeah.

But just the fact that you’re trapped in one location, that’s kind of the phrase die hard on whatever.

Yeah. And I mean that. But that speaks to this movie which.


You know, everything became die hard on a.

So that’s interesting. Like when you think about John McKiernan, I told you, I talk about it with my students. They’ve no clue who he is. I start explaining it just with die hard and Hunt for Red October and Predator. And then I stop because you were like. What was it 10 years ago or five years ago when he got arrested? He went to jail. It was this whole big thing with the jail for wiretapping an agent. And yeah.

He wiretapped an agent?

He wiretapped someone. I don’t know if it was an agent or producer.

I mean, that’s horrible. You shouldn’t do that. But like, I could totally understand why he’d want to wiretap an agent.

He was part of some huge case and he went to jail. But before that, though, I mean, he after these huge movies, the 80s, early 90s, and then he did this film called Roller Ball, which is a remake.

The remake oh the remake.

Awful. But I don’t think he’s done a film in 10, 15 years. So I don’t know. I still talk about him like, oh, this guy’s a great director, but I don’t know what he’s doing now so.

I feel like wiretapping an agent, though that’s not bad enough to not talk about him in a class that almost gives him. That’s character.

Oh man.

I never thought of it as a Christmas movie until someone said it. And then it’s like it’s it’s obviously a Christmas movie.

But even that. Wait you said that Bruce Willis says it’s not.

Yeah. I there. I saw some, like, YouTube thing where he said, no, of course it’s not.

Now, please listen very carefully. Die hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a god damn Bruce Willis movie. So a yippee ki yay to all of you mother fuckers. Good night.

But like I think even the director has said I think I think he has.

Because, I mean, I know it was a summer movie. All right. But what is it AMC or FX or whatever channel it’s always a punishment. Christmas now.


Always just on repeat.

I mean it’s not a Christmas story but it’s definitely.

But that’s. But when you think about it you said it. It’s about a guy trying to reconnect with his wife. Right. Travelling across the country. Like that’s like all these holiday movies like planes, trains and automobiles. You know, it’s like it’s always like a almost like a roadtrip film. But all in one building.

And a guy who like honestly is not he doesn’t come across. I forgot this. As like a good guy, like his kids, he’s like. He’s like, I don’t know if I’ll even see my kids.

Yeah he’s not. She’s like, our kids would love to see you. I’m in Pomona. You know that in that scene when he’s talking with her. There’s a moment when, like her assistant comes running in and then she’s like, oh, sorry. And she looks at him. I don’t know if you remember this. And he just goes he gives her a look again because he’s kind of a dick the whole time right.

Yeah, right.

All right. So I’m going to ask you question. Define the three act structure for die hard.

You’re putting me on the spot. All right. So.

Cause I was thinking about it.

I mean, so. All right. So it basically the second they walk out of the elevator and shoot up, we’re in the second act. Right.

No. For me, the end of the first act is right when he runs. Like they take hostage his wife hostage and he’s free. I mean, he’s running with the gun and barefoot.

I guess what I’m saying is like, that’s the end of it. That’s.

That’s the end of first act.

Yeah. Like when they’ve taken they come out, they take it.



Conflict is locked.


Inciting incident.

Oh the inciting incident is. Who comes in first? I don’t even. Oh god, I’ve got to go back and remember.

It’s interesting because because usually I think the inciting incident. Right. It’s one introduction of the main conflict. So I think it’s when the bad guys arrive. But that doesn’t affect the main character yet.Oh, that’s interesting.

You know so. Like when we see Hans walking into the building or showing up in the truck or whatever it is, because otherwise it’s just a regular you know guy coming to see his wife at a Christmas party. So it almost no, at first no.

No this is good.

No, no. Because part of what I was thinking, I didn’t look at the two hours, the movie’s over two hours, but I thought at first the inciting incident would be was when that happened, when the terrorists take over the building. And that’s the main conflict, right, introduction of the main conflict is there.

Unless you’re saying like the relationship’s the main conflict.

No, no. When the terrorists when when Hans comes out of the elevator, machine guns go off. John McClane runs.

They now have the building beginning of the second act.

But is that. I feel like that’s too far into the movie to be the point of attack. That should be the inciting.

Oh, I don’t yeah I don’t think that’s the inciting incident.

Yeah so yeah. So that should be.

So what happens before? How do they infiltrate? Exactly.

You just see them. They show up slow, like, you know, the truck comes and goes under underground. They just walk through the front doors.

So Kareem rebounds, right. Feeds worthy on the break.

I think it’s like he shoots. He scores. He. They kill a couple of the lobby attendants.

Boom. Two points. We’re in.

Well, that’s what makes. That’s interesting because that’s kind of what I saying earlier, it’s like they’re not really part of the story until they’re part of the story.

Yeah. Yeah.

So like unless we say the inciting incident, nobody did anything stupid earlier. Nobody like let them in. Nobody.


It’s the 80s. So it’s kind of like just just type in your name and go up to the floor you need.

Well I think he had. But it’s also supposed to be like Christmas. So it’s dead like there’s no one around. Right. Like it was abandoned when they walked in.

Right. So is the inciting incident the second he shoots the guard and then they just basically go and take over. To me, that’s you’re right. That’s the same thing. What is the inciting incident. Well, I never even thought about that.

Just because, you know, when we think inciting is like the moment the conflicts introduced.


So to me, that is that moment, right. When these bad guys show up. But it’s too far. Like if you look at the timeline of the film, isn’t it within 20 minutes when.

Well, yeah, I mean it’s supposed to be but it doesn’t have to be.

Yeah. But that’s why. That’s why like the way I always learned it right, like, you know, the point of attack, right the inciting incident being when the conflicts introduced. So at that moment when they show up, just bear with me if that’s the moment they show up. And Bruce Willis has a gun and he runs. Is that the introduction of the conflict, when they took over the building and then is the end of act one the conflict locked when? When what? When’s the conflict. Like, you know, because he could just call the cops, right? Like the police don’t listen to him. So now is that when the conflict

So does he. Is he the initiator of the conflict in a way.


Well. Hold, hold on. I got you. All right. No, no, no, no, no, no. I like this. So they enter the building inciting incident. That’s part of the story.

Mm hmm.

The moment Hans Gruber shoots and kills Takagi.

Takagi yeah.

I’m telling you, you’re just going to have to kill me.


The second he does that.

That’s the conflict is locked.

I think that yeah, because Bruce Willis witnesses it. It changes everything. Now his wife is in mortal threat. Now they all are. And I think at that. Oh and then they’ve heard him. So now they like they hear and so then now they go after him. They’re going after him also.


I could see. And that’s the thing I could see.

And that’s when he decides to take action. And then he calls the police.


Which then brings the police and probably.

Well that’s when the police don’t listen to him. Whatever’s going on. So, yeah, that’s why to me, I could see that being the end of act one. You know, that’s when he shoots the first terrorist and he kills him. You know, the end of. Because the conflict is locked now. He’s got no choice. He’s trapped in this building and he’s got to save his wife.

Oh, okay. Yes.

That’s how I look at the end of act one like that adventure begins or whatever right.

So starting with him throwing the.

Like just killing the Karl’s brother.

Karl’s brother.

Yeah. That that. And it’s interesting because when we talk about.

Oh that’s good.

No but when we talk about how well-structured everything is. But it wasn’t like Star Wars, like boom inciting incident and end of act one. You know, like I really I was.


That’s why I asked you because I was like, I’m not really sure.

I thought you were gonna ask me about the third act that I was like, oh, boy, here we go.

But then, well yeah. When you go to, like, what’s the end of the second act then? Like, when do we go into the third act?

I mean, to me the third act was always just Karl jumping up again like I feel like it has the shortest third act like because I mean.

No but. No, come on. Wait wait wait. Cause the climax is Hans. Right. Like when the shoot out and Hans falling out the window. Right. But the end of Act 2 is that moment when I thought it was gonna be when he’s pulling the glass out of his feet and the FBI agents show up. And he’s having. He’s basically saying goodbye to. He talks to Al and says, hey, tell my wife I love her and everything.

Tell her that that she is the best thing that ever happened to a bum like me. She’s heard me say I love you a thousand times. She never heard me say I’m sorry.

That’s a pretty low point. But then he goes out there and there’s the roof. And, you know, he jumps off the roof. The explosion.

Jumps off the roof, slams.

Hits the wall. Gets dragged down. Like crazy scene.

Shoots him.

Shoots the glass.

Falls into where? Back into the room that happens to be the floor he needs.

Suddenly there’s like a lake inside there.

Goes to the vault, shoots the one guy, has the two bullets, the gun behind his back.

That’s the best. Come on it’s the best scene

Shoots him, shoots Hans.

Yippee ki yay.

Hans fall off.

Shoots the one guy. And then he blows it right. And he goes happy trails Hans.

Happy trails Hans.

So yeah where? I mean, I see where there’s like a down moment when he calls, but like, where is that? Where’s the end of Act 2?

That’s why I think the end of Act 2 is after Hans gets away, right? That’s when he has Hans with him and they shoot the glass.

Shoot the glass.

And he’s pulling glass like he’s a mess like the guy. I don’t know if he got shot he got beat up. He’s got bleeding feet. And he tells Al to tell my wife I love her.

Yeah, definitely. That’s.

And I can’t he can’t say Holly, my wife, who’s here, because Hans still doesn’t know. Right. Remember, Hans thinks that he was a guest of Ellis. Yeah, that’s where I think the end of act 2 is, but it’s it’s not such a low, low point. Like, you know, like.

Yeah. But thinking about it, it is low. And not to say this about the movie, I do remember thinking when I watched it. Like God, he seems awfully down like.


He survived all like, I don’t know. This is the first time like it’s just suddenly in that moment.

But it’s also that’s the moment we find out about Al that Al shot the kid like that’s when he reveals all that information. So that’s depressing from both ends right. Like it’s got to be the low point.

Is there anything on the web that says like this is the act structure for.

Let me pull it up.

I’m curious. Yeah.

We’ll rerecord this with our knowledge.

Exactly. Well, that’s obvious. As an expert in the field Nick.

No seriously. What do you got Kristian?

According to screenplayhowto.com it’s easy to interpret the first plot point as the takeover of Nakatomi plaza.

Yeah, we got that.

But that’s actually in the middle beat of Act 1.

They’re saying that’s the middle beat of Act 1.

Yeah. The true first plot point is the murder of the president.

Is what.

The murder of the president.

But that’s funny. That’s exactly what we just did. I first was like when they come in. I’m like, no, no, no. When they assassinate the guy. What’s the end of act 2.

End of act two is exactly what you were saying. When he’s talking about. In the bathroom talking about. Yeah.

Nice yeah. Then they have their I mean literally has that resolution. I think their resolution is Karl and you know.


Al’s redemption.

Oh. And this is the Bruce Block thing which is that you kind of know the climax. Is that visually it’s the most interesting thing. It built to that. And that’s why Karl’s shooting, despite my joking about it earlier. Isn’t really.


Because it’s a very simple final plot point.

Because that classic shot Hans falling off the roof. Right. Looking up or holding her watch and everything. I mean, that’s insane.


That close up and the slow motion. And then I remember cutting to the wide shot. We see him falling down. And then what’s his name says like hope that’s not a hostage.

Well I hope that’s not a hostage.

Even in such a such a dramatic moment, that guy just has to say anything, cause of breakfast club and we laugh. And you know what? When we think about bad guys, because we were talking about Hans being a great bad guy. But you have Paul Gleason and you have the other guy, William Atherton. He’s the guy who’s the newscaster. We didn’t even talk about him. He’s from Ghostbusters right.

Yeah, he’s always the bad guy.

So he again, like, that’s amazing that they have these character actors like that.

And like, so I’m watching it and I’m just like, God, they’re tying everything up. And as they’re leaving, I’m like, yeah. Oh, that reporter, I guess they don’t tie him up. And then Holly punches him in the face.

She punches. It’s awesome.

Now that it’s all over after this incredible ordeal. What are your feelings?

And like, you know what, we were just talking about how, you know, Hans doesn’t know Holly’s his wife. Right. But he finds out when that news show’s playing the guy’s interviewing the kids. Right. And then we see Holly watching it. And that’s when he knows.

You know your mom and dad are very important people. They’re very brave people. So is there something you’d like to say to them if they’re watching.

Come home.

Mrs. McLane. How nice to make your acquaintance.

After threatening the house sitter with immigration services.

You let me in right now or I call the INS. Comprende.

Oh, my God. That’s right. Of course, you’re gonna hate the. And he’s in the second one. Also, it’s classic. He happens to be on the plane with her in the second one.

That’s right. And he reports.

She tazes him right. It’s the same thing.

I Richard Thornburgh just happened to be here to put his life and talent on the line for humanity and country. And if this should be my final broadcast.

Amen to that, Dick.

So this one scene that I show from diehard to my students is always during my point of view lecture. And it’s the scene when he runs into Hans close to the roof and Hans pretends he’s a hostage.

Please god no. You’re one of them aren’t you. You’re one of them.

And we talk about point of view that when the whole film we’re identifying with Bruce Willis. But of course, we see Hans’s side of things as well. But when we have the two of them there. You actually are with Hans. Most of the time you’re with Hans and you’re going, oh, my God, don’t give him a gun, John. Don’t do you know, like. And then it switches when he says, you know, what’s your name? And he’s like, Bill. Bill. Clay.

Clay. Bill Clay.

And then it cuts to John McClane looking at this this roster, right.

And seeing Clay.

Seeing the name. So we talking about how directors do that shift the point of view back and forth. But it’s great because he totally has me. And then at the end, there’s no bullets in the gun. You’re like, wait. When did he know? Because it looked like he put the bullets in the gun when he gave it to him.

Oops. No bullets. Think I’m fucking stupid Hans.

Yeah so when did he know I was thinking that I was gonna ask you?

I think he doesn’t know but he just doesn’t trust them. So he doesn’t put bullets in the gun.

Yeah, because if he knows he wouldn’t go through the whole charade, it’ll just be like Hans. Bam. Right. Get my wife, you know. But that’s also. Yeah. That’s a that’s a great scene and beautiful shots and Dutch angles and you know, like. It’s a good scene to show the class because again, it’s not just action. There’s more character development and things like that.

There’s so much of this movie that’s not action. That’s character development. Like I feel so connected to the characters. You really care about Holly. You care they get back together. Yeah.

I even cared about Ellis.

Hey, John boy.

Like he’s making those mistakes you’re like no. Idiot.

And especially dude that scene when Ellis is like John, John. And then John’s like Ellis. Don’t do this, please, don’t do this.

Hans this asshole is not my friend. I just met him tonight. I don’t know him. Jesus Christ Ellis these people are going to kill you. Tell them you don’t know me.

John how can you say that after all these years? John.

You know, he’s like they don’t show him getting killed. Right. We hear it, but we see it through. Bruce Willis’s right. We see it through his face. And then I think we see his body come out. Right I’m like aw I like you Ellis. No it is. It’s true. Like the character development, because even with Holly, they show her being from the beginning. We know she’s a top person there right. They all respect her and the Rolex and the corner office. They show her being a leader with the hostages. Right. Like we have a pregnant lady. We need to do bathroom shifts, like she’s speaking up. And it’s kind of interesting also watching it as a New Yorker. And not knowing any like, you know, it’s different when you watch it when you come out here.


Very different. Like because you see that when he when he arrives at the at the airport and some girl runs by and jumps in the guy’s arms and he’s like, Oh you know, California.



So we grew up not that far from each other. I mean I’m New Jersey and we moved out here at the same time. Did you have this image of California like has that gone away? Like even looking at this movie, because there was that couple was totally California. At another point, he’s walking in and someone’s like, chill, dude.

Hey Merry Christmas.

Jesus. Fucking California.

Like it’s like this constant making fun of California thing.

Yeah, I mean, I think that was the 80’s look at California. Right. Like I think now being out here. I’m used to it. But I do feel like whenever I go back to New York and when I fly back, I’m like, yeah, I’m back in L.A. I can tell as soon as you get in that airport, and you’re like, this is LA. You look around right.

No totally I feel exactly. So I’m here. I don’t see anything.


I go somewhere. I’m in New York. Everyone wearing black. I come back here. I go to a cafe and I’m like, she looks like she’s straight out of the 40s. He looks like Duran Duran.


Like everybody.

Exactly. No, but I do think the New York L.A., you can’t get any more opposite than that right. In this country, it seems like. Well, I mean, I guess you can. I take it back. What am I talking about?

They are pretty. But like you can get farther apart.



But a New York cop coming to L.A. and then what’s great is like I mean that scene with Argyle when he was like, you thought she was going to come running back to you. He’s laughing. And you could see his face. We know that’s true right.

Right. So when you teach this, what do you think is like the thing that the class takes away? Or that you’d want them to take away the most from watching this movie?

Emotional connection to the characters. Cause if I didn’t care about him try to save his wife, it was just the guy running around a building, you know, and if we didn’t care about that, it wouldn’t matter. I think that and the same like you said with Hans like Hans is not just the typical bad guy. We actually kind of liked him. You know, I like his style. I like his delivery, his speeches and everything.

I even like when he when he starts cowering and pretending to be the other person.

Oh he’s great.


Because then you like you almost like respect him like, wow, he’s good with that American accent. But then he’s also likew when when Holly comes and talks to him about, oh, let’s get the bathroom breaks and stuff like that.

We have a pregnant woman out there. Relax. She’s not due for a couple of weeks, but sitting on that rock isn’t doing her back any good. So I would like permission to move her to one of the offices where there is a sofa.

No but I have a sofa brought out to you. Good enough?

Good enough. And unless you like it messy I’d start bringing us in groups to the bathroom.

Yes you’re right. It will be done.

He’s not such a jerk, you know, because Ellis Ellis is such a smart alec, a coke addict. You know, it’s OK for him to get shot, right. But when that moment when you realize that his whole plan was to send all the hostages on the roof and blow up the roof, then you go, oh, what a jerk. This guy this guy’s bad.

When they touch down we’ll blow roof. They’ll spend a month sifting through the rubble. By the time they figure out what went wrong. We’ll be sitting on a beach earning 20 percent.

I do think that for the first time, I think that’s when I was like, oh, wow OK. He really is evil.

Well and we got to give it to Alan Rickman because he did really make that evil like the sheriff of Nottingham. I mean, that character is hilarious. This character is brilliant. I forgot he was in it then the second. I was like, oh, yeah. Alan Rickman. Like, that’s another reason this movie is so good.

Rickman’s great.

And then he goes on to be Snape like. It’s brilliant.

It is funny when I if I mentioned die hard in class and they don’t know it and I say it’s Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and I say Snape and they get it. They know Snape right. Like come on guys. We were talking before like character like connection, emotional connection to the characters, seeing Bruce Willis in the beginning scared to fly. Right. With the wedding ring, I think. Yeah it’s his left hand wedding ring, you know, with the gun like you start to discover all these things about him. And then the limo, when the guy shows up and he says, hey, I don’t know what to do it’s my first time driving a limo. Oh, first time riding in one. And then he sits in the front seat. You know, so you like him, like you connect right away. And that’s like a New Yorker.

Leaving the teddy bear in the backseat the whole time.


Which I think you’re totally right. And I think that teddy bear then connects you almost with Argyle in a way, because you’re he’s always this guy with a teddy bear.


Like every single character you like, you’re connected to. You even like the villains.

Yeah and Argyle is there the whole time we come back. He’s the one in a way we’re almost like discovering what’s going on through him because I think he’s in the limo looking at the news and discovering this and then he’s trapped.


So we’re concerned about the wife and the hostages, but we’re concerned for Argyle also.

Absolutely, hole time. And in the end, he just goes and knocks the guy out. I love that moment, too, because he’s this great foil for when you know Bruce Willis is up there like Argyle. Please, please tell me you heard the gunshots you’re calling the cops now. You’re calling the cops. Then you cut and Argyle’s like in his own little world.

He’s talking to his girl right.


Yeah. And that’s. It’s structured well to show how crazy isolated he is. He’s in a building in the middle of the city of L.A. and no one knows. You know, like what’s going on with these terrorists. Cell phones exist. Different story. Right.

Right. Right. couldn’t have this movie.

Wait wait wait. Hold on a second Argyle had a cell phone in the limo.

He had a yeah. He had a car phone.

He had a car phone.

But he didn’t know anything was going on.

Oh yeah. So. That’s right. Once, once they knew it was too late, everything ran out.


Everything went public. Yeah. That’s an interesting thing with the media then. Right. When we see that William Atherton’s character because he hears the radio. Right. The police band. Right. That’s how that’s how he finds out. So that’s also another, like, slimy, bad character. Right. The media.


I’m curious about that. Why they made fun of the media as well.

But it’s true. The media did get made fun of.

Yeah. Cause and the media was responsible for.


Holly being found out right. John’s wife.

This guy is almost this evil character.

And they definitely do that in Die Hard 2. Like he creates crazy panic, right. When he’s, you know, just doing what the media should do, report the news.

People have a right to know everything about everybody.

But you’re right. Like when he says let me call INS, that’s a big moment. I mean, that’s also, again, why we hate this guy so much and why we’re vindicated. Right, when she decks him.

Right. Yeah no, watching this movie again, it brought me back to the 80s. It reminded me both of, you know, the good but then those little things that get by. And you’re like, oh, yeah. You wouldn’t think like that anymore.

Yeah. So did you see the the last Die Hard movie?

I did see the last Die Hard movie.

In Russia.

Yeah. It was with his son, right?



And I know I read that there’s a prequel coming out to Die Hard. Which what what upsets me about this and again, look, I don’t know much about it, but John McClane is the every man hero. That was a cop, but was never in a situation like this until now and proved himself. So if they’re gonna do a prequel and show that he was as badass hero and you know, when he was in his 20s. That makes no sense.

That’s exactly what I was thinking. You’re totally right.

That upsets me. And I know it’s just a money ploy. Right? Like. I get it. It’s Hollywood, but still. Cause I know I’m going to want to see it. And I don’t know.

And you’ll see it and you’ll be disappointed by it.

Yeah you know so die hard. Like this movie was based on a book that was like the 70s. And you got to look this up, Kristian. Something about like Frank Sinatra was offered this role way back. But it must have been such a different movie.

What for, diehard?

Yeah it was whatever book it was based on. And it was supposed to be made into a movie with Frank Sinatra. And I was like, what the hell is this?

How would he.

Probably 70s or something. Was it 70s.

Yeah and he was not going to get his feet bloody.

Seventy nine.

Seventy nine.

It’s called Nothing Lasts Forever. By Rodrick Thorp.

Thorp I think I got to read the book just to see how different. There’s no way because I am curious about it. Like we talked about how tight the screenplay is. Who wrote the script first, like Jeb Stuart I think is listed and was it a draft of his, a couple of drafts did they write together? I can’t remember which and it was in credits.

You guys were talking about Bruce Willis being like the everyman. The role was originally offered to source Schwarzeneggar and Stallone before Willis.


That would have been a very different movie.

That’s crazy yeah that’s.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, just a cop from.

Just a regular cop who’s huge.

I am a New York police officer.

I think that was. Wait was that. That must be around the same time, red heat. That’s like a way to explain his accent. He’s a Russian cop with James Belushi.

So much as John McClane and Holly McClain riding off into the sunset. I think this is our swan song.

Why do. What. Why. We should say, like like John and Al.You don’t like the romantic?

I don’t want to ride off the sunset with you.

That’s the whole reason I invited you here Nick. I was. Fair enough. But who’s Bruce? I’m Bruce Willis. Obviously, in this scenario.

OK I can be Al.

Well, listen, thank you for coming in today.

It was my pleasure.

And I hope anybody learned anything about Die Hard. And we didn’t just.

Seriously doubt it.

I do feel like this was just a great opportunity for us to reminisce back to our childhood and but, you know, I feel with a certain amount of maybe insight that might or might not help.

If if we can get some more fans of die hard out there. I’d be happy. You know, I try that with my students and I don’t think it’s working. So maybe this is podcast could help.

Please go watch. Die hard. It’s not difficult to find. Now is the perfect time. It’s about to be a prequel. So you have to see the first one. And yeah, well, thank you for tuning in. This episode of the backlot was not written by anyone. It was a complete improv here with me and Nick Sivakumaran senior instructor here at New York Film Academy produced by Kristian Hayden and me, David Nelson, who’s also the creative director. Mixed and recorded by Kristian Hayden. It has been executive produced by John Sherlock and Dan Mackler, and is a production of the New York Film Academy. If you want to learn more about our programs and perhaps even have Nick Sivakumaran as your directing instructor, check us out at nyfa.edu. You don’t forget to rate review and subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

Are we recording we should record.

I’m recording now.

David:  Hi and welcome to the backlot. I’m David Nelson creative director of The Backlot. And today we have for you a special or unique episode you could probably tell because here I am. And you don’t typically hear me but recently I had the opportunity to sit down with the lead actor as well as the director of one of our student directed plays, Ugly Lies The Bone. They were kind enough to come into the studio today and sit down with us and talk a little bit about their experience with the student directed play as well as meeting the writer herself Lindsey Ferrentino. I had a lot of fun in the studio with them and I think you’re going to enjoy it.

David: I am here with a former student. She was here in our one year program has just graduated and done a student directed play.

Coco: Hello. I’m Coco de Bruycker, and I directed Ugly Lies The Bone at New York Film Academy.

David: Coco is also one of our social media correspondents and has been very tied to the school it’s been really fantastic and we have the lead actress in the play.

Isabelle: Hi I’m Isabelle Germain I’m a BFA Acting student and I played Jessica Knox in Ugly Lies The Bone.

David: So Coco Where are you from. How did you find us. How did

Coco: So I’m from Germany and it was funny because I first went to London and in London I auditioned for NYFA New York. And after a year I came to L.A. for my MFA degree here.

David: You had an interesting story and how you got here. If I remember right. What is that.

Coco: So I come from nothing. Like when I got the acceptance to New York Film Academy New York I was like, Oh my God I don’t know how to do this! Because in Germany like colleges are basically free. And everyone’s like you’re nuts that’s why are you going abroad. Like why do you go to the U.S. So I ended up crowdfunding my tuition. I mean it somehow all comes together because this crowdfunding campaign basically taught me how to edit. But I think you got to start somewhere. And that basically made it possible for me to study at NYFA. And I always say I’m acting change because I want to change people’s perspectives on differences and also I’m an actor with a cerebral palsy that’s also a thing why I went abroad originally because acting schools in Germany see disability as an obstacle in the way and not an opportunity. That’s why I came here.

David: That’s wow that’s fascinating. And it’s something we’re going to talk about a little bit later. But before we do we have another guest here with us Isabelle Germain who is the lead in the play. Isabelle why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.

