Podcast Episodes

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you Oscar nominated writer producer director Nancy Meyers.

I mean I see movies you know like war movies and explosions and things and I you know I shoot people in kitchens. So I don’t know what I’m complaining about. So I don’t know how they do it.

For close to 40 years Nancy Meyers has been one of the most reliable successful and popular writers in Hollywood. She put Goldie Hawn in army fatigues in Private Benjamin and helped Diane Keaton learn there’s more to life than work in baby boom. At a time when female directors were all too scarce she helmed multiple blockbusters including What Women Want. Something’s gotta give. And it’s complicated. She is pretty amazing. But first and foremost she considers herself a writer even if everything tries to get in the way of putting words on the page.

It’s your job and because we don’t have a boss and we don’t have a timecard it’s still our job. You have to be disciplined. You just really. I’ve always been really disciplined. I worked today from about 10 to 7 and I you know every time the doorbell rang or whatever I got up and did what I should do but I come right back and you know I think you must be disciplined. It’s never going to get done but if you’re really trying to make your living as a writer I think it has to be really a serious. You know Callie Khouri who wrote Thelma and Louise I was having dinner with her a couple of months ago where she was writing something and I said I’m just starting writing I said how often you go online. She said every 10 seconds. And I said Me too it’s a real problem. There’s just so many blogs that I love it’s so hard. But you know something like Today I don’t think I even went on anything. I mean just sometimes you get into the work and but yeah the refrigerator is calling me at all times. Raspberry’s you know. Oh raspberries.

Raspberries are but one of the many distractions a writer can face. But Ms Meyers doesn’t let writer’s block get in the way of keeping the material going.

The last couple of days have been kind of stuck and I’ve just been staying at it. Sometimes I’ll get up take a walk I’ll sit outside feel the sun a little bit. I play tons of music when I’m writing. So sometimes what I’ll do is completely change the tempo of the song and I’ll see how it reads with different music and I’ll never play anything really really slow or sad or melancholy unless that’s the mood of the scene. But I will change the tempo you know I’ll do anything from. I was playing Jay Z and Fred Astaire at some point today with the same scene. I really was. You know sometimes or sometimes I’ll put on like a Cole Porter song because the rhythm of the music and the words is so beautiful and so great that I want to see if my rhythm can fit in with it. Like if that were the score it helps sometimes I’ll say wow. Too many words now and sometimes I’ll just test myself and see how many words I can take out. And still the line stays the same. And I write a lot of words and I’m like the talkiest writer. So.

For many years Nancy Meyers was part of a creative and personal team with director Charles Shyer they worked together on Baby Boom father of the bride and irreconcilable differences. They were a great team but she’s more than found her voice on her own.

I loved having a writing partner. I really did for that period of time that I did it and I really I liked it all the time I really did. It was just great to have somebody else in the room and somebody to pitch with. I’ve also really really liked writing alone. I think I’ve had sort of the best of both worlds. The great thing about writing with somebody is somebody there you can say something and you know we always said just say it. Bad say the bad version of it you know. So the other person says. All right. The bad version is she works at a whatever abd you go that’s really bad. You said say the bad version but you say OK but then you kind of see the good thing in the bad version of something now. And I like both I liked both I really did.

Before diving into Page 1 of a screenplay Miss Meyers will spend months outlining her work to any aspiring writers listening please listen to her advice.

I outline extensively I used to write with a partner I used to write with my ex-husband as you know. So we would toss things out pitche things back and forth and sort of just say whatever came to us. You know take a million notes turn the notes into little binders binders into sections. You know he was very into the little you know the little section dividers you know dialogue. And since I’ve been writing by myself and not having that person to go back and forth with I pretty much just do it on my own I just blab into my computer not literally it just this kind of blabbing you know maybe he’s this maybe she this what if this oh maybe it’s like that thing I saw when I was in you know and every little thing I think of goes into this thing and then I begin to shape that into an outline but the outline has everything in it has research it has dialogue and has the what ifs you know and it just contains an enormous amount of stuff so the outline can be 100 pages long which is kind of where I am now in what I’m working on the outlines well over 100 pages. I would never want anyone to see it. You’d think I was crazy. There’s just so much information in it you know even for me I have to go through it with a highlighter. Like what. Why am I saying this ten times you know it’s like so I’ll highlight it figure out what it is I’m trying to say. And now I’m at the stage where I have the big thick outline and I’m turning it into a screenplay. And and it’s it’s it’s fun in that now I have something you know I have all this work that I’ve done some of the ideas are good some are not so good. Sometimes I surprise myself with just some funny little thing I threw into a descriptive thing and I’ll say oh was that buried in there. That’s like the best thing on the page. And then other times it’s you know I write it and it it doesn’t work you know. So you find it. You just find it as you go. So first drafts will probably take me well the outline took me about three months. This draft will probably take me two months. I’m trying to do it really faster than I’ve ever done before. I I always take about four or five months to get a first draft takes me about six months generally with the outline and then another three or four five months to make that into something I could show people.

When writing its complicated starring Meryl Streep Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin Miss Meyers needed this expensive process to figure out what her movie was actually about.

I don’t always know what the idea is though because like on this movie I knew I wanted to write a movie about a woman who has an affair with her ex husband who is married to somebody younger. So for a while I would say a man’s cheating on his young wife with his own wife then it was more like a divorced woman starts to have an affair with her ex husband who’s married which is a big difference because one movie movie’s about him and one movie is about her and of course I want to make a movie about her. What do I care about him. So it wasn’t until I was really deep into it that it hit me I’m making a movie about a divorce movie making a movie about what it’s like to be divorced from somebody. What’s that experience like. Ten years after a divorce so. So that’s really the theme had I didn’t know that until I really got very deep maybe I was even making the movie when I realized that I’m not sure but that’s really what it ultimately was about that’s my. That was my experience when I was writing that movie that’s what I was thinking about. I think that weird relationship. You’re all too young. But the weird relationship you have with somebody that you were married to that you had kids with. It’s an ongoing hell.

Ms Meyers reminded our students that it’s crucial to never show material until it’s ready to be seen. No matter how impatient you get. You won’t get a second chance to make that first impression.

I wouldn’t show it to anybody until the end. You know I wouldn’t show it to the studio I wouldn’t hand it in. So it doesn’t really matter what draft it is because only I see it or a select. Group of people. That you know that I trust. I’ve heard people say I’m going to hand it in. They’re going to give me notes anyway. Bad idea. You make it as good as you possibly can make it before you hand it and you cover every single question that you have anything any of your friends told you and if you show it to a couple of people and they and a couple of people say the same thing to you you have a problem generally it’s like a focus group if a couple of people say well she’s so mean. Well then she’s coming off mean and it’s maybe something you should look at. But there are dates you have to have things in by if you’re being paid to write something you kind of have to make that date or near that date. But I mean do whatever you can. Work every minute of the day to get it in the best possible shape because they are only going to read at once. That’s it. They’re not going to read it again. I mean if you’re not being paid to write something. Then what’s the difference how long it takes. You know meaning that if they haven’t given you a date you have to have it in by but those dates are flexible. Nobody gets them in they don’t.

What sets Nancy Meyers movies apart from other Hollywood products is that she puts female characters front and center. By her estimation this actually makes it easier to get her movies made.

I’m an optimist. I see nobody’s doing this. There’s like people like me they want to make movies and like you as much as you like hangover. You know there’s not. I mean it’s a different kind of movie than going to a movie that has a woman in it or has some you know Kate Winslet story or Cameron’s story or some female story. So no no no I don’t worry about that. I think that’s a good thing. Look at bridesmaids and it’s so great. And I mean where’d all these women come from hello they want to go to the movies. In my case I didn’t direct a movie till I was in my 40s. So already I had made hit movies. I was a known commodity so they felt safe with me. I wasn’t your age setting out with a brand new script and trying it it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard. I know it’s hard and and people often ask me you know how do you do it. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how you get started but it happens because they’re hiring tons of new people to do huge movies. You know somebody does a video and suddenly they’re directing you know a hundred million dollar movie. So. I don’t know how I’m the worst person to tell you how to get a movie into Sundance I’m clueless.

Her films might include upper class people living in beautifully designed homes finding love in the most unexpected ways. Just don’t call her movies wish fulfillment.

Wish fulfillment. I read that in a lot of reviews of my movies and architecture porn and all this stuff there’s nothing in the movie that you take away from that’s about that I don’t think you take away what you can relate to and the experience even if you’re young you’ve had an ex boyfriend or an ex girlfriend. You feel you’ve made a life mistake. You try to be daring one time or you smoke pot for the first time in 20 years or there’s something you can relate to being hurt trying to fall for somebody again opening yourself up to somebody again to me those are the take away things and that’s really what I’m writing about but I don’t forget that I’m making a movie. So as long as I’m going to like. You know build a house from Meryl Streep I’m going to build a nice one you know the movie is not going to be any better if she’s unemployed. You know and living in a in a different kind of an environment. And I think that’s kind of fun for the audience and it lets me. I think that kind of the superficial stuff allows me to write about things that other people don’t make movies about to me real things that are happening to women or people relationships.

After decades of writing and producing movies Miss Meyers took the plunge and began directing. But when asked about her preferences as a storyteller directing wasn’t one of them.

Because you have written directed and produced. Do you feel that there is one that you really love the most.

It wouldn’t be directing. So put that at the bottom. Producing is kind of a drag. You just have to do it. And so I would guess writing directing is just war like going to war every single day. That’s how I see it. I know you’re all dying to be directors. But. I think. Most directors would be honest with you. It’s a battle there’s some battle every day. Time money actors weather. Stuff just so much stuff happens every day you can’t believe it. And there’s a million people that want you to accomplish something that helps them right. So you know I just sort of put blinders on this is what I have to do today. This is what the scene is about. This is why I’m going to get. And when I see all those people with their hand signals telling me a million different things I pretty much just don’t see them. When I was just a producer like father of the bride all those movies that my husband directed I was the producer on. It’s easier than being a director and that’s for sure you know. But we worked for my husband my ex husband and I worked very closely together. And so I never felt stress free. I never felt like you know I can go out to dinner now. No. You know it was still what are we doing tomorrow and how are we going to get it and. You know it still deep in the blood so I never really have produced a movie that I didn’t write or you know where I’m distance from it. I would find it much more challenging to direct somebody else’s movie because I would always worry about the intent before I got there on the first day. I would grill the writer about everything I’d have the writer there because knowing what it’s about. It’s just like writing you know I can’t write a scene unless I know what it’s about. I can’t just start winging it and hope I find it. This is going to be a scene about and then I and I can write it. Same thing with directing I have to know what the goal is or it will get derailed and I’m not saying obviously brilliant directors Martin Scorsese doesn’t write his own movies I’m saying. For me it would be hard.

Nancy Meyers initially focused on writing and producing while raising her children. So for her directing debut The Parent Trap she took her children along for the ride.

Well I didn’t direct till. As I said I was in my 40s and I’d been making movies since my 20s. And that’s because I had two kids and. I produced and wrote movies always but I didn’t direct them because you know that’s just sort of the ultimate time suck and devotion that you have to have that. But I did direct a movie when I had an 11 year old. But you know what. I took her with me. I put her I gave her a part in the movie. She had no interest in acting. And I said you know I want you to be there because I was working with all these children her age and I didn’t want her to feel that I was you know favoring Lindsay or spending all this time with other kids her age so I said come on it’ll be fun. We’re going to go to Arrowhead and you’ll be in the camp scenes. And you know and then my older daughter became a P.A. on the movie. So for me that’s how I integrated it. You know I kept them close and I’ve always done that with my kids. I do believe that women tend to do two or three jobs all the time where men have the luxury of going to work. And we’re always sort of the juggling never stops. You know I mean I sent an email on the way here to my daughter who’s now 23. Did you go to the dermatologist yet. I mean you know a mother’s job it never ends. It just never ends. You know what it’s like when you’re directing a movie and you have little kids. It’s a lot so I don’t know. But my mantra’s you have to figure out what’s right for you. For me it was right at a certain point it wasn’t right any earlier than that. My kids always loved coming to the set. It was really fun. They didn’t really love the set that much they liked the trailer. And they liked the golf carts you know that they could ride. Being on the set and watching wasn’t that much fun.

Whatever. Hesitation Miss Meyers might have had about directing her films clearly show her skill with actors.