Isabelle: So I am from Atlanta Georgia and I went to this conference where they were doing auditions for colleges and I just did a general audition and this guy came up to me from the New York campus in little potunk Georgia and he’s like I need you to come to this school please come to this school for me. And I ended up doing it and he’s the sweetest little thing. And I went to the New York campus first because I told my mom said this is a perfect opportunity because I had multiple places to go. She said New York Film Academy will give you New York and L.A. and you can get a degree in less than four years so I think that you should do it. So I went off to New York. Did the year conservatory came to L.A. and here we are.

David: Did you guys have some favorite teachers in New York?

Isabelle: There was Amy Van Horne.

Coco: Yeah.

Isabelle: Number one. Oh my God I’m blanking.

Coco: Victor Verhaeghe.

Isabelle: Rob Roy he’s not in with NYFA anymore but he was amazing. Michael Laibson.

Coco: Michael Laibson. Drew Hirschfield I don’t know if he’s still there.

Isabelle: Anika we must say Anika. Amazing. Yeah.

David: I taught with Michael in Abu Dhabi.

Isabelle: Michael Laibson.

David: Yeah sweetest man.

Isabelle: He’s like an adopted grandfather slash uncle slash amazing man. I love teachers that care about you teachers that can identify people who try and people who don’t because that’s if you don’t get a group of great kids who all love it. Some people will and some people won’t. I love teachers that can not only inspire the group that love to act and want to do it but at the same time care about them actually as people you know going to New York and starting off like that having such hard but understanding teachers was so great.

Coco: Yeah also they all know what they’re talking about because they’re all actors themselves.

Isabelle: One thing that I always say is that if I find someone who doesn’t like a teacher because they’re too hard I don’t believe that every teacher that’s treating you harshly sees potential and wants you to rise to that potential yeah 100 percent. Nobody’s coming to this school and pushing you just because they want to be annoying in New York especially we had teachers who just push and go above and beyond and outside of class will be like How are you doing. Invite me to shows let me know what you need help with. That’s what this should be about connecting teachers actors you know all that kind of stuff.

Coco:I would say I learned the most from instructors who pushed you the most like instructors who knew that you could do better.

Isabelle: My favorite thing that directors say is after you do a scene and after you work they go what did you think what could you do better. And they don’t say anything because a lot of times kids in these classes will just regurgitate what the teachers are saying and they won’t listen. Asking kids what do you think went well is setting them up for success because in the real world you’re not going to go on set and they’re not going to be like Well I think you did this really well and your objective is this. They’re not.

Coco: No nobody cares.

Isabelle: Nobody cares.

Coco: One student here said it’s all about the result in the end they don’t care how you got there. The fact that you get there that’s the main thing. I was afraid of this experience. But in the end you’re not alone. And there are always people wanting to help.

David: For maybe people who are listening who don’t know the play what has happened to Jess describe that for us.

Isabelle: So basically what happened was Jess was a schoolteacher and her mother got so ill that they had to put her into a home and they needed money. So Jess went into the army. She gets brutally injured on the job and she’s completely burned and she can’t walk she can’t move her leg got broken really badly. She was in the hospital for 14 months and then gets flown back to Florida where she’s from. And so she has to deal with not only being burned you know going through that trauma coming back to this world that she thought that she hated but she loves because it’s her home. And then also to people that aren’t the same. You know she hasn’t seen her mom in forever. Her sisters are caretakers so she’s different. And then you know Stevie her love interest is now married. Thinking about having kids. It sets you up for a emotional rollercoaster. It’s why I’m so happy that the beginning is funny because if the beginning wasn’t funny. It’d just be so sad.

Coco: Yeah. That’s why my mentor for the production David Robinette and also Kathy.

Isabelle: Love them. Sorry. Shout out.

Coco: They both said you have to really crush the first part of a play like there’s so much comedy going on. It’s like really like comic relief. And if that’s not there then the audience can really be set up for the dramatic part.

Isabelle: Yeah. Cause you’re given just this you know immediately you see her with the burns and everything. And as an audience you’re thinking oh my goodness this is going to be sad. This is going to be sad sad sad. She comes into this world with her sister who’s so cute she wants everything to be perfect and nice and neat and everything’s happy and Jess is this cynical dry funny character that gets thrown into this mess and it’s just so fun to see her navigating these people who are kind of like I don’t know how to deal with you know Cause you’re burned.

Play: Looks like you and Kelvin really hit it off.

Play: Is that really his name.

Play: What do you mean as a name. I’ve been talking to you about Kelvin for the last year.

Play: Yeah. On the phone I thought you were saying Kevin.

Play: We met on one of those free website.

Play: Maybe the L was a typo.

Play: Very funny.

David: So let’s let’s talk about how did you find the play and what maybe made you decide this is a play you wanted to tackle.

Coco: It’s kind of romantic because we were. We met each other at the New York Conservatory in New York.

Isabelle: Yeah me and Coco have known each other for the longest time that I’ve known anybody at NYFA because we came from New York and we were in the same class starting off and in our first semester we read this play.

Coco: And it was such a challenging role also like both mentally physically like it was great that we started off like that like our instructor really challenged us with her. But it was a great experience.

Isabelle: Yeah. It was a little snippet. We got every one of us got a scene. And so starting from that small space you think maybe I can do this like I don’t know. Maybe probably. And then getting cast as Jessica it was kind of like I have to. There’s no maybe probably could be. It’s I have to and I have to do it 100 percent. And if anything you know mental physical it’s emotional.

Coco: It’s so emotional. Just emotionally draining every night just going through that rollercoaster of you know feelings and emotions and playing it truthfully.

Coco: And it’s all tied together like. That’s the beauty about this play is that the scenes all bleed into one another both emotionally but also like scene-wise set-wise.

Isabelle: Yeah my my friend came to the show and she said one of my favorite parts about this show you had blackouts in between scenes but you could definitely see Jess’s emotional like overflow. I went from one scene and I was that way in the next scene. Cause it’s life.

Coco: And it’s so organically incorporated into one another it’s a whole it’s a little bit like a clock like it’s really sophisticated.

David: When you started working on it way back in New York was the thought then we’re gonna do this together. No.

Coco: That was a surprise.

Isabelle: I had no idea she was even directing the show. One of my teachers came up to me in NYFA and goes Isabelle I think you should audition for Ugly Lies The Bone and I said oh my gosh. I know that show. I love that show. I look at the poster for auditions and it was your name and I was like No way. This all ties perfectly together and I don’t know I think it was meant to be because we had to have gone through all of that to work together so well.

David: So what about the show because it’s very interesting content. I feel like there’s a lot to talk about and we will. I kind of want to like break down what you were thinking with it but what drew you to this play in the first place that you felt connected enough to direct it.

Coco: So back when we first started working on the play like both Isabelle and me we both played Jess. We practiced on Jess and she succeeded. I felt desperate like. And I remember that one night I was riding my instructor because I said I felt so stuck with Jess. I don’t know what to do because my instructor back in New York gave me the rooftop scene the love scene.

Play: Jess look Jess it’s hard for me.

Play: I know what I look like.

Play: No. No it’s not that. Just that your eyes look exactly the same.

Coco: And it was just so hard. But yeah that’s how it all started off for me. I don’t know how you felt about Jess at first. Like when we did it.

Isabelle: Well I didn’t have as tough a scene when we first got introduced to it. I had one of the scenes at the very beginning where you’re meeting you know Jess’s love interest from back when you know her ex fiancé I think.

Coco: Yeah in the gas station.

Play: Welcome to space coast convenience.

Play: I don’t know anybody who would. It’s kind of weird investment. I don’t know anybody who would.

Play: Stevie Jesus Christ it’s me.

Play: What.

Play: I’m Jess.

Play: Holy s**t. Oh God. Wow. Okay. Oh you must. I’m sorry. You must think I’m an idiot.

Isabelle: You know you see that he’s engaged now and this and this and that. But it’s not physically challenging it wasn’t very emotionally challenging but I think doing that it kind of it made me underestimate Jess. I went into it and I was like I guess I can play pretend truthfully in this role like sure or fine whatever living in that. No. And then I had to. So it was a challenge. A nice challenge.

David: So, Coco as someone with cerebral palsy. Do you feel that tied into your choice of the script.

Coco: Yeah I could really much identify with Jess in a way because I want to be seen as a human being. I don’t want to be seen as oh we have a disability role so oh let’s cast Coco. And also because of my cerebral palsy I mean I spend a lot of time in hospitals when I was younger and that’s why I could identify with the story and that’s why I also wanted to tell the story because I think we are all battling our little and big battles every day.

David: Now I’m curious because it’s a you know she’s a vet she’s obviously got this physical trauma the play hints at post-traumatic stress you know we have a large veteran community here. Were you able to take advantage of that. Or vets in any way to get a deeper look at it or was that more kind of typical research. I’m just kind of curious. How did you connect with that.

Isabelle: Well I somehow stumbled upon this guy. He went through this terrible experience hearing him talk about it. It was kind of like a wakeup call because I’d never experienced that and someone who had gone through that who was taking it on the chin and who was positive. Even still seeing you know how it affected them and their lives and what they did every day. I don’t know it just. It was really intense. So when I came into this show I had him in the back of my mind. The last thing you want to do is offend someone who has you know laid their life on the line. So there is an episode in the show like Jess has this PTSD episode where she flashes back. That was really tough.

Play: What what what is that. What is that what is that. Get off of me get inside get inside move. Don’t leave two men walking by themselves. Get inside get inside move. Get inside all of you.

Isabelle: It was really really tough.

Coco: It was a lot of work. Yeah.

Isabelle: Probably the hardest I’ve ever worked and people came up to me and said a veteran after the show it like oh my gosh. He came up to me and he was like it was real like I believed everything and he said that attack that you had. I you know it was moving and it just made everything worth it. Cause if somebody can go to the show and can watch it and can see that happen and go through it and believe that but then watch them come out of it that’s all I can hope for.

Coco: It blew my mind. How how many people like. I think it was the Monday and the Saturday performance that were like the most responsive audience. Like we had so many people really leaving with tears in their eyes and I thought wow that’s so powerful.

David: What does it mean to you as a play. What’s the meaning of the play. What do you think drew you to that play the most. What strikes a chord with you thematically.

Coco: I think it’s the fact that we are all warriors in a way. Like before I proposed the play and I reread it I had another take on the whole thing and the role of the mother like in the final scene Jess’s sister brings home her mother even though Jess doesn’t want to because she knows that she’s not ever going to recognize her because she has dementia and this very last moment in the play that the mom says basically she takes her in her arms and says you’re my child.

Play: Mom Mom Mom. No no Mom do you know this is.

Play: What is wrong with you you think I don’t know my own daughter.

Coco: When I reread this play and I took another look at it I could really see my mom in a way because she fought a lot for me and especially when I was younger and I couldn’t do it by myself. Like there are always people who look at you differently once you have like physical differences or disabilities. And I think that especially mothers of children with a disability have to fight even harder. And when I reread this play I could see my mom in Jess’s mom and the longer we rehearsed on that the more parallels I could find for example and there is this technique it’s called biofeedback. And I had this therapy when I was 10 to 15 and Jess’s VR world I could see so many parallels.

David: The virtual reality thing I find really interesting so there’s this virtual reality element to her therapy and it keeps coming to those scenes.

Play: Open your eyes.

Play: Oh my God.

Play: Turn your head to the right.

Play: Is that a pond over there.

Play: Pond that’s a lake. Can you see beyond the lake is a mountain. The ice is slippery but you need to cross to the other side and climb up. The game is very simple.

Play: Cross and then climb.

Play: Exactly.

David: I’m curious. How does that relate to the story. What. What do you think is important about this virtual world. She’s creating what’s important about that therapy. How does that tie into the piece for you.

Isabelle: It’s everything she’s ever wanted. She’s created this world where she can fully move like she used to be able to. And nobody looks at her differently because that’s what Jess is constantly running from is the reason why she doesn’t want to hear mom is not only because she has dementia but she has dementia on top of the fact that Jess doesn’t look like she used to. So it’s so many layers and Jess is like I can’t handle this one last person because their father isn’t in their life. So she only has her mom. And so for her you know not to be able to recognize her but that I think with the virtual reality she doesn’t have to deal with people and mentally too being free. She’s so caged in all the time caged by a walker by her burns by her mind by her you know PTSD.

Coco: And also there’s one moment when she screams to her therapist. Yeah but this at least is real and this virtual reality world it’s not real. So why are we doing this. When am I going to be fixed.

Play: But this isn’t real. This at least is real. When is it done. When am I fixed.

Isabelle: Her response to that is so beautiful when she says in order to you know live life we have to let go of what was in order to enjoy what is.

Play: In order to get rid of pain we let go and we do that we see the world not for what it was but for what it is.

Isabelle: So many people nowadays are living in the past living in the future living not now. And they’re living in these fake realities that they’ve created these fake personas on social media. On this on that and for Jess it’s just an escape from all that.

David: You end the play Jess is looking out into the audience what is Jess thinking what is Jess looking at.

Isabelle: Overall it’s hard to take this play and not mesh it with your life. It’s so emotionally connected. And I do have parallels of my life with Jess that. You know it’s hard. So when I’m standing there and I’m looking out into the audience you know it’s supposed to be this kind of. I’m home. I’ve needed to create this home. And I definitely got flashes of that for my own reality. You know blending together towards that last moment because you’re thinking to yourself God the show’s done. This is it. But you’re still in it and you’re living in that. And it’s a moment that you have of not only self reflection of Jess reflecting in herself and who she truly is but it was partially you know it was Isabelle it was me up there and I was thinking to myself. Wow. You know I’m home. I’m happy and I’m performing and I. It’s all good. Everything’s great.

David: It’s almost as if the virtual reality has become reality reality.

Isabelle: That’s completely true I think that like we were talking about virtual reality earlier it’s not just the virtual reality being that I can see different things. It’s that virtual escape of the mind where you don’t really have to worry about you know normal day stuff. And that’s kind of Jess at the end. It’s kind of like her whole life. She just wants to be seen as who she is. But she’s married to that old image of herself. Now she has become wedded to her new self and life it’s beautiful.

David: You know what the audience doesn’t know is that on your final performance the playwright Lindsey Ferrentino actually came. How did that happen. Did you reach out to her.

Coco: That was funny. I posted a teaser on Instagram about the show and she commented that she was about to be in LA and if it’s possible to see the show and I’m like oh my god like I remember the night that I texted my group and I said Can you hear me screaming. Look who’s commenting under our teaser. And so we managed to add on her fourth show for her which.

Isabelle: It was pretty surreal.

Coco: Yeah it’s so surreal. Never say never like. It’s insane what you can do.

David: Were you nervous before the show more nervous. Was it.

Isabelle: I think. Who topped the cake was Luke because Mylo bless him the stage manager. Comes up to Luke before the show and says Oh yeah the guy who originated Stevie your role. He’s Lindsey’s fiance. So he’ll be here too.

Coco: He played Stevie at the National Theatre in London.

Isabelle: Yep.

Coco: No pressure.

Isabelle: And Luke was like oh my before the show he was so nervous I was like Oh poor thing. But he did a great job.

Coco: He pulled it off and Mylo was the one who who asked the actor Ralf Little. How do you feel about seeing your role interpreted by another person.

Isabelle: Yeah. He was kind of like. So how did it feel watching somebody else do Stevie. And we were like no.

David: What did he answer. What was his.

Isabelle: It was great.

Q&A: How was it like watching our version of Stevie on stage.

Q&A: Yeah I found Luke pretty annoying actually. But mainly because I kept on seeing things he did and went oh s**t I wish I’d done that. That was much better. Especially when it’s the lines that you’re so familiar with. Coming up you kind of have this rhythm in your head once you’ve performed it so many times that you know how the lines are going to go. So to see somebody with different cadences different choices and especially lines where you think this one’s a killer I’m going to get you know this is one that I always absolutely nailed and then like he’ll do it and get a bigger laugh. I’m like motherf**ker. That happened a few times actually. I thought he nailed it. Annoyingly it made me feel slightly jealous that I wanted to do it again. So yeah thanks man. It was great.

Coco: It was a great energy.

Isabelle: They were so sweet. Surprisingly like so sweet and inspirational and honest. He was really great. Ralf he just got a BBC One show. And he’s coming over here to watch our like. That’s fantastic. That shows you know how great he is.

Coco: And it was also just a great atmosphere we had that night and both were so humble. It was just fun to talk with them.

David: What were some things you pulled out of that for yourself for the project as a whole like how did that affect you as the director of the project.

Coco: I was really impressed. How much time she spends on research and that she’s so committed to truth.

Q&A: You can’t worry about it. You just have to write the truth and I think the best way to do that is research and writing about as much about your own experience in some sort of abstracted way and there’s different tools to help you write truthfully. But that’s the goal. Do you know what I mean I think you avoid cliché by just trying to write truthfully. So for this play I’m not a veteran. I don’t have veterans in my family but my best friend worked at a V.A. center I volunteered at a V.A. center I got to know some veterans I you know transcribed documentaries transcribed interviews with veterans I talked to the people about the VR system which is a real thing but then I set the play in my hometown. You know and wrote really about my experience coming back to my hometown in a side angle away and wrote about people that I know indirectly. So I always try to do a combination of both.

Coco: She knows what she’s writing about and this is so important to find this truth that she’s talking about. I am always having such a hard time with my writing because I’m so afraid of cliché and the key is truth and everyday life.

Isabelle: There was a quote Ralf brought up I can’t remember where it was from it was from a book it was saying something like every 20 years. Everyone gets the same opportunities whether it be at the beginning of those 20 years or the end of those 20 years. He was like acting it is so much not in your control and you just have to keep doing it.

Q&A: I’ve been doing this for 20 years and in England sort of relatively well known but I’m an absolute nobody here so it’s great fun. And but you get taught all sorts of things that are much more useful than anything I can say about technique and how to act and how to break down scripts and all that kind of thing. But what I’ve found over the years that’s the most difficult thing is managing your own. Psychology. David Mamet said over a 20 year period everyone has the same opportunities it might come in the first week after you leave drama school or it might come 20 years later. But it’s about being ready to take it and mostly managing the kind of crushing worry and anxiety of being in between jobs not getting jobs. Watching somebody who you are absolutely sure you’re better than getting the job that you should have got. You know and I’ve worked relatively constantly and it happened I guarantee somewhere out there right now. Johnny Depp’s going I wasn’t in a Marvel movie that’s bulls**t guaranteed. You know that’s it doesn’t matter. It never. There’s no level you get to where that’s not the case. So it’s a hard game it’s a hard hustle. You know you all are going into it and I wish you all luck because it is hard when you’re working it’s the best thing in the world. And when you’re not you have to have some idea of controlling the worry and going it’s OK. And finding some other creative outlet and something that makes you happy and makes you what’s the Kelvin line. Go to work go home put something funny on TV go to bed hopefully next to somebody.

Play: This is all I’ve ever wanted. OK to come to work go home put something funny on TV go to bed. Hopefully next to someone. Most people just want to be happy.

Q&A: I would love it if if that was my life. But you know most of you are here because you’ve got creative ambitions and it’s not quite that simple for most of us who want to do this for a living because that’s not the gig. That’s not the game.

Isabelle: And he was talking about the fact that if we had asked him the question last week about what he was doing next it very well could have been nothing. It’s just about timing. And if you keep that creative outlet it’ll work you gotta trust that.

Coco: In the end it all comes down to stamina. And I think that’s also what this play stands for. Like there is one line in the play that she says your body is not built to endure it’s built to recover. And that’s really about this going keep going. Go through it.

David: I was curious to meet you Isabelle just because I’d only seen you with the skull cap and the.

Isabelle: You know what you know what’s funny after the show okay. I’m like OK god. I can go and I can drink some. All I wanted was water cause I’m so hot under all that stuff because you know I’ve got ace wraps on my body I’ve got latex on my body then I’ve got the clothes then I’ve got the dress the shirt the bald cap the scarf. And I’m starting to walk backstage and Anne was like no no no don’t leave we’ve got to do the Q&A. I was like can I please take the bald cap off and she was like yeah yeah. So I turn around and I just rip the bald cap off and Ralf comes up to me after it was like I have to be honest getting used to you being bald for that long of time and then watching you rip it off. Was disturbing. It was not something that I was comfortable with. I was like oh wow it’s pretty cool. We created the illusion if anything.

Coco: Mission accomplished.

Isabelle: First time ever wearing a bald cap.

Coco: Oh yeah.

David: Oh wow.

Isabelle: Ever ever. This was definitely a show that got better and better. I think that’s why I was so comfortable when she came. Because we had had a day Saturday. It was kind of I know all of our mentalities were like we’ve been doing this. We’ve been doing this. It’s so emotionally heavy. We got to do it one more time and then having Sunday off and then going on Monday was like we get to do this. It’s not we have to we get to. And so I know I was buzzing. I was like yes.

Coco: Yeah definitely.

Isabelle: One more time. I just wanted to say that not a lot of people do play productions at NYFA because for whatever reason the thing is that everyone should be taking advantage of this. If you haven’t been involved in a play production you should be involved in one you should act and one and you should try to direct one. If anything pitch something don’t wait until it’s too late to be like maybe you should have taken that offer.

Coco: This is the space at NYFA that you can experiment.

Isabelle: NYFA is truly a playground and a lot of times people don’t use every aspect of that playground. They think I’m going to go and I’m going to do the swings go do acting. I’m going to stick to that and I’m going to get in and get out. But if you just sit and you explore those opportunities you can find so many amazing connections people opportunities.

David: I know you just made Anne’s day. I will tell you that this was just a phenomenal advertisement for the student directed plays. She’s really really happy.

Isabelle: They’re they’re good. I mean one of the things that I hate to hear from people is this school isn’t doing enough for me or it’s what you put in. If you put in a lot you’ll get out a lot.

Coco: Yeah. No one’s going to bring you something you have to do it in the end it all comes down to you.

David: Well guys congratulations because it was an amazing show. I think that everyone responded really well I think the fact that you could get Lindsey here was.

Coco: Oh my God it’s crazy.

David: It’s just you know you talk about the universe kind of providing there you put something out on Instagram they come back. It was really and honestly it was a very emotional very powerful show. I think that whether you know you were connected to it or not or you found the connection we as an audience definitely felt that connection.

Coco: That’s the main thing.

David:  Well Coco Isabelle thank you very much for coming in.

Isabelle: Thank you.

Coco: Thank you so much for having us David. Thank you.

Isabelle: Thank you.

Coco: Thank you Kristian.

David: So that was Coco and Isabel students in our acting for film program. This is the backlot at New York Film Academy and thank you for listening.

David: This episode of the backlot has been brought to you by the New York Film Academy as always. It is mixed and edited by Kristian Hayden produced by Kristian Hayden and myself. David Nelson executive produced by Dan Mackler and Jean Sherlock Special thanks to the acting for film department who puts on these student directed plays its Chair Linda Goodfriend Associate Chair Anne Moore and all of the students who took part as cast or crew in the production of this play. And a very very special thanks to our guests Coco de Bruycker and Isabelle Germain. If you are interested in learning more about our programs please go to our website at NYFA.edu. Don’t forget to rate review and subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcasts for wherever you listen. This is David Nelson. We’ll see you next time.

David: Now I know I’m supposed to wrap up the show but I’m having a little bit of trouble doing that. It’s this is a new time for me. This is this is exciting being behind the mic. You know I was thinking when I was a kid growing up outside Newark you know a young man little confused…

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And this episode’s gonna be a little shorter but our subject’s Hollywood career has been long spanning almost 50 years. A man who puts the multi in multi-hyphenate producer actor writer director Mario Van Peebles.

I have never met two actors who speak the same language but knowing that is going to help you immensely as a filmmaker and being a great filmmaker I think has helped me as an actor.

He directed the groundbreaking drama New Jack City played Malcolm X in Ali battled a great white shark in Jaws 4. Spoiler alert, he lost. He’s appeared in Bloodline Z Nation and over 100 films and TV shows dating back to one of his first roles as a kid in the not at all kid friendly Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Man try to say that 10 times fast. The movie was directed by his dad the legendary Godfather of blaxploitation Melvin Van Peebles. Mario Van Peebles spoke at NYFA after a screening of his 2018 independent film. Armed. Joined by a few members of this production team. Justin Nesbitt. Edward Beckford. And NYFA instructor Kimberly Ogletree. Mr. Van Peebles detailed how when you’re making a low budget movie you have to go all in.

The way I pulled it off. We pulled it off as an independent flick was to very strategically reverse engineer into what we had access to. So if I have a crib in Big Bear guess what it’s gonna be in big bear. You know I’ve got a nice crib in the hood. Guess what. We gonna be in the hood. You know so I would use my neighbors houses if you had a last name like Van Peebles or even looked like you knew a Van Peebles. I’ll be calling you up quite honestly as a filmmaker. One of my buddies who’s always broke says that he loves poor people because poor people have nothing to give but themselves. And as an independent filmmaker you basically have nothing to give but yourself. You know you can’t give them a lot of money so you need to have people skills you need to work with a great team and you need to make people feel at home and you need to listen to some crappy ideas and some great ideas and sometimes some of the best ideas came from her or him or him. And I just pretend they’re mine later. It’s really a collaborative effort.

And equipment from here.

And equipment from here. So so basically one I was passionate about the subject two. I felt it was something that was in striking distance that I could do independently and self fund it and I felt like it was a movie that we could make and put a lot up on the screen. And it was a movie that we could say something with you know I’m a crazy guy I’ll go out and do it I put my money where my mouth is and when you all see me drive out here tonight you will see me in a little crappy hybrid car. You will probably think oh wow Mario that’s cool Mario drove his second car. No that’s my only car. Now why do I drive that car. Cause people scratch it. I don’t get pissed off. I put all my money into film. I’m not a materialistic cat. I have minimal bling. I make movies I care about and we work with people we like it’s like they’re are three rules in life for me love what you do which I do love and enjoy the people you do it with which for sure I do and love what you say with your work. And if you get those three things to line up you’re rich no matter what your check is. But you know what the thing is. Everybody becomes family real quick and you guys became family too I mean. Truth be told we were posted up in my crib and we had the office downstairs and it was just like a family affair man. You know it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to make a movie.

We often talk about this in class at New York Film Academy. When you’re making a low budget film or a no budget film you work with what you have and you make sure what you have works and works well. You don’t settle. His producer Justin Nesbitt explained how Mr. Van Peeples pushed everyone to do their best regardless of or really because of their limitations.

I think this is the most intricate piece I’ve ever produced so the challenge was the time and you know Mario from production to post just he brings the best out of you because he’s gonna push he’s gonna push you like a good basketball coach. So the challenge for me was I’m not used to working with a director that’s so he. Every from a to z but he also takes ideas. But even in the post the music if it wasn’t good enough he’d push the composer. He’d push me to get better music find it and you know in my line of work with low budget like get it in get it out. And I think Mario had said something to me. He said You can either do it quick and what’s the saying quick and dirty.

Oh yeah the triangle There’s a triangle there’s fast.

Yeah. What’s the. This is great.

There’s good. And there’s cheap yeah. You know you pick two.

Pick two. That’s what it was. So anyway we picked the right two. I think you know just. You’re working with a lot of crew and a lot of favors and that always becomes challenging sometimes. You know if people aren’t getting paid they don’t show up on time. Not everybody has the attitude of Oh I’m getting less money so I’m going to do less work. That was challenging. Lot of moves too we had a lot of locations a lot of moves. I mean you guys see the pier. I mean Santa Monica I mean Big Bear we’re just moving and we didn’t have a lot of days. We did 18 days plus two. So it’s a short amount of time and you had to move and move quick and always dealing with locations is challenging. But if you have the right team that’s thinking on their feet and then being pulled in three different directions.

When you don’t have a lot of money to spread around on set. Well. On top of what you owe your cast and your crew you have also got to pay them with a lot of respect and encouragement because you don’t have the time or the money to be a jerk.

We’re all adults. We’re cool under pressure. Because things could be going horribly wrong. And Kim would be keeping it cool. Justin be like with his cool kind of mhmm. Edward be like well. You know. And that’s part of it is that if the folks at the top are cool and we’re cool with each other we have love with each other. The whole crew feels that we create a culture of kindness a culture of collaboration. Right. So if we create that culture of collaboration and we hire folks kind of with a no asshole rule we try you know what I mean folks get that message and they see me coming in knowing my lines freezing my ass off right there with you. They see Justin’s doubling as one of the hillbilly brothers. So there was a lot of get in where you fit in but when they see that coming from the folks at the top that sends a message as to what’s OK how do we treat each other on the set and we treat each other like brothers and sisters even if we may look different or have a different preference. Are we kind to each other. And when you run a set like that you get a nice kind of cooperation Don’t you think.

It’s nice to hear about a set where people are kind to each other because directors really set the tone. It’s all trickle down from them. If they work hard and if they’re cool the crew will follow.

Your passion and love and enjoyment of the process showed through it didn’t matter if you were a P.A. or somebody visiting the set or whatever. Would pull you into the monitor on a good take. He’ll be like watch this on come over here. Wait wait. Look at this. I mean for everybody.

It’s really important. As a director that I really appreciated about Mario. Regardless of what time we wrapped we had another hour till we left because he sat down and he went through the following day. Everything from top to bottom. He actually went through every department that is important. That’s a real filmmaker. At the end of the day. It’s a craft.

A big part of the pressure of directing a low budget film is that you do have to lead by example. So if you’re stressed you’re panicked you can’t even show it. This is where Mr. Van Peebles many many hours and set have gotten him ready for this job because he understands this. He knows how to be flexible and he knows how to deal with any curveball that comes his way.

You have to know things will go wrong. We were supposed to shoot a scene in a park. It didn’t work out. We couldn’t get the permit. So we just shot it in my backyard. So on that morning we went down we looked at the park. We came back. We made the split decision boom we’re going to go with this full guns. And I had to rework my shots. To accommodate that. So have plans. That’s cool. Have plans but be ready to augment them know that plans just make God laugh a little bit. So you got to be ready to be flexible.

But he did have the property to shoot it.

But you have to know what you have and what you can work with. So that that kind of stuff you know you just got to be ready to work with it every day there’s gonna be something. You never know what’s going to happen. Oh and the other thing is being nice to your exes. My ex got married to this dude. Who’s the he’s the best dude. But his mother happens to be Dionne Warwick. So I call up my ex we’re on good terms. Like I said stay cool with your exes. I call up her. Get his number. Call him talk to Dionne. Blah blah blah. And that’s how that works. You got to be good with everybody. So I really say if you’re going to make big film and you ain’t got big film money you better have a personality. And people need to know that you can deliver when they take a risk on you. They want to know you can deliver.

Now don’t get me wrong I do get along with my exes. But I don’t know their in-laws. That’s what separates me from Mario Van Peebles. He’s got such a good relationship with his ex that her current mother in law Dionne Warwick helped him out on his movie. That’s an important lesson right there. It’s like be cool to everyone because as Dionne Warwick herself once sang. That’s What Friends Are For. In fact Marvin Peeples is even developing a movie about Diane Warwick. Also I love when he says if you’re going to make big films and you don’t have big film money you have to have a personality. In the absence of solving problems with cash you have to throw creativity at the problem and yourself. Now with a career as long as Mario Van Peebles you would assume that it’s only a matter of time till his early work gets rebooted. I mean this is Hollywood after all.

One of the films that I’m really interested in seeing get out there in a wider way is Panther. That’s the one film that is really actually very very difficult to get. And it’s super relevant right now but I try to make fresh stories. You know I mean there’s so many good stories that we haven’t heard yet. Every now and then people come up to me why don’t you do New Jack two. You know or why don’t you do another posse or whatever and so I’m interested sometimes but if I’m gonna do it myself and put it together myself I tend to do new stories now. I also try to do three for them one for me I’ll work for the studios and I directed bloodline and acted in that or I’ll direct empire sometimes all kinds of stuff I’ll direct and then I’ll go off and act in something not directing it. So I try to mix it up and that way I stay fresh. And in terms of stories have I thought about sequels. Not especially you know someone came to me about armed and they were talking about doing it as a TV series. So I’m always open to ideas. If you’ve got a great idea and you’ve got money let me know.

By the way I’m not sure that last part is a complete open offer but well if it is. You know I got a couple ideas floating around. But it’s still refreshing to hear from a filmmaker who’s more focused on original stories instead of just rehashing old ones. But there is one difficulty a Renaissance man like him faces and that is making sure all his hats don’t get in the way of each other.

How do you balance it as an actor and a director. You know that’s a tricky one I don’t even know that I’ve gotten it right. Because the thing is each craft writing directing producing has its own rhythm. And as an actor you can do more movies but you might burn out as a director. You can’t do as many but what it says really represents. Who you are. So you have to be careful about what movies you pick because you then put your signature on it your brand becomes that. But I love it. I love being a patient and a doctor and I love working with actors because you know as an actor I tend to give the foot rub that I want to get. And each time I’m surprised when people speak a different language. For example if you’re directing Chris Rock from comedy that’s one language but then you’re directing Wesley Snipes in New Jack City and he’s a terrific actor or you’re on bloodline directing Sissy Spacek. She speaks a different language and I have never met two actors who speak the same language but knowing that is going to help you immensely as a filmmaker and being a great filmmaker. I think has helped me as an actor. So when you’re ready for me to just act in your movie I am the nicest cat. I’m not trying to prove nothing. You just tell me where to go and I’m there. I interviewed once Jodie Foster and I asked her about that because she’s a great director and actor. And I said when you’re acting do you find yourself wanting to direct. And she said no. And I said Neither do I feel like I’m on a vacation. Like imagine you’re a plumber on vacation in Hawaii. Right and you’re a good plumber. But you on vacation in Hawaii. And if the sink breaks down you’re like oh no no no no oh no no no no they have to really want you to fix that sink you’d be like. Okay. Let me come out my white clothes and fix the sink. So I love separating it but sometimes it’s cool to do both.

It’s funny that when he has a chance to only act he is thrilled to get rid of all the other responsibilities now despite doing double duty as an actor and director for years he admits he’s still figuring it out. But he loves being as he puts it both a patient and a doctor and his work on both sides of the camera has helped make him an appealing director for other actors to work with.

My dad is the one who talked to me about. You know he said Hollywood’s not just really white or black it’s also green the color of money. But it’s more than that too because you’re going to find whenever you go to do a project that’s got something to say. They’ll be people you didn’t expect to not be a part of it who will fade away and there’ll be people that come forward sometimes that don’t look like you who come from all kinds of corners of the world who will see you try to do something positive and they will come out and get on board. And it’s a beautiful thing and it always surprises me. So for example Bill Fichtner now I always have been a fan of Bill’s but I didn’t know him. I’ve never worked with him but I managed to find his manager and he got me a meeting with Bill and I gave Bill the script and by page 8 he called me back. He said I’m in. Sometimes you get people that are not just about the money but are about having something to say and that’s super important I think that’s a big thing when you go to other actors and you’re doing indie film now working with my dad. I just realized something the other day this is his last speaking role as I look back on it. My dad gave me my first speaking role and I’ve given him his last. And the circle of life is a trip. How is he to work with he’s still cool as hell. He’s funny. You know you tell him what his lines are. That’s cool. He’ll make up his own line. Half the s**t he says in the movie for real. That’s some Melvin stuff. You know he just he’s cool. He’s got good heart. He gets the joke of life and he’s just a solid cat. And he showed me the way you know my dad said if you’re really lucky that your mother gives you that sense of self and if you get lucky again she shows you the mountain and your dad teaches you how to climb the mountain. And in my case it kind of worked out pretty well.

If you get a chance watch the movie baadasssss which is about the making of his father’s film. Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song.

1970 I just finished directing Watermelon Man for Columbia Pictures. Everyone was calling me Mel baby. I had to come up with my next film idea before the money guys cold.

Mario actually plays his own father in the film who set the table for generations of indie filmmakers to follow. Melvin worked with a tiny budget was the lead actor and used every trick in the book as a writer and director and in the process he inspired a generation of indie filmmakers including of course his own son Mario. We want to thank Mario Van Peebles Justin Nesbitt Edward Beckford and Kimberly Ogletree for bringing their film Armed to New York Film Academy and thanks of course to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Kimberly Ogletree to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us how to NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen.

See you next time.

Tova: Hi and welcome to the backlot. I’m Tova Laiter moderator and director of the New York Film Academy guest lecture series. In this episode we will take an in-depth look at one of my great guests and hear about his experience in the entertainment industry. And now Eric Conner will take you through the highlights of this Q&A.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. This time around we hear from a performer who went from Saturday Night Live to a slew of Judd Apatow comedies voiced my son’s favorite character in Inside Out before emerging as a quadruple threat as writer director producer and star of HBO’s Barry the hysterical. Bill Hader.

Bill Hader: That’d be so funny if Keith Morrison was in Game of Thrones. If he was Jon Snow. Hey I’m dead but I’m back. Battle of Winterfell.

New York’s hottest club is Gloosh. New York’s hottest club is Jelly Bones. New York’s hottest club is Spicy.

I sure am glad you told me earthquakes are a myth Joy. Otherwise I’d be terrified right now.

So it’s just McLovin.

That’s badass.

That is badass.

You wanna know what I’m good at. I’m good at killing people.

It is going to be so awesome.

McLovin in the f**king house.

Eric: He forecasted that it’d be cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Arrested McLovin to help his street cred in Superbad and got dating advice from LeBron James in trainwreck Bill Hader also spent time behind the camera writing for South Park documentary now before creating Barry. But before all that. He was a student here at NYFA. Even if he doesn’t know what NYFA means.

Tova: So how did you start in the business. At what point did NYFA enter into it.

Bill Hader: That what?

Tova: The New York Film Academy.

Bill Hader: Oh what do you guys call it.

Tova: NYFA.

Bill Hader: They did not call it back in 1996 when I went here. Was NYFA. NYFA. That sounds like something that they’re selling late at night. The NYFA. No I NYFA. I’m sorry. I just don’t like to. I’m sorry. I’m just getting used this NYFA thing. I’ll start calling it NYFA at some point but just let me have my moment of it being an old man. I’m going to call some friends of mine and be like they call it NYFA now it’s like what what do you mean they call it NYFA in our day it was NYFA.

Eric: He’s welcome to call our school whatever he wants. For a kid from the middle of the country a summer here at New York Film Academy was an opportunity to follow his passion.

Bill Hader:I grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma and I loved movies and when I was growing up as a movie fanatic and I’m going to sound like an old guy but you know you didn’t have the Internet none of these you know to watch a movie you had to really hunt it down. It was awful. And you know it was terrible. But in the back of Premiere magazine there was a thing for NYFA New York Film Academy. And I went whoa and I had terrible grades. And I couldn’t get to New York NYU. There was no way but it was my junior year of high school and I was like I went to my parents and said I’d like to go to this. And they said okay sure. You know if that’s what you want to do this summer. I mean they saw that I was making short films and stuff on my own. And I was writing scripts. They saw that I wasn’t like just doing drugs and drinking. They were like Oh OK. He’s applying himself to things that he cares about if he cares about it. He will apply himself but if you know. So I went and I couldn’t get into the one in New York and they didn’t have one in Los Angeles at the time so I ended up going to the one on the Princeton campus. And we made. We made four short films on Arri S and we cut on flatbed. No you guys do video right. You done Arri S you guys done 16 mm. See that is rad. That’s awesome to hear. That makes me really happy because I mean Barry’s shot on video I mean that’s basically that’s not film but I loved shooting on film I thought it was so much fun and so yeah. We made like these films and then it was the first time I made this thing and then I remember making one of the shorts and the teacher was like this is really good. And everyone laughed during it and they thought it was good and someone’s like how’d you shoot that and I was like oh this is good you know it gave me a lot of confidence and so I came back with these four short films you know and I was gonna go my senior year of high school and I thought I’m going to get into a good film school and it turns out you have to have a really good S.A.T. score and you have to have really good grades and I had neither of those things but I had these short films. And for some reason I end up moving to Scottsdale Arizona. I can’t explain to you I literally just like a little lost and then I went to a school there for a little bit and then I just moved here. I was a P.A. on this lot back in 2000. I was on a movie called collateral damage. So I was a yeah P.A. for a long time I was a post-production P.A. worked in post FotoKem and I remember falling asleep in my car in front of FotoKem. Here’s a crazy story. Fell asleep in my car in front of FotoKem right. And because I was waiting for this stuff to come out and I was with my friend and it was a film that we had made and my friends like dude get up and I go what and he’s like David Lynch is outside and I look up and there’s David Lynch smoking a cigarette and I was like and then he goes I have f**king twin peaks t shirt on and I was like turn that s**t inside out dude that’s so embarrassing. And then we were like We just stared at him. We got out of the car and just stared at him and he was like Hey. And then we’re like right cool right on. And then my friend was way more savvy than I just stared at him and he was like What are you doing. He goes ah I’m working on this movie about a guy who drives a tractor across country. The Straight Story. It is a beautiful movie and so that I was like my first celebrity sighting and I was like Oh my God just everywhere you go there’s just like amazing directors just hanging out yeah.

Eric: Even if you don’t get to see David Lynch every day Los Angeles is most definitely a place where dreams can be realized. Bill Hader initially focused more on work behind the camera but his talent as a comedic performer cannot be contained. Eventually catching the eye of SNL’s Lorne Michaels.

Bill Hader: I just was into film. I mean it was just I was in the movies like when I watched a movie I got really drawn in by the story the cinematography the look of it the feel of it you know the score. The production design and the actors I love the actors. But it was like the whole package and I was very uncomfortable being in front of people and being in front of the camera. Made me a bit. So it was more writing and directing but I had this thing of doing impressions and I’d do impressions like friends and stuff. And then so I moved to L.A. and I was doing all those jobs but I wasn’t doing anything creative which can happen very easily here where you’re just trying to make a living you’re just trying to make money. And you’re not doing anything creative and you’re like Why did I move here. I’m not making stuff. So I start taking improv classes just because a friend of mine not at groundlings. F**k Groundlings. No I’m joking no I’m sorry. No it’s not groundlings but the Groundlings are rad I couldn’t get into Groundlings. But I took a class at Second City L.A. and I did a show and I was in it with Megan Mullally’s brother in law and she saw me in the show and said You’re really funny. And then I was working as an assistant editor on Iron Chef America I was digitizing footage and she called me and said hey this is Megan she said I just had dinner with Lorne Michaels and I told him about you and they’d love to meet you. And I had no manager no agent no anything and I just was like uh OK. So I met Lorne Michaels and I auditioned like for a year I auditioned like four or five times for the show. Yeah. They would come see me in L.A. They just wanted to keep seeing if because I was green like super green as far as performing on stage. But I think they liked that because then they can kind of mold it instead of someone coming in with a lot of preconceived things I think maybe. But they also just it was during the season and they weren’t gonna bring me in midseason I think. And Jason Sudeikis had already been hired and so they were like well do we want both these guys are they kind of the same type or whatever and I got really lucky I came in with Jason Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig and I was really lucky.

Eric: Bill Hader had an amazing run on SNL from Stefon to Vincent Price to his recent turn as the Mooch Anthony Scaramucci.

Yo. It’s me Anthony Scaramucci. The Mooch. I heard my name earlier and when I hear my name three times I appear like a goomba Beetlejuice.

Eric: One of the keys to performing comedy is to not go for the comedy. You don’t play the joke you play the reality though Mr. Hader’s the first to admit that could be really hard.

Bill Hader: You should never go for comedy in a scene. You shouldn’t. I did it. I do it a lot on SNL because and if I’m doing it it’s because I am insecure. I really am. I mean it just you just get insecure so you go you know and the audience get a laugh and you’re like. But the better thing is to do it straight. You know you’re right and don’t and find the truth of it. A good example that I will say is actually a scene in trainwreck when I played basketball with LeBron James.

You use protection right.

Yeah yeah yeah. She’s got little bowls of condoms all around her apartment.

Condoms I’m not talking about condoms. I’m talking about like protection like a lawyer. Like a nondisclosure agreement. You know. No penetration without representation. Listen I’ll tell you one thing you don’t wanna have a baby mama. You know next thing you know you paying for a Ferrari. You geting her a big house a big mansion. She’s gonna want to start a jumpsuit line and you gonna have to pay for it. You want to go through that. You turn on the TV Any Given Sunday win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai she’s supposed to get the shorty Tyco with your money. Then she went to the doctor got lipo with your money.

What are you talking about. What the f**k are you talking about.

It’s Kanye.

You’re quoting Kanye West to me.

Bill Hader: I think initially conceived it was like a funny scene of like whoa whoa whoa you know. And then we were talking about it and it was like wouldn’t be funny if it’s just like you never mention it. And it’s just two guys talking the scene you see and it’s really about him wanting to talk about Amy and what should I you know confiding in a friend what should I do about this girl I like and he’s just shooting hoops with his friend and then just make it that it’s LeBron James and he’s not holding back. But don’t call it out. Don’t draw any attention to it. And it was I thought a thousand times funnier. Because it’s just like it’s never brought. I never I’m never like Hey man come on then it’s like all the air just goes out of it. You just want to make it simple and trust that people are smart enough to understand what you’re going for and simplicity is key to that. Stay with the story and stay with what’s happening to the emotions of the story and not like air ball. You know.

Eric: What makes that scene even more surprising is Bill Hader is actually playing the straight man to LeBron and just like the future Hall of Famer Mr. Hader needed a fair amount of training and perseverance to make it in this business along the way. He even crossed paths with a couple of his future co-stars as they also paid their own dues.

Bill Hader: Oh man it was hard. And it happens all the time. And to be honest it still can happen I mean as you know like I was saying earlier you could still get really discouraged. The thing you have to try to do is again that thing I was saying earlier just like oh I can control the work I can control this I can control making this thing and everyone might hate it and all but I can’t really worry about that. You know what I mean. Like we make Barry and like I still have friends like oh man. A.V. Club hated the episode last night and I’m like I can’t. What am I going to do about that. You know or SNL. Jesus you would have people come up to you on the street and just be like you and your show f**king suck New York cab driver fully did that to me like. You and your show f**king suck. Like what am I supposed to do about that. But you know there is a thing I read once that helped me is that persistence plus talent equals luck and that’s a good thing of like if I’m persistent and you’re talented you’ll get lucky. I have a friend she was my nanny forever and she was a hardworking actress and she was our nanny and just could not catch a break. And she was doing all this work and I thought she was really funny but it just wasn’t happening for her. And now she’s it’s D’Arcy Carden she’s on the good place and she’s Janet on the good place and she’s on Barry. And that was my nanny. So and D’Arcy was sitting here like you guys going again you know I remember going to a show with my manager back in 2005. I got a manager because I got a meeting with Lorne Michaels I got a manager off that. So it’s like I came back to L.A. and people were like Wait. Who are you. How’d you get a meeting with Lorne Michaels. So I went to my manager’s house to meet her and she was super nice and she’s like oh we’re waiting on the again the nanny the nanny shows up. I meet the nanny. Hi nice to meet you. The nanny oh watching the kids nanny’s why and she’s like oh she’s this actress we’re trying to figure it out it was Kristen Wiig. She was my manager’s nanny when I that’s how I met her. I was like Hey how are you. And she was waitressing earlier and she was you know what I mean everyone has that. Like people who don’t have that I’m like f**k off. You don’t have you haven’t lived life you know what I mean like you need to get to give your art something. You know what I mean. Like it has to have something you know. So just keep at it as much as you can and that persistence plus talent equals luck. I would say that to myself I’m like I just have to be really persistent and something will f**king happen. And it takes a long time but it will happen.

Eric: Mr. Hader kept working after SNL to the tune of over one hundred productions. Give or take but he still had the dream of making his own material. He wrote for documentary now South Park and most recently co created the remarkable Barry with Alec Berg.

These people I take out they’re bad people. The money’s good. It’s a job.


Hey man are you seeing this beautiful morning. What are you doing. How are you.

What am I doing. I’m. Set up here. Like you asked me to.

Oh right. Duh.

Bill Hader: I co created with this guy Alec Berg. Alec started as a Seinfeld writer and now than he did curb your enthusiasm and now he does Silicon Valley and. So he and I. Our agent put us together and we sat and we talked about one idea that wasn’t very good for about and that happens. You talk about it’s never easy right. So we sat and we talked about this one idea for about a month and a half and we wrote out tons of notes and worked really hard on it. And then one day I came in and just went I don’t know is this working and he went No no I’m glad. No it’s not working. And I said Well what isn’t not working about this idea you know and you sit and you kind of talk about it and I go well it’s kind of slice of life type of thing. And those are great. But I was seeing a lot of those on television I was like I’d love to do some that has like stakes you know something like that you know has real. What are the most stakes he’s like life and death. And I was like Yeah yeah I was like what’s a life and death type story and then I said What if I was a hit man and he said. He goes I don’t like hit man I don’t. He said there’s more hit men in movies and television than there are in real life. You know it’s like the dog catcher you know what I mean it’s like that doesn’t. It’s not a thing. And he goes I hate hit men you know the skinny ties the two guns the cool. I go no no it’d be me. And he went oh I go me be me like me not doing a character like just me like very non-threatening. So he went oh that could be interesting and then very quickly we thought he should be taking an acting class. I don’t know why. I don’t know how we still have no idea how that came up though the ideas. Sometimes they happen like that you know. So we said oh he should take an acting class and then we started seeing interesting parallels.

Eric: An assassin played by SNL’s Stefon yeah well the first time I saw the trailer. I was fascinated. And more than a little confused. But as any fan of the show can tell you the unexpected is what makes it so compelling. As Bill Hader explained this unusual formula took time and work to find the right balance.

Bill Hader: Well the character of Barry it was interesting because initially we were talking about earlier where we came up with it. The character initially all the characters were a bit arched. It was a bit over the top. And HBO actually was great and they said. Yeah this the hit man guy the way you’re writing him like Is that how what they do. Like how do you what research like the acting world feels very well researched but the hit man world feels like it’s more about movies and about things that you’ve seen it’s not rooted in anything real. And that was a really good note. Because it’s true. A lot of movies and stuff you watch now are just about movies essentially you know and the real stuff is it comes from your life. And basically they were saying was like make it more personal. And so we say what if he was a Marine. And suddenly the whole show just got grounded into something much more interesting. When we decided that he wasn’t John Wick that he was a Marine and it was like a guy kind of hating himself for you know doing something for the service of his country and now he’s taking that and he’s doing something wrong and so for the character that’s what helped it but so much stuff you know you talk about other movies and I remember coming up and just being super inspired by movies and I still am I mean I’ll watch something and get so jazzed by it and get inspired to make stuff. But it’s important as I’m getting older to learn that the real stuff is from your life and stuff that you’ve felt now it doesn’t have to mean that like I’ve never killed anybody as far as you guys know but it’s like those emotions of feeling like lonely or misunderstood or out of place or wanting to belong or these things I have felt that and you go OK well let’s put it in this guy.

Eric: Well hopefully Bill Hader doesn’t have too many similarities to his killer alter ego. One of the things that makes Barry such a riveting character is his duality his private day job of well you know killing people versus his more extroverted dreams of performing.

Bill Hader: So this is a great interesting conflict for this guy. He’s trying to be a hit man. His life is in the shadows. But to be an actor you have to be in the spotlight right and then to be a hit man you’ve got to be anonymous and unknown. But as an actor you want to be known.

Acting is a is a very. Face forward type of job. It’s in direct conflict to being someone who anonymously kills people.

These are professional actors and they’re the real deal and they say I got something.

No I get it I get it. But I think you kind of think this thing through. I mean you want to you want to go out there and try to burn a guy and have him say hey there’s the guy from the chicken commercial.

I don’t know if I’d do commercials.

Bill Hader: As a hit man you have to repress your emotions to murder people and in acting you have to constantly you know use your emotion. So I don’t know. Yeah. So that’s we go oh that. That could be good and then went from there. But it’s good because you tell people about it and this is a good lesson. Everyone we told about it they went yeah yeah okay you as a hit man who wants to be an actor. OK I know what that is. And everyone has a picture in their mind what your idea is but it’s your idea and I might do it differently. And it was very satisfying when people would watch the pilot and go oh this is not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was gonna be real goofy and kind of glib and I was like No no no we can’t be glib about the violence we can’t it’s an emotional story about this guy dealing with guilt and hoping for redemption and all this stuff. So that was a good lesson for me too of just going like no no no I know what this is. Just trust me it’s gonna be good because people will constantly tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

Eric: One thing Bill Hader has been doing very right is his performance in the title role which netted him an Emmy as Best Actor in a comedy as well as nominations that same year for writing directing and producing. The character is beyond layered at times quiet and meek and other times a rattlesnake ready to bite. Playing that role would be enough work for most actors. But Mr. Hader pulls it all off while juggling all his other jobs on the show.

Bill Hader: Because you’re writing and directing and doing all these other things and my head was someplace else. And then I forget I’m also I’m in wardrobe and I’m acting on the show and they’re like alright Bill. You gotta go. You know and you’re like wait what. But I think the best stuff kind of comes from just using your instincts you know and like you think about it like you know your lines the best you can. I sometimes don’t know my lines and I’m always like I’m so sorry guys. But like you know the scene in the parking lot when I talk to him.

It’s a job. You know the money’s good and these people I take out like they’re. They’re bad people you know like they’re pieces of s**t. But lately you know I’m like I’m not sleeping and that depressed feeling’s back you know. Like I know there’s more to me. Than that. But maybe I don’t know. Maybe there’s not.