I think really good actors want direction. They don’t always act like they want to be directed. But I think they want to be directed. I think it’s actually I think everybody does. I was going to make some dumb analogy something like a less good actor don’t that’s not true. I think they all do. I think they all want direction and. I think. They really good ones have a magic to it. That I can’t give them. They come with that. But I think that the discussion that we have when I’m directing them and when I’m explaining something to them and how they take that in and then how they give that back to me is you know Nicholson and Streep and Keaton and Winslet you know they’re on another level that group they just are but they listen and they and they help you know they go from movie to movie from script to script to director to director. And the really good ones I think even though they can sometimes fight you or whatever they eventually want to they want to give you what you want they do. They’re not there doing their own version of the movie. They know that I have to make this thing work. I have to cut this together. This has to hang together and it’s shot completely out of order. And the really good ones like Jack you know he’s got three by five cards with all the beats of the scenes which is not even something I do. This is something he does. He breaks every scene down into beats. He’s got those cards in his pocket and between takes no really he’ll pull them out and he’ll look at the beats and he’s got them up but in his trailer on a bulletin board he knows the script backwards and forwards Keaton has got it memorized at the first table reading everyone else has their script out and she just like pretends to make everyone else not feel bad but she’s actually has memorized the entire script. They’re prepared Streep’s really always extremely prepared. She’s a very interesting person to watch and working with her. She’s she’s got such enormous range. As you know just enormous. So even if she starts some way and I prefer to come a little this way I mean she can get there and she just and she can bring stuff that you couldn’t come up with that she does on her own and then she can integrate your notes and just she’s wonderful and she can self direct sometimes so beautifully because sometimes I’ll be watching a take and I’ll think Gee I wish. And the next take I won’t say anything and the next takes she does it. She’ll also feel I could adjust that moment you know like she’s just incredibly smart and Nicholsons like available. You know what I mean. He’s just so available. He loves closeups. When you say we’re going to go in for the close up he lights up I mean you think are you kidding me. You’re Jack Nicholson you’re still excited when we get to do a closeup of you he says yes I am. He puts his eye drops and you know really into it he’s a wonder to watch. He’s scary but you know that’s because he’s so damn famous. You know when you first started to work with him you just sort of are. You know Meryl’s the same way and Diane was the same way when I first started she was Annie Hall for God’s sake. You know it’s like. There they are. But that all goes away by the end of the day it goes away almost. What good is it for me to not be honest with the actors. Doesn’t help them. They’re just going to be pissed at the end of the day if the movie doesn’t work. You know they read the script they say they want to be in it. I have to help get them there. I have to form this thing and make it work. And so whatever that piece of the puzzle is we’re doing that day often not always but some actors I’m not referring to Jack they’re really looking at their part right now. I have to look at the whole movie and how the scene fits with the scene before on the scene that comes after it. And yeah so that’s my objective you know so I for me to be intimidated by them would just serve nobody. And we all work for the movie. That’s how I see it. They don’t work for me I don’t work for them we work for the movie. I say I don’t like directing but the best part is when they’re acting truthfully you know once it’s set up and it’s lit and it’s decorated and their wardrobe is done and all that crap is all done and then they’re performing. That’s the fun.

Miss Meyers expressed her frustration that she seldom gets the time to rehearse with actors so she found a creative solution to get some much needed face time with her performers before production begins.

There’s never a rehearsal on movies no one’s ever around. No one’s ever around at the same time. And this movie Alec was on 30 Rock. Right up till we started shooting. So I had Meryl and Steve for a day. I had Krasinski for a day. I never have anybody on the holiday. No one was ever in town at the same time so I rehearsed with every single one of the actors with me doing all the other parts like me and Jude know it was like crazy. Me doing Cameron’s part and Jack and me and I’m doing Kate this is crazy. We never had anybody they’re never around. I don’t know anybody that gets a chance to rehearse anymore. The first time you really spend time with the actors other than general early meetings is once they’re hired you. One of the first things you do is you have wardrobe fittings with them and I think those wardrobe fittings are enormously valuable because you they start trying on clothes. Right. Like in this movie for example Meryl came to the first wardrobe fitting in a short wig. I didn’t say anything but I see she’s trying something out. You know let her that’s her perogative. Let her see how she looks she’s trying to find her character you know. And we tried on. Different things. Nothing was working. But what she wears in the opening scene of the movie is a white pair of pants and a white top that came out of that fitting and we all agreed that looks like Jane. Now we’re getting somewhere that looks like her well why does that look like her. You know so we start having this conversation. She came in the next day the next fitting another wig different length different color. Different thing we put the white outfit back on you know and she said no the hair is not right. And I said I don’t think so either. You know we just. So we start building that way. My first wardrobe fitting with Jack for Something’s Got To Give was six hours. He tried on one pair of pants. I’m not kidding he tried on one pair of pants. He just sat there and he smoked and we talked about character because he didn’t understand why the guy’s not in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He’s at the beach. And you know that was kind of an interesting conversation. Why isn’t he in just shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. You know so you get to talk about the guy’s background and what the Hamptons means to him and that’s not really how people are dressing in the Hamptons and you know and you just sort of build and build and build and build. So I find that time super valuable and I have with everybody everybody I’ve ever worked with and then you know you just keep chatting. You just keep chatting. I’ve written letters phone calls go up to their house just try to grab as much time with them as I can before we start shooting because I think when you’re shooting is not the time to say where did she go to college. That is not the time we have too much work to do. So all that discussion you know comes before as much as possible. The opening scene of this movie Meryl’s and Alec it was the way they’re dressed. I wanted the audience to think they look like a couple because when you go out as a couple you tend to say well what are you wearing a suit. Are you wearing a jacket. You know you kind of you want to look like you’re going to the same place. So I dressed them kind of coordinated. So it’s very subtle but it’s a detail that I like you know and then the new wife has got some insane outfit on who looks completely weird and doesn’t look like she should be with anybody at that party is with this husband who’s in the nice navy jacket and khaki pants and so wardrobe tells the story. The sets tell the story I knew in Merrill’s house you know I wanted one big room because I think she had this house that wasn’t huge and she knocked down all the walls when she moved in there with her three kids after the divorce. And as much as I tried to make the kitchen look bad it apparently looks beautiful. But if you stood in the set you would say because Meryl came in one day and said could it look worse. So we added water damage and you know the knobs are kind of like cracked and falling. But this didn’t translate I didn’t do close ups of the water damage so it looked nice. But you really for a woman who’s a professional cook she really had very little. But those discussions go on endlessly.

You can tell you’re watching Nancy Meyers film by the attention paid to costume and production design she might not have the Avengers or a Decepticon in her films but she still makes sure they’re strikingly cinematic.

The holiday was quite hard to make but very enjoyable. The girls were so lovely they were like the two nicest people ever. But their schedules were such that I had to do a lot of traveling and kind of repeat and go back to sets I’d already usually once you’re finished with a set you get rid of it and you move on but I shot with Kate and then I have to come back in two months and shoot there with Cameron and hold the sets and it was difficult. It’s just kind of strenuous. And we went to England and we just hit snowstorm after snowstorm and everybody kept saying it never snows in England you won’t have any problem. The studio would be calling and I’d say it’s snowing. It’s snowing. What do you want me. I can’t show. That was hard but I mean I see movies you know like war movies and explosions and things and I mean I think you know I shoot people in kitchens so I don’t know what I’m complaining about. So I don’t know how they do it. Well like in the holiday. You know I had clear images that Cameron’s House should have an incredible kitchen that’s never been used kind of cool colors. You know it wasn’t going to. There was no color in there it was not warm at all and Kate moved and we put red flowers around and we started to warm it up a little bit. All that is predetermined and we don’t I don’t arrive on the day and say this would be good. Maybe we should have colored flowers here I mean that’s in an email that they get three months before shooting. I do think about those details. You know in something’s got to give. I drew the house. I drew the house just not the details of every piece of the house but I drew the layout of it all based on the scene when Jack comes out of his bedroom and she comes out of her bedroom they meet and go into the kitchen. So the fact that the doorways weren’t lined up still drives me crazy because in my drawing they were lined up. But I knew in that house I wanted the desk in her bedroom because I wanted her to have given up on love and. Bed and work can be in the same room. You know those kind of things that I think about.

This attention to detail is what makes her movies stand out and why she is one of the most successful female directors of all time. We want to thank Nancy Meyers for sharing her experiences with our students and thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. To watch the full interview or to see our 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. 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.


Hi, I’m Eric Conner Senior Instructor at New York Film Academy.

And I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode, we take a look at the career of Gordon Smith Emmy winning writer of Better Call Saul.

I’m going to be full of spoilers if you haven’t seen this. Get out now. I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t actually believe spoilers lessen anyone’s enjoyment of anything so I’m going to be spoiler heavy.

We’ll be talking about Better Call Saul we’re going to be talking about Breaking Bad. We’re not saying if you haven’t seen the shows like you know you can’t listen but you might want to watch a little Better Call Saul over I think it’s three or four seasons now. It’s basically. Really formed its own voice and Gordon Smith got to be there at the ground floor for Better Call Saul. Because he paid his dues on Breaking Bad as an assistant.

The sort of entry-level P.A. production assistant stuff. I was supporting both the editorial department so post and the writers department. It was everything from getting lunches and you know going on runs and at the time which doesn’t seem like it was that long ago but we were still distributing like dailies and cuts on DVD which meant that I had to like run them all over town and drop them off a different place so I do run to AMC and do runs to Sony and get the get get physical copies of DVDs and like make them burn them label them and then send them out all over town. The nice thing was that it opened up opportunities for doing stuff in the digital space for the show because the producers were very generous and were like hey we know you what we know you have these aspirations. Can you write this game for the website. Can you write this you know copy for the back of the DVD box or things like that. The big thing I would say about being a P.A. It seems everyone wants to kind of skip those steps. I did learn a tremendous amount. And you have a great opportunity to be like boots on the ground learning from the people around you and if you have a good attitude and do your job well they notice like everyone wants you to do that job well because it’s like you know it feels like it’s grunt work. But if you have a great attitude it goes so far towards people like looking at you and being like oh maybe I can give you more. You’re not sweating. You know I’m going I’m going to keep loading you up until you break essentially. So I was a P.A. And that was that gig. And then the Producer’s Assistant role a lot of it is maintaining sort of schedule for your boss and making sure that everybody who needs to get in touch with them can get in touch with them and also being able to prioritize when that’s the case because it’s like the president of the networks calling probably need to pull him out you know making judgment calls and just using your discretion and being somebody that your boss can lean on and kind of trust to make those kinds of calls and because of how he produced the show. You’re the primary line of communication between all of production and the show runner in this case. So like it meant that you know everything was props were coming in and all the things for review. All these questions from set. And again you had to kind of know everything’s burning so it’s like OK this is burning to this degree this fire is like here this. This fire’s like here which fire do I have to put out first because like this is somebody calling me telling me they absolutely need to do this. But it’s like somebody else has a need too so you’re kind of balancing like and being able to assess like in terms of what’s what where where. Every second you’re working someone’s time is burning and that’s all money that’s going down the drain so you kind of want to know where the most expensive fire is and like put that out. It’s usually production like if something’s happening and it’s holding up production you’re just wasting a ton of money if you don’t put that fire out.

I love how he starts talking to his students about the qualifications for P.A. And how hard of a job that is. It’s so essential for students to know that.

And also the paying their dues thing which is such a cliche and everyone hates hearing it oh you god to pay your dues kid right and it’s like we know.

And a lot of people don’t want to know.

God no. No one wants to. But I think part of it’s kind of like anytime you do a job showing up.

Showing up.

Showing up early you know.

Being on time.

Reliable you know. It’s like the very basics of not just this industry but any industry.

And it’s also the attitude behind it a lot of people think it’s beneath them.


And if you go in and learn the ropes I mean the knowledge alone that you get from that.

Right. And I mean he got to work with the writers sort of. Pre pro and you know in post and he was eager.


And because of that. They gave him more you know that was the thing that you prove yourself with this then they’ll give you this plus that you know you bring in fours coffee and then four coffees and a bagel but eventually that’s hey can you stay around you. What do you think of this line?

And just again that positivity goes such a long way and being able to talk to people and really listen too.


That’s the difference.

What you do as a writer’s assistant is I mean it varies from show to show. But for me it was mostly you’re taking notes in the room so you are taking down everything so people are talking and you’re trying to organize all the pitches and the pieces of dialogue and sort of get it in a form that remembers what the room was doing remembers what you know the 18th pitch on this on a scene looked like so that somebody could go through and be like yeah there was that piece of that one pitch that really works in the final form. And there’s this piece that works here. So you’re trying to keep tabs on all of that so that when it comes time for the writers to go out and we we work on index cards so like when a scene is broken. We write it down on index cards and put them up on a board. But those are very condensed. So it’s like you want to be able to read the card and go oh yeah there’s a piece of dialogue here. I remember it and go find it in the notes. You’re also you know you can be the keeper of continuity a lot of times and just knowing what people have pitched. What made it into the script. Oh yeah didn’t always have a piece of dialogue about this and it’s also sometimes just your first line of defense against bulls**t because it’s like you know someone will pitch something and be like what if there was a poison that did this and then it made this person do this and thinking just quickly search and be like is there a poison that does that. No that’s not really how that works. Is there a law that’s this. No there’s not really that. So just like a baseline. You can we obviously stretch to make make the story work we stretch all the time. But it’s like the sort of classic example is the the mercury fulminate in season two of Breaking Bad which mercury fulminate is, in fact, an explosive and it is that it does look that way but the amount that he had would not blow out those windows you know it just wouldn’t be that degree of explosive that kind of thing. So but it’s like there’s a truth there but there’s also like right now we want it to be we want it to be cool. So you know it’s that kind of knowing when you can boost the level to eleven when you got to play it straight. So it was very cool to be in that that room and just be a fly on the wall.

You know I talk in class about comic book store guy from The Simpsons. He’s the one who talks like. Obviously, this is a lie. That is not how the scene would have played out. Thank you. And by the way, if you go see a movie in Los Angeles you’ll you’ll there’s a fair amount of those guys in the audience.