Bill Hader: Like that’s a thing where you just try it a couple of times and you do it and the first time is kind of flat and the second time it gets a little bit better. Third time gets a. And by the way Henry Winkler had to leave him doing that whole thing to a c-stand. Because Henry had to go. So I’m doing the whole thing to c-stand with a little mark on it and you’re just trying to think of you know people go oh are you thinking about this or that or whatever and you go you care about it it’s not like you’re I’m having a coffee and bullshitting with someone oh I gotta go do this scene there’s concentration but it’s not like Oh on this line I’m gonna do this. And on this line I’m gonna do that. It’s more of a feeling now you like one of my best friends is this guy named Duffy Boudreau and he writes on Barry he wrote on documentary now with me and stuff and he’s a guy that when he gets nervous he kind of holds his breath. And so in a weird way on like Take four. I started just doing that like oh Duffy does this thing where. And then when I’m in the edit bay we’re watching I go Oh I like that you know it’s like oh this is good. This is now this is something’s happening. You know what I mean. So you just like it’s like work you’re just like fine tuning it but you have to be instinctual.

Eric: He told our students the best way to balance work as a performer director writer producer. Is actually rather basic.

Bill Hader: Try to just. Treat it like it’s one job and you just go well this. I’m doing all these things but if you think of it as all those things together you can get really discouraged. So to me it’s and this is what worked for me is just thinking like oh this is the idea. This is okay Barry the story this thing I’m gonna try to do that but it can be very very overwhelming. You know I saw Henry Winkler today cause we had to do a press thing and he said you know you you mouth your like when I’m doing scenes with him I’m mouthing his dialogue a lot of the time cause I wrote it. And Stephen Root said the same thing that I’m always like. And that’s that’s annoying but it’s because in my head I’m going okay no this works. Yeah yeah no this this works because then later we’re doing this thing and that no no no this is good. This is good. You know so yeah you gotta like back off of it and try to be in the moment. And honestly I couldn’t do any of this if it wasn’t for Alec Berg having a good partner I couldn’t do any of it. I couldn’t do it all by myself. I would I have to be able to go. That makes sense right. And he goes yeah he’s a great sounding board in all of this. So yeah if you can have someone whether it’s a good you know a teacher or a friend doesn’t mean you have to be fully in business with them. But again it’s like I was saying earlier that thing of where you could show it to people and you know they’ll be real with you you’re gonna be good.

Eric: His performance is even more impressive considering that unlike pretty much every other guest we’ve had Bill Hader does not come from theater.

Bill Hader: I have never really done theater. I did theater like in high school. But I mean I did SNL but that’s not real theater. I think what they did. Like real theater actors like Sarah Goldberg who plays Sally is a big Broadway actress. Like I don’t know how you do that. I just don’t I don’t know how I do it. I’ve gone to friends who’ve been in plays and I’m just like yeah I don’t know how you did that. And I think it’s because I tended to gravitate towards things that are more behavior like acting that’s a little bit more like you’re watching behavior. And theatrical stuff it’s just a different thing that I don’t have the. You’re having to project and play it a certain way that I just I don’t have the. I don’t know how to do that. So I guess the answer’s no because I’m doing pretty well. So. I don’t know no but I think it’s good to have theater training. I wish I honestly I wish I did have that training because when I’m around them I feel like they’re so much better I’m honestly like well rounded actors you know Henry has theater training. Anthony Carrigan who plays NoHo Hank has theater training you know and Stephen Root has theater training so any time I’m in scenes with them you can feel it you know and you just go oh man you know I say it all the time. You’re only as good as the company that you’re in. You’re only as good as your fellow actors like if they’re good then that brings you up and if you’re good then that brings them up you know. So yeah.

Eric: Part of his work in fine tuning Barry has been laying out multiple seasons worth of storylines. It’s no small feat but he’s been up to the challenge thanks to his time writing for our favorite foul mouthed Colorado kids.

Bill Hader: Well when we were writing it I had never done anything real long form but I worked in the writers room a bit on South Park. I worked on South Park for like 10 years off and on and I watched how those guys would put episodes together and it was really helpful for me to understand how to how to do that. But I think a thing that we kind of have like little tentpole scenes like season one we knew there was a part in Episode 7 I don’t want to ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it but there’s a scene in episode seven we knew Okay we’re headed there right. So I don’t know what we do but we’ve got to write to get to this and then this new season there was one of those that happens again in episode seven and another one in episode eight where you’re kind of like. I start with a big whiteboard and I have we have eight episodes and I put one through eight and then you just kind of have a bunch of notes I’ve taken and I kind of just start dropping things places and something that happened at the end of Episode 1 in the new season. I initially had in episode 4 and I remember Alec going shouldn’t that happen at the end of episode and I’m like Oh my God. Yeah you’re right oh once we put that there. Now this goes to here Oh rad OK yeah yeah. This is working but it takes forever. And then once you even have it and you I go home and I’m like high fiving myself like we got it the next day or a week later you’re like oh s**t. OK. This doesn’t work. You know and you’re constantly constantly working on it but we never fully plan. We have like kind of vague ideas but the fun of it is kind of seeing where the where the characters kind of take it. I mean that’s that’s really what you want to do is you want to just be listening to the characters and getting out of the way. And the big thing I’m sure you guys have been taught this. But it was beaten into me at South Park which is have you guys heard the and and and that thing that was it’s therefore therefore that is everything with Barry is that where we’re constantly. I mean Alex Berg’ll say it’s all and and and right now man I’m like I know. And then he’ll go aha oh wait. What if he does this and then therefore this happens and then that oh see it’s more causal if we do this you know and then oh cool and then another act you know you you have to be real malleable and know that the process is messy and that you’re gonna fail a lot in writing. I always come in kind of with the whole thing. I kind of sit down with the writers and I’ll go here’s where I think the season is and they go OK. And it’s kind of like saying like Here’s the house that we’re gonna build. And the writers are like cool but wouldn’t like a swing set be in the backyard and not the front yard and you’re like Oh yeah that’s a good idea. OK. You know and it’s like wouldn’t that. That should be a door right and not a window right. And you’re like Oh yeah yeah. You know and you’re you’re kind of piecing it together that way but it should feel organic. It shouldn’t be by the numbers it can’t be plot. It should be character driven. That was what I learned at South Park. It was really crazy. Everything was driven by emotion. Everything at South Park is driven by emotion everything’s like Cartman is feeling blank so he wants this and his emotion is something that can be relatable right or something and serious. I mean I worked on one episode. Did you guys see fish sticks with Kanye West. Yeah where he’s the fish sticks and he gets but that’s about a guy not getting a joke you know. And so you know or or whatever it is and so you know you’re constantly. It’s so much with emotion you know every time we’re in the writers room we’re always we’re always going like you know I’ve had a feeling where like the thing with the laptop where it’s like oh I had that happen where I got really embarrassed by this thing where I was trying to make a big overture to someone or like in episode six in season one there’s a scene where I’m trying not to hang out with Taylor anymore and I call him and I’m like Hey man I don’t think we should like. That was I’ve had to fire a trainer and I fully ended up like hiring them for another like month because I just was too and I went into the writers room I was like and they go did you fire. You fire that guy and I was like No. And I was like I told him like hey man you’re great you’re this and blah blah blah and then it was like OK what are we working on today. OK. Barry and Taylor I’m like oh I should just do that right. You know because that’s the thing I did. You know. And so I don’w know it kind of works.

Eric: Mr. Hader might not trust his instincts enough to fire an underperforming trainer but they’ve been right in guiding his career. He made choices that were not safe but were very much right for him.

Bill Hader: You never know. You got instinct. It’s all instinct. It’s like what do you like. What draws you into the thing. You know. Like I turned down a lot of. I don’t do a lot of scripts because I get real like antsy oh I don’t know. And then you you know I read Skeleton Twins and just was like yeah. You know I’ve done jobs for money. I’m moving you know I need I need money. But then there’s the thing like big movies you know I’m not oh I’m gonna do big movies I’m in the sequel to It the Ritchie. I’m the all grown up Ritchie Tozer The Finn character and I heard that and they’re like hey did you see It. Oh yeah. I love that movie and they’re like Well there I was like yes. Is it are you. Are they offering me. Because yes. No you gotta go meet with the director too and I was like oh and I just went and I was like I want to do this you know because it was just like instinctually. Yeah. That would be rad. That’d be what an experience. You know and it was it was so much fun. The movie’s incredibly scary. They showed me one scene from it. I wasn’t in it and I was like All right all right cool. I don’t need to Andy Muschietti directs it he’s like yeah pretty f**ked up huh man. He’s like this is going to make people s**t themselves am I right he calls me Blido Blido Blido f**ked up. Don’t you wish you were in that scene man. I can’t act scared too. I’m always smiling. When I get nervous I smile a lot. so I’m like Oh my God. Pennywise is here no way. Hey Blido man you can’t be smiling man why you smiling you can’t be f**king smiling man you’re gonna die and the clown man. What the f**k. This is all on a god mic by the way. So it’s come on man what you’re doing. But instinct that’s the main thing just being instinctual. What do you like. You know when you’re watching I mean it sounds reductive but it is like when you’re at a bookstore and you’re like I want to read that. You know or you’re watching something oh I’m gonna watch this. This seems good. You know like you don’t question those things you just you instinctually are drawn to that. So if you’re lucky you can do that. But also sometimes you got to take s**t cause you gotta f**king make the money.

Eric: That’s great advice. Trust yourself and your creative instincts that got you there. Though it might take time to figure these things out. I mean after all Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are most artists careers.

Bill Hader: You don’t need to figure it all out this millisecond. You know it takes time. I remember being like young and reading about like Steven Spielberg made his first movie when he was 25 or and you put this weird pressure on yourself that means nothing if you don’t have any experience and just relax and just do it just do it fail. That’s the big thing. I was terrified of failing. I didn’t want to fail. You fail and if you know you screen a thing for people and they’re like Yeah man that was a thing you know and you go well what didn’t work that should be the question What do you guys think didn’t work about it and take it. And. You know and I would just I would watch one cut of something I did and be like well I’m not showing this to anybody because I don’t I’m I’m embarrassed. You have to fail you have to learn from that and keep doing it and keep doing it and just keep doing it and then suddenly that thing that was hard becomes a little easier. And then this new thing I’ll become hard and then that’ll become a little easier. So I think that it’s like don’t be afraid of failing. And I wish I would have stuck with certain things like writing certain things or kept making things. You know Barry’s the first thing I ever liked actually directed I directed all these short films but that pilot you saw that was like the shot of Hank coming out and going Hey you must be Barry. That was the first thing like I’m a director on set like action. And I was f**king terrified. But you just have to do it. You have to just be like I’m going to try this and it’s all a process. And it’s all just a conversation it’s all a process and you’re not going to live and die by every thing. You know. I wish someone had just told me when I was starting out and everything like that was just like fail and keep failing and it’s gonna be OK. If you keep failing to make it about the work because I so was like. It has to be perfect. And it won’t be it won’t be perfect for a while but each one it get incrementally better. That means you’re on the right track.

Eric: When Bill Hader tells you it’s okay to fail maybe it’s okay to take some risks. Fail enough and heck. Maybe one day you’ll get nominated also for four Emmys in one year. We want to thank Bill Hader for spending time with our students and thanks of course to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s. Check out our YouTube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Bill Hader: Watching Tom Cruise work on Tropic Thunder was pretty crazy. People forget I’m in that movie because I’m in scenes with Tom Cruise no one’s watching no one’s watching me. I’ll be like I was in Tropic Thunder like where and I’m like I’m like Tom Cruise’s like right hand man they’re like he had a right hand man there and I’m like I know you’re not watching me. I was on that movie for like five months and no one knows I’m in it because they’re like Who are you in it.

Eric: We remember Bill, we remember.

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you the writer-producer of two of TV’s most legendary shows King of the hill and Silicon Valley John Altschuler.

I’m not a particularly angry person but I enjoy anger. I enjoy being pissed off and going, wait, what the.

Now I could do the entire episode only quoting those two shows seriously test me. I’ll do it but that would leave out some of his other great work such as Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory The good family Lopez and the countless other hours of television he’s helped create. And this is all coming from a UNC alum who succeeded despite a less than stellar film department. And got his first break with the help of a single dollar bill.

It was called the half-hour comedy hour and it was an interesting time because this is pretty cool what you’re doing because you’re in a program where you’re actually learning how to do things well. I majored in economics and anthropology. A I had an interest in them but B because the department at Carolina was so terrible in film so terrible. They literally had equipment that they wouldn’t let the students use because they may break it. So you couldn’t use it. So what happened is these guys who were the people that you really need on campus started a student television station. Then you have the people that you don’t really need me and Dave Krinsky and some friends who went well they went to the trouble. Let’s go take their cameras and make our silly show. And so it was flat out sketch comedy. You know we’d have things like Bonnie and Clyde and Ted and Alice. We had a sketch called plant boy about a boy that was raised by wild plants. You know and we had a segment I love students talk about things they don’t know or understand because you could go to any student on any campus and go what do you think about X and they’ll start talking they don’t know anything about it they’ll start talking. So it was a flat out sketch show and it did us a lot of good though because back then yes it was a VH not VHS three-quarter-inch tape and it was all you know back in the old days but it looked pretty good. So that we could actually show people things because back then there was a high barrier to entry. It was hard to get equipment. It was hard to make things. So we had something that looked semi-professional to show. I actually kind of miss the days of a high barrier because now every moron is putting whatever there’s such a low barrier which at first I thought is great because that makes it more democratic. But then you go Oh God you just wish there was a little bit of a barrier because they send it to me and I got to look at it you know. But what it did is it made me realize that well even though I was an economics major I don’t want to work in a bank. And I’ve always wanted to do comedy. So we’re trying to figure well. See I’m in North Carolina with my partner Dave Krinsky and I’m delivering pizzas. I’m not connected to anybody I have no connections. What what can I do. And I thought well what if we got published and this is actually one of the things I’m most proud of. So there was this magazine called National Lampoon and it was a humor magazine and it was kind of important back then meant a lot to me. And what I found out is that they didn’t accept unsolicited material. What do you do so what Dave and I did I said Well this is what we’ll do. We’ll put a packet together and we send it to the three editors who ran National Lampoon we sent it to each of them. And I said I know you don’t accept career letters blah blah blah but here’s a little something for your time. And I enclosed a dollar with each with each letter we had like three or four ideas. This was I mean back in the day. So I’m delivering pizzas. I get home from delivering pizzas. The phones ringing. I don’t even think we had an answering machine. I pick it up and this guy says Can I speak to John Altschuler. I go This is him. This is Chris Simmons National Lampoon. Money talks. What have you got. And I’m like money. He’s like Yeah I got your dollar right here. And so I was like Well we’ll have something. And he goes great. Get something together send it to us. We’ll look at it. And they published our first piece which was there was a famous actor called John Belushi. He was in animal house. He died of an overdose and they arrested the woman who sold him drugs and I kinda felt like she was being railroaded because they were blaming her. Now this is an out of control actor. And so basically the premise of our first piece was that she was going to get out of prison and all of Hollywood was terrified because they thought Oh my God. You know and you know Richard Pryor was scared of what she was going to do to him because she obviously has this this power so they publish that. And what that allowed us to do was to put these two concepts together published writers in a magazine people had heard of. And here’s some funny sketches for them to look at. And that opened the doors by being published and then having this it made it so we were seen as not complete schmucks. Just partial schmucks. So when we came out here and started banging on doors. We could say oh published in National Lampoon. Here’s one of our pieces. It was the only piece. But here’s one of our pieces. And if you want to see this you know so that’s that’s how we used it.

All right. Not to sound too much like an old man but when I was a kid. National Lampoon was the greatest humor magazine. It launched so many remarkable writers careers and produced movies like Animal House vacation Van Wilder. There’s actually a pretty good Netflix movie about it called a futile and stupid gesture. So National Lampoon came originally from a group of writers at the Harvard Lampoon. And Mr. Altschuler discovered that unfortunately not being a Harvard alum really slowed down his entry into the professional world of comedy writing.

There’s an interesting thing I didn’t go to Harvard. So that’s a recommendation to everybody to this day I’ve got a chip against. Even though some of my very good friends went to Harvard it was so crazy because you go meet with an agent and they’d ask you Did either of you go to Harvard. Did either of you go to Harvard. No we didn’t go to Harvard to the point that when we came on King of the hill one of the writers wife was asking me how did you get here. Well came out and I worked as a P.A. for like two or three years trying to write you know and she’s like a P.A. Well that’s a terrible job. Why would you do that. I’m like cause I don’t have any money you know. And I didn’t go to Harvard. Where you just waddle off a boat show you know flop down and they give you a job on The Simpsons. One of the funniest things in the show another period was that they had this joke about everybody from Harvard gets a job on The Simpsons. But I went to the University of North Carolina great school. It wasn’t a connection school and my family. My dad was a merchant seaman who became an anthropologist. My mom was fascinating but a homemaker we were we had no connections. I mean it took me I was out here six months before I had my break of getting a job as a P.A.. But what was great about that is that I was a P.A. for this guy Howard Gottfried and Howard Gottfried produced network altered states the hospital. He was Paddy Chayefsky’s producer and one thing I learned whatever job you get just do that. Well. All I did was I made sure that they had coffee in their. If they went like this. There was coffee there. I never talked about Hollywood. I never talked about writing. I never talked about anything. All I did was make sure if a canister needed to be there it was there. So they loved me. And what. And so what happened is Howard Gottfried comes up to me and goes look you don’t want to be a what do you what do you want to be. I want to be a writer. Well let me read what you’ve got. Gave him some stuff he read it he’s like. Well let’s talk. So then I’m walking through Beverly Hills talking writing with Howard Gottfried who produced the greatest you know screenwriter in history. So that is a very important thing that nobody cares if you’re here. Just don’t be crazy and 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. I was a very good P.A. actually I think I was much better at being a P.A. than a writer. I mean writing that I’m a very good P.A..

All right. To his credit few writers out there would actually brag about being a great production assistant. But then again few writers are like John Altschuler. Even though he spent time originally in front of the camera. Mr. Altschuler realized that he was so much better suited to life behind the scenes.

The great tragedy is that I would love to be able to perform but I’m not good. I did a little on king of the hill I would slip in some voice over because I can do a myriad of rednecks. I can do like you know rednecks from eastern North Carolina through to the mountains I can do country I can I can do all the rednecks but I am not talented. I want to be talented. I love. Okay. So whenever we do table reads I always do. You know the directions. And if a parts oh we don’t have Oh Pam Adlon’s not here today. I’ll be Bobby Hill you know because I love it and I’m terrible. And the other thing is if you work with like Mike Judge is one of the best actors he’s gonna start doing more and more acting. And so that’s even more frustrating like when we worked with Mike on Beavis and Butthead to see somebody who’s just a. Genius like he would turn his back like you write the stuff he goes into the recording booth and he turns his back and you see this figure. A lot of times when people you’re recording for animation for example if they do multiple voices they do all one voice then all another voice so they can. And I’m watching this. It was it was almost freakish. He’s doing all the roles back and forth not stopping.

Pull My Finger.

Uh uh.

Pull My Finger dude.

No way.

Come on. Pull my finger.



That was cool.

So he’s real talented and I’m not so I write.

Well it’s a good thing he actually doesn’t have more acting talent because if he did he might never have joined Mike Judge’s king of the hill.

I tell you what man you go blowed up them dynamite an old cannon like that. A boom.

Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking.

That’s my purse. I don’t know you.

Man I loved king of the hill shows like a national treasure and as a writer it was more than just a job for John Altschuler. It was a chance to vent a lot.

One of my proudest moments is when Mike Judge told we were at some conference and he goes king of the hill we basically have 150 episodes about what pisses John off. So basically you know it’s like I go to the vet and they’re telling me it’s either an eleven dollar pill or a twelve hundred dollar procedure. And I’m like well why don’t you try the eleven dollar pill. I wouldn’t feel good doing that you know. So I realize these vets have you over an emotional barrel. So I do an episode about it like when when this kid was panhandling to me and I didn’t realize that his jacket cost way more than mine it pissed me. So you do an episode on it so I’m not a particularly angry person but I enjoy anger. I enjoy being pissed off and going wait what the. That’s where most of the ideas like I have a project about Bay Area terrorists from the 70s. Okay. And I grew up on college campuses then. I hate these people. Okay. These are the ones who like rolling pipe bombs under cop cars and then like it was based on this woman who I hated so much. Her name was Kathy Soliah. She was the soccer mom in Minnesota who they found out that she was in the Weather Underground. You know they killed two cops and then another bystander. And then she went away and her defense when they caught her was everybody was doing it and I was like well that’s that’s just great. So I developed a whole series about everybody was doing it because that’s like what became very clear to me. Is that OK. I started doing a little checking on you know the Symbionese Liberation Army who kidnapped Patty Hearst. I’m looking at this Web site. Their symbol was a nine headed Hydra. OK and I’m going wait a minute. That means at some point a bunch of wanna be revolutionaries were in a room going what’s our symbol. Well I don’t know how bout a tiger. No not a tiger how bout an elephant. No not an elephant. How about a Hydra. And then they got to nine heads OK. And I realized well that’s a scene that you never see. OK. So it all started from anger. Because this woman really pissed me off. And I hate these people but I love them. P.J. O’Rourke who was the editor of National Lampoon he goes you know the thing about you know being in the 60s and 70s he goes everything we did was wrong. Everything was terrible but it was fun. And it was like Oh my God that’s what you never see like when I grew up in Carbondale Illinois. I remember seeing mimeographs. That said Riot tomorrow three o’clock OK. And so I was like eight or nine. We’d go watch the riots. And I can tell you the riots that you saw in real life had nothing to do with a riot shot by Robert Redford. It’s like they were having fun. They burned down the oldest building on campus and they were it was a blast. And I was like Wait you don’t see that. And then the last piece came when I realized that when you read the Anarchist Cookbook which was this bomb making book and you realize that forming a terrorist group in the 70s was like forming a garage band in the 90s that literally instead of them needing a bass player could somebody make a bomb you know. So basically the things that piss me off usually create a spark and I go Oh wait why am I pissed off. What is it about this. You know privilege tends to piss me off. You know so I go Okay well wait what is this. And then I start twisting because my son told me something that I just loved is that a kid in his class went out on a limb and he said I think racism is bad. And I was like. That’s just great because there are people that think that other normal people think racism is good. You know like and so like on king of the hill. I ran king of the hill with Dave Krinsky for eight years. What I’d tell the writers is that everything’s gotta be turned on its head. We’re not going to do an episode about racism unless we’re saying racism is good. We’re not going to do an episode on book burning unless we’re saying. Book burning is good. And the closest we got with the racism one was Hank Hill having a racist dog and what it turned out is that the dog wasn’t racist it hated figures of authority and we never got the book burning one to work. But this is the problem with this. This is not a big thinking town is that somebody could actually go. Well you know what. On whatever you know on who’s got a maid we’re going to tackle illiteracy because illiteracy is bad. You know like or racism is bad. It’s the obvious. Where. Well let’s look at the humanity behind all of this and turn it on its head.

He’s right. Nothing is more deadly to comedy than over sentimentality. For instance the entire hill family. They love each other but episodes didn’t usually end with a simple hug and an aw from the audience. We love this characters specifically because they are so flawed and imperfect. That’s OK. So are we. And that attitude that approach to character has continued to serve John Altschuler incredibly well on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

I memorized the hexadecimal times tables when I was 14 writing machine code asked you a nine times F. It’s fleventy-five.

I have a question. That was horrible.

This guy f**ks am I right.

With all due love to the Big Bang Theory Silicon Valley feels so much more like we are truly immersed in the world of zeros and ones. And though Mr. Altschuler is surrounded by engineers in his family. It was Bill Gates who inspired the show but not in the way you’d expect.

My brother is an electrical engineer my brother in law is an electrical engineer and my niece is an electrical. I’m surrounded by electrical engineers. OK. And I’ve always been attracted to situations that have been described incorrectly. Like my brother my brother in law. None of these people are on the Big Bang Theory. You know what I mean like it didn’t quite make sense. And then I was reading the biography of Steve Jobs and there was a quote in there where Bill Gates was ridiculing Steve Jobs and he said the guy can’t even write code.

Jobs was a poser he didn’t even write code.

You just disappeared up your own a**hole.

And I thought the guy created the biggest brand in the world. And there’s somebody up in Silicon Valley sniping at him as like this is hilarious. And I didn’t know what it meant. So I called my brother and he explained to me what code was and so I got interested in it. And so then I was talking to Mike Judge because you know we were partners and he just thought that was the funniest thing. He studied physics and loved the idea. Just this idea that nobody once again it’s not that there aren’t classic geeks. Like on the big bang theory that’s the best example. But it wasn’t who we knew. Like the guys we know wore Greek fisherman hats and played in 1920s bands and they like. It just didn’t mesh. And so the fact is is that although it was all tangential. It was something that you kind of felt then. I said well let’s start researching this. And we went up to Silicon Valley and it was so funny because I studied anthropology and you started realizing this was a subculture.

These programmers there’s always a tall skinny white guy a short skinny Asian guy fat guy with a ponytail some guy with crazy facial hair and then an East Indian guy. It’s like the trade guys until they all have the right group.

Everybody was talking about their numbers you know you’d go meet someone Well I was number eight. At what company number eight. And so what it was is that you rank yourself by how low your number was because that meant that you were early on a company and then this was in the pilot and through the series is that everybody kept talking about how they’re making the world a better place. We’re going to make the world a better place. We got we’ve got an app that will like make your water go it’ll make the world a better place.

That’s why I started this place to do something big to make a difference.

We’re making the world a better place.

We could really make the world a better place.

Hooly is about innovative technology making the world. A better place. Through minimal message oriented transport layers.

I kind of thought that’s hilarious because I miss the days when somebody said we’re going to build a locomotive that goes through here. You know they can’t just do anything they’ve got to. So the sanctimony was so thick. That’s what this is something to make fun of. And then the more that you researched it the bigger the target seemed. And the fact is is that it’s more fun to take on the big guys and try to deflate them and these guys really need deflating because they’re they’re really you know it’s what is it Google they had a motto that was like do good. I’m like well you know Hitler thought he was doing good. You know Mao thought he was doing good. All these people think they’re doing good. I don’t need that guy to have all the power in the world to do good. So anyway so that was the inspiration the answer to your question is that a little bit of knowledge a fair amount of research and a lot a little anger. And I think it was helpful that we were outside and then it helped that Mike had his own axe to grind. He hated being an engineer so desperately you know office space was about you know he got a job you know basically low level engineering and he kept thinking of how he was going to kill himself. So it’s a love hate relationship with Silicon Valley.

This love hate relationship is embodied by Silicon Valley’s characters who are driven to succeed in an industry where they seem to despise pretty much everyone of their peers kind of like what Groucho Marx used to say I don’t want to be part of a club that would have me as a member.

Hey what do you guys think about this Jared. He’s s**t right.

Oh god. The marketing team is having another bike meeting. Douchebags.

Look at me. I travelled back to 2009.

F**k you guys you all think you’re John Lennon until someone waves a dollar in your face.