There’s so many guys in the audience like that.

Some of them might even look like me. I won’t lie but in essence that’s like the writer’s assistant part of his gig was peculiarly because he had Breaking Bad which. Had a character as a scientist who’s a chemist. And so like trying to have. Enough of a science in there that it doesn’t feel fantastical.

Well, I always wondered that too. So many times you watch a movie you watch a show and you think to yourself the writers really either had to do their research or they’re really smart on the subject and you always wonder how far that goes. So it’s almost nice to know that they do. Wait you can’t have that that doesn’t work. That’s not how that works.

Yeah, it’s like there’s truth and there’s truthy and then there’s no truth whatsoever. And the beauty of Breaking Bad is you watch it you believe it.

Oh yeah hands down.

That show was so well put together. And the pilot episode if you if you only could see one episode watch that one. It really is a perfect pilot. And yet that show didn’t get popular for a while.

It didn’t. And it’s interesting how it took a slow start for you know my opinion and I’m pretty sure everyone agrees with me. One of the best series out there I watched the first season. On a marathon. I was hooked. Word of mouth. I told everybody.

And then all a sudden as Gordon Smith was explaining to us it’s like. The show wasn’t hit right away but it built up steam. And then it became. That show everyone was watching.

We were aware when things started getting more so. But when I started on the show no one knew it honestly in Season 3 which is when I started no one knew it. I was like I’d tell people it’s like Oh I work on this show and they’d be like Oh what what show I’m like. Well, it’s it’s on a channel you’ve never heard of. And then they’d be like OK what’s the channel they’d press and I’d be like well it’s the other show that the channel that Mad Men is on it and they’d be like oh ok cool. But they never didn’t they hadn’t heard of it hadn’t seen it and then it’s really started to kind of pick up in season 4. Like there was a definite curve where like people were picking up the show more and more and more and more and more and more. So I think there were a couple things. I mean it had gotten word of mouth and people were starting to sort of be like you know have you seen this no have you seen and then like that that word of mouth. And obviously we know there had been a bunch of Emmy nominations and some and Bryan had won consistently to that point. So it’s like that was out there. And also we got lucky in the timing because Netflix streaming really started becoming accessible and they put the first three seasons on and a lot of people caught up on the first three seasons before Season 4 and so they went into Season 4 going oh my god what’s going to happen from from the end of Season 3 which ends with the sort of semi-cliffhanger of of Jesse having shot Gale in the face. I’m going to be full of spoilers if you haven’t seen this. Get out now. I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t actually believe spoilers lessen anyone’s enjoyment of anything so I’m going to be spoiler heavy but Season 3 into Season 4 I think people were able to kind of catch up in a good way.

Spoilers let’s start there. I hate spoilers I can’t stand them.

But he just said it doesn’t matter.

He said that yeah no I just I don’t want to know anything and then I go into it in complete shock talk about Jesse killing Oh my goodness. Let’s relive all of Breaking Bad right now.

I mean it lived and died by those great twists and turns along the way.

And word of mouth got so strong there. Like he said Season 3 into Season 4 everybody was watching it. Everybody was talking about it. And still to this day when I hear someone hasn’t watched it I’m like I will sit you down right now and watch the whole thing with you all over again. And I have several times.

And I remember even during the finale it was like everyone knew. Don’t call.

Don’t call.

No one called anyone no one texted.

Nothing on Facebook.

No you become like a bear you hibernate until 8:00 p.m. And this show came out of the mind of Vince Gilligan Vince Gilligan was on X Files before he created Breaking Bad and he wrote this terrific episode called Drive which starred Bryan Cranston and that’s how he also get that idea of like Bryan Cranston could play this role even though Bryan Cranston was known as the dad on Malcolm in the middle you know and.

Such a drastic change.

And what Gordon Smith got to do is he got to work with Vince Gilligan. And that’s one of the reasons Gordon Smith’s career is where it is now. He truly did learn from one of the best.

One of the great things about being a producer’s assistant was that I got to go to Albuquerque whenever Vince was directing which was a totally different experience it’s not just sort of being in the writers room which I knew the rhythm of a little bit but this was just like being thrown to the wolves and production was a very different animal. The pace is very different. So it’s just like OK what am I doing what’s what’s happening here. But watching some of those scenes play out like there’s a big scene where Jessie confronts Walt and it took it took a full day to shoot that and it was really challenging. And Vince was like trying to work with the actors and figure out what was working and what wasn’t working but something wasn’t clicking for him and so it was like. That was a really interesting moment to see like what this creative process was like and how grueling it was and how like small things were really making a difference. And. We had a similar thing with blowing Gus’s face off and like just getting all of the technical because that’s like that was like three different shots that were all married together in post because you couldn’t blow the door off and have a human like we had to do the door blowing off and then the dolly in and all of those parts were really challenging to make sure that they went off just right. And so it was it was this like marriage of like that. Precision of technique and the sort of overall artistic vision was great and really educational.

And if you’ve seen that scene of Gus’s face being blown off or half off right.

Half off yeah because he still had a little bit.

The best part he straightened his tie.

He did. Oh how did he live. Oh, wait he didn’t live really.

No no I don’t think.

That’s oh no he’s dead. OK.

So Gordon Smith got to be part of Vince Gilligan’s team for that and which meant seeing kind of everything work together to make this and then he gets the call.


They say hey you’re ready for the major leagues. You know and lo and behold he went from being a writer’s assistant producer’s assistant. To actually being a writer.

How amazing would that feel. To get that call and be able to just slip into that new role. The one that you’ve been dreaming of. But he does talk about. What that means about losing all the different responsibilities and being able to just focus on the one.

The transition was fast as they say it was like one day I was Vince’s assistant and the next I was not it wasn’t hard to get into the room in the sense of like you know I’m here and everyone’s talking about the story I’m going to talk about the story but I used to I used to know everything like as the showrunners assistant I knew all the information that was going out to everybody I was in like just sort of in the mix of everything and then suddenly I wasn’t I was only involved and only had to do the story and it was like I don’t. I have no idea what’s going on with production. I don’t know what’s going on with hiring directors I have no idea what meetings are going on. And that was a little weird for a few months and then and then I just forgot about it and was like I don’t care anymore. I don’t I don’t need to know that. Honestly better people than I am are handling that stuff. Now in terms of breaking the story and what we do we work very slowly. We’ve had the luxury of kind of a lot of time. We work much slower than a lot of rooms which is great. So yes so we get into the room and usually, it’s like we spend two to three weeks maybe just sort of blue skying and being like alright. Where did we leave things and what does that do for us like where can we go just ideas about characters and where they could go and what we could do. We really don’t do what a lot of shows do. We don’t really break a season like we we will have ideas about where things could go. We don’t lay them out. We don’t kind of set end points or we will kind of lay them out on a board and just be like this. Maybe this maybe that but like big guiding lights that we’ve had often change and move and like they almost always come faster but sometimes they go slower than we think they will. And that was the same on Breaking Bad. We had a ton of ton of things like that that were just like we had a line we kept thinking what’s going to happen. Where like when Hank finds out that Walt is dealing and confronts Skyler that she was going to be like well take your best shot if you think you can take my husband down and we were like That’s really cool that would be really interesting to see the two of them together like that and fight against Hank. It’s like we just never got there. You can kind of see how it guided into the show like some some sense of that but we never got literally to that plot point which I think is it’s a virtue of the way that we tend to work because it’s like we have ideas and if if wherever we we think we want to be and where we are don’t match up we’re just like well this is what we do. We don’t we don’t say well we have to get to such and such a point by episode 5 so we have to do this this this and this to get to that. It’s almost always sort of I feel like it’s backward looking. So it’s like what have we done and where are the characters. Where do they most logically go next. And that has served us in good stead because I think it allows the opportunity to like investigate things and pull them forward and be like oh you know we have this moment. What is that? What can we explore that more. It’s fun and I think it is. It is. It feels like you’ve planned to do something like Ah that’s paid off here but it’s like no we just kind of looked at what what actually ended up in the show and sort of asked what it means for down the line and then and then you know when we get to it we get to it it’s mostly like okay you know this character’s here and you know Mike’s here we know he does these things in the future. Is he there yet. No, he’s not. Doesn’t feel like he’s there yet. OK well, what could get. Is there something? What are the intermediate steps that would get you there? OK well, we need to get something like this or something like this that would move that character. It is a little bit baffling because we have the backstories of these characters that we’re exploring as well as knowing that there’s this whole lump of Breaking Bad that informs all of those decisions that we want to make sure are like fit. And then there’s because Saul Goodman survives Breaking Bad. There’s also after. There’s a period of time after Breaking Bad that we set stuff so we have these different we have. We have a bunch of different time periods that were like trying to keep keep keep in order which our writers assistants and our script coordinator and our other our assistant staff has done a great job like keeping track of.

I love how he talks about taking their time to investigate the characters really taking their time and not having to rush to get to a certain place and to really investigate.

And also too like what’s interesting about Better Call Saul it’s kind of like that’s a train that’s going but we know eventually that train’s going to link up with the train that is Breaking Bad and in Better Call Saul though they also show you a little bit of Saul’s fate after the events of Breaking Bad. So yeah I mean it’s lot of tracks they got to keep track of and you know this is the issue of a prequel. You know prequel’s like you’re beholden to what comes after you and we’ve already seen all that. How do you keep it interesting when we know the endgame. And I think Better Call Saul has shown years in that they’re able still to surprise you because it’s so rooted in him. And basically, that’s been their compass.

Yeah. You know where you’re going to go but yet you have so much story to tell.

Yeah. A lot of room to play and the writers found that even the actors would help them with the work they already did on Breaking Bad. There was only so much backstory that had ever come across in that show so they had to make a lot of this stuff up from whole cloth. And so it was up to the writers and also even in some cases working with the actors to figure out what made Saul Saul.

Actually the stuff that that we’re sort of given as back story for Saul or like ideas for Saul which or rather backstory for Saul that are not things that he says in the course of Breaking Bad but even those we’ve we had taken liberties with because we’re like oh is there a way to make that the thing that he says in Breaking Bad. True is it absolutely true on its surface. But the way it actually comes out like there’s the line where he says in Breaking Bad you know I once convinced a woman that I was Kevin Costner and it worked because I believed it. It’s like I read the line it worked because I believed it and then we see him kind of pull that off but it’s not actually the way that we would have thought in Better Call Saul he does pull that trick off. So we we’ve done some adaptation. We didn’t really have much of a backstory for Mike at all. We knew certain details from like one interview with Hank. I think and we took those and we sort of went OK well we know these things are true. Jonathan Banks had approached us and was like you know that woman who waves at me and is there with Kaylee. I don’t think she’s my daughter. I think she’s my daughter in law. And he’s like and I think and you know at that point we knew his son wasn’t around. We’d never seen him. We’ve never talked about him. None of that. So we’re like OK. And so he had pitched that his son was a boxer who died in the ring and he was like Yeah I really think that this is this is this idea and he just pitched it and he’s like Yeah this is what it was something that he was kind of working on as an actor. He was like this is sort of what I’m working on as my interior life for what where I am and my circumstances. And we went that’s cool that’s interesting that’s an interesting way to think about it. And then we started talking about it we’re like well maybe there’s something there about the son and maybe the son the son certainly seemed to be dead because it seemed like he wasn’t there in Breaking Bad. So we started asking those questions that obviously led to the episode. So we’re very liberal with sort of understanding we didn’t have that much to go off of except for sort of like the established pieces of information about them that they’d said and even then we’re still trying to grapple with like OK is that real? Did do we have to take that as canon do we have to take that literally. Is that true? Is that a lie? Is that someplace? Is that a poetic truth? So we’ve been trying to get as flexible we can basically.

It’s cool to hear that the actor’s personal choice for the character’s backstory helped inform the writers and they were open to hearing that and working with them to get there.

And also to these actors that already played these characters for years. You know so it’d be kind of silly not to talk to the actors but yet not every writer director has the same kind of trust and confidence. I wish we could say that it was that was the case but it’s not and you know the thing they came up with Mike’s backstory where Mike’s son was a cop. And Mike was as well and the actor he basically does a monologue about what happened to his son. And it is the most heartbreaking scene.

Boy was stubborn. My boy was strong. And he was going to get himself killed. Now I told him I told him I did it too. That I was like Hoffman getting by. And that’s what you heard that night. Me talking him down him kicking and screaming until the fight went out of him. He put me up on a pedestal and I had to show him that I was down in the gutter with the rest of them. Broke my boy. I broke my boy.

All of that came from the actor doing his own take on the character with one little exchange.


From one moment of Breaking Bad which beget this beautiful beautiful speech that got Jonathan Banks an Emmy nomination.

And Mike the character is such a relatable character and but also so interesting so many different levels and the way he plays it is beautiful.

He does not say much. And he doesn’t need to.

He doesn’t need to.

And I think this writer’s room from the way Gordon Smith describes it they have a really open communication between the directors and the writers and the actors to make sure they’re being true to the story even if they’re maybe tweaking it from where Breaking Bad was.

Which allows the writers to have the freedom to fail as long as they try.

And failing’s ok.

Failing’s okay.

Because from failure comes.


I was going say more failure but success sounds so much better.

For me it’s knowing the room and also knowing the room and not being afraid to be wrong like or to be contradicted like you’re going to think OK here’s this pitch and I can see it in my head and it’s perfect. And then you pitch it and then it kind of it either comes together or you feel like you pitched it perfectly or not but like maybe it doesn’t get a response. And it’s like sad face but whatever you know you can if it’s if it’s really perfect you can come back around to it if it’s really perfect. It’ll be the thing that somebody else will come back around to and like be like well what about this thing that you know we didn’t we discarded as a thought. So it’s kind of to me it’s really good about not being precious about it you know just be like hey here’s a thought you know what if we did it this way also that even that even that language is great. Like what if we. Well here’s the bad here’s the bad version is a great one because you’re trying to because then you’re you’re saying look here’s the architecture that I’m picturing I’m picturing you know this this thing and you may not be able to pull up the like the perfect polished version immediately but if you can pull up here’s the architecture it’s the bad version would be blah blah blah blah blah. It’s like you know it’s a super cliche version but you you get the idea. Like is there a world where this happens. It also helps people kind of not feel defensive and not feel like they’re judging it’s some it’s tricks that are sort of like improv based tricks almost to like keep people going OK well let’s play with that let’s think about that and if you know people will have to reject things like You’ll probably reject things they’ll reject things but it helps make it feel like it’s you’re just you’re just building hey we’re just playing. We’re just talking here when it becomes more confrontational it becomes more like. I actually tend to be fairly argumentative myself like in my personal dealings with life. And so like if somebody starts arguing with me I’m just like I’m going to f**king destroy you I’m like it just I can’t help it and I have to remind myself no no no it’s just we’re just having a conversation. No big deal.

You know one thing he said and this is an expression I use in writing class too is you can’t be too precious about these things. If you treat your first draft like it’s awesome. Like I just came up with perfection. You’re not going to be much of a writer. See how it plays you know say a line. It’s great at 2 a.m. when I was writing it on a cocktail napkin.

But being open to someone coming back and being like Well what if we try.

Yeah yeah, there’s an art of giving a note and there’s an art of taking a note and no defense. As an actor too you know this it’s like you get notes from the director or you don’t put up a wall or a shield because in that room if you start to put up the wall you’re not gonna hear anything you know. And in a collaborative medium like TV where you have a writing staff. It’s a team. It’s not just one player.

And just not again just not being afraid to be wrong when you pitch an idea. And being open and on Better Call Saul. Gordon finally got to see his own episode which was awesome and I wonder how he took any notes.

This was my first produced episode of television. It’s it’s fascinating. It’s like as the writer on set you’re kind of the emissary of the writer’s room so you’re there to answer questions and kind of make sure that the tone and the feeling everything that was kind of discussed because you know we discuss these things for hundreds of man hours right an episode if we spend two weeks with 10 people in the room which is more than we do but you know you’re you’re there for a long time and you’ve got the collective wisdom of all of that work where you know production gets the episode eight days before shooting and they have eight days to prep it and then they’re in it and then they’re shooting at a pace to try and get it done in eight eight days. So it’s like they’re they’re they’re great people but they’re they’re working at a speed and they they only know they only know up to the episode that they have. So you’re there to be the kind of representative of everything and be the eyes and ears and voice of the of the showrunners to the to the degree that you can so that if something looks like that that’s not a choice that we want to make not because it’s a bad choice just because it doesn’t actually feel like the thing that was discussed you step in and be like could we maybe try this you know can we maybe block this slightly differently. When when I look at that blocking it doesn’t tell the story that we need that piece to tell for the future or for what it is or for the the tone is wrong. Usually the director’s your point person or maybe one of the other producers like one of the dedicated kind of on set producers or something like that. It’s it’s gauche to go straight to the actors and be like like let me give you this note. I know there’s a director but like you know give the spirit of it because you should be able to give the spirit of the note in the same way that you would to the director as you would to the actors which is like here’s what I’m trying to here’s what I think is missing. Tell them that and then they’re free to be like. Well I think I’m envisioning it differently in terms of how I’m cutting they’ve spent more time and more energy probably hopefully in sort of envisioning the shots and how things are going to cut together. So you want to trust that these professionals who know what they’re doing so you know tap into that resource. But but yeah it’s an interesting process.

I just think it’s interesting that the production only has eight days to prepare and they only have up until that episode like hesaid. So it’s interesting to know how much they have to put their faith in those pages that are in front of them. And then with the writers show runners being on set. And being able to be kind of the voice behind and in front of those those pages I find it fascinating that it’s such a team.

And to put it in context too a show like Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. I mean they’re really cinematic stories like they’re not. It’s not just a multicam sitcom shoot. You know these shows like they they look like movies our TVs are bigger now and they’re they’re flatter and they’re more beautiful and so they have eight days and meanwhile a movie might have months and months to shoot two hours they have eight days to put together 45 minutes 50 minutes maybe even more. It’s a lot. So yeah the page has to have it. And when we’re talking of Gordon-Smith you know and his contribution to the show he wrote what for me is the best episode of Better Call Saul chicanery which is from season 3 and this one scene nails it.

I’m not crazy. I know he swapped those numbers. I knew it was 1216 one after Magna Carta as if I could ever make such a mistake. Never never. I just I just couldn’t prove it. He covered his tracks. He got that idiot at the copy shop to lie for him.

Mr. McGill please you don’t have.

You think this is something you think this is bad. This this chicanery. He’s done worse. That billboard. Are you telling me that a man just happens to fall like that. No he orchestrated it. Jimmy. He deficated through a sunroof. I saved him. I shouldn’t have I took him into my own firm. What was I thinking. He’ll never change. He’ll never change. Ever since he was 9 always the same couldn’t keep his hands out of the cash drawer but not our Jimmy couldn’t be precious Jimmy. Stealing them blind. And he gets to be a lawyer. What a sick joke. I should have stopped him when I had the chance. Do you have to stop him.

Michael McKeon who started as a comedic actor.

I didn’t know that.

He was in Spinal Tap, Laverne and Shirley.

Oh oh he was.

Yeah yeah. So he’s he comes from comedy.

I knew he looked familiar.

It’s perfect drama you know two-minute monologue he gives and Bob Odenkirk same thing. Humongous comedic actor and writer long before Breaking Bad. Mr. Show which is a wonderfully naughty comedy that was on HBO variety show. And yet these comedic actors show such great dramatic chops.

Like we always say you know there’s comedy in drama but it’s the way that these characters go about each word. You believe every single thing that they say even if it’s something that’s supposed to be funny you know the seriousness because it means something to them you know it’s their character their choice and the reason why they did that they have a back story. They have a reason why this character decided to do it. But especially with Bob. Oh my goodness. With the way that he just so gracefully he’s so subtle in the way he does it.

Bob is an incredible writer and stand up and comedian most of his Emmy nominations to date have been for writing and he’s actually incredibly respectful of our process. He’ll come by once a season and just like have lunch with us. But he never wants to know we never pitch him. He doesn’t want to talk about the show or he just was like he just wants to check in with us and be like hey you guys do what you’re doing and we’ll perform it once in a great while there’ll be some scene where it’ll be like maybe we’ll let you know we’ll let Bob loose for a little we’ll ask we’ll see if he’s ok with just like going going on a run if he’s there but he’s actually better in those circumstances if it’s like here’s the sense of it and then in production like a production meeting or a tone meeting we’ll be like if Bob feels like it let him go. And occasionally he’ll be like hey you know this scene is great. What if we did. I feel like we’re missing a chance to do that kind of riff and it’ll be like OK we’ll try and write something or give him something to work from. I think it also really helps just to know. I think this has helped with a lot of people it helped certainly with Bryan Cranston as well. But it’s like knowing that any range any emotional range is available. Can Bob do comedy. Bob can do comedy. Like Bob is a comic genius. So like if we want to do something funny great and he’s going to be able to kind of land it so we can write to that. If we don’t want to we feel confident with that too. We also know that if we’re like hey this would be funny. And he’s like eh it’s like oh we don’t want to do that. That’s not funny. It’s not it’s it’s not passing the test you know. So I think it does give us some some tools in our kit basically but far more often than not. It’s all really we don’t do a ton of like very very minimal improv or off script it’s like it’s very small and they’re all of the actors are very respectful of that.

I was just thinking how often I watch a show or a movie and it kind of sounds like maybe they improv’d a little do you when you write. Do you often have those times or you think oh maybe if the characters want to take a little liberty.

Well, I think inherently when you’re writing dialogue part of you in the back of your head is always like OK well someone’s got to deliver this. So even if you think it’s the best line ever like it’s got to come out of someone’s mouth in a way that doesn’t seem like. I came up with it or some other writer came up with it but that they just thought of it. So you know kind of going back to what Gordon said about not being precious. I think that’s part of it. It’s like. Have enough confidence in the work you’re doing that if they change it so be it. And you giving them the freedom to let a scene play to let a scene breathe. You watch a Better Call Saul episode. There’s not that many scenes. You know it’s so different than any other show and Gordon Smith described how like it has affected his style as a writer. Being in this environment that says it’s OK let them talk like we don’t have to cut away so fast. That’s cool. But it’s very specific to this show and as Gordon Smith described like it has set him up as a different kind of writer than if he was on a different show besides these two.

I think it’s impacted my writing style more. I think the sort of house style on both shows irrespective of the content it’s slightly different than some shows that I’ve seen. It’s very like. Because there’s a lot of psychological nuance for lack of a better term in how they’re in like what the dramas are about the dramas are so much about like who are these people you know like what are they thinking. So there’s a lot of liberty that I will now take that I’ve learned from this the house style of like not being afraid to throw in a slug line that’s just a purely emotional state that’s like here. This is what they’re thinking so that you know what we should be feeling. So it’s especially because we’re our production is so distant from the writers office. It helps communicate to the people that are reading it blind like what are we supposed to be doing here what is what is the feeling of this scene that you might not get from just the dialogue what’s the like. We’re not going to have a chance to run this thing over and over and like workshop it or hope it hope that it gets there we need to know really what are they kind of what’s the what’s the arc what does it look like. You know hopefully it’s not necessarily being like and they’re feeling this at this point that’s bad writing but like if you can kind of come up with a way to to explain sort of an emotional state or how something impacts what’s landing at a certain point that I think has been really useful in my own writing I’m much less invested or I don’t do a lot of like the sort of like criminal world kind of stuff that or even the legal world that we do on Better Call Saul they’re not things that I usually do on my own but that sort of style is something that I think has been really liberating to just be like oh you know if you need something if you need to call a shot. We call shots all the time. Not even because it’s the sense of in that same way. It’s not like telling the director we need this shot. Sometimes it is but more often it’s like here’s an idea for a way to open this scene. We’ve had a little bit more time and a little bit more luxury to give you a sense of what kind of shot might give us the feeling that we’re looking for for this scene. So we’ll include it and if you know the conversation with the director they’re like yeah do you really need that shot. Oh, we just thought it was a cool shot. Do you have another one? Yeah, I was hoping we could start it this way. Great start it that way. We don’t care like it’s it’s but it’s a baseline to start a discussion of like. Here are some ways to see this or like here’s a shot that might be cool and obviously there’s a series of meetings that we have where you talk to them and then can have those discussions so so that’s helpful.

What’s unique about TV versus film is like film the director kind of drives the boat like we all know Michael Bay did all those transformers but can you tell me who wrote them.

Yeah, that’s true.

In the case of TV it’s very different though because the directors are almost like hired guns. And part of the skill of being a TV director is you gotta be able to come in and that crew’s work together and the writers have worked together. You’re the new kid.


And yet you’re the one calling the shots.

It’s interesting because you hear in class about how you know don’t write. For the director, you know.

Yeah, don’t direct from the page.

That’s right. That’s right. You should be telling that part your the writer.

I’ve told so many students no no don’t over direct it and then he just said it’s OK to direct it a little.

It’s ok. A little bit of that. It was interesting just to know that they have that ability to do so and they take advantage of it when they can.

Well like they have such great cinematic quality in that show so clearly they’re getting really good directors so they’re both elevating each other you know. And it’s funny all this talk of Saul it’s like. OK. When is the new season. Do they know where they’re going. You know all these questions.

We’ve waited long enough.

It’s that question of then for Gordon Smith. Do they have a whole roadmap of where this show’s going to end or not. And his answer was a little surprising.

Vague a little vague too they know where they want to go. But again taking the time to find out these beats it’s exciting to hear him talk about it.

Process of discovery in that writer’s room.

We kind of make it up all along. We have some hopes. We have some stuff that we’re like oh we can do this. This would fit in really nicely. I have a couple of things that I really hope we get to. But by and large we haven’t nailed that down. It’s like building the railroad and you kind of want to make sure all of the spikes like that that you’re not building like this that they’re all going to go kind of connect at the right points. So I think before we can kind of be like OK we’re definitely going to land here we want to make sure that we’re kind of heading in the right direction but we definitely love those and we want to make sure that we pay off the right now. The character of Jimmy McGill and the character of Saul Goodman they’re not the same person they really feel like different people to to us when we talk about them and so we’re like OK how do you get this guy. This guy to this guy OK we’re a little closer. OK we’re a little closer we’re a little closer. So we want to make sure that all of those points along the line match up.