Over its run the show has been forced to evolve after losing two of its key cast members first with the untimely passing of Christopher Evan Welch who played Peter Gregory back in season one and then more recently T.J. Miller’s abrupt exit from his career defining role as Erlich Bachman.

You’ll see this on a multitude of shows going back to Cheers and probably father was it. We had this great actor Christopher Welch who was in out first season.

Welcome to the Peter Gregory Foundation’s fourth annual orgy of caring. The first three were. Fine.

He was a great great actor a great man. You just figure it out. I don’t like talking about this particularly because I’m very fond of T.J. But the fact is is that you just adapt and I have to say it’s much easier in this day and age. We did. Eight episodes 10 10 10 and then eight episodes. OK this is like I mean on king of the hill we did 24 episodes a season. Okay. You get a monkey wrench there with limited resources. The truth is. With HBO and doing eight episodes that season you just do what you need to do. It’s sort of it’s just the job. I know that sounds vague but basically things happen like oh we just lost our building and we’re doing Die Hard. Well what are you going to do you know you just. Adapt and figure out well what matters what doesn’t matter. What were the strengths of this situation and how how best to do it.

Like the rag tag team that makes up Pied Piper on Silicon Valley. Mr. Altschuler gets by a little help from his friends namely co-writer Dave Krinsky and the man who gave us office space. King of the Hill. And not to mention Beavis and Butthead Mike Judge unfortunately Like pied piper sometimes the logistics of working together can get a little complicated.

Dave and I are writing partners so there’s not really a division per say. It’s a little a weird thing is that like Dave and I are traditional partners but even within that I do some things by myself. Mike does some things by himself like he did this animated thing for Cinemax about touring bands. He just did that himself. And then we’ll come together and it’s an interesting thing is that it’s kind of sad to me in a way is that Dave and I have to be very careful when we work with Mike. Mike is one of my better friends and he’s immensely talented. But what happens is that when Dave and I do things with Mike. It’s all about Mike Judge. So this was actually quite a problem with Silicon Valley because you come up with a show you write and HBO made it very clear. This is Mike Judge and it’s not his fault. But it’s interesting because he was on Howard Stern and three times he tried to bring me up and how the show. Howard Stern didn’t want to hear it. He wanted to hear about Mike Judge. And so what we do is like I’ll write something or Dave and I will write something and like for example Mike Judge wants to direct city of Bell. And what we’ve found is that that’s the best way for us to operate because that way he can come in when it’s established at some level and it doesn’t just become I mean I still remember and you know it’s not a problem but we turn in the script for Silicon Valley and it comes back untitled Mike Judge project and you’re like what OK. But the fact is is that it’s not like he ain’t doing the job on the show and it’s not like he wasn’t you know immensely I mean he’s had to work more on Silicon Valley than Dave and I. So the dividing the you know we helped Mike with just about everything that he does he helps us. But we have to kind of keep some things separate like Dave and I did Blades of Glory. We did that separately because otherwise we’re just seen as an adjunct to Mike and it sucks because we all just love working together. But he understands that as well you know because it’s awkward for him because he’s a great guy. So he doesn’t like taking credit for things that you know or taking too much credit.

Mr. Altschuler’s ability to turn aggravation into art eventually brought him to a new project he’s currently developing based on the remarkably crooked politicians in the city of Bell California.

It comes to me you know it finds me you know it’s like I don’t have to go like There’s a project that we’re I think well. Have you ever heard of the city of Bell City of Bell is the most corrupt poorest city in California with a city manager who’s paying himself eight hundred thousand a year. I was so mad about the way that the local governments are in California with all these people four hundred thousand there. It’s another thing I hated this guy so but I loved him because if you check into the you know this guy Rizzo and all these people they didn’t have a chance. They are the truly disenfranchised. They were ugly they were dumb they had no connections and they figured it out. They cracked the code you know. And so basically I was like well that’s a series. So it started off with me just going god you know these people piss me off but usually not always the things that pissed me off. It just sort of wakes me up and I go whoa whoa what’s going going on here. And I have written things that don’t piss me off. There’s one project that you know it’s something that you guys probably should. I was gonna talk about a little bit is the business has changed so dramatically. Like I had a project which was a Napoleonic war comedy. And here’s the thing. And everybody told me not to write a Napoleonic war comedy sat down and wrote a Napoleonic war comedy and we had Johnny Depp everybody in the world wanted to be this character. Well we had the money we had Steve Carell wanted it. We had Jay Roach to direct it. And Steve Carell didn’t want to go to Europe. It was well within two years the world changed and the 53 million dollars went to 35 million went to 28 million. So now what I’ve done is I’ve redeveloped it as a it’s now the continuing adventures of Brigadier Gerard as a 10 episode series like Sherlock that Bay Area terrorist project started out as a movie. Can’t make movies anymore. So I’ve converted them into these sort of limited series which I like but I also I love movies. So it’s kind of like I want it to circle back because not every idea is worthy of dragging out for twelve hours.

So this might not be shocking news but TV has changed a lot over the last 10 years thanks in no small part to Netflix Hulu and Amazon Prime. And just like TV’s changed so it’s the process of selling television starting with the pitch.

It’s changed okay. It used to be that I would always have three ideas. And you’d sort of pitch and you knew they didn’t like one idea and then you sort of held back one. So we’d have three ideas that we would pitch. Now. I’m not sure how important pitching is anymore because now the executives. Want to see things. I mean it’s not that they don’t want you to pitch. I mean fortunately my agents and my manager like Dave and I and they like me is that I’m actually a good pitcher. You have if you said oh you know pitch me one of your stories. I can do it. I do it. Lively and engaging and I you know. But even though I’m good at it. I don’t like it I don’t like doing it because I’m not sure how it works anymore. So now I basically and this sounds vain but I say I don’t want to go in unless they’re already buying it now they don’t have to buy it but unless they’re buying it I’m kind of like well why do I go. So here’s the thing. You should always pitch when you’re starting out. Why do you pitch A. It helps you focus your stories because you start seeing when I hit a bump and I need to make these adjustments. Okay so it helps you tell the story which will help you write the story. You will also make connections with the people that you’re pitching to. And it may not sell then but they’ll move up the ladder. You will have known them. So it’s a good thing. So let’s just say that pitching does matter what I would say is you go in have your story and try to start off with a topic sentence or a personal story like I told you. This is how the city of Bell came to me. OK this is how Silicon Valley I’m reading this book. What the hell. OK. You try to grab them. Now here’s the thing. I do not like pitching. And then they and then they go here and it makes me want to die. OK. And you can see them kind of. OK. So what I like to do is to know everything but to try to make it a conversation like I sold the project to NBC called the deplorables. And this is the I’ll give you the quick pitch is that basically the whole show is about these people that are truly the most marginalized population in the country. Nobody likes them. Nobody wants them. And they’re deplorable but they are not Republicans. They’re not Democrats. They hate big government. They hate big business. They feel like they’re screwed by everybody. Okay. And then I started talking about well and I want to have a character who is from this area who moved to Atlanta his his parents moved away from this sort of feuding area to Atlanta. Because I want to do a reverse Green Acres. So I’m just having a conversation about what interests me and then they can say oh well what’d be a story of the show and the dad says he’s talking to the cousins. I’m worried about Byron that he’ll fit in. And they go well tell him to get his gun and we’ll take him hunting and everything’s going to be great. And Mike has to let him know he’s 11 years old. He doesn’t have a gun. Well is he a felon because that’s the only way that they can imagine a kid not having a gun. Well what ends up happening the kid blows his thumb off. But what they do and this is real is they take the toes from corpses and they put them on and they make. And so he becomes toe thumb and becomes cool in the new town. So I sort of start off with a big picture and then just kind of until it’s a personal story about a kid and his dad. Blowing his thumb off and replacing it with a toe.

John Altshuler is always finding his personal connection to material be it an animated propane and propane accessories salesmen or Silicon Valley’s ridiculous app not hot dog. But as a great man once said If you love something. Set it free.

It’s something that I was told and it is. Completely true is. Don’t hang on to anything. You just gotta let everything go because if it’s great it’ll get back in. Okay but you’ve just gotta be able to throw everything away knowing that you’ll be able to come up with something better and you learn that. Through years of hard knocks. I mean it’s hard I mean and I still do it. I mean there’s something that you love with City of Bell. There’s this aspect. That. I love and I’m going. You know what. It’s just getting in the way. I know better. You just just let it go. Throw it out. And if it’s great it will drift back in.

If being pissed off inspires him then let’s hope he is never happy. Fortunately we are incredibly happy and thankful that John Altschuler spent time with our students and of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see or other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden Our Creative Director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

That boy ain’t right.

Hi, I’m Peter Rainer I’m a film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR master faculty of the New York Film Academy and author of Rainer on film. Today I’m going to be doing a podcast. The theme of which is the many great film luminaries that we’ve lost over the last many months. Each in their own way represents a bit of film history and have made major contributions to the art of filmmaking. It’s quite a long and sad but also rejoicing list of people and accomplishments that if you aren’t already aware of who these. Filmmakers and actors are then I hope this inspires you to search out their films.

Let’s start with Bernardo Bertolucci Bertolucci was an Italian film director who was most noted for a number of movies including The Conformist Last Tango in Paris. 1900 and The Last Emperor which won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director Bertolucci was a prodigy. One of the most astonishing movie prodigies in the history of film. He directed his first feature when he was 21 called La Commare Secca. That film was not altogether successful but it was certainly prodigious. You could see that there was a born filmmaker at work at the time in the late 60s. The primary influence on so-called art cinema was of the French New Wave. But Bertolucci was influenced I think more so than the others not only by the French New Wave but by Hollywood the conformist was his first major international success. And it was absolutely extraordinary and in some ways it’s his greatest film and his most beautifully directed.

That led to. Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando.

I don’t want to know your name. You don’t have a name and I don’t have a name either no name here.

It remains a towering achievement especially in Brando’s performance. It’s probably the greatest performance. I think that’s ever been put on film Bertolucci followed Last Tango with 1900 which was a truly bizarre movie that had some incredible incredible sequences in it.

Remember when no one believed you could see the city up here. But we managed to see it from here. How close it seemed. Did you manage to see the whole war from here too.

Last Emperor which was his big epic about the last emperor of China that won nine Academy Awards including best picture.

What are you standing there for. You always wanted to leave the Forbidden City. Now you’ve got an hour to pack so go.

It was sort of Bertolucci going Hollywood to some extent but in the way of an artist the important thing to recognize about Bertolucci is that you could watch his films in a state of almost pure rapture. There are all sorts of things that you have to put into a movie besides how a movie looks. You need to do more than just know how to work the camera. But if it all comes together as it did in the best of Bertolucci then there’s really nothing quite like it. He was certainly one of the leading lights of the post-war film generation.

The next director. I’d like to talk about is Stanley Donen who passed away in February of this year. Now he’s not a name that most might know offhand but I’m sure you know some of his movies specifically Singin’ In The Rain which is often called the greatest musical ever made. But starting at the beginning Stanley Donen was originally a dancer. He was in the Broadway production of Pal Joey. That Gene Kelly starred in and Kelly and Donen sort of hit it off to the benefit of all of us. It was one of those things but Donen was somebody who again like Bertolucci was was something of a prodigy. He was in his mid 20s when he directed his first feature which was on the town. That movie really opened up the notion that you could do these big Hollywood musicals and not have them all be on soundstages. The opening sequence where the three guys are bustling around the city is obviously really shot in New York.

What Donen did subsequently was while he brought more realism into the actual locations he also used a lot of more you know movie tricks and things that that didn’t exist before. In general the musical in Hollywood was a genre where you had a lot of stuff going on with the performers and then they would go on stage to do their thing or they would break out into song but there was always sort of a demarcation between the non musical sequences that we were seeing and the musical sequences which were set up to be highly theatrical. But with Donen it was a bit different. He in collaboration with Gene Kelly directed some of the best musicals ever made in this country. As I understand it Kelly did the choreography and Donen did everything else and the marvelous fluidity of the camerawork and the way that he shot the dancing was extraordinary. Donen grew up as a boy marveling at Fred Astaire. So it was wonderful when he finally got to work with Astaire in funny face which he directed in 1957.

Or the movie royal wedding which has that famous scene with Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and the ceilings of that state room.

That’s an example where Donen was able to sort of use the medium of cinema to film musical sequences that you couldn’t duplicate if you were just in an audience watching a stage show. So even though his his background is very much in theater he was one of the film directors who was able to make things much more filmic and that’s had a great influence on on many films of all kinds. Ever since.

Singin’ In The Rain is a film about the transition from silent pictures to Talking Pictures. It’s just a flat out joy from beginning to end and of course it has. The singing in the rain number which you’ve probably seen has Gene Kelly singing in the rain.

The screenwriter Beau Goldman was once asked what’s the greatest scripted scene you’ve ever seen in a movie. And he said it’s the Singin’ In The Rain number from Singin’ In The Rain which is wordless unless you count the song that the Gene Kelly sings. But Goldman’s point was that you don’t have to have a lot of words to have a great scene. But that was not the only high point in Donen’s early career as a musical director. He also did a very interesting picture also with Gene Kelly called It’s Always Fair Weather. It’s a sort of a post-war downbeat musical when musicals began to go on the wane. He moved on to straight films like Charade which was 1963. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. This is a marvelous marvelous spy thriller comedy romance and it’s often called the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Alfred Hitchcock never directed. He lived in England for a time and directed some very interesting films there. He was a big fan of the British comedians who were rampant then and he directed an interesting comedy called Bedazzled in 1967. He also did a film in 69 that very few people have seen called staircase that had Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as a gay couple which was highly unusual back in the day. There was nothing explicit about it but it was definitely a gay couple and both performances were extraordinary in the 70s. Donen came back with a wonderful comedy called Movie Movie it was sort of a tribute to old Hollywood and it was wonderful return to form even though it wasn’t entirely commercially successful. What we have to remember about Stanley Donen was that he was more than any other filmmaker in Hollywood responsible for creating musicals that had a real cinematic core to them. He really used film in ways that were extraordinarily creative just completely out of the realm of what directors were doing at that time in the musical. He changed the entire landscape of what a movie musical could be. And he did it in a way that was so joyous and so much a tribute to the dancing in these films also the way that he not only featured the dancers but film them to their best advantage is a lasting legacy for him and his films and will always give us great joy.

Moving on now to Bebe Anderson. Bebe Anderson was a great Swedish actress who is known primarily for her work with Ingmar Bergman. She was very much central to that Bergman universe of great actresses that he used as essentially almost a repertory company. He was absolutely extraordinary with actresses and usually the best work of these actresses was with Bergman. Bebe Anderson started out in the early 50s the first time she worked with Bergman was in 1951. He was directing a detergent commercial for television and she was in the commercial. But she really arrived on the scene in two major Bergman movies both made in the same year 1957. Wild strawberries and Seventh Seal Seventh Seal is most well-known I guess to most of you all for the scene where Max von Sydow plays chess with death.

And Bibi Anderson has a role in that as the wife of a peasant in Wild Strawberries Bebe Anderson plays two roles one is kind of a hitchhiker and then in the flashback scenes she plays the cousin of the doctor and she’s marvelous in both roles but the film that she is most known for was persona 1966.

It’s a very powerful and famous film. And Bebe Anderson was quoted as saying at the time that she read the script for the movie and she didn’t really want to play the role because it was the role of someone who was very insecure and scared and vulnerable. That’s not the sort of character that she wanted to be playing in the movies. But she also said well that’s sort of who I am in real life. And so Bergman picked up on that and that’s what he used in creating this role and in directing her and putting her on film. She said to be a great director you also to some extent have to be a great psychiatrist and certainly Bergman was a great master at that but he would only have been a master if he was working with Master actors. So persona is the standout performance in Bebe Anderson’s long career. She was in maybe Robert Altman’s Worst movie a film called quintet. I mean it’s sort of flabbergastingly awful in ways that only a great director could do. But there is a sequence in it where Bebe Anderson has a monologue that’s quite extraordinary. So the the moral there is you can be pretty amazing in a terrible movie even if the movie that surrounds you is awful. You have a chance to shine anyway if you have the material at least in the moment to do it. Bebe Anderson was also directed by Bergman in a number of stage productions. People forget that Bergman’s career as a stage director was was in many ways as voluminous as his film career. I have no. Problem imagining Anderson being as great on stage as on film. But I think she had a natural quality in film that was radiant and she took to the camera like very few other actresses.

Moving on now to Agnès Varda. She was a real Pathfinder in the history of women directors in cinema and is only being recognized in full now because of partly her longevity I mean she she died fairly recently at the age of 90 and had received an honorary Oscar. And she also was nominated for a documentary that she did. I believe the oldest director to ever be nominated for an Oscar. But aside from all that her beginnings are quite interesting she started out as a photographer. She really was able to incorporate the integrity of the image into her film directing in a way that was quite integral to who she was as an artist. She is often called the godmother or the mother of the French New Wave which was a great efflorescence of cinema that started in France in the late 50s. Her first film was called La Pointe Courte. It was kind of in the neo realist vein of Visconti and Antonioni and directors like that. But her first feature was barely seen and not commercial in any way so it was some time before she did her next picture like six years Cleo From 5 to 7 it was called it was an amazing movie that really sort of put Varda on the map. Even then they didn’t always take her seriously. Her first feature was reviewed in The New York Times and it said the only thing worth noting about this movie is that it was made by this 25 year old girl but Varda’s career over time was unlike any other director. She was never really a part of the French New Wave in any real aesthetic way. She was part of what was instead called the Left Bank movement the Left Bank movement was sort of much more experimental and intellectual than the French New Wave. Her films are much more haphazard and handmade and I think that came from her photography background as well. She tended to see things in very particular ways. You know she she sort things out she saw film and film imagery as almost artifacts of experience in the late 50s. She married the great French director Jacques Demy he directed Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the success of that film brought to him and Varda to Hollywood. She loved Los Angeles and she had a connection to the city for the rest of her life. And she did a number of documentaries while she was here. She became involved with some of the Warhol people who were on the West Coast. She also was involved with the Black Panthers and Eldridge Cleaver and Dennis Hopper. You know she was part of that whole world but her films were influenced much more by the history of photography than by the history of film. That’s because of where she came from and what she came out of. She loved location shooting. She was one of those directors who the act of filming itself was part of the aesthetic process. She wasn’t bound by the kinds of rigidities that come with you know strict shooting schedules and so forth. Her most powerful movies are her documentaries or films that draw heavily on the documentary experience because that points to her intense fascination with the real and with discovering film and people in the process of training a camera on them of filming them of trying to somehow create something that didn’t exist before. People think that documentaries are quote objective right. That you just show something but the personality the core of the person who’s making these movies is not germane to the film itself. That’s not true. All of the great documentary filmmakers are able to convey what’s happening in front of your eyes in front of their cameras. But in ways that are very very intimate to who they are. But the best of them I think are not coercive and so you have you know the great documentarians who really show you the richness of experience in ways that dramatic films cannot always convey and I think the best of Varda’s documentaries do this as well. As time goes on. And her films become more accessible to a larger audience. They will find that they’re not at all intimidating or quote arty but are really human. Varda lived a long and fruitful life and did it her way which is not what you can say for every film director. She’s now been adopted as a beacon for others to do likewise.

So now we’re moving on to John Singleton. John Singleton was to this day the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Oscar for best director. He was 23 when he filmed Boyz N The Hood. His first feature 24 I believe when he was nominated which was a good year earlier than Orson Welles for Citizen Kane. John Singleton came out of South Central Los Angeles and had a great love of film instilled in him as a film student at USC. He submitted a script for admission that became the germ for Boyz N The Hood which was a very personal movie about the racial strife and violence in South Central. He had a very dedicated idea of what he wanted to be as a filmmaker from a very early age which isn’t always the case. A lot of fine directors find their way into film through other avenues but Singleton was single minded in wanting to be a film maker from early on Boyz N The Hood was a film that he felt he just simply had to get made and made by himself. Columbia Pictures I believe had offered to buy his screenplay but it was not really interested and have him directed. And he as young as he was and as ambitious as he was said thanks but no thanks. And so he was allowed to direct the film. And he stated in interviews that he kind of was learning on the job and because the film was shot in sequence. He felt that the film actually gets better as it goes along because he’s learning more about how to direct as he’s making the movie. It’s pretty strong all the way through it gets more dramatic towards the end but a really signal aspect of this movie is that when you watch it you see that as young as he is. This is a film that Singleton really really wanted to get made. What comes through is that deep deep commitment to the story which can often transcend many other things in a film. So he was creating his own way and his subsequent career he did a film called Higher Learning baby boy. He did a remake of Shaft in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson. He also did a movie that was powerfully received called Rosewood in 1997 which is about a little known racist attack in Florida in 1923. He expressed some disdain and disappointment for where things were going in Hollywood and the opportunities available to him as a director in an increasingly commercialized industry. So he also produced a number of movies that he didn’t direct. Hustle and Flow did television episodes for shows like Empire and American Crime Story. He was an influence along with Spike Lee and Carl Franklin and several other directors on the youngest newest black filmmakers. Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins took from John Singleton his desire to make films his way he once was quoted as saying about Boyz N The Hood that he had to direct it because no one was going to make the film I wanted to make except me. And so he made it happen. I had occasion to hear him speak several months ago at the academy Theatre in Beverly Hills and he spoke so reverently of what it was like to be in film school and not simply to learn how to make movies but to learn why you make movies. Ultimately you’re in the film business the art of film because you want to tell a story and you want to tell it in a way that matters to people that makes a connection to people. So it’s important to see a lot of the great films that have been made in the past not just because you can talk about movies at parties and impress your friends but as a real central inspiration to what you do for yourself not not to copy other people’s stuff but to see what’s been done and Singleton was saying that evening that as successful as he was he would sometimes call over to the film school and ask what films they were showing to their students because if he had time he would maybe just sit in and watch these films. I was quite moved by that because great movies can not only enhance your life they can change your life and they can also do so much for you as a filmmaker. It’s important to recognize that John Singleton who was first and foremost a film director and writer throughout his career starting at the very beginning wanted to expose himself to these great movies because those are his legacy as his films will be a legacy to any director who has a passion to put his or her story on the screen and to know that if you struggle hard enough there’s a good chance that you can do it.

Doris Day in the late 40s and 50s was a major star in the recording world. Before she ever came a movie actress with Les Brown’s band and many others she was able to captivate audiences with her singing which was not altogether bubbly cheery but had a certain melancholy or worldliness. She was never quite the chipper virginal type that she was characterized as she was a natural in the movies. She had a kind of effervescence. She did a lot of musicals and singing in her early films romance on the high seas etc. And she was very successful at that. But she was in a way a kind of antidote to some of the noir aspects of film that were predominant in the post-war era. There were a lot of slinky vamps and ladies of mystery Who were the counterpart to the very straight laced suburban mom types and the girlfriends and the chipper girl next doors and so forth that were also prevalent in the 50s. So there was a kind of yin and yang in the way Hollywood depicted women. And then here comes Doris Day who was kind of the antithesis in many ways certainly of the vamp character but also to some extent with the totally wholesome girl next door type. She managed to find a way to be herself and yet be sort of iconic as someone that people look to in the movies for good clean fun. She was an adept actress who didn’t stray very far from the kinds of roles that people associate her with particularly her comedies with Rock Hudson. But there were exceptions. She played Ruth Etting in a terrific movie. Love me or leave me where she was a gangster’s moll opposite Jimmy Cagney.

Don’t spoil this picture. It’s the first thing I’ve cared about since New York and I don’t want to lose it. I have to work. Do you understand. I’ve got to it’s all I’ve got.

Shut up you’re gonna work who said different.

She was in a film with Rex Harrison called Midnight lace which was a rather strong dramatic performance in a rather dark movie.

He said he was going to kill me before the month is out.

You got one of the less romantic ones.

Peggy he means it.

They always sound as if they mean it pet.

But I’m scared.

And there were a number of examples of that but I don’t think that that’s particularly what people wanted from Doris Day and it’s probably not in the end what would make her iconic. Doris Day had a marvelous voice in the Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much she sings case Sera Sera which became her theme song in a sense.

She knew how to put a number across. Doris Day often said when asked you know why do people like you so much. You know what is your appeal and she said it’s because when I sing I really mean what I’m singing. And that’s just as important for the kind of movies that she made for the most part as it is for something that would be much darker. And that’s why I think she was so popular during the 50s and 60s at a certain point the kind of image that she projected went out of style in the late 60s and 70s for all of her. Brightness and happy chipperiness as a performer. She had a rather harrowing life with four bad marriages and all sorts of other things. And one of the things that happened was that most of her money was spent by her third husband Marty Melcher and so she did the Doris Day show for television which she really wasn’t crazy about doing but she needed to get her money back. So she did the show was successful but after that in the 70s she she decided that she really didn’t want to do anything anymore. She did say some years later she was tired of doing nothing that she wanted to come back and look out for what I’m going to do I want to be better than ever. But it never happened. She never did come back. It’s a shame in a way that she didn’t work more in the last two or three decades of her career. Not everybody can do what Doris Day did but the career of Doris Day is is a tribute to what you can do as a performer if you really know what you’re best at and you can put a persona across as surely as you can put across a song. And she certainly could do that said.

Just in closing a quick note on Tim Conway who passed away as of this taping last night Tim Conway was almost exclusively a television star with the Carol Burnett Show for many years. He had his own show for a while and he had all sorts of guest appearances on people’s shows throughout the years. He won an Emmy for his appearance on 30 Rock but for those of you who have never heard of him or seen him Tim Conway was known for cracking up. Harvey Korman in their comedy routines they often didn’t rehearse in advance. Korman had no idea what was coming and Conway loved to crack him up. Carol Burnett said he lived for that and you can just see in all of these sketches Corman trying to hold it in sometimes literally and just it’s not happening. There are so many wonderful characters that Conway played the old man on the Carol Burnett Show those wonderful sketches where he’s this exasperated boss with a bad toupee and a large mustache and and an accent that he said was sort of based on his mother’s Romanian accent.

Now like I told you I have this real important meeting with the Mr. Phillips.

Oh yeah he’ll be here at noon.

Oh thank you for that news flash. You have any news on the Hindenburg.

He started out even in the Army apparently he was sort of a cut up. He did radio and then he worked his way into television. But he was such a versatile and funny actor that if you were a sketch comic or you had a show like Carol Burnett’s where you had to turn out so many of these sketches so often he was your sort of all purpose infielder. He could do just about anything. And his sense of timing was as extraordinary as anybody’s. One of the great things now about film and about television is that all of this stuff still exists. You can call up so much from the past on computers and so forth. It’s really wonderful that this stuff still exists for people to enjoy forever and ever. It used to be cliche that they’re gone but their work lives on. But it really is true much more so than it ever has been. And I think that for an actor like Tim Conway it’s a very rare gift to be able to make people laugh in that way to have given such great pleasure to audiences over the years and to have that as a legacy. Especially with so-called clean comedy. I mean there was very little that was off color or anything about what Conway did. He was sort of more in that homespun comedy that was accessible to everybody and just as funny now as it ever was. Rest in Peace Tim Conway.