What an incredible opportunity for an actor.

I’m Jekyl right now but soon I get to be. Hyde.


Have you made it to the end of this current season.

I have not. I’m well on my way.

I’m so tempted just to spoil it now just just so you all no suffice it to say by the end of this season. The road from Jimmy to Saul is much further along and what’s really interesting what they do with Mike because Mike’s a different Mike in Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. So if at this point you guys have not received any new reasons to watch Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul then I guess we really haven’t done our job.

We failed.

We failed you miserably. But if nothing else you definitely got a reason to really appreciate Gordon Smith.


Humble dude. You know.

Humble dude, I loved listening to him talk too.

Emmy winner and he’s talking just just like regular folk.

Like us folk.

Yeah us back home folk. It was so great hearing him speak and I know the students got a lot out of it. I hope all of you guys listening did too. So thank you for sticking with us as we geeked out.

A little bit. We held it at bay.

As much as we could. As much as right like the dam can only hold back so much water here. But thanks to all of you guys for listening.

Thank you so much for listening.

That’s Aerial Segard.

And that is Eric Conner. And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by.

Was it David O’Leary. It was David O’Leary by the way check out his TV show Project Blue Book on the History Channel. Tuesday nights.

To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy.

This episode was edited and mixed the whole show by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and me.

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.


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 the director who flung a cow through the air in Twister.

And trapped Keanu on a speeding bus. The one and only Jan De Bont.

The Lions did run over the camera and the actors were screaming and yelling panicking and of course one of the Lions came back towards the hole in which I was hiding. A bit me in my head. And. I thought this is the end of my life.

Before directing. He was a cinematographer for dozens of amazing films including Basic Instinct die hard and the Hunt for Red October.

Which was executive produced by Jerry Sherlock who was the founder of New York Film Academy.

I didn’t know that.

Now. You do.

Well that makes sense because just like our filmmaking students Mr. De Bont’s own film education involved taking courses in all the different aspects of the industry.

Let me tell you a little bit of when I went to film school at Holland film academy they did exactly the same thing. So I you know you had to learn to be an actor cameraman a editor and record sound those four things. So I was completely not interested in acting of course but I had to and and that’s probably one of the best things that happened to me because standing in front of the camera is so difficult and you’re so dependent of what the person the director tells you you need so much information so if you understand that. Then later as a director you kind of feel the need what you know what the actors has to go through and what the all the problems they go through. I think it’s extremely important and I recently saw some of the little movies we did in Holland in the late 60s a long time ago and I remember seeing myself there was in the film you see and there was a movie in which I had to be. A model for underwear and I didn’t even remember that and certainly it wasn’t a big screen. I was a little embarrassing I have to say but I did learn so much of that and and I think it’s like you know it is try to stand in front of a camera try to say some lines try to just walk in a room and walk out in a natural way. It’s very hard very very hard. So you really have to understand what acting is all about. Then of course apart from the storyline of the character et cetera et cetera it is really important that you deal with actors and you can only do that if you if you kind of. Forced to do it a little bit. I mean stand in front of a camera. It’s really important. Even your own make your own little movie and try to portray something you find out how difficult it is.

Mr. De Bont went on to a successful career in Europe as a director of photography. But in order to make the true blockbuster films. He had to move to America.

I started making movies when I was 14 years old. I made little wedding. Film for friends and family. I had a small 8 millimeter camera and from there I went up to high school and I started a film club in high school. But. What I really wanted after working in Holland for a long time I worked like did a lot of movies in Europe and in Germany is I wanted to go to Hollywood. I really felt like I could have kept working in Holland for a long time in Germany and Belgium and England but I would never gotten to those movies the bigger movies that I really wanted to do. And I one of my favorite movies as Bridge on the River Kwai. I want to do one time a movie like that. Something like really with spectacular events and so I knew I had to do it one time. It’s just like the hardest part is when do you make the decision in your life. Because when you move from Europe where wherever you come it doesn’t really matter. You basically have to start all over again. You might as well forget that you’ve done all those movies because people forget very quickly here. So they know you. They’ve seen maybe some of your movies for for a couple of months and then they’re waiting for what you’re gonna do here. So it’s very important that you make the choice whatever you do first the United States make a right choice. Don’t fall into a trap of doing something that that is a bad movie or is really nobody’s going to see because you then you get very quickly into the wrong. It’s a wrong entrance into this movie business try to find something that has a little more value more class a little even if just but but don’t be afraid to take a small job. It doesn’t matter it doesn’t have to be big job right away but really do not make a wrong choice because it’s like I’ve seen many other people come from Europe. They always ask advice and they always want to go right into the big movie. Well that’s not going to happen you know they just. It’s rarely happened so they they really want you to prove that you first of all want to be here number one and secondly that you really have talent. But what does help is when you make your own little movies I would recommend to anybody is make your own little movies and make showcases for yourself. And really it’s so important because that that that they trust they trust that much more than this movie. The stuff you did in any other country. So that’s. That’s one of the most important lessons so I can give you.

One of Mr. De Bont’s first films in the U.S. almost killed him. Literally it’s the cult flick roar which is directed by Noel Marshall and start his wife Tippi Hedren daughter Melanie Griffith and several all too close all too real lions.

It’s been considered the most dangerous film in history. No animals were harmed but the 70 crew members that weren’t so lucky it got bad.

The very first movie I did in L.A. It was a movie called roar. It was with like 20 lions and tigers and an elephant. God knows how many animals it was with Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith and they said it will take about five months. I said five months. I have five weeks I expected it to be. And of course that was like a movie that became like a the disaster movie of all times meaning that after eight months the set burned down and animals escaped. So a lot of them escaped so they had to be the whole crew was helping to catch all the lions and tigers which was not fun let me tell you that it’s really scary especially with tigers. You see the eyes light up a little bit. You have to get out of there as soon as you can. And then the last thing happened to me on the same movie and this was my welcome to Los Angeles is that we did a scene. There’s a big lake in the set Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith were on the boat. They were chased by the lions and tigers on the shore. And I was filming several cameras I had the scene dug a hole in the ground and the lions would be coming over the camera and then I would pan to the actors on the boat right nextdoor in the rowboat. Of course everything went well. I mean to a degree it went well the Lions did run over the camera and the actors were screaming and yelling panicking. And of course one of the Lions came back towards the hole in which I was hiding and bit me in my head and I thought this is the end of my life you know because I know it was really dangerous because I couldn’t see anything anymore because my skin was totally. I was scalped basically it was hanging in front of my face and I knew it was very soft and bloody. My assistant completely fainted right away and everybody else was listening to to Melanie and Tippi screaming on the boat because that was the scene that was the end. So and then I started to screaming but nobody paid any attention to me for at least a minute and I knew I learned one thing is that when you work with lions and tigers make yourself as big as possible get up put your hands up any as high as you can and make as much sound as you can. But the thing is because I couldn’t see anything. I just hope that I didn’t go towards the other lions. And finally one of the trainers I saw I was you know they were all watching. It was their fault that they were not watching me and they got the animals away. But I was in the hospital for a really long time. I had two hundred thirty six stitches in my head. So that was my welcome to L.A. so it’s not that easy.

Fortunately Mr. De Bont’s other projects as a cinematographer proved to be far less dangerous though he did have to brave the difficult terrain of union regulations.

Another thing is that. I was used to operate the camera and as a DP That’s very European thing and to me this is extremely important because I cannot possibly imagine if like a photographer ask somebody else. Okay you make the picture I just tell you how to do it. So I feel like you have to connect with the actor. And I always you know like I said earlier I always talk to the actors. So I get to know and I get to know a little bit how they how they are what they’re thinking of what they like to do and trying to kind of indirectly a little co-direct the movie to some degree. And that was like impossible. So I remember that. I think it was on maybe Hunt for Red October that the unions start suing me for this that I could not do it anymore. I needed to hire operators et cetera et cetera. And that movie I don’t know if you have seen it. But it’s very small sats and moving platforms. There was just no space for an operator because there was just I mean was just too small. So I did everything handheld and so I could basically help to to the directors themselves to find ways to visualize it. So the studios really they were really behind me. They were saying listen this. They totally got it that I had to do it and they basically helped pay for my lawyers at the time and we won the lawsuit. I mean but what happened the result was that basically as long as we hired operators multiple operators if they would be there and they would be doing other stuff it would be okay. So even if if I let’s say there only would be one camera and I would only operate that one camera then there still had to be another person there. If he sat on the chair all day long. That was fine too as long as he got paid. And then of course the crews like that the biggest difference is like two more things that the size of the crews in Holland and Europe you have very small crews and suddenly here you have a crew of before you know it is 90 people and on bigger movies very quickly you know like 150 or more. And that was like a big difference for me because I had to really we learned how to deal with so many people.

Much of Jan De Bont’s transition to American filmmaking involved learning how to manage hundreds of people when he was used to just dealing with dozens.

There’s a couple of movies that I’ve done over during my lifetime and it’s like. One of them was Turkish Delight is a movie that I always be very close. It’s a Dutch movie I think it was nominated for Best Foreign Film Academy. It’s based on a book from a Dutch writer and I never realized how much I enjoyed filmmaking as on that movie. I mean we had a film crew it was maybe a total of 12 people 13 Max and we became like a unit that work together day and night including the actors. We were always together for I think seven weeks and that kind of created it’s such an incredible. You know we always we all were on the same line. We all knew exactly what the stakes were. We all knew exactly what to do and what the story was and everybody could talk to everybody so it wasn’t like the director has to only say the final word. No anybody had an idea he could you know he could say it and if it was any good we would do it now and that is was such an amazing thing and then those things that I learned in Holland I never was able to achieve completely here because everything is very separated here. Like you have so many professions and and you know if you go from a crew from 12 to a crew of 200 that’s a big difference and director is more of a manager of a managerial position in which you have to know everything about everybody and everything and everything about all the technical parts of filmmaking. You know not only the directing part but you have to know about sound. You have to know about costume. You have to know about cleaning how long it takes to clean somebody’s costume it’s ordinary simple things set design lights and it’s an endless list visual effects special effects. What type of gasoline to use for bombs. What kind of it is it just amazing the things you would never ever thought about having to learn about moviemaking but as a director you have to I mean at least for the type of movies I have been involved in. But coming back to that. Is there a movie. I mean there’s a couple ones that I really like I like black rain. It’s one of my favorite movies. I still like very much. I do like speed still because it was like. Also that was the closest to whatever I had done in Holland a small crew everybody worked for very little money and they only did it once and that was what I told them that after this next movie everybody’s gonna get paid their real fee. And that was so great because everybody had also this feeling like you know this is one group of people making one movie together. It wasn’t like one person at the top and then everybody just has to work their asses off. It was really a pretty great experience.

After working with director John McTiernan on the hunt for Red October the two teamed up for the greatest Christmas movie ever. Die Hard.

He’s an easy guy to like and a hard man to kill Bruce Willis Die Hard.

Got invited to the Christmas party by mistake. Who knew.

It’s also a pretty awesome action flick and setting up for a helicopter approach on Nakatomi Plaza proved to be harder than anything John McClane went through.

Especially when the crew only had one night to pull it off.

One night.

One night.

Prepping is incredibly important for instance the scenes in die hard where they. The big building the helicopters fly around that building. We only had one night to film that sequence in I think I used 28 cameras or so because there were scenes on the ground in the streets on the rooftop it had to be lit completely there were four city blocks that had to be lit in Century City and they only give us one permit to fly over it once so that had to be extremely well prepared. You know I had there was tons of lighting but they were all kind of hidden. So that’s number one. Where how to light to set how many generators. I think there were like 14 generators all hidden by buildings and the sets inside the building had to be lit. And on the rooftop there was a big scene on the rooftop all at the same time. So you have to find ways and there’s a lot of prepping. It’s like how do you like to scene like that where you don’t want to see the movie lights and they use a lot of fluorescents. So how can you keep everything out of frame. How can you not see the film camera. The film helicopter for all the other cameras on the ground so it’s a massive massive preparation and that is something that first of all you don’t do that very often in Europe and it is something that you really have to learn because the whole crew depends on you on the DP mostly not so much on the director because quite often they sit in the trailer because it’s too complex for them because it’s really it’s too many too many cameras too many things. And again you have to work with so many people and you have like at one point I had about four sets of walkie talkies talking to on top of the building around the building two blocks back and they all had to run at this at certain times at different speeds. And so it was it was like probably the the most complex thing I’ve ever done but it was kind of fun to do it as well.

Mr. De Bont’s preparation extends to how he approaches each shot to ensure that even the most seemingly mundane moment exhibits visual tension.

What is very important to me is that there’s intention in the picture and in the image is there’s no tension in the picture. And to me I do something wrong because I feel that there’s no tension there’s nobody would be very interested in looking at it. And I always try to manipulate to a degree the image or the image quality to make people look at the screen. And when I started making my first movie which was in the 60s I started doing hand-held almost exclusively and I thought at least it felt like it was a little bit like a documentary feel to it. But it felt like audiences were looking they were like a little bit more participating in the movie it was somebody point of view you kind of were forced to really focus on what I wanted you to see. So that’s really important thing you can learn actually. You know it’s like what is important. If you see an actor do you put an actor in the middle of the frame. Do you see him on the left or right. Do you see him from behind. Is his face lit up. Do you is he in the dark. I mean there’s a million million different ways you can make it interesting. Are you moving away to the actor or or toward him or is it is kind of exciting to really you know find the right solution for every particular scene. But you know the one mistake is is to make it just all similar. I hate it when when movies have an and when it’s too beautiful I don’t like when things are too beautiful because then I feel like I’m distracted from the image. I lose a little bit the not only the intention but I cannot look at the actors anymore because if there’s beautiful skies and beautiful this and long lens shots that to me is that completely distracting. I’d much rather have a camera right in a person’s face. And I loved as a cameraman I remember I loved to talk to the actors non-stop. I whisper and they could see me and they did. And the director never saw that because the director’s behind me. And that was great. They loved it because quite often they don’t know what to do. So I was trying to guide them. I sometimes I push them away with a camera so that they have to move so that there is a connection between between between the the actor and the screen.

This same attention to detail helped make the steamy thriller Basic Instinct look like it was a modern Hitchcock film.

Well that is if Hitchcock went after a really hard R rating.

For that movie I really had to come up with an idea a little bit like a lot of those inspiration comes from Hitchcock movie so I mean there’s a lot of similar locations even on the West Coast south of San Francisco. Obviously I’m a big you know I love his movies and some of them were absolutely brilliant and you can watch him over and over again and I think this movie has a visual style that is partially modern and partly from the 50s 60s. It’s I don’t know how you get to do these ideas I just it’s like you read the script. And you have to the film has to come together in your mind for us. I mean when I start doing a movie you have to see the movie in your head before you start doing it. You cannot you know figure out we’ll do this then we’ll figure out how. It doesn’t work. You have to see the whole movie in your head before and if once you have that then then the rest is relatively easy.

After DPing dozens of films on demand was ready to make the jump into directing.

In other words his career began to pick up speed. Eh.


There’s a bomb on a bus once the bus goes 50 miles an hour. The bomb is armed. If it drops below 50. It blows up. What do you do. What do you do.

Now. He’s the only solution. Keanu Reeves. Dennis Hopper. Sandra Bullock. Speed. Get ready for rush hour.

Pitching himself as a director turned out to be less work than expected thanks to his extensive resume but getting the studio to to coin the phrase board the bus.


Was another story.

The studios it’s just a matter of like I already knew the studios now because I worked on a lot of bigger movies it just was the transition from DP to to directing was a little hard but they knew that I did for instance I always did all the second unit. One of these big action scenes I I kind of always the director’s let me do it because it was much easier for them. And so the studios knew I did that. So they knew I could handle those big scenes. So basically I found this script speed that was at Paramount and they you know and they saw they they they hated the script because who in the hell ever wants to see a movie about a bus and they’re only going 50 miles an hour how boring and but I really could see the potential in that. And I went to it was that same script to Fox and Peter Chernin who was at that time President. And I told him my ideas and and it took 45 minutes to convince him. And that’s pure luck. I mean that doesn’t normally it doesn’t it takes a lot longer months and years sometimes. But that was the that was my first experience and it was like. And of course you know the result was extremely you know good for them because they made a fortune on that movie.

Even though it was his first time directing. Mr. De Bont Already knew one very important lesson in Hollywood make your boss happy.

You know the film business is like you know people but you don’t see them all the time because everybody’s always working they’re gone. So the first relationships always the most important because that’s what people remember. So whoever you deal with on your first project you know it’s it’s gonna be an important relationship because they will remember you even if you don’t work with them for 10 20 years they will remember you. And also they are the ones who will tell other people what they think of you and that’s little bit how this business works a little bit you always call other people what do you think about him. What do you think is he okay. Is he slow is he fast. Is he able to work with the studio. Is he cause studios like you know every director wants to make his own movie wants to have total control in Hollywood. You don’t have total control. You have no control. I mean in some way you have all the control in the world. But only if you know that the final result has to be a movie that works and you’re actually out of your mind if you don’t listen to other people who have some creative input that is that is actually effective. That would make it a better movie. So you have to be very open to other people. I mean unfortunately I think the last decade or so the studios have a little bit too much input you know like they really are starting to direct out of the office a little bit and they are giving you you know they see the dailies is not good do it again. And that is not good. I mean it’s OK if they give advice and say no but they cannot direct a movie from there and that’s a little bit a problem at the moment. I feel with movie making is that there’s too much similarity because it’s like it’s office or making I call it a little bit and they’re kind of especially with younger directors. They take over control very quickly and they take it away from you. And in post-production when the editing is and you think you made your movie then they take over and they start re-editing your movie and it happens so many times. The reason I say all this is must easier to cooperate with them a little bit and pretend at least that you’re agreeing with them. You’ll try to do what they suggest. That’s much better than to just fight them. You cannot fight doesn’t really work.

Similar to how he preferred to be his own cameraman Mr. De Bont wanted his actors to do their own stunts even if that meant putting his own life on the line to get Keanu Reeves on board.

I think you know because I work with so many other directors as a DP and I worked you know on many different type of movie thank god. So I’ve been aware of what is kind of needed for actors to know how. And I always find the most difficult part is that actors are always the most insecure when it’s a big scene is big action scene because they feel not familiar with it they don’t know what to do they don’t have to run and not trip. They don’t know what to say because it’s never written dialogue for them. And that is so difficult and they always think everything is dangerous. I mean and that is of course the most important part of a director is to make them feel safe. And again it’s like it has not little to do with acting but it has to do with like if you don’t feel safe they cannot act. So quite often I try to do the stunts for them. I’m relatively clumsy and not really good in jumping. But I felt if I can do that they could do it too they should be able to do it. So there was many ways like for instance on speed like when Keanu jumps from the Jaguar to the bus that looks like a difficult stunt no and he absolutely did not wanted to do it he said no I’m not going to do it. It’s too dangerous and I say okay I’ll do it for you. I had no idea what it was for either. So in reality actually is you know it’s more like a fear was in your heart is that it’s because you see the road passing by very fast and you’re both going at least 50 60 miles depending like what the scene was. So in reality the best thing is not to think about it and just step to the bus no. And when I did it the first time I did step in but forgot to hold on you know. So thank God he wasn’t watching. But because he was he just looked away and I was so happy he didn’t see that because he would have almost fallen out of the bus. And so I had to do it again and this time I did it right. And then of course he he said Okay okay well if you really want it I’ll do it. But I really don’t want to but I’ll do it. And then he finally did it and it looks good. So it’s basically it’s like you have to convince them it’s it’s safe because you really you don’t want to use stunt people. I can’t stand the use of stunt doubles. I mean because I want to really see the actors you know doing that to me if I cannot see an actor’s face in a stunt it’s the whole stunt is meaningless because then anybody can do that. And it’s like become so prefab and it becomes like there’s no emotion. But the moment you see an actor’s face in a scene like that and you know when Sandra drives the bus she actually drives the bus and once she hits some other cars she actually hits another car and you cannot act that you know it’s really hard to really put it in your mind Oh I’m gonna do this I’m gonna react. It’s impossible but the actors if they are at ease and if they feel really great and they feel safe most importantly then you get incredible reactions you know.

After speed. His next film was the tornado chasing action extravaganza twister.

Or as we call it back home in Oklahoma. The greatest most accurate movie ever. Made about tornados.

It’s coming. It’s headed right for us.

It’s already here.

Scientists have been studying tornadoes forever but still nobody knows how a tornado works.

You people are all crazy do you know that.

She’s a beauty.

Jonas Miller he’s a Nightcrawler. He’s in it for the money not the science. He’s got a lot of high tech gadgets. But he’s got no instincts.

Even with three times the budget he had on speed Mr. De Bont still expected his actors not their stunt doubles to be in the thick of the action.

You rehearse a lot and you can only rehearse to some degree because you cannot rehearse like running in the field with debris being thrown at you. The more intimate scenes you have to rehearse and because it had to be the same kind of feeling and tension then. Then the rest of the sequences. So I wanted to make sure that it had this kind of a relatively intense ruggedness to it. But at the same time there was emotion to it. And with Helen it was relatively easy but a lot of the actors was a little harder because they like to do physical things and you know like it was a little difficult for me sometimes to get them to do the quiet sequences because they said I should have run no no you’re not gonna run and you just sit there for but it’s not much different than any other movie it’s just rehearsing. Talk about it. Listen what they have to say. Very important and really let them play it and let them especially let them do it one time. The way they like to do it and and see if there’s anything that you like from it and try to use it because it’s really important that you listen to them and that you really hear what they have to say because ultimately they have to play it no. I Mean they cannot become just like robots and just running from left to right. This really was so important to me that they really understood what it all meant. You know like I really wanted them to drive the cars I didn’t want to have like normally in Hollywood movies you have a big tow car and the actors in the car behind it. They all fake drive here actors they had to drive and that makes it much more real no. It’s like it’s a little bit tricky sometimes like the helicopter shot when and camera starts really high up and then we see the red truck and the camera comes closer closer closer till close up in the car. And that was dangerous because these were the actors driving and the helicopter was at one point like 20 feet away from the car and and he was one of the best pilots in the business and I knew he could do it. And he guaranteed that it would be safe best for the actors there were no matter how I explained it to them how close it would be. They were scared shitless because if you see a helicopter the distance of half this room it’s pretty close especially with the wind blowing blowing but it’s a but but they liked it they were really troopers. And I think after a couple of weeks of shooting everybody was so into into the whole feeling of chasing and roughness there was this pretty. Some of them went sometimes chasing in a weekend in the state next door which we totally told them not to do because we were afraid they would never come back. But it’s but at the same time they got this feeling what it really meant to chase a tornado because it’s it’s really I can recommend it. It’s really cool.

We at the backlot are not responsible if any of you decide to chase a tornado for real.

So don’t blame us but ironically the filmmakers had to chase tornadoes themselves to get the necessary footage.

Bad weather usually shut a film down in Twister good weather caused them even more problems.

The most difficult thing was I don’t know if you noticed or not but we were filming during the season where most tornadoes do happen. And of course the the year we were filming it was a year there was incredible soft summer. And no tornadoes were visible in hundreds of miles. And not only that the skies were always totally blue and so I had to Oh my God how can I possibly make a movie where the skies was always sunny where there’s no wind and so we basically had to come about shooting how are we going to solve this problem and we decide a system with Sky replacement that had to be affordable because we didn’t have any more money because everybody thought the skies would always be dark in Oklahoma which they aren’t. And so we found a system with ILM that could be relatively easy meaning it would take us several days for every shot to replace it. You know we had a second unit team filming skies in all the states around it where the Weather wasn’t so good like Nebraska and tried to replace the sky use that sky and put it in all the images we did in Oklahoma.

These days CGI has become so impressive and routine we almost take it for granted but in the mid 90s using CG to create a natural looking disaster was a new and incredibly complicated process.

Well first of all I did go in a couple of those those storm chase runs have you ever done that. It’s fantastic. It’s really really cool. It’s like there’s nothing more scary and exciting than chasing a tornado in a car especially if the car is a little slow because then you have to really find ways out of it. But I really I got so excited by that because it’s like the force of nature is so amazing. And as I said that’s what I really wanted to get on the screen. It’s like there’s nothing that we can do that’s even close to what nature can do. So I went to meet with so many of the storm chaser guys saw all the footage and hired quite a few of those people because I thought you know they know where we have to go number one of course and we didn’t know that it was gonna be like a sunny shoot. But they were guiding us at least also in what people would do in the car say all the equipment was right and we had we had actually real dopplers with us and that would work but there was nothing to see because there was no tornado in the neighborhood. But but anything that those actors do is relevant to what a real storm chaser would do. So that took a long time to get the cars right because it’s like we needed like five sets of cars basically of each car because they always had to move left and right many cars got damaged and had to be re patched up repainted. So the preproduction was extremely long but most importantly the visual effects in this movie. This was a very beginning of visual effects a little bit and a lot of them had never been done before. So the studio did not let us make the movie until we could prove that actually we could create a tornado in visual effects. And so we had to develop. I mean I was involved in the developing of the particle system that didn’t exist so another thing that a director sometimes has to do but. But that was a kind of exciting because you know it’s the particle system and we figured out had to have at least 12 million particles for it to work. And that means we need this extremely powerful computers to deal with all that information at that time. So ILM and all the supervisor they had to rent supercomputers to be able to store it all. And to put it together I mean the rendering of the shot in the film at the end the big tornado at the very end. That took two days to render just one shot and the whole post-production took very long long time because it’s like first of all we were they told us we cannot move the camera ever you know because otherwise we couldn’t match it. And then when I the first day of shooting I told the guy no no we cannot do that it has to be handheld. It has to be I have to feel this rough quality to it. And they freaked out completely because he had never the tracking shots in those days was extremely difficult very time consuming. So they were forced to design a system that’s a little easier. Still was very slow but at least twice as fast as so. So the whole post-production was like probably twice as long as they had imagined it to be. And also the visual effects special effects on camera which was really fun. I mean like blowing real ice cubes into actors faces and straw and hay and debris. We had this you know like this sequence on the road. We had two gigantic 40 foot trucks we had one camera truck in the middle six camera and then two big trucks with huge ice makers spitting out just ice and aiming it right over the top. It would fall on the actors. I mean that was actually more fun than anything else because I mean. I mean Bill Paxton got one. I mean we tried to make them as small as possible but there was one big clunker in that it hit. Bill Paxton in his head I remember. And you can see it actually in the movie he was bleeding like crazy but he really I said stopped. No no no no. Keep going. And he loved it because it was really cool. It was like a really fantastic thing for him. Experience so nobody experienced like in the back of a pickup truck standing on a hill. It’s pretty cool. So there’s a lot of things we had to practice and endlessly rehearse and sometimes it works and sometimes it don’t. And you have to find other solutions no.