This is Peter Rainer film critic for The Christian Science Monitor and NPR. And on the faculty for the New York Film Academy author of Rainer on film. Thanks for listening. And until next time.

Hey guys just wanted to let you know that today our guest is speaking about some sensitive subjects.

They’re important subjects but still listener discretion is advised. Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode we bring you a writer who’s collaborated with two of the most powerful women in Hollywood. Wonder Woman.

And Shonda Rhimes.

Writer. Allan Heinberg.

If what you’re concerned with is your name being out there and what people are saying about you and doing you’re not gonna get any work done you’re just not. So by giving up the dream of what. Traditional success looks like I got my name on Wonder Woman.

His TV writing credits spanned from the feels of Party Of Five to the fashionable life of Carrie on Sex and the city.

And the bro-ness of the O.C. to Shondaland on Grey’s Anatomy Scandal and the catch and it all can be traced back to the musical tale of a sad orphan who innocently asked.

Please sir may I have some more.

I started as a singer and as an actor. And I really wanted to express you know and I was gay but I didn’t know it in Tulsa Oklahoma which basically tells you everything. So I had a lot I couldn’t express and a lot I couldn’t be. And I wanted to. And in 1970 Well I don’t even know when it was. I saw the movie Oliver which is a musical based on Oliver Twist and I saw kids my age singing and dancing and acting and expressing and I was like I want to do that. I want to do what they’re doing. And then Annie happened on Broadway and I was like first of all. Andrea McArdle is amazing even as like a six year old seven year old. I was like She’s amazing. So I wanted to do that. And so I started singing professionally really early and. A lot of it was about I want to be on Broadway and I think some of it was like Look at me look at me. But a lot of it was I want to be with other people who like this stuff and don’t think I’m a freak and call me a fag like I want to go where my people are. I loved Broadway I loved the movies I loved TV and so like in Tulsa Oklahoma the only thing I had was the New York Times Arts and Leisure section on Sunday. Once I was old enough to subscribe so like a lot of my focus was like I want to get there even at Yale I wasn’t present. I wanted to skip university and go straight to New York and be on Broadway and write Broadway shows and write movies and stuff. I wanted to get there.

He was really anxious to get his career started.

Yeah yeah. And he was like at Yale which pretty pretty good school you know and he was like No I gotta get to Broadway.

I love the fact how he knew when he was young what he wanted.

It’s like he saw them from afar.


You know Oklahoma as you know.

As I know I’m from Oklahoma I did the same thing. What are these people doing. They’re making noises and running around Oh I like that. You know you see that as a young child and you know that that’s your tribe. Of course you’re going to run to it. Hearing him talk about how that just kind of opened him up to express himself and really delve deep into why do I like this. And this really allowed him to find himself I think is so beautiful.

During this whole time though in the back of his mind had this one character and that character of course was Wonder Woman.

I cannot stand by while innocent lives are lost. It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it’s what I’m going to go.

It’s such a weird story. I think it was a cartoon called Super Friends when I was 7 years old I think because that was before the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series that took place in 70. I think it started in 76. So I got exposed to the character really early on and fell madly in love with her and was obsessed with her comics for a long time. And then flash forward after I graduated from college and moved to New York. I’d written a play about her my first produced play off Broadway was about Wonder Woman and that play got me out to L.A. and to writing TV and eventually writing movies and then I ended up writing the comic book because DC knew that she was my favorite character and when they relaunched Wonder Woman in 2005 Dan DiDio who’s the publisher offered that book to me and I couldn’t say no. Even though I was really busy doing Grey’s Anatomy and then when I left Grey’s a couple of years had gone by and I asked Peter Roth who who runs the place if Geoff Johns and I redeveloped Wonder Woman as a TV series and we did and it was an odd process because they were really in the Smallville mindset. They didn’t really want the uniform it was grounded was the term. And so basically she was just a super cop. We started it as a kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a mythological creature she’s fighting mythological creatures. They didn’t want that they wanted her fighting crime so then it became sort of a police procedural it was a rough fit because they didn’t want Themyscira. They didn’t want any of the stuff that ended up. It’s such an irony. So the CW basically just killed it after reading one draft they didn’t even give notes. They’re just like No Themyscira no. And I was wounded and sad and then I went back to Shondaland land I did three seasons on scandal and then wonder woman who was being developed as a movie at that point. So my buddy Geoff who who is chief creative officer of DC Comics is very involved in the movies and this was two years ago and I’m a TV writer and usually there’s like a big wall between TV writers and movie writers and like there are some very skilled and talented and highly accomplished screenwriters in town and some of them are very famous and some of them are very famous for doing great work but not getting their names on scripts because you know these movies have like 15 19 writers on them sometimes but it’s usually the same people that get these jobs over and over and over again and it’s a big risk for them to go to somebody like me and say hey you know Allan who’s never written a script since we were at Yale together and I wrote one for my senior thesis. Would you like to write a huge blockbuster tentpole movie. They don’t do that. So I’ve just been quietly supportive of Geoff for these past few years as he’s worked with his people. Then he called and said we’ve hit a wall. This was after about a year of development and Zack Snyder really wants to sort of like go back to the beginning with the character and the fundamentals and he wanted to get his team together with Geoff’s team and like really talk about core character concepts and Geoff very graciously said there’s only one person I want on my team and that’s Allan. So Zack was like Cool. Ask him what he wants from Tender Greens and then see what time he can get here. And so I ordered the chicken. There was a chicken kale salad in case you were interested on the side. No potatoes. It was good. And I get to Zach’s and it’s like me and Geoff and Zach and his assistant Trevor who’s awesome and his team and they’re very intimidating and there are a lot of them and they are very cool and they have tattooed sleeves and they’ve got suspenders and it was very Mumford and Sons there’s sideburns happening and I’m feeling like Hollywood. This is Hollywood and we’re eating Tender Greens but whatever. So we sit down and he starts pitching me where they are with the movie and it’s he’s pitching me. He’s saying Dude here’s where we are. And I said Well here’s the thing. The story that you’re pitching me is very much like her story in Batman versus Superman. She has a brief arc but she has an arc and it feels like you’re telling the same story twice. I said there’s really only one essential Wonder Woman story. And then it gets harder to tell stories about her after you’ve told that story. And that’s the origin story and it’s a fish out of water story and I referenced splash. Mostly I said the problem with Wonder Woman as I have discovered trying to develop her was that she didn’t have an origin myth that was primarily emotional and relatable. People get scared by the gods. They get scared by the Amazons there are a lot of Greek names. There’s a lot. And Batman it’s super easy his parents get murdered and he wants revenge. Super easy and Superman is the ultimate immigrant story. You know he loses his parents and his planet and he goes to his adopted planet and is just trying to be loved by being a good boy. And we can all relate and with Wonder Woman It’s like she’s made of clay and oh god it’s just stops there. So I said to Zach and I later got in trouble for it on the Internet for talking about this. But what I said Is Zach is to me it’s the little mermaid. It’s a really emotional story about a young woman who’s grown up in this very closed world something a lot of us can relate to wanting to go out on her own and try to be herself and a good person and make her mom proud. And you’ve got to a parent like King Triton who really knows how bad the world is and knows that he’s offering his daughter up to a world that does not deserve her. So I tell this story to Zach and I didn’t expect Zach to respond necessarily but I was there to eat my chicken and say my peace and go and then we walk out to the parking lot after about two and half hours three hours and Zach is like so what are you doing tomorrow. Do you think you could be here by 7:15. And I was like for what exactly. And he’s like Dude we’re gonna do your movie. And I was like What. And he was like yeah let’s do that we should do that. Like I’ll get whiteboards. It’ll be you and me and Geoff and we’ll just like rework the movie from scratch. So I was like OK OK OK I’ll do it. Yeah OK.

Can you imagine being a TV writer and the one character that you’ve loved your entire life you then out of the blue basically get asked to write her origin story feature film. It’s going to premiere everywhere your entire life. You loved her.

Yeah I think he willed into existence.

Oh yeah.

Especially because I had false starts like there was a TV show that didn’t happen. And they’ve tried to do other Wonder Woman TV shows that also flopped. This has been like a curse with this character.


They’ve been trying for so long to get this thing a reboot and it was almost like he was just waiting.

Yeah without knowing that that’s what he was waiting for.

Right. Right right right. Just being a friend you know.

I need to make sure I make some good friends.

Yeah I was about to say. And then also to like he was ready.


Because he knew the character he knew the world.

Yeah. But he was only one little problem with all of this. He was already employed.

By Shonda Rhimes.

He already had a contract.

With like the greatest TV producer there is.

So you get offered this incredible deal but you got to go to the boss.

One dream getting in the way of another.

We broke the movie in what I want to say is three days I had to write something for him to pitch to the studio that Monday. So it was like Wednesday Thursday Friday. Write write write. Saturday Sunday. Zach pitches Monday they greenlight this movie that we’ve just rebroken over three days. He says dude now you have to write the treatment. I’m like I’m full time on Scandal dude. I can’t. So he’s like you can do it. I know you can do it. And Zach is awesome. Like when he looks at you with his surfery eyes and like his tattoos and he tells you you can do it no one talks to me that way with. OK. Zach thinks I can do it I can do it. So I write this treatment in a week and it’s you know it’s a lot of words on a page. And then Zach is like cool that got approved you’re writing the script. And I said No no because they needed it in no time. The movie had a release date like we’re now up against it like Michelle MacLaren is scouting locations. That’s who was directing the movie at that time like it’s happening and I know myself and I wasn’t gonna put myself in a position where I could fail at the outset. So I said no. And he was like Do you want me to call Shonda Rhimes. And I said No please don’t do that. I’ll talk to her. Why don’t I talk to Shonda. And we’ll just see what happens. Knowing Shonda’s like fuck no. So I call her assistant and I’m like hey does she have five minutes in the morning and like she’s in my office like that. And she’s like Are you quitting. I was like No you I want to hear two more years on my deal with you you own me. However something has come up and she’s an extraordinary woman like we could do hours on how extraordinary Shonda is. Shonda said well you have to do it. It’s Wonder Woman You have to. And she made it possible. I went down to three days a week like no show runner in town would have said this except Shonda Rhimes. And so the movie was made and it and it was that movie. So Zach was true to his word. Well thank you. Listen I mean you saw it. It’s a relationship movie. It has some fighting in it and stuff but it’s about these two people. Like Zach is a hero to me for championing this vision of this movie. And then when we lost Michelle who wanted to make a different movie Patty Jenkins got involved and really embraced it and took it to the next level and I mean she’s just an incredible human and collaborator. And you know Zach and Debbie Snyder gave all notes along the way. It really was this incredible group effort.

You know it’s interesting the history of Hollywood is written by so many examples of like people who cannot get out of their contract for like the role they dreamt of. But Shonda Rhimes I mean.

The fact that she and she must have known also his history with Wonder Woman. Don’t you think the way he even poses that of how she it. Wonder Woman go.


I think it said it goes to show that you know sometimes you can have this idea of being scared to ask those questions and sounds like he was a little timid to ask her.

Especially her like.

Her. Exactly.

The Wonder Woman of TV.

And the fact that he went there he asked her and she was so understanding that I mean that says a lot about her. But good for him to have that courage to take it on his own and ask.

Right. And I think being around people like Shonda Rhimes or Amy Sherman Paladino who was the showrunner on Gilmore Girls they also taught him like no you stick your guns. That’s how you’re going to get the best script.

I did not get fired although I did try to quit 16 times and they just wouldn’t let me. It’s something I guess I learned it from Amy Sherman Paladino because she created Gilmore Girls and she has a very specific vision and whenever Warner Brothers would push back she’d say OK then I’m just I just won’t do the show because I don’t know I don’t know how to do it that way so I’m going to go and they would go no Amy stop. So that’s what I would end up doing is go like that is a totally valid way to go. I don’t know how to do that. So I’m going to go and they’re like wait wait wait wait stop. Okay we’ll do it your way. That has been the big discovery of my time as a professional writer. It has taken me a while to figure it out and I think I knew it intuitively but I didn’t understand it. I wish I’d understood it sooner and maybe you can relate to this because I think it applies to whatever it is you do. But the job especially writing TV and film the job is to serve like you are here to serve and you’re not here to be walked on. You know whenever they would push back in a way that I couldn’t do I would say I bow out like I’m here to serve the character I’m here to serve the studio I’m here to serve Patty Jenkins and Gal. But like if I’m not able to do what you need me to do. It’s not about me. I’m gonna go. I’m going to leave. And you guys can go on your way. But while I work for Patty Jenkins while I work for Shonda Rhimes or ABC or Warner Brothers I’m here to serve them and the surrendering of ego and caring about what people say about me or think about me or my legacy when I’m gone like all that crap like unburdening myself of that has been the major discovery of my adult life. And it has just made it all much more fun. Do you know any mean like you guys know that any attachment to thinking about how others perceive you or you know how you’re doing in comparison to others what other people think it’s just my ego any suffering I’ve had in this business has been as a result of my ego.

Just letting go and not worrying about other people are thinking just staying true to yourself. I applaud him.

I think it’s funny too it’s like normally you would say someone threatening to walk out is like the height of.


Yeah. Like no I could not have it my way. I am gone. In his case though it was weirdly enough it’s like the total opposite. It wasn’t so much like fighting it and like being like No I have to be this I have to be this and he is like no I’m good.

Like he.

You want something else.

Exactly and he’s doing it for them. You know you want a certain thing. I don’t think I can deliver that. I want you to have what you want. So I’m going to bow out. It’s him being like No I want you to have what you want. I just can’t give it to you.

Go be well. Work with someone else work with one of the other dozen writers.


I’m good.

I’m good. Yeah. And the fact that they keep on. No no no wait no no come back.


They wouldn’t let him go.

And that’s where the script comes from. I mean when you when you see the film you can totally tell. That. He never lost sight of what made Wonder Woman so special to him as this kid growing up in Oklahoma.

It is that ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy. If you had these abilities how would you use them and how would you make a difference or try to. I love that it seems to appeal to the heroic instinct in people or at least that’s my interpretation of it because these are not I think with the exception of that will Smith movie Hancock these are movies about people who want to make a difference and help and in the end Handcock That’s his arc too. And so the impulse to go to them I think is a good one and a and an affirming one. Obviously superheroes had a huge effect on me as a 7 year old because now I’m 50 and I’m still obsessed with the same character. So I think if you get kids exposed to that early enough and they’re the right kid they can have a profound effect like you know fantasies play an enormous role these Star Wars movies especially when I was growing up. You know that had a profound effect on the psyches of all kinds of young people and informed you know sort of who they are. And and and what they believe in. Those are antifascist movies. I mean I’m sure there are fascists who disagree with me but I think when you are exposed to pop culture at an early age it has an absolutely powerful and transforming effect on who you are. And it’s emotional because when you’re so young you’re not jaded you’re not distanced you’re raw you’re you feel everything probably even as young as you guys are. You still feel everything much more directly and so I think they’re profoundly important. I really do. My only goal for Wonder Woman I said this to Patty one day when we were working was I want little boys straight and gay to leave the theater wanting to be Diana you know what I mean because on the playground when we would play superheroes in middle school or not middle school but grade school I would want to be Wonder Woman and you’re immediately a fag if you want to be Wonder Woman. And I just didn’t want another little boy to you know what I mean like that’s not only to avoid the shame of that but also like she’s pretty cool like you know the sort of gender thing not withstanding you should really want to read about her like they wouldn’t even make Wonder Woman Action Figures female action figures for decades because boys won’t buy them they will not buy them and girls don’t. There is no audience for for that with young women. They weren’t writing stories for young women involving superheroes for decades when I was growing up to get a Wonder Woman action figure was that was tough. I think we’ve come a long way. But yeah I think they’re pretty important.

I just wanted to talk about how lucky young girls are who are growing up right now that have all of this to inspire them. I mean he’s talking about it too about how when we were all younger you wouldn’t see those type of women in the movies or action figures and all that. I mean sure she was a comic but we weren’t exposed to that the way that young girls and boys are exposed to it now. And he’s right. We still have a way to go. Oh my goodness. The fact if I was a little girl and I had Wonder Woman to look at when I was younger. I probably would have done so much more or differently at least.

You’d be right now lifting a car to save someone.

I’d be ripped.

And what’s great too Wonder Woman Not only we’ll just say the best of the DC Universe movie so far. I think it’s fair to say.

I’m way OK with saying that.

With all due respect but then also even Justice League how much her character popped.


It was Wonder Woman who really was like the root of that thing and she is now the one that built that DC House in the way Iron Man has built it for the Marvel Universe.

It really opened up the doors for more powerful women to step through.

Wonder Woman made some money right. So that’s the most important thing people showed up for Wonder Woman and it got an enormous amount of wonderful press. Not universally wonderful but I really did not know if people would show up especially women. So we’ve sort of demonstrated that there is a market you know every once in a while a movie comes along to demonstrate that there is a market for this kind of thing. It is very difficult to make something like this a bullseye to hit because we weren’t trying to make a feminist movie. Our aim was just to tell her story as well as we could. So I think it would be a mistake to go past the observation of like oh there is a marketplace for movies like Wonder Woman or Bridesmaids or Sex And The City The Movie. But occasionally these movies come along that say you can make money by telling stories that are primarily emotional stories. I still think you have to get it right and it’s a little scary. So I don’t know. I know Marvel’s obviously doing Captain Marvel which I hope is great and I know there’s been interest in DC in sort of taking that Harley Quinn character and doing more with Harley Quinn. But I think people are gonna see a space like there’s a space that we can serve an audience we can serve. It’s just a matter of it’s not going to be a formula you can replicate I don’t think do you know what I mean. Even wonder woman 2. I was involved in early talks for Wonder Woman 2. And it’s not a magic trick you can do twice you really need to come up with a compelling and emotional story that can stand on its own.

So many of his ideas you know make it to this film. He’s one of the only credited writers to it. Unfortunately, you have all these other writers who also had their connection to wonder woman. Some of them even got hired to write treatments and scripts because in Hollywood you might pay 10 different people to in essence do the same job with only one of them actually having their work make it to the screen or at least have their names appear in the credits. Tough world out there.

Tough world out there. But knowing this character so well and her story so well he was able to shine.

Yeah it’s like he had the depth of his appreciation. He loves the character of Wonder Woman but he also understands why he loves the character of Wonder Woman.

Right. I think it’s funny how he was talking about how they didn’t set out to write a feminist movie yet. Look what they got. And I think that that’s the difference between Allan Heinberg and some some of these other writers. He loves the character sure and he can connect with it but he knows her as well as he probably knows his best friends here on Earth in 4D you know but it goes to show that you know all these other scripts could have been outstanding. But the thing that set his apart. Was how much he knows this character.

It just took. The producers and the studio hiring a lot of people before they found the right one.

I think in total there were twelve screenwriters involved in Wonder Woman each doing his or her own version privately and then you turn it into the studio and the producers and then they usually decide we like this we don’t like this we fire you we hire you but I never read anything anybody else ever does ever. It’s very private because that way it protects them and it protects you. There’s no stealing. I mean like I never had access to any of those documents. Now with some of the bigger superhero movie universes like Transformers like the Marvel universe maybe universal monsters there are things now called Writers rooms where they get a bunch of these screenwriters together for long periods of time like TV writers and they talk about the universe and all the different stories you could tell in that universe. And then usually they end up asking each screenwriter if they want to stay involved which one of these do you want to do at which point the writers all go off on their own. But writers rooms are becoming more and more commonplace. DC was going to do one and then we didn’t end up doing it for scheduling reasons I think but you sign a waiver and you get a nominal fee and you don’t own any of the material that you generate but you get first right of refusal to write one of these movies if you participate.

How fun would it be to be in a writer’s room that you’re just talking about all these different universes and you can come up with all these ideas and bouncing it back and forth.

Get in arguments about Bumblebee.

It’s crazy to think about how you just sit there and you put your all into it and it could stop there and then you’re stuck with all these questions of But I want to do this and this and this. But now you don’t own that material anymore.

It’s also if you go online you can find old versions of so many different screenplays you know ones that were sometimes drastically different as they went through different writers because then a different director comes on and they want their own writer or a different actor comes on.

Oh yeah.

And then they’re like Oh no no but my producing partner is going to do a rewrite. So it’s like it’s in some ways miraculous this stuff ever gets made when it goes through that many hands.

I kind of want to take. Wonder Woman and see all the scripts.


And have all made. And then watch them like one after another.

A billion dollars worth of Wonder Woman movies have been made. Well even the exorcist had exorcist the beginning which is like a prequel. And they shot it then they were so unhappy with it that they reshot the movie after it was already shot. Not not not not the script but the actual film. And then they go well this time we’ll double the budget. And we’ll keep we’ll fire every actor but one.

Oh wow.

Yeah and it didn’t work out for that version either. Luckily they had him.


And then they also had initially Michelle MacLaren to direct now. She directed Breaking Bad.


One of the great episodes of one of the greatest shows of all time also did. Game of Thrones a bunch other TV. She was ready to direct Wonder Woman. It was going to be her feature debut. Creative differences suddenly. She’s not on it anymore. Patty Jenkins steps in who directed the Charlize Theron film Monster which is incredible.

Oh my gosh. I didn’t know that.


I love monster.

And she was ready to rock. And luckily Patty Jenkins and Allan Heinberg got along swimmingly.

When Patty came on board the movie I’d only written the first half. She came on board at Page 60 because the way it was scheduled I had to turn in every 21 days I had to turn in another set of pages. I think it was four segments of 30 pages. So Michelle left the movie a page 60. Patty came on board the movie at page 60. So we were actually able to build the back half of the movie working very closely together off of that treatment I had written. So where there were places where Patty didn’t understand a scene or thought maybe we could go in this direction like we were on the phone or having meals together daily. We had a very close working relationship and then once that was done I went to London where they were prepping and we worked through the entire script together for a three week period and then when I left I didn’t get to see them because I was busy doing the catch but up until that point we were talking every day and emailing all day every day.

Must be crazy to work on a film with someone and become like family working so close every day. To then the show ends and you kinda got a little part of you missing but it sounds like they worked so closely together so they were able to share that same vision. That’s that’s pretty remarkable and that’s probably why it ended up being so awesome.

And she came in at page 60 during development like literally halfway through the development process of the script and just was able to jump in and that’s what they needed over at DC and Warner Brothers because they had their date and it’s like All right let’s find another director who can jump in ready to party and make this thing happen. And sometimes chemistry works. Sometimes you get just the right people together at the right time and out of that comes Wonder Woman which of course exceeded all their expectations. And I think also what helps Allan Heinberg’s own background. You know his view of women where he was not only like comfortable writing strong women but like in essence that to him was writing women.


He didn’t view it as like I have to write a woman who is this or this no. He worked with Shonda Rhimes he worked with Amy Sherman Paladino and even his own mother was an inspiration to him to make sure he really captured a strong female voice.

You might as well write what you know.

Luckily he knows the right people.

That’s all I do. That’s all I do. And again we have my mother probably to thank for that. She’s a very loud assertive presence. And you know it was the 70s and she was the sort of woman who would not tolerate sexism in any form. She went back to medical school at 30 after having sort of been talked out of it. You know earlier in her life and became a doctor summoning a strong woman’s voice has never been a problem for me perhaps romantically. Is that is a problem. I don’t know who can say but the other thing about this that I I did one interview where this hadn’t occurred to me but I will mention it like I’m a gay man and always have been. So I have never looked at a woman as a sexual object. I’ve never sexually desired or objectified a woman. And so it would never occur to me to write a woman from that point of view as a sexual object. And I’m very lucky in that every show I’ve ever worked on maybe it’s the symbiotic thing. It would only make sense to hire somebody like me because I write assertive women but I’ve never had to work on a show that didn’t have a really mouthy assertive female protagonist whose story it was you know and now I work for Shonda Rhimes and that’s all she does. I feel like I’ve been really lucky in that I don’t think I’ve written on any boy’s shows. So I’ve been really lucky. I have my mom’s voice in my head and and never having sexualized a woman in any way. Yeah I think it really has affected how I approach them. I don’t approach them any differently except that. And this is important. I know the world treats women differently. And so when I have a woman saying something or doing something I am always aware of the context and a world in which she’s operating. Does that make sense politically. I don’t want it to sound like I blithely like characters are characters and men and women are the same. They’re not they’re not the same the way the world treats them is not the same. And especially in Shondaland we never take that for granted.

I just want to start this out by saying thank you. Allan Heinberg I love when I watch something where there is a powerful strong woman dealing with something the strong woman who is powerful in her own right is something that you can’t get on every show that you watch and to be able to connect with that is so empowering.

I agree. You know I think a lot of his sort of training in Shondaland really prepped him and what’s great about Wonder Woman is. You can almost see the fingerprints of his TV work all over the final product of the film.

I can’t believe I got away with two scenes. One is the infirmary scene where Chris is naked.

Would you say you’re a typical example of your sex.

I am above average.

That is my Shondaland training coming right up because it was like Steve is naked in case you were wondering whether we want ladies to come to this movie and we do. But that’s what I do. Like that scene on the boat is the other one which is four and a half pages long. That’s just people talking. I don’t even get to do that on scandal like the scenes on Grey’s and the Shondaland shows. You can’t really get past a page or a page and a half so that infirmary scene is like two pages two and a half pages and then the boat scene. I cannot believe that is in a major motion picture. I cannot believe it. It’s a little shorter than I had them talking about Diana’s religious beliefs a little bit longer and Chris improv’ed one line that always gets a laugh where he says I’m not average. The whole average run from the like I got dick jokes and Wonder Woman it’s crazy it’s crazy. But then Chris does a callback. You know like it takes someone with vigor.

You know where I come where I come from I’m not considered average. You know. Being a spy you have to show a certain amount of vigor.

Like that was Chris like. So those are the scenes that I am like I still cannot believe they made that.

Maybe I’m being naive but I’m not surprised he was able to get away with those we’ll call them.


Scandalous jokes that’s a good word. We’re now Shonda Rhimes characters but I think it does take though that sort of perfect marriage of an experienced writer mixed with a super experienced comic book fan. You know super geek if you will. You need to be both in order to get away with those scenes.

Exactly. But this film did have at least one major critic James Cameron.

I’ve heard of that man.


He’s directed a couple of movies and made like a buck or two.

A buck or two.

Yeah. He directed Terminator 2 aliens and of course Avatar which is the highest grossing film of all time.

He’s known for creating such strong female characters which is why he might find Wonder Woman not so groundbreaking.

He was less of a fan than most we’ll just say.