Man he really loves tornadoes.

Seriously. And you might assume that Jan De Bont’s work ethic and his boundary pushing the tornado chasing. Not to mention his extensive background as a cinematographer would make him a really difficult director to DP for.

But in fact the opposite’s true because he started as a DP. He knows what they go through better than anyone.

People always ask me that question because they think Oh my God he’s going to be so critical. And in reality because you have such a clear vision of what you like what you want to see you can you can be extremely precise in telling to the DP What you’re looking for. And most directors have no idea what they want. And so they’re kind of very vague and they hope that you give the right answer. But I was very precise in what I was looking for. And of course you look for people that you know a little bit that you work you know and therefore it was like relative easy. Said this is what I’d like to see. And you think you know you can do that. Are you interested in it first of all. You know what is. One other thing that’s really so important with with as a DP. Director is that you know they always ask me you know I wonder what shooting movies like on Die Hard or lethal weapon any of this movies. It’s like. How much longer. Okay 10 minutes. And of course it’s always 20 or sometimes longer because the sets are sometimes so big and doesn’t work out whatever reason. In this case when he tells me I need 10 minutes or 15 minutes I can see he needs at least 15 minutes or 20 so I’m much more able to defend him against producers say no no he really needs 20 minutes. It’s OK it’s fine so they like most DPs really that the ones I have worked with really. I mean they love it because they finally somebody who defends them you know so it’s good.

If you’re going to battle the elements when making a film it’s good to work for someone who has your back. So we want to thank Jan De Bont for talking with our students.

And thanks to all of you for listening. That’s Eric Conner.

And she is Oklahoma’s own Aerial Segard. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane. 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 Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden.

And me 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.

Hi and welcome to the backlot a discussion with the entertainment industries top talent. I’m Aerial Segard acting alum and in this episode we bring you three extraordinary women from a panel that NYFA recently held about women in animation. Careen Ingle director for Cartoon Network’s Unikitty and Anne Walker Farrell director of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman and Kelly Harper who works as a development exec for Comedy Central.

You do it for yourself. You draw because you love to draw but you can’t undervalue somebody enjoying.

Also I draw because I like to entertain too. It’s like you should only be making a film for yourself. Like that’s a bad.

The Art of Animation has been around since the late 18 hundreds and has been mostly dominated by males. But as for recent years more women have been taking the reins and it all sounds like fun and games. But behind the scenes is a lot of hard work. And just when you think there’s some R&R in sight. Reality kicks in.

Currently I’m on hiatus which is a magical time where I tell myself I get to sleep in and then I don’t. I just finished up directing on season 5 of Bojack Horseman. So thank you. We have one fan.

I think you have many more.

Yes, but I’m coming from Bojack and in August I’m beginning as a director on final space which is a show on streaming on TBS currently and I believe on adult swim as well and I’m going to be directing for them for season 2 with Bojack my directing duties were kind of twofold. I would direct the storyboard phase of productions I’d be in charge of overseeing the storyboard process keeping the episode as a cohesive whole while also you know encouraging our talented board artists to do what they do best and bring everything they can to the table and then for the latter half. I am one of two animation directors and I direct retakes on our scenes that come back from Big Star Studios in Korea and so for final space I’ll be doing the former I’ll be directing storyboards and working you know working with a design team and crafting the preproduction side of a cartoon.

Very awesome.

So, I work on Unikitty over at WB just like down the street and it airs on Cartoon Network. And so I’m a director so I both direct like I have a team of storyboard artists that I direct I’ll do about a fifth or fourth of the episode I’ll do the boards myself like I’ll rewrite chunks of scripts to make everything more cohesive and more affordable and funnier and better and like also I go to voice records and I’ll direct the voice actors and stuff and just a whole big umbrella of stuff is my job on Unikitty. And it’s super fun and I love it very much.

And I work in development so my job is just going out to comedy shows and scouting talent. I work on the live action production side of stuff so I don’t know if that’s I know we were talking about this earlier but I feel like a bit like I can talk more to that but we’re on the development side so I work with writers to get scripts into shooting shape and making sure that their voice is coming across and they’re being their voice is being represented in their own script.

The entertainment business is tough. Everyone comes here with big dreams of being the next big thing. You go to auditions or meetings with your head in the clouds and the more you work the more you hope the next one will be the one. But the rejections you do get can start getting under your skin and it can be easy to think of quitting packing your bag and shipping out. But Miss Walker Farrell reminds us how important it is to stick with it. Even when quitting sounds like the next best thing.

I started out in animation really wanting to tell stories visually and so I got very lucky and I was able to do. A pilot for nickelodeons random cartoons back in 2006 called mind the kitty. And from there. I was very young so while I had a lot of fun making my own cartoon I think if I think it’s you know all of us if we could go back and redo our projects that we did when we were twenty five like you just sort of cringe in shame and wish for a time machine. But I learned a lot from it. So I got into storyboards and. From there I stayed in storyboards and animation largely in Flash productions and I kept boarding and I kept animating and it was fine but I wasn’t advancing at all. And it was frustrating and so I got to the point where in early 2014 I was laid off from a job at bento box. I just finished production in a show called Murder Police which never actually aired. I was frustrated. And so I started I started thinking like oh is this really what I want to do you know is this worth it is the struggle worth it. And Mike Hollingsworth who’s a supervising director on Bojack he sent me a Facebook message and was like I hear you’re unemployed we need a board revisionist come to us. And I said okay sure fine. I was sulky and I so I sat and you know we call the area storyboard Canyon at shadow machine this little hallway. I’m doing my board revisions and I was watching animatics and I hadn’t really seen anything of the show I tell the story I watched the animatic for episode 4 and there’s a montage at the end of 4 that is Diane’s exboyfriend Wayne kind of telling her you think that you’re all bright and cheerful but you’re pardon my language you’re a piece of s**t like the rest of us. And you’re going to go back to being a piece of s**t and it was so dark and weird and smart. I was just blown away. And so I realized oh my god I need to I want to be involved with a show. This is an amazing show. And so I worked with Mike with my friend Amy Winfree who was one of the directors she’s this amazing talented filmmaker. She’s been our director one of our directors since season 1 and they both kind of worked with me to advance from a board artist and a lead animator to an assistant director and lead animator to director of boards and animation in season 4 and I’ve been really lucky to work with good people on the show who have kind of guided me and launched me really into what I do now. I feel very lucky.

I think the Rolling Stone said it best. You can’t always get what you want. Careen Ingle learned the hard way that even when you do the hard work that doesn’t mean you get the job but instead you get you need.

Well I guess for me was. So I went to USC and just like you study animation the whole time and then to your senior year you make a thesis and I worked really hard on my thesis. And it was like I want to work in television. So I structured my thesis around like this looks like it would be for TV this is the kind of jokes like this. And like eventually people saw it and then like it took like a year like I was kind of like underemployed not unemployed but underemployed for like a year after I graduated and then I started getting work as a flash animator. So it’s like I worked I did jobs for Titmouse did jobs for Disney Junior stuff all over the place like preschool adult. Like everything in between like that was fun but you know that’s I want to do kind of big picture story stuff so you know it was just taking board tests all the time where you know you get a prompt and it’s like OK like do two minutes of a show you know on the boards. And a lot of times it’s a show that hasn’t come out yet. So it’s like guess guess what we want. And like okay and they’re like I don’t like this. Well I did so. You’re a fool and eventually got a job on Peabody and Sherman at the Peabody Sherman show at DreamWorks. Don’t confuse it with the movie. Like everyone on Netflix does. And I was there for two years and that was great but it was like You know I was a board artist and I had a lot of fun. It was a board driven show which meant like instead of getting like a script for everything was planned out you just got an outline with maybe like 10 percent of the dialogue on it and you filled in the rest. So like basically I was a writer and an artist on that show and you know I kept telling them it’s like when a position is open you know because the show ended after four seasons or two. I want to direct I want more responsibility and DreamWorks is like yeah maybe. And then the show it and they just like let me go and I’m like put me on another show and they’re like nobody gets it. Like I’d invite people to like my pitches like for the other shows that really like looking to staff up and like I invited them all to this one pitch where the episode was about they went back to England 1800’s and they had to find John the ripper who farted on everything. I’m like so if you have a spot on your show for me. And they were all like. And nobody ever talked to me like well if you don’t want this. This is the best work I’ve ever done. I don’t want to work for you. So like DreamWorks made no effort to try and keep me even though like I really wanted to work for them and you know like I was trying to show initiative and stuff and they were just like. And then like you know it was like OK well I’ll take more board tests. Basically took a summer off and then like WB was like hey we need people you wanna take a test. And I was like Yeah. So I got a test for Unikitty did that and it only took like two days. You usually have a week to do it. But it was just so easy. It’s like I know what this is going to look like and then like two days later I get a call from DreamWorks. Like saying like OK we want you to come on a Rocky and Bullwinkle after like them saying For the longest time we don’t know if we’re gonna hire you or not. We don’t know if we want you even though you worked with all the same people like on the show and I was like okay cool yeah. And then I get a call from my reps like later and they’re like Oh Careen did you hear the good news and I’m like oh yeah that I’m going back to DreamWorks and they’re like What are you talking about. No WB wants you you know on Unikitty. I was like oh oh it’s like cool two people want me and then they’re like here’s the dollar amounts. And it was like oh DreamWorks wasn’t paying me fairly you know. So there was a back and forth and DreamWorks was like OK how about we pay you four hundred dollars less a week. I’m like no you know with a dollar amount. You can’t. That’s not how negotiations work. So it was I went from a company that didn’t appreciate me at all to like WB where it’s I get there. I’m just working they’re like you want to be a director I’m like I didn’t even have to ask thanks you want to do development. I’m like yeah sounds fun you know. So it’s you know not every company you work for no matter how hard you try it is always going to appreciate the work you do or like see the value in it. And DreamWorks was great when I was there it’s just now that I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix. You know it’s like oh I wasn’t. They were there to exploit me as a new worker. All my bosses and stuff were cool. It’s just the company culture you know with it being a new media company it’s different.

I cannot stress this enough. Paying Attention. Being on time and saying yes to jobs that may not be ideal can really affect where you go in this business. The key is growing and becoming who you want to be by the lessons you learn on the way up. A lot of people come here with the fact. That it’s so cutthroat and they have to beat out everybody else. It’s not like that. There’s so much work on all sides on all platforms to get you where you want to go. You can make it that way but it doesn’t have to be that way. You choose. To. Follow your path and help someone along on the way if you can. And if you like the sound of that. Ms Harper tells us that she too enjoys making dreams come true.

I went to New York University and I graduated right when the economy took. A nose dive. So a lot of jobs are pretty scarce so it’s kind of like take whatever you can get the first job I had out of college was at a company that sells credit card machines. And I worked there for a week and then I got I got a phone call asking if I wanted to come in and interview for a job as like a casting intern. And I was like I’ll take it. And they’re like no interview it’s like no I’ll take it like I’ll do whatever you need me to do. How is it minimum wage. I’ll take it like I’ll figure it out like beans on toast I don’t care. So I took that job at that company and that company was a production company in New York City it did a lot of other live action productions and kind of just bounced around to different projects that they had there which is how I ended up on like cash cab and history detectives which was like great to learn like on Cash Cab I was in the field doing production as a P.A. and on history detectives I was doing archival work so I was like calling small history societies in Oklahoma being like hey I’m trying to find a rare picture of this Indian chief. Can you help me. And then these people like don’t have any digital means so like we can’t scan this photo we can send you the photo was like Don’t send me your historical artifacts. Every job I ever had has taught me how to be scrappy and just like get done what needs to get done. So I kind of like bounced around a little bit at that company. Then from people I met there got a job working at AOL from that job. Since then I had cut my teeth in like digital production got the job at above average which is where I always wanted to end up because I always wanted to work for Broadway video because I always wanted to work for comedy. And like Broadway videos like the name in comedy to me until I then worked at Comedy Central and now that’s the name in comedy for me. But yeah. So now I just moved out to L.A. like I’m five months into my time being in L.A. so I’m learning everything I’m sorry I don’t know what any of the freeways are called I’m sorry if you tell me where’s the five I can’t I am. Good luck.

You know to just put the in front of it. That’s enough.

I heard that that’s just a southern California thing.

It is.

Also that like people are like oh it’s called a freeway not a highway. I’m like what is happening. So then I recently transitioned out of production into development because I realized as a producer a lot of times working with people in development or getting scripts from people in development I’m like this doesn’t really align with like the amount of money we have to make this product amount of time. So I get these scripts and have to go back to the writers and be like your dreams. We can’t make them. And like that’s the worst feeling in the world. And I was like there was definitely a step. I feel like we could have told you that this dream was a little bit or like fixed it and like maybe done it cheap so I was like I really wanted to get in development. And like yeah make people be able to make the thing they want to make the way they want to make it. And I also have like the company be happy like it’s getting made for the dollar amount because that is king. So that’s that was my path.