I felt like what James was sort of taking issue with was all the attention that the movie was getting as a breakthrough because if you’re James Cameron and you made aliens and well Terminator and Aliens right and both Terminators Linda Hamilton is really the star of those two movies and then Sigourney Weaver is the star of aliens. I guess because they were written and directed by a man. It was less of an event at the time. I don’t know that it got as much press as a breakthrough for you know these huge big budget action movies with female heroines. I took that as the point. Like look guys I did this 20 years ago so don’t think you’re oh you know what you mean like it’s getting a lot of attention and they’re calling it a breakthrough. Well what about what I did because I did that and nobody’s talking about that right now. So that’s how I heard it. And honestly I’m so press shy. I’m so allergic to it that I read the headline and went I can’t I can’t know about it. I can’t get involved in it. I can’t. So I took his point to be. No I did that 20 25 years ago. Again we are not filmmakers who said this is our feminist manifesto. We made a Wonder Woman movie. Like we made the movie about a character who’s been around since 1944. We never went into the world touting our accomplishment. And you know to my knowledge I don’t think anybody involved with the movie is doing that. We’re just so stunned and grateful by and for the response. So yeah go James Cameron.


It’s like we caught up to Wonder Woman instead of the other way around. You know.

It’s just amazing to think that you know we sit here and we think about we don’t have any strong female empowering characters out there. And it’s been there since 1944 ready to tell the story and it’s the time for it. But she’s she’s been around.

For a long time and the TV show. You know I feel like we had to give a shout out.

That was what Lynda Carter.

Yes it was. And that show was fun. But yeah it took Hollywood a long time to catch up to this film. Well when Allan Heinberg was here speaking with our students. You know one thing that came to mind was a quote from the James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News is what do you do in your real life exceeds your dreams well that’s been happening to Allan Heinberg. He dreampt to Broadway and then he saw firsthand what it was like to be on Broadway dreampt of films. Also saw firsthand what it’s like to be on films.

Everything that he hoped for.

Yeah his dreams do come true.

I was very fortunate in that I had been working professionally since I was 10 and I graduated into an off Broadway show and was on Broadway shortly thereafter where I realized oh these people are miserable like I was at the height I was like in a Neil Simon show on Broadway working for Jerry acts with Nathan Lane and John Slattery it was an all star cast and they were miserable and the play wasn’t very good and Neil wasn’t happy and Jerry was happy and I just thought like. This is no one’s happy what’s going on. But again I was like I need to get my shows up I need to have my Off Broadway show I need to get on television I need to I need to matter I need to contribute I need to be successful and so I feel like a lot of the first part of my career and maybe you can identify with that because you’re at New York Film Academy and you want to be able to do your thing and have people pay you for it and have people watch it and like it and let you do more. And so I feel like I let a lot of great stuff go by being young and wanting to jump ahead and be established and successful whatever that means. And once I got to the place that I always wanted to go and this is cliché. Everybody talks about this. I got to Broadway and I was like oh everybody’s unhappy. And then I got to Hollywood and I’m like oh everybody’s miserable like everybody wants so much they want what they don’t have they hate that he got it and she didn’t and he did and it pulls at you you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people.

Well that’s the truth about Hollywood isn’t it. You’re looking at other people saying oh look at them they’re successful I got to do that. That’s what I got to do. I want to be them. I want what they have without sticking to your truth.

Right. It’s a one man race. I think sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. People go oh you’re pushing aside other people for work but the truth is if you create things in that regard it’s just you versus you.

Which is a better place to be.

Right right right right. You don’t have to worry about the horse next to you.


And I think the best lesson Allan Heinberg got from his his experience is that he put himself in the best position to be happy and that is when the work came to him and only then was he able to do his best.

I had a turning point I did a show called looking for HBO. Michael Landon created that show with Andrew Haig and it was a tough one. It was a really tough one for me. And after one season I left and after having been out of Shondaland for about three or four years at that point to develop shows and like I was doing the Amazon pilot I said to my agent you know what. I give up I give up trying to have my own show. I give up wanting to have a huge superhero movie. I don’t think I’m ever going to have any of that and I don’t care. All I want to do is go back and work with people I love and care about and I don’t care anymore. And I said I’m over it I’m over trying to strive I’m over it trying to get my name out there having a brand. So the turning point was being old enough to know oh there’s really no there there. There’s no level of accomplishment where you are happy or you know recognized and suddenly it’s awesome and you’re awesome and you can you know date whoever you want or whatever it is like first you’re insulted because it’s like well nobody’s thinking about me and then you’re like oh this is so liberating nobody’s thinking about me. It’s awesome. So I said to Larry let’s just look for a great fun project with people who are nice and then he said you know your friend Pete Nowak is leaving scandal to go into how to get away with murder. Why don’t you sit in his chair at scandal. And I was like Oh that sounds perfect. And two days later I was sitting in Pete’s chair who’s my best friend. At scandal. And I spent the next year loving just being one of Shonda’s army just seeing my friends every day. And I’ve been working you know the same people from Grey’s. So it’s been 10 years I’ve been with these people and then wonder woman happened and I said no to Zach. I said no I choose scandal. I didn’t pursue it. I didn’t want it. I tried to quit it. I was really content not just in a fake way in a real way because I’d been so beaten up by the development process and by what had happened on looking and I was just tired of it. I was tired of trying to achieve and succeed in that traditional sense. I just wanted to do good work with my friends. So if there’s a lesson. It’s giving up you know what I mean like the lesson is about passion and about craft and not about having people know my name. And look I’m not an egomaniac really I mean I have that part of me that would love for people to know my name and stuff but like bad shit happens when people know your name like they come after you and they all want. It’s not great. And if what you are concerned with is your name being out there and what people are saying about you and doing you’re not going get any work done you’re just not. So by giving up the dream of what traditional success looks like I got my name on Wonder Woman. That is how that happened. I’m not telling you not to strive. Shonda hates the word dream. She hates it. Like follow your dreams. And she’s right. She’s like don’t sit around dreaming don’t follow lead and do. And that’s what I’m telling you to do too but make it about your craft and make it about working with people you love on projects you love don’t think about the end result.

Listen Eric just give up.

Yeah. Yeah. This is the most positive message from everything he said give up. Well it’s funny too it’s like.

Give up.


The need to be liked. The need to be a rock star.

The need to be first.

The need to be first and start doing what you love to do and surround yourself with good people.

Yeah. So it’s kind of like stop dreaming and start doing great or don’t dream it Be it. Go go work.

Go work just do.

And it’s okay. Like if it’s not the greatest title because you keep working and better work finds you at some point which definitely happened with him.

Well we want to thank Allan Heinberg for speaking with our students and we want to thank all of you for listening. She is Aerial Segard.

And he is Eric Conner.

And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Phil Kauffman to watch this interview for our other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was written by Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner.

Executive produced by Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the entire staff and crew who made this possible.

To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on the podcast or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Thank you Christine thanks. Christian.

Hi! I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you an actress who went from Israeli television to playing several iconic roles in Hollywood. Ayelet Zurer.

Today you guys have so much power to not wait for a casting director to go into a video store and pick up a movie from Israel. You actually have way more control. Your creativity that’s all you need. Just make sure it’s out there.

His name. Is Kal son of El

I know you’re a dangerous man. That’s why I brought a gun. To a dinner date.

You’re not going to offer to buy every painting in here so I can close up early. A guy actually tried that once.

I am guilty of all I have confessed to. However, I do not believe they constituted any wrongdoing.

I want to believe that evil will be punished.

She’s portrayed the mother of Superman and Ben-Hur. The wife of the villainous kingpin on Netflix’s Daredevil and has acted for no less than Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. You can also see her in Netflix’s Shtisel the surprise international hit. That feels like if the show This Is Us was set in an Israeli Orthodox neighborhood. But before all that her career got two unexpected boosts. In one case by not having to audition and the other by being so good in a not so good film.

I got a break. By entering theater school not auditioning. Which was really up my alley. Because that factor was not something I could handle. And so I studied for three years and I totally fell in love with it. I did a commercial and the guy who had the schools came by because he was also doing casting and he said listen you got to come to the school I mean you don’t have to audition just come and study and I was like OK. And so I started doing theater and did some Shakespeare and. Off Off Broadway and then got a really great job back home in Israel I thought OK. Do Off-Off Broadway for seven bucks and walk dogs in New York or be on a one of the greatest shows on television in my own country in my own language and I went back home and stayed there for a very long time with a really beautiful career. Movies and TV and theater one of the things I’ve done was in treatment you should watch out because it’s really great for writing and acting because it’s two people in one room talking so you can imagine 30 pages every week to learn by heart. That was outstanding and we all thought nobody’s gonna watch that nobody’s gonna watch two people in the room talking to each other and each day is a different patient going to a shrink and then you know I had I had my child and I thought OK great. This is my life this is my career it’s not going to go more than that or less than that it’s great. I was happy and I got a call from a casting director saying you should come and read for a director that I can’t tell you his name for a movie that I can tell you what the name of the movie is very alluring. And she said how why don’t you come and read and I said there’s no way my brain is not working I’m learning 30 pages a week I have a baby. No way. And she said well maybe I’ll give you a hint. And then she said Steven Spielberg. So I was like All right let me me organize some. And I auditioned. Apparently, there was only two actresses he read for these roles. And I got the part. And then the door kind of opened for me to do an international work. And this is the lesson for all of you if you’re acting or anything really in life just say yes to things you know I’ve done a very mediocre movie and the actors were OK. Everything was just fine. Apparently, my role was somehow shining through and it wasn’t even in treatment where you know I was awarded for that or Nina’s tragedies. You know again an award it was just that tiny movie that somehow got to England to a video store that shows how old I am and and the casting director went to look for an Israeli actress and she found that video and she put that in. And I was shining because the whole thing was kind of eh. But I was shining apparently and so that was good for me. And that’s what they saw.

Her TV show in treatment known by its Hebrew name B’Tepul is like homeland a show that started in Israel and then was adapted for an American audience. Her show Shtisel is also currently getting an American makeover. And similarly, Ayelet Zurer herself jumped back and forth from Israeli productions to Hollywood. Sometimes she’s working on massive blockbusters and other times she’s looking for work.

I feel choosing to come here killed for me the love for theater for sure because I could live in New York maybe do that. But in L.A. less. Then on top of that. I am not a person that is easy on leaving the family behind and going to you know a different city to have a great career while my husband and my child are somewhere that was not so television was off. The table for a very long time for me and only starting to become something that I’m OK with. Because it does take you away for a very long time and the contracts that you have you’ll see if you’re fortunate enough they are sometimes draconian you know you can sign up for like seven years. You know it’s like Hey take my kidney. You know. You know it’s crazy I think I think from from like the roles aspect I was able to sort of do many things. The big ones sort of land in the same place but the small things less familiar things are different. The Garcias different and Milada is very different and also the work I’ve done in Israel is very different. So. If I’m lucky enough there’s some years that are great and some years I go OK I’ll have to take what I you know and some years you can actually choose a career the things that are different.

Even if her career has had its ups and downs. Mr Zurer’s approach to auditioning remains consistent.

If I prepare for an addition I prepare as much as I can. The thing is for you guys things have changed dramatically because when I started you used to go into a room with a director. And actually bothered sitting with you and telling you what to do. Now they’re getting tapes. And tapes are being sent all over the world. So sometimes you’ll go to a casting director and that’s great. And sometimes you have to self-tape. So you have to find someone who you are comfortable working with that can get you to the best performance you can have on your tape. You know the good news is that you don’t have so much anxiety walking into a room and having to perform in one or two takes you can do 10 20 and then choose the one that you like right. The other side of this is that you don’t have director to tell you actually I’m looking for something else. Can you do this for me. So again because your responsibility has grown since everything changed. You better expand. You better try this try that and see what works for you and look at the tape and ask yourself what is real. What’s the more natural. Where do I not tried so hard.

Each role requires its own level of preparation. None more so than when she’s trying to capture the essence of a character from another time or another place.

It’s different from each and every role but I’ll choose one because this was for me the hardest one. That was Milada. It’s a. Very long historical story about a woman who actually lived. Around World War 2. I had to study an accent for that I had to study one hundred and twenty pages cause most of the movie I’m in. And I had to find who she was. And why am I telling. So I usually start with the lines. I dig in I dig and dig in and I study them by heart. And then I do the most technical work which is how I sound. If I need a speech coach then I’ll go to her or him and I worked with them and through that voice the placement of the voice I’ll discover a lot of things and make decisions. I usually go from scene to scene and ask myself what this is about. You know what’s the character’s aiming at what is she not seeing. What she thinks she’s going for. But actually it’s not happening I ask all the questions that I can ask about that specific situation and I usually try to find the way in for myself into that world. I mean how do you play a scene where you say goodbye to your family and you never see them again.

I still remember the day you were born. Mother was so sick that father had to run. And get a doctor. Then he placed two in my arms. When I held you you were my first daughter. So much has changed. And now. I’m so sorry. I will never be able to repay you. When you think of me. Know that I am always always with you.

What drives this person. Why do they do that. How can you be so driven to do something like that. So you have to go into history and say OK. I live in a period where I can look at my phone and buy an Amazon dress and not even wear it. But these people actually saw the world in a different way and perceived relationship in a different way. So I have to go back to that. So wherever you go there’s so much to learn and to dig deep that I think for me this is what’s interesting because human nature is endless. It’s like an endless labyrinth. You know you just go down one end and into another and keep asking questions then you get the set and everything you learned and thought you got you got to drop or you’re in trouble because you’ve got to work with the other person and what they give you and hopefully they give you something good and if it is good. Then you really have to trust everything that you have already within you and just be in the moment.

And another thing that helps being in the moment is of course knowing your lines which Missouri explains is far easier for some projects than others.

I discovered that when it’s well-written it’s really easy to learn. It’s almost like one of the ways for me to understand if the material is good. So if something is not working something is not right. Or I’m not getting to the essence of it or. But usually it’s just not right when the material is really really good. You kind of subconsciously. Get it. And then you practice like you practice a song or the guitar just do it again and then you do it again. I find it really helpful to get a friend. Run the lines take a walk. Then come back run the lines again and realize that you know it and then before I go to bed I do the lines and when I wake up I do the lines again because the mind our brain has a very beautiful ability to learn something then stack it somewhere. So when you let it sit. And you don’t panic and run it again and again and again and again endlessly you work for an hour or two hours and then you leave it. And you come back to that. Thing in the evening and then the next morning you’ll know it. Usually. For me. And friends. I sometimes have to pay people to work with me because it’s so boring. You know. I have to I like would you come help me I’ll pay you 10 bucks 15. And so sometimes that’s the way it works because. I learn lines really well when I hear the other person say the line and I understand why I’m saying the lines to him why I’m saying what I’m saying. You know for me that’s how it works.

Ms Zurer explained that she needs to remain focused and present on set. Otherwise she might remember she actually gets stage fright.

One of the things I’ve learned is to be very present because that’s the number one most important absolutely most important thing for an actor. Between the action and the cut so in those moments I was able to eliminate everything that’s out there. The sound the fear the self-doubt the guy who didn’t treat me well you know anything really. The lights. The audience. You know all that stuff. I am not great and talking in front of people. I get better with age but I was really shy. You know if I didn’t have a mask I was not able to have a conversation on a stage with people. There’s no way. So that’s one thing that I’ve learned. And then the other thing is to tell a story what’s the beginning where I’m coming. What do I want to say what the story wants to say. What’s my job in that story. What is my role. What kind of like device am I. And then pull that device and say I’m the one who’s like because of this. It has to be this you know. And once I was able to specify my job in the piece I was having less and less ego about it and questions about it I could just go in and in and in hone in on what it is.

Despite her love of the theater Ms Zurer like many actors still gets nervous in front of crowds which is surprising considering what kind of material she’s performed.

For like two years I ran with vagina monologues. It’s. It used to be shocking 10 years ago. You know. Oh my God. She says. She says vagina you know but it was really about feminism and womanhood and all that stuff. This show ran for three years and I had monologues there were tears every night and laughter every night. I had to find what works for me on a regular basis. This was hard work. This was not just like Oh the camera’s on and let’s just pretend to be and then tomorrow something completely different was really. So that brings something very specific to your professional life I think. And also just the ability to go in and in and in and look for something new and new and new and something else and ask yourself is that it. Is that all I have. Maybe there’s something else. Let’s go in and in deeper and deeper and not be afraid to say dropping this I’m going into a different direction you know because sometimes I feel like as human beings if we find something that makes us happy what people say to you Oh that’s really good. You want to keep doing that same thing just because you’re loved because we all wants to be you want. We want to be loved.

Ayelet Zurer performed in the Vagina Monologues because well she was drawn to the challenging material but other times she has chosen projects based solely on who’s attached. So when certain directors like I don’t know Steven Spielberg ask her to be in a project. She said yes.

Well I said yes to Steven before even reading obviously I had to fly to London to read the script. They didn’t even send it to me. They were so you know and I said yes to Zack Snyder because I wanted to work with him and I thought oh wow Superman’s mom that’s kind of cool. I mean how bad can it be but the material is what I respond to. And it’s also my responsibility really because I read the thing and I know what to do with it or I don’t. And if I don’t know what to do with it I should probably meet with the director and tell them I don’t know what to do with it. If you want we could try. But I mean I can come out of a room and say This one is not for me. And sometimes I go out of a room and say they’re stupid if they don’t take me and they don’t. So you know life is very weird that way you get surprised many times people approach you and say this is for you like Milada a director called me from a guy I never met before said Hey do you want to play this hero. She’s Czech. You’ll have to play English because it’s for Netflix but with a Czech accent and I’m thinking why me of all people why did you get to me. You know. And then I thought maybe because my mom’s Czechoslovakian so he knew. So I met with him. I read the script and it was not good. And I said to him you know I think you need work. You know it’s not ready. And he said No no I know and please help me and we actually worked on it and then I became a producer on it just to it was a whole thing. But I learned from it. But you know he was a first time director I could not I didn’t see his work. He didn’t have any work. He didn’t even have a short I mean he had like other things to show. I had to trust my guts and say this role is actually interesting for me it’s not well written but I feel like I can do something with it and so I went for it and you know so it depends. You’ve got to listen to your gut but gut knows.

Ms Zurer got to see up close. What makes Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg.

The directors who are phenomenal give you space. They give you space but in the right time they’ll always come to you and help you try something else or advise you with a different approach. I remember in Munich the first scene Steven said this this and this and then also she’s not crier she’s not like a woman nagging and I was like Oh I didn’t think about that.

I tried not to think about you but I couldn’t.

I have the world’s most boring job. What’s going to happen to me.

Well they were just athletes. They went to the Olympics look what happened to them. What now.

Now we’re going to have a baby.

She’s actually you know just a person who puts a mirror to his face. She’s not like oh don’t go. You know that kind of. Because he said he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t. He has that kind of a wife at home and he likes to portray beautiful strong women you know. So I was like OK. That’s great. When a director doesn’t give you what you want. They usually it’s their own anxiety that you need to be able to block yourself from. If they don’t really know what they want or they’re trying to manipulate you in a certain way. I think the best way to go is just go with the flow give them what they want and always know what is the thing that you feel was right for you where you felt the role you felt the truth of it. Sometimes it’s also hard to find the truth. You know there’s. I remember I’ve done Ben Hur and The director came to me and said which take did you like and I said number three and he said no four. I was like really. Why is that because three you were in control. And I said really what happened in four and he said in four you got confused or something happened I don’t know but it was so real that I really liked it. So but he was really supportive to give safe space for your actor is the best possible way to work.

It might not come as a surprise but she loved working with Ron Howard and Tom Hanks on angels and demons. But the pressure of actually getting that role made the audition a little more stressful than most.

The day of that audition you can imagine how stressful this is. I used to walk on the beach and repeatedly say my lines because that’s kind of how I let it sink and sink and sink and sink become really really automatic. I don’t need to think about it so I can see and everything else that’s happening. Then a little seal baby seal was on the beach strangled. Poor thing was almost dying because there was a whole thing you know I did not work. You know the lines were not studied and we called the wildlife and then they came and I went to the theater and they asked me So how was your day. And I told him I saved a seal. So they noticed me you know. I didn’t do that. I didn’t save the seal to you know tell a story but maybe in the back of my mind I kind of did. But we saved the seal and then I went off to a small theater in Santa Monica and the first thing I stumble upon was Tom Hanks and he’s a very tall man very like really charming and very charismatic it was like Hello Mr. Hanks and yes please you know. And we read together and I don’t know what happened but it was really magical. I was not nervous. And. So again there was a struggle apparently. Some people chose me some didn’t. And eventually the people will chose me won and that’s how it goes you know. And of course the shoot was incredible because working with Tom was really something I’ve learned a lot from him. If he has an idea he will save it for the last last minute before the cameras rolling and he will say to the director Hey I thought he wouldn’t like me come in the morning. Knock knock knock. Can I talk to you. You know. No. That’s because the director what I learned has so much on his mind that the last thing he wants is an actress with a great idea. No no no it’s a terrible thing and you know sometimes you in your own space you think oh your little decision or your little creativity is the most important thing it’s not you know. So I learned that from him. That was shocking to me that you have to have patience because patience is not something I have at all. So I used to look at him with awe like the way he would just right in the right place. It was like pretty incredible. And he’s also intelligence his choices are intelligent he’s so funny wise and generous. You know he’s a very he’s a leader you know. So he kind of sets the tone and it’s really interesting to see that if you have a leader the person who sets the tone at the top of the pyramid is how this pyramid is operating. So you want to have solid people around you you know because I have other experiences where it wasn’t that way. And it’s always from the top of the pyramid person there. You know it trickles down and it trickles down light for sure.

Ms Zurer’s journey as an actress brought her to another geektactic adaptation. The Netflix series Daredevil. As the wife of famed Marvel baddie kingpin. She needed to find the humanity in a less than humane character.

The first season she’s a gallery owner who stumbles upon this man who came to buy a painting and it so happens that this painting is called a rabbit in a snowstorm. That represents pretty much the emptiness of both their lives.

People always ask me how can we charge so much what amounts to gradations of white. I tell them it’s not about the artist’s name or. The. Skill required. Not even about the art itself. All. That matters is.

She asks him how does he make him feel to see that painting. And he says lonely.

It makes me feel alone.

And. They fall in love. So when I got this I’m not a genre person. It’s really strange because I’ve done man of steel and you know Superman stuff. But it’s not my thing. I mean I grew up on on European movies with you know small stories and phenomenal photography and definitely no action but I looked at the illustrations the very very old daredevil and I saw where she ends up she ends up in a very very dark place and this is the beginning. So I thought to myself this is kind of like Lady Macbeth where does she start. You know she doesn’t start in the dark place. You know something happened. So for me that’s kind of the journey I took I said we started in the very full of light plays naive happy. I think that’s why he falls in love also. Cause he sees the outside of that. And then. But they both kind of attract each other from the emptiness the void.

In TV a show can go through a number of changes behind the scenes that can completely change the creative direction of the show. So in Daredevil Season 2 Ms Zurer was nowhere to be seen but when she returned to season 3 she actually used this chaos behind the scenes to help fuel her performance.

So what happened with Daredevil is that they had a show runner on the first season and then he got a great job that he wanted to do and he left and they got a different showrunner who wrote something completely different. And then another show runner who I love Eric who wrote that specific season. So. In that time I was actually doing some other things not even thinking about the show. You know I’ve done one season. I was not called for the second one because there was you know I wasn’t in the storyline and then they approached me for the third. So I can’t say anything about the middle part but the third part coming back to the character and trying to create something new with Vince that makes sense and still moves slightly forward for me as a character and what he’s gone through. Was what I was looking for. And so when I met with Eric he said what happened to her where where do you think she’s at. And I gave him some answers you know where from my imagination. He liked it. It was kind of combined into that world. So. When I came back I came back really heavy. You know it’s very strange you know when you have a role that you played in one period of your life then you took some time off. Things happen in life. A lot of things happened to me in those year and a half or so. So a lot of stuff personal stuff you know I was ready to come back and do something else with the same role. So I just brought in you know the weight of being away of questioning and being alone of coming back to a city. You don’t really know what you expect from you know I’ve made I made it personal in a way that’s personal but not because I didn’t come back to the city I don’t like you know like L.A.. But I do hate New York you know. So I sort of used that energy of coming back to the city and into that world and then coming back to Vince who’s a friend of mine by now you know and we work really well together. We don’t need to do much. It’s like I know what he’s doing and what he’s thinking you know. So actually to try to push him away from our friendship was that that was the struggle. You know how to stay cold and reserved and.

Even as daredevil went through multiple show runners. One thing unfortunately remained the same. A lack of diversity behind the camera.

I think sometimes in order to make a change you have to take three steps forward to go back to one step where it kind of you need to be. And so that happened or happening with diversity. A lot of roles are being divided now. Lots of roles that I used to get. Now they’re saying no you’re white I’m like but I’m right for the role. But no you know. So that should happen. You know that’s it’s long due I think. And with women women writers women directors because I mean I don’t think a man can play a woman. So that’s not a problem here. So we’re talking like those very specific jobs right. You can criticize someone because they’re weak or because you don’t like them or because they’re women. These are just words just words. Sometimes it’s envy sometimes it’s just fear. The truth of the matter is that yes I never worked with a female director ever. I’ve been an actress for no once in vagina monologue. I mean can you imagine with a man. Come on. But yeah on movies on television. No. So obviously it’s time. And yes it’s going to take some jobs from men. But what can you do. I mean I love men. I worked with great men. I love women. I think it’s just it’s not fair it’s not balanced. I mean a woman can direct a daredevil. There was no woman on that set.

Ayelet Zurer’s career has taken her all over the world. She’s been part of amazing projects like Munich in part of projects and might have been less than perfect. And through it all she’s made sure never to lose sight of what matters most.

You got to do what he got to do you have to find the balance in life. I feel like that’s the struggle really. I mean most of you are really young and it doesn’t get any better now. It just doesn’t. It just changes. You have to find balance all the time. If your girlfriend is wanting to go to a movie but you have to learn your lines you gotta find the balance because she might drop you you know. But you got to learn the lines because that. So you have to find you know the voice in yourself saying okay what do I do to create a positive life experience where I do what I have to do for myself and for my life and to advance but still have a life you know. So that thing and how do you keep yourself sane in a very competitive reality where you know people who were in school with you now are getting this amazing role and Jeremy Renner who was in this tiny little movie is nominated for the Oscars. You know it’s great for him. Then your turn will come. It’s all about balance and keeping yourself sane and loved and creative.

I have to say that is great advice for everyone. Actor or not we want to thank Ayelet Zurer for entertaining audiences all around the world and for chatting with our students here in Los Angeles. And thanks of course to all of you for listening. She’s got a ton of work over on Netflix whether you prefer to see her in a superhero show a drama set in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel or in a political drama like Milada. Definitely check it out. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube dot com slash New York Film Academy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Creative Director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYU if they eat you be sure to subscribe an Apple podcast or wherever you listen. You next on.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you a performer who would have given James Brown a run for his money as the hardest working man in show biz: the incomparable Cedric the Entertainer.