Nothing worth having comes easy and having a successful career in animation is the same but loving what you do can be the greatest motivator even when those working hours start in the morning and end the following sunrise.

Generally. I’m a morning person so rather than working late I get an early. But. Every production is different so sometimes you know you will be on a production that demands those long hours. It depends on the production it depends on the situation. The important thing is to make sure that you’re getting paid for those long hours. It’s been a situation I’ve been in before where I’ve been putting in my offer a job and not getting paid fairly which which sucks. I think the important part especially of leadership positions like you know supervising directing you’re sort of going into it with the assumption that I’m going to be putting in extra hours to make this good. Like this is my episode and there’s an ownership of it that for me makes those hours easier. And again that’s not to say too that. When I was a board artist it was like these are my boards on the episode like this is something that I am a part of and I want to do my best. And generally as an artist I’m told that I’m pretty fast. I’m speedy which I think helps in that regard. But I know I mean during animation for season 5 of Bojack. My codirector and I there were a lot of issues with the lip sync coming back it was it was funky fresh. And so we ended up having to go we called it lip sync Apocalypse which might have been an overstatement but we were going into lip sync and fixing the lip sync and we were there like we were working weekends. We were working through lunch and you know not working to like 11 12 at night. But like I would get in usually around 10 and I would I would not leave before 730 most nights. And that’s not you know crazy crazy hours but like I’m I’m I’m working that whole time you know. And again it’s an ownership it’s like well this is a problem like we need to fix this. It’s on us to fix this. And I don’t want to pass this down the line I don’t want to shove this off onto my animators it’s like we’ve got to we’ve got to get this done. So there’s long hours but as long as you know you’re compensated fairly and you love what you do. It’s not too bad I daresay.

For me it’s pretty much I work until I’m happy with the product and like sometimes that means I have to work more hours sometimes it means I don’t have to work as many. It’s good for me as a director. I’ve always felt that I work more hours so that my board artists don’t have to overwork themselves because I get paid on call. I get paid for more hours in a day like that’s just the way my job works. But then also it’s like the things that you ‘re going to focus on. I want you to like kick butt on those. So if you need help I’m here to help you. Like I’m here to make sure that you have the support you need and sometimes that means like I’ll be up until 4:00 in the morning. You know and not all the time. You know you have easy weeks and you have hard weeks and it’s just you. If you have too many hard weeks you know you just be like OK what can I do faster. What really really matters or what can I kind of ignore. But you know that’s just how it is sometimes but you know it’s just as long as like for me it’s like am I getting paid. Do I like the work I’m doing. You know like it’s that’s really all I need.

Do I like the work I’m doing is the biggest motivator to being like OK I know this is a 12 hour shoot day which means like an 18 hour like being awake day. But I’ve been very fortunate so like every crew that I’ve ever been on like knock on wood. It definitely you hit a wall at some point in the day. But then like if it’s a crew that you really love there’s always someone who recognizes you’re hitting a wall and is like hey I noticed that you’re kind of tired.

Because there’s always that point of the day where you’ll be at the office really late and somebody will be like are you still here and it’ll either be yeah I’m having a great time I’m having tons of fun. I’m riding this wave as far as I can. And then like other times it’s like oh you’re right. It’s time to bounce like time to go home.

Whatever you do or you dream of doing needs to drive you. It needs to be that voice in your head that gets you up in the morning but just know that voice won’t sound the same for everyone.

For me it’s crafting a good story it’s crafting a story that speaks to me personally. Obviously sometimes if I’m working on a kid show or if I’m working on a show that I don’t connect with sometimes that’s a little harder to find that sort of spark. But when you find a project or a show or you know a movie or whatever that you that you’re working on that just something about it speaks to you and you connect with it and you’re living with these characters in your head and you just see the world so clearly like that. That’s like crack. That’s amazing. It’s you know and that’s I think that’s the magic of Hollywood Hollywood. It’s – it’s you’re – you’re just crafting. Stories that aren’t real but that feel real to you. I think for me that’s what that’s what keeps me hooked.

I get to wake up every day and then drive and work and then draw funny faces and butts all day. And then I talk to another person and I’ll be like make that face funnier. And then it gets animated and then it’s on TV and like kids see it and they’re like hurray hurray we love it and it’s like yeah kids like it adults like it it’s just like oh it made somebody laugh. Cool I’m having a good time.

A thousand percent. When like when people say oh I saw that it was so funny. I’m like Yes that’s all I wanted. Yeah that is the best. It is it’s crack. You feel like a high like no other high when like also like you know the amount of time it goes into like making the thing so when you see it like fully done like the sound mix the color everything’s finished. You’re like my baby yeah it’s a baby you gave birth to this beautiful thing and then like the minute somebody laughs while you’re watching it back you’re like oh my god I’m going to like it’s the best it’s the best.

It’s always there’s a high at the beginning there’s a dip in the middle because then you’ve been with the story for so long. Is this even funny anymore. What is this is this funny. And then like and then it’s on air and then I’m like oh it is funny.

And it’s it’s worse when it’s your own stuff and it’s like a side project like I’ve been doing a web comic for a couple of years and it’s I’ve gotten to that point with it where I’m like What is this. What am I doing. But it’s very that feedback from an audience is so huge and so important. And I’ve had people who have said to me like oh that makes you less of an artist like you have to like no you do it for yourself to draw because you love to draw but you can’t undervalue somebody enjoying your work.

Also it’s like I draw because I like to entertain too. It’s like you should only be making a film for yourself. I’m like that’s a bad film. I can just think it if I want it just just for me why am I going to waste all this time putting it on paper. If I can just sit in a chair and be like. Like that’s it’s for other people.

It’s a good film. I’m a great filmmaker. Well back to work.

My target audience loves it.

Retta Scott who worked for Walt Disney Animation Studios was the first ever credited female animator she worked on the storyboards for Bambi and was on the production side for Fantasia and Dumbo really paving the way for women in animation. And although there is still an imbalance in the field it really has gotten better though it probably won’t come as a complete shock to you when I say it’s still got a far away to go and creating characters that are real and not just based off stereotypes is really something our panel women would like to see more of.

For me and like a lot of people our age it’s like we grow up like all dudes doing cartoons all the time and I remember being like a little kid watching I’m like I feel left out. You know it’s like cool guy cool guy. The fat guy who likes food like that guy. Girl. And I’m like I don’t want to be girl like she’s dumb a girl didn’t write her. I always feel left out. So it was like OK what can we put in this cartoon to make sure nobody feels left out. It’s not like P.C. police it’s just reality police. It’s not hard work you know. Just make sure it’s all types of stuff.

There’s something so powerful in seeing yourself in media and seeing yourself in the stories that you consume. And because I remember this specifically from something Lisa Hanawalt had posted on Instagram about like her old childhood drawings and she had drawn like this like cool cat guy and she’s like yeah I drew him as a dude because all the cool characters that I watched as a kid were dudes and I’m like I did that I have a s****y cat drawing from when I was at 8 and he’s a dude or like you know all the women are sort of overly sexualized.

Yeah well it was they only had one mold of action figure and they had to saave money by having them all fit.

They all need to look like She-Ra.

Kids today are better about it like they don’t seem to care like people bring their kids into the office and we have like a big Unikitty mural and like when there’s a boy or a girl they’re like yes. Unikitty I love her like boys don’t care like they don’t care if it’s a boy or girl they just care if it’s a fun character that they like to watch and it I think it’s always been that way but it was always parents like being like. No no no girls and boys they got to do their thing blue for you and pink for you. And it’s like kids don’t care.

I’ll also say we were in a meeting recently at Comedy Central and they were saying you know Broad City the majority of the demographic that watches that show is guys and like Key and Peele the majority of the people watch that show were white because the majority of our viewership is white males and they’re just going to watch what’s on TV because it’s funny doesn’t have to be like them projected back to them. It can be something that’s really funny and they’re just going to watch it because it’s good jokes so long as you have statistics look science says it’s OK and then you’re like OK fine the math check out great cool.

And the like the female characters now are – they’re characters they’re not just like like you said the girl.

They don’t just like horses.

They can like horses.

It used to only be that they had to like horses or be a horse.

The other the other thing that I noticed sometimes with female characters that bugs me is when they’re they’re like the writer’s afraid to give them any flaws. Like they’re not they’re so good and they’re smart and they win at everything all the time. Like.

You have to be the best if you’re a girl.

Yeah like that’s not I’m not going to be offended if you know a character with my gender is flawed.

It’s true. We are the best.

That for me sort of raises my hackles because it’s like come on we know better at this point.

No one is perfect in real life. So it’s like this girl you saw on TV and you’re not that and you’re like I’m not good enough for anything. Nobody’s ever going to love me or think I’m cool like no they just didn’t write it good. But it’s like really it’s just women and men are so similar you know like people are the same it’s just the way society treats them that like that they maybe reacted to differently. But it’s like were you going to write a boy. OK. Make it a girl like. There you go. You’re done. You did it. You know we don’t act different we’re the same we’re all people we’re more similar than we are different.

This is a great time for women as we push through the barriers and show we are worth more than the stereotypes placed upon us. Now more than ever people all around are witnessing it allowing a shift to happen which paves the way for more women to rise to the occasion.

We’ve always been good at it and people are just figuring it out right now.

I think it’s like an exponential growth thing. Like if you get one person in there who has a different way of thinking about things and then they hire two more people then they hire four more people and it just kind of spreads out from there. That’s why I think maybe the change is happening.

There’s also a culture of men who are incompetent and mediocre getting into positions of power and keeping women who were really good out because they would threaten their own position. Their job It’s just like oh crap they can’t get in or they’ll see that I’m not good. I know I’ll say they’re bad it’s stupid.

Also now too with like internet with digital media there’s just a lot more being made and there’s a lot more opportunity for different viewpoints to be seen and I think like for example if we’re watching a bunch of cartoons where all the main characters are basically male they’re men they’re boys like it’s the girl that creates sort of a cultural norm that I think is sort of being broken out of now that we have you know there’s YouTube and there’s Vimeo and there’s streaming and there’s like so much is being made and there’s so many opportunities for different voices to kind of come onto the scene and say no like this is not how it should be. It needs to change. Like here’s a story I have to tell. Here’s why I want to tell it like listen to me and then you just wave your arms.

The ability to find people like the Internet has helped that. Like it cannot be underestimated that that is a huge reason why things are different because you can just find people now versus like Jon Stewart was telling a story about how he got a lot of flak because everyone’s like you don’t have any female writers on your show but you are a big feminist pro women’s rights kind of guy and he was like This is crazy isn’t this crazy Mark isn’t this crazy John isn’t this Oh I see what happened here. I need to like change. I need to actually do. But it took other people being like hey there is a problem. And I also think the internet was not only a way for people to call out people in a very public forum and like also a way for people to just be like Here’s my work do you like it and everyone’s like oh my god I love it. Like I love your work I want to work with you it’s just like it breaks down that barrier for entry.

Social media can have its flaws and can possibly cause problems from time to time but it’s an excellent way to get your material out there to be discovered. Whether it’s photography directing even if it’s just your acting real. Curating your online identity is one of the best ways of getting noticed. Although leaving out those party pics may be in your best interest.

Oh my god. Get online get online get online.

You don’t have to be like unbelievably famous and popular. You just have to have your work be easy to find and accessible.

Make a SquareSpace site your email your contact information and some samples of your work should be front and center like we shouldn’t have to dig for it. Tumblr can be useful. Honestly I found the most ground promoting my own work on Twitter and social media is strange because it’s half like place where I scream in the woods because the world is on fire and also half where I show off a drawing and in recent months it’s you know as I have met more people online and sort of grown it’s become more of the latter where it’s less of a place that I can rant and rave about things and more that it’s more a professional outlet for me. I’ve encountered some people for whom the line is a little blurred and so it’s like well you have cool art. And then also here’s a rant about how you had a fight with your friend. Like make sure if there’s a place that you’re showing your art. Make sure it’s just art and it’s something that you would show to a boss or to you know a work person.

Yeah also. Yeah like photos of you like partying and stuff. I’m like okay. I see you like to party a lot. I just want to see the work if you can party and do the work like cool. But I don’t need to see it.

It’s yeah it’s tricky too because it is like part of being an artist is your life. Like that’s where you draw your inspiration from but it’s all it’s this fine line of your curating your online identity. A lot. And that in of itself is a challenge. But if you find it intimidating if you don’t want to you know go through the whole social media rigamarole SquareSpace site email at the top clear samples of work. I’ve had luck with that.

It’s just anything you’re going to put on your SquareSpace is just like OK. Then if you have Twitter just get it so no one can steal your name and then just like Here’s a drawing and that’s all you got to do. That’s it.

I would say Instagram is the one where I like find people a lot. Oh yeah I love I love Instagram.

Los Angeles is full of dreamers and it can be a powerful inspiration to be around. Or if you let it it can be extremely intimidating even debilitating at times. Everyone