I decided not to be famous and do a famous thing. I just went in and auditioned and I got the role. For that reason but I felt like that attitude led me to being creative in the moment you know taking the character and doing a little something different.

In my day the barber was a counselor fashion expert style coach pimp just general around hustler.

Ever since Tiger Woods won a couple of years ago we out there trying to play I’m out there. There be a lot of black people at the golf course now. I call it. The. Post Tiger renaissance.

A dandelion I thought the frost wiped them all out.

All but one.

This. Is the barbershop. The place where a black man means something cornerstone of the neighborhood.

His film and TV credits – they’re only about 20 years old and yet during that time he’s racked up over 70 credits everything from barber shop to playing a lemur in Madagascar. He helped create the show soulman and he is currently executive producing and starring in the CBS show neighborhood. It’s all pretty far climb up from the St. Louis standup team where he began.

I’m from St. Louis as I started in St. Louis as a standup and of course during that time that was really how most of the guys came in to television and film. You started by being a standup if you weren’t a you know a dedicated straight up actor and you know most of the people from Jamie Foxx to the Wayans brothers. Martin Lawrence all these guys were. Standups first and then they became TV stars and film stars. Eddie Murphy you know so. So that was something that I really wanted to do so I started in St. Louis doing stand up and then I came out to L.A. in 94 when I became the host of BET’s Comic View which was a standup show but it put me on TV every day. Standup is just one of those things. People you watch. You kind of understand what the rhythm is. You have to start small and stand up you can you know even if you’re new all you’re going to get is five minutes on stage anyway. Like you you’re not. You have to be extremely special right away for you to get more time. It’s just the way the business is designed.

Five minutes might not seem like that much time but if you’ve ever actually gone to a standup show and there’s a bad comic five minutes is forever. Well obviously Cedric the Entertainer figured out how to do a great five minutes and in fact his famous moniker actually came from this time in the standup scene not out of any sort of false bravado simply because he just didn’t have enough jokes to fill the headliner timeslot he so desperately wanted.

I don’t know a lot of people know this story but my name came because when I started doing standup I got popular really quickly I was kind of telling the story of how stand-ups get paid in time. So when you’re a new guy you would what they call the M.C.. You do five to eight minutes you get paid three hundred dollars to do eight shows right. You get three hundred then you move up to the middle and you do 25 to 30 minutes and you get paid 600 to 800 and then you become the headliner and that’s the headliner is a thousand to whatever you command. Once you the last dude. And so early on because I used to work I worked at state farm I was a claims adjuster I had a corporate job when I started doing comedy I wanted the money to equal what it was that I got paid. So I needed at least six hundred dollars. So once I became known in St. Louis and people would want me to come do shows. I would tell them I can do 30 minutes but I didn’t. I only had five minutes worth of jokes so I would sing I would do a poem I’d play a record I’d do a whole dance routine I’m gonna fill up this 30 minutes. So what happened was a guy kept introducing comedians as the next comedian. He’s like and this next comedian coming up. And so he did that and me really paying reverence to comedians and loving them. I was like Don’t call me a comedian because I don’t have enough jokes I’ll say Call me an entertainer. So he said this next guy is an entertainer. Cedric the Entertainer. And then I went up and I had a killer show and when I got off he said Cedric the Entertainer y’all. And I was like that’s the name I just kept. And that was it.

The funny thing is normally if someone just calls themselves an entertainer you think they’re just being ridiculous or they’re overdoing it but not him because he would do all these different things onstage because that’s who he is. And that’s actually his advice to others looking to do standup. Be true to yourself. Provided of course yourself can handle the fact that early standup gigs are not always going to go as planned.

The real thing about standup is individuality man. Like I mean it comes from the experiences that you have. The way that you see life the way that you can word something and think about the phrasing and really try to take that that spirit that truth on stage that’s the best thing that works is the you know you can be funny. But people like people that they believe this happened to them or the way that they tell the story and you know you can get the angst of being on stage. So that’s another thing breathe you know try to relax you know just try to relax into a one go from one joke to the next. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself when something didn’t go well that’s when you have to just kind of remain in the pocket just you got a set in your head you know that would be my first you know. Make sure you write a set like start with this is my first joke. This my second joke is going to be my third joke. This is what I plan on ending with If something happens in the middle. You know something happens in the room I could change. I might do that but at least you have your head. What was gonna be your plan of attack. And so if something throws you off you can go like alright Cool. Let me get back to the things that I was gonna say but it’s all about really kind of being true to yourself in the moment and trying to let that come out and that’s what people will enjoy the most. That’s what you enjoy about all your favorite stand ups is that they just uniquely them you like that’s funny that dude just. He just cracked me up because the way he see it.

So for years crowds loved watching Cedric and seeing how he reacted to the world. He did his time and eventually that got him noticed Cedric or maybe I should call him Mr. the entertainer eventually got tagged to join the original Kings of Comedy tour. And that tour featured a TV personality which then helped launch Cedric’s acting career. Mr Family Feud himself. Steve Harvey.

He hails. From St Louis Missouri put your hands together for my motherf**king friend. Cedric the Entertainer.

What’s up. A lot of them space movies out white people like space movies black people don’t really do space like that. White people love space movies they love movies about the moon and Mars where they can be leaving our ass down here on earth. That’s what they think they think they gonna leave us down here on Earth. They gonna move to the moon. Ain’t gonna happen. Y’all move to the moon Damn it. We coming to the moon. We’ll be right behind y’all in space shuttles with Cadillac grills n*** just. They could just rolling one headlight out. Tags be all wrong. All bass.

My first real opportunity to play a character was on the Steve Harvey Show. In my mind. It was just like two months ago or whatever. People like man I was a baby. Thanks a lot. I feel young you know but I do think that being with another standup Steve was a good friend of mine. We were friends. We just came into the environment in a real comfortable way and it made it easy to kind of transition from just being known as a standup to acting every day on a sitcom. I was with somebody that I trusted. We were partners we trusted each other and the director Stan Lathan. He did all the Def Comedy Jams. So he was with us and then he directed every Steve Harvey Show. So again I just kind of walked into a really good environment for you know to be able to have a learning curve. To you know if you if you do some wrong. They like hey man you know turn around. You can’t say your line to the wall. Like you right you right.

Cedric’s first experience in front of the camera was perfect for him. Working with Steve Harvey working with a director he knew and appreciated but he also admits that during the early part of his career he did not really appreciate the magnitude of just what a director did and how important a great director was to the success of a project.

One thing I had to learn that the director is also talent because when you’re hired as an actor you kind of believe that it’s all about you but you realize that a talented director is also talent like they are. They’re there to do something very specific and they’re trying to find something very specific so that it can be on the screen. It’s kind of easy to put them on the technical side because they’re behind the camera and you know you would see actors be very temperamental would directors you don’t know what I do. I’m got I’ve got to get here. So for the most part I would say the best thing about a director is to really have a vision of what it is that they’re trying to do and then have the kind of it’s this thing of of being in charge in charge of the situation but also knowing that you do have to let an actor find it like they have to. It’s not automatic but if you have a vision and a direction it’s easy for you to you know hopefully you know some directors are not really good with actors they just really great technical people but you know it’s to be able to explain to that actor what it is that you need. That’s usually the best relationship. You know I’ve done movies where an actor just ran over the director and then you see the movie fall apart like he’s at that point that you start to go like Yo you really have to know you to Captain of the ship and it’s a hard thing to do when you’re dealing with egos of like big time stars. But as that person that’s shooting the film that’s got to get it on you to Captain. You just got to take that and that’s going to be best.

Fortunately the captain for barbershop was Tim Story who was young but knew what he wanted. And barbershop turned out to be a significant turning point in Cedric’s career. He had a chance to actually go after more audience friendly crowd pleaser one that would have made him probably a lot more money. But he went with the smaller more personal role.

Barbershop at that time it was interesting they hadn’t they had actually been casting like these comedies about our culture like very specific culture stuff you know and you know usually it’s some kind of family based movie. But this was about something that was inside the culture that was very specific to what we how we experience going to the Barbershop. It was interesting though because at that time it was at MGM and Like Mike was was getting ready to be shot and I could have I had a choice. So as an actor they was like Oh you want to do like Mike which is going to pay you more money it’s going to be this big studio movie. And then there was barber shop and you know I just instinctively knew from being a stand that this particular movie was going to be better suited for what I wanted to do and what how I wanted to be in movies. And so I chose the lesser money for the greater film. That’s what I would say.

I think it’s fair to say that Cedric the Entertainer chose wisely. Barbershop turned out to be a surprise hit with its personal tales of an African-American corner barbershop resonating with people from all backgrounds. It’s actually something I stress writing instructor the more personal and more lived in your story is ironically the more universal it becomes.

As unique as you may feel right now your story will resonate with so many people so try to find something that tells that story really cleanly you’ll be surprised that your audience will be a lot bigger for different reasons. I mean a lot like you know the barbershop which we thought was very specific to the black barbershop. Once we start telling the story people go Oh that’s like my blah-di-blah. So other cultures the reason why the movie did well is that you have to figure out how do you cross over. Well we didn’t think about it like that. We were telling a very specific story and it crossed over because other cultures started going oh you know their barbershop is like our when we go to the you know the pizza shop or whatever we do. People recognize like this is where you get to be yourself. You can say whatever it is that you want to say. And so people start to identify with the movie from that. That’s what I think as an artist you have something that you know you feel like you want to say inside out trust that and believe that that message will lead you to even bigger and greater message but start with the one pure in your heart and the one that you feel like you you want to say say it.

It’s exactly why my big fat Greek wedding is still one of the biggest comedies ever made. That story’s so specific and so personal. That everyone can relate to it. Cedric the entertainer gets this too because he was a stand up comic for years which is always about connecting with your audience. Knowing your voice. So when he acts in a movie he’s always at the ready. He can improv. He can tell jokes he can change lines but he respects the screenplay. He doesn’t mind cutting loose but only if the director lets him.

In movies. There’s usually a flexibility of course I start out doing the script it’s only when a director usually you’re saying interpret it like in barber shop in barber shop because I was so uniquely had that character in my head. The director knew that I could do the words and then he was like alright do the words and then be Eddie. That’s what he would just say like he would go do the script because you know again the studio paid for the script. The people who put the money up want this script. That’s what they think they bought it so you can’t necessarily. You don’t have the freedom to just freestyle unless they trust you. And so in that particular movie the way I you know kind of crafted the character they just trusted what I wanted to do and so I freestyle a lot. In the end I did my version one of the in that movie was the big Rosa Parks Martin Luther King thing right.

What I’m saying is that black people need to stop lying. There are three things that black people need to tell the truth about. One one Rodney King should have got his ass beat for driving drunk and being pulled over in a Hyundai. Two OJ did it and three Rosa Parks ain’t do nothing but sit her black ass down. That’s right I said it. I said it.

You know you wrong keep on walking. You wrong. You walking by yourself this time. I ain’t with you. I’ll tell you one thing. You better not never let Jesse Jackson hear you talking like that.

Man. F**k Jesse Jackson.

Super controversial like I mean even on the set the producers people was mad. People were walking away. I mean it was like serious like it was. There was a guy that like kind of worked to get me on the movie couldn’t even believe I was gonna say it. I say it’s in the script. But the way it was written in the script it had a malice to it. So what I did was try to take what he was saying and internalize it as Eddie. So I could say the same thing but not in the same way. So that’s what I did. So when the NAACP and I mean they came at me they came at me like I mean like like it’s weird like when people want to like like Jesse Jackson called me at my house and. Rosa Parks family sent me a letter scathing letter. I was like whoa I said it’s serious right here boy I’m in trouble with the ancestor’s right now man. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this. The ancestors. But I had created a Truth in the character that I believed was his truth Eddie. And that’s what he was saying because that’s what Eddie believed in the barbershop. So I had all these things like this the barbershop man like we people say absurd things and then some people believe things to be true but I don’t disrespect the screenwriter like that’s one of the reasons why you decide to do a project in the first place is that you’ve got to look at the writing and see it’s something you want to be a part of. And that is how most actors make their choice because they’re just paint they’re the actor they’re there to to make your words real. I had to learn that more so in my run on Broadway because as a comedian I became very used to freestyle and then doing my own thing. But when you do playwrights for sure you can’t change nothing like screenwriters. You get a little bit more leeway but playwrights no words no change no extra. None of that. And I was surprised because I thought they were hiring me to to do me like and they were like No no no. You doing this. Alright.

Barbershop did help show the range of Cedric the Entertainer’s talents he could have treated the role like a series of jokes and I’m sure it would’ve been funny but he did more that. He went deeper with it and he came at it not just as a comic but really as an actor.

For a comedian once you start acting you get the drive to be considered serious and you know it’s something that just happens naturally once people start putting you in movies and then all of a sudden you have this desire for people to go like you know you really can act. You know you need that. And so it usually comes with dramas. Even then you know I thought about Bridesmaids or hangover. None of the great comedies coming to america they never get nominated or the actors get recognized for what they did. And these are big movies and they came into your life in a big way and you go like well why the hangover wasn’t nominated. Why wasn’t bridesmaids nominated these are the funniest movies this year. They was comedians. And so you go like Well I want an award you know I don’t you know it’s cool. That comedy is cool. But you know I got a tux I’m trying to. But to those opportunities we look for them. You know I try to look for them. I mainly look for small roles that I get to be with really great actors. And so I try to look for those things in this particular movie Barbershop. This was one of my favorite stories about myself and I feel the movie was was already being shot and. When I first got cast they didn’t know that I wanted to be the old man. Everybody thought I was supposed to Antony’s part. Everybody was lined up and I was like No no I’m the old man they was like you the old man. I was like yeah I’m the old man. Like I had a whole vision which I did. Like you know like I had a whole idea of who this guy was and including the hairstyle. Like I braided my hair. I grew my hair all summer so I could because I wanted to look like Frederick Douglass like I had a whole thing. It was like I was locked into this dude right. But the first day of my shooting was the scene outside when Calvin tells me that he sold the shop.

Your daddy may not have had a whole lot of money. But he was rich because he invested in people. What you think. You think I’m the only one he gave a job to. Calvin. No that man opened up the doors to anybody and any knucklehead round here city of Chicago that wanted to come down here and make something out themself. Gave them the opportunity to be somebody a liscenced professional barber.

For me to come into a comedy and then to deliver the most one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie was was something I was uniquely proud of because a lot of the crew came up to me afterward was like yo like we didn’t even know what this movie was about until you did that right there. You know like they was like because there was the robbery it was the bank you know. So they had no idea what the movie was about until that scene when people were shooting and they saw like how emotional I was about it. And I got mad and it was like Yo. So to be able to put it off on your first major movie in your first day of shooting was something I was really proud of and you know that I. That’s why asked you to watch that movie mainly for me you know what I mean. But but it’s a good movie but I just loved. You know the performance I gave throughout the movie.

He has a right to be proud. His performance is great even if the movie didn’t rack up any awards. It launched a small franchise and showed that Mr. The entertainer could do a lot more than just tell jokes. One of the best scenes in the whole film in fact is this little fight breaks out in the barbershop.

So his character immediately grabs a blade and is ready to use it.

Cut me somebody up in here.

Except the fight’s already over.

Almost messed up my part.

It’s the kind of small comedic gem that really can’t be taught. But it can be learned after spending so much time on the standup stage.

You know for me stand up is definitely my way in. It’s the thing that I like to do I feel like I like to do it naturally. So I still tour now like I got the new show. The neighborhood on on CBS and it is great but it allows me to still go out on the road. I like the what I call the immediacy of stand up it’s the only place for artists like myself to have content not edited or produced. You know so you know with television and film it’s several people that have opinions that’s going to happen in your project along the way it’s you know it’s very few writer directors that can. Very few probably Tyler Perry I guess is the only one that’s like I can do everything myself I don’t need your opinion you know what I mean. But most big directors and writers or whatever it’s other people that are gonna have opinions going to have to be able to interject standup is one it’s just you the audience the microphone and you just go and you make it happen. So I still love that but it is what I consider a young man’s sport you do learn to be a veteran at it and be kind of where you know you ain’t got to dunk all the time but it is a young man’s sport because you’ve got to travel to do it you’ve got to be out on the road you’ve got to go to other places there’s just no way to be you know a great stand up and just do it all the time you know. So I think that. Acting becomes equivalent to a stand up is definitely that first love because it’s to freest that I get to be being me like I can just do it whenever I feel like doing it.

The standup stage is like the ultimate freedom for a performer. It’s you a microphone and a red light that tells you when your time is up. It’s a little bit different than what he experienced in Hollywood even as his career got bigger his roles get huge. His creative input stayed small.

This idea of being hot and not being hot. Right. So I did a movie codename The Cleaner. And then I did the Honeymooners and both of these movies were movies that I executive produced on. But I did them for money. And this was one of these choices where they’d given me directors that were in like a pooling system but I had directors in my mind that I thought would be better for the projects and I didn’t fight for them because they were threatening to take away my money. So. After doing both of the movies and they they come out with not being the box office success then I’m no longer a person that can walk in a room and get a green light like before then. They were like oh Ced coming in you get a meeting if they want to do the movie they’d green light it. I’d get this big check you know it was power like and so once that went away it was those moments where you go like I didn’t trust my instinct. I made the money but I didn’t trust that thing that I believe in and then you feel like you’re constantly fighting to get that back. I would say even to this day I still even though I do a lot of movies and I’ve got a lot of projects I still haven’t got gotten that cache back that was that particular apex of both power Hollywood wanting you. And recognizing what to do with it. Like you know what I mean. And so when you kind of feel like you sliding down and you fighting to get up that’s one of those kind of weird moments where it’s rough because you’ve already tasting success and so you do have to have a centered-ness and a you know a kind of a faith to just work. Just kind of believe in work just believe in doing it. Getting back up on the bike going again and not worrying about that. Like you know you just can’t worry about you know how high it’s going to get or how low it’s going to get just if you love it just do it.

Though when the paychecks are ice age and Madagascar sized he doesn’t mind the work so much.

You know in your mind when you watch animation for the viewer you feel like it’s all you look at it in the same way you look at a movie as a movie. So you actually believe everybody that there together and doing all this. And so I was quite surprised.

Is it all together or is it just you alone.

It’s just you you in the booth. The writer the producers someone over in Japan on a machine every now and then you get somebody chiming in Cedric you hot and they like give you like weird directions exasperate it if you will when you say the word got it but you know it’s different because what I would do is kind of go back in to your days as a kid when you when you playing with your toys in the room and you giving everybody voices and you got your army man and you you know you using your skateboard as a ship you know like it’s just a whole thing and so that’s what I try to do when I do animation. Because you’re not really with anybody you have to think about and they give you the line and they give you the line several times because you know they can voice without really knowing what the drawing is going to be. So they may have you know like usually the director may have things in his head so he’s like you might be jumping off of a building and so give me one where you like ah and then and then but I might have you all running. So then I want you to breathe with it and so you just kind of like you got to be willing to kind of go in and out and you know it feels a little silly at times because it’s just you making it up and they have a video camera on you. And that’s what they use for you know like post stuff and then you see yourself doing stupid ah you like the homies can’t never see this ah you in a room by yourself like looking stupid. But you know I’ll tell you what when you get a Madagascar check everything every all of it goes out the window. Super short memory on the Madagascar checks.

May we all be so lucky to get a Madagascar sized check. I’m sure there’s a lot of zeros so Cedric the Entertainer’s seen firsthand that a career in Hollywood is really not a straight line. His time on stage night after night got him ready for the plethora of nos that one gets in the film and TV industry.

It is a tough one especially again probably I would say for my particular path because it always went so smoothly so I wasn’t rejected you know early I had success I had what I considered a pedigree I had these things that I thought you know all answers should be yes like you know I went from a stand up to hosting a stand up TV show Comic View on BET that made me a household name because back then Comic View used to come on every night you know BET was the premiere goto black channel like at that time it was it was like this is where black people went to watch TV. You know what I mean and especially for something like that. It was stand up. So I became a household name and really famous without the industry. I used to do a joke about that like I was hood rich hood famous like I could go anywhere black walk in people know who I am. I’m making a lot of money because I’m out on the road making a lot of money. I’ll go into a meeting out here and they’ll be like Cecil the interrogator you know they have no idea who I am. Yeah we heard of you. Courtney the Instigator you’re great. We love you. We love what you do. And it was one of those moments where you realize that you are in this this parallel universe where there’s things going on like way up here way above your pay scale. And so when somebody tells you you no in that environment it’s bruising man it bruises like so but you know I like to say you know with stand up probably is another thing because every joke doesn’t always work. Standup is very subjective so some people love a certain comedian some people go that dude ain’t really that funny to me. So you can go into any room at any time and have a group of people not really feel you and you have to learn that rejection. I took that rejection over to the movie business so after a while it just like alright cool that particular person didn’t get me. I’m going to move on to the next one because that doesn’t mean everybody doesn’t get me.

Alright I can’t imagine anyone not liking Cedric the Entertainer but it happens sometimes you’re not the right guy and he gets that but it doesn’t bother him. So that means that even now after all his success when really he should never have to audition again sometimes he still does try out but if it means he gets to work with the right people he’ll park his ego at the door and do it.

Probably the audition that most stands out to me and it was not too long ago the movie why him with Bryan Cranston and James Franco and it was one of these movies where a lot of people were going out for the role and it was this thing like well they wanted to make me feel special but you really realized that you were auditioning like it was this whole thing y’all will learn this language you know the director wants to take a meeting with Cedric you know and then you show up and there’s 15 other actors there you like this is an audition man. Yeah this ain’t no damn meeting man you know. Like I see my friends and stuff there I’m like oh man I’m auditioning right now. But knowing that you know again I guess you know for me after being in other movies after having some success the fact that I wanted to be in a movie with Bryan Cranston I wanted to be in a movie with James Franco. The director John Hamburg like big director these choices made me take the ego out of it. Like I. So you know that was the thing that I kind of remembered about the moment. I didn’t I decided not to be famous and do a famous thing like you know I just went in and auditioned and I got the role for that reason but I feel like that attitude led me to being creative in the moment being you know taking the character and doing a little something different than what mainly because I thought I was having a meeting so. So I wasn’t really prepared to audition. So I just kind of like took the words and did my own thing with it and that’s what the director you know ultimately wanted. So that was. And I remember that as a moment for me that I thought the blessing of having the right attitude at the right time and then being able to just kind of adapt with the circumstance was something that I would consider like a blessing to have been in that spot as opposed to thinking the other way about it.

That might not work for everyone treating an audition like it’s not an audition but well it worked for him he got the part though to be honest. Right now we might not be seeing him in as many movies moving forward because he’s really fallen in love with working in television.

Right now. Like I’m really loving the television space. I’d still want to continue to do movies. You know we got a couple of more dramatic type movies but now it’s about producing other shows shows for other people you know really kind of finding writers in the next phase which was really interesting about coming to a school in an environment like this is because it won’t be a surprise at all that in you know five years one of y’all going to come up to me like yo man you spoke at my school I was there that night you know and you’d be like Yo this is where really how relationships are formed and made and you’ll just be surprised by that. And I throw that out there as positive energy knowing that you guys are you’re next there’s always somebody next there’s always somebody that’s coming into this game that’s gonna be next. You can’t stop it. You know so no matter how hot you are how big you are you can be Brad Pitt super sexy man alive. Here come Ryan Gosling it’s just the way it go like you don’t get to be hot forever. I mean you could ride your hot forever but I mean that it guy is somebody gonna be that and producers and creators and talented people that y’all come in next and you know so it’s just important to be able to be in the energy so that’s what I try to throw out there.

And then part of being in this energy that he’s describing means you can’t get too caught up in the chaos of this industry. It’s easier said than done but you got to find a way to stay grounded.

I’ve always surrounded myself by a small team. I’m a I’m a person that loves big but I don’t really have a lot of big entourage. Like I’ll deliver I perform as your uncle your cousin people feel like they know me. Like like I’ve definitely had people walk up to me like hey Ced man. Just like talking I’ll be like bro. Like I don’t know like in your head when you had this other conversation with me but I don’t know you like that. You know. But I do think that you know to the core of your question is really just trying to remain true to the work that I do make sure that I’m focused on doing a good job that I don’t take the checks for granted. I don’t take the opportunities for granted. So that’s why I’m prayerful and why we gather and try to bring that synergy whenever we doing a project where people be all in one accord because what you realize is that it takes everybody to get the job done. You know I gave the example you can be funny on camera but if the camera man is just off by a little bit they missed the whole joke and you be like ah I killed it and you missed it you like so you actually need everybody to be doing their job at the highest of their ability. So you try to motivate that and so that everybody cares about what it is that they’re to do. And you guys will know this as you do work and you get in post and you like I ain’t got the shot I thought I had the shot. If you had a shot the money gone you can’t go back and the actors gone moved on to the next project. You can’t get it all over again. So that’s why it’s so important to always keep a positive energy when people are working around you and they’re not positive. Those are hard days when you’re trying to be a good person but when it’s time to move on it’s time to move on and you’ve got to be true about what it is that you’re doing. And you know I just try to take this spirit in everything that I do.

And part of knowing when to move on is to realize that you’re not going to only have one great idea. You’re going to have a lot of them. Because if you put all your time and energy into one idea. Well unfortunately that might become your last idea.

To all of you guys never think that this idea is your last idea lot of time. People start to hang they hat on one thing and if you don’t get that one done you count yourself as a failure. Just just no. Man that ain’t it. You can do 20 of these like when you start believing in that direction. Then you can handle rejection. You got to handle the nos but you have to believe that one idea once somebody saying no it’s not gonna stop you. So I got a new idea so because like with any idea unfortunately as much as you think is so unique when you get out into the bigger Hollywood you’ll be surprised when people like you know we’re actually already developing something along those lines and you be like what that’s my greatest idea and they be like I’m sorry. And then you know you didn’t see many people they stole my idea. You like they couldn’t have stole your idea. You just thought of it and they already produced it. Right. That mean that they thought that two years ago because it don’t happen that fast. If it’s on now. That means somebody had this already two years ago for it to actually be on. So that’s when you know like your idea was not as unique as you thought it was. But again it doesn’t prevent you from being creative and finish it. Finish it. That that exercise is going to make you stronger.

You’d be smart to listen to advice from a man who really has earned the title The Entertainer by the way. If you want to see Cedric perform in a remarkably dramatic role check out first reformed with Ethan Hawke it’s on amazon prime right now. He’s terrific at it and maybe he’ll actually be at the award show in his fancy wear sooner or later. We want to say thanks to Cedric the Entertainer for sharing his story with our students and of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on a Q and A moderated I Tova Laiter and a Murray Agee. To watch the full interview or to see or other Q and A’s. Check out our YouTube channel at YouTube dot com slash New York Film Academy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself.

Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NY FAA. Thank you. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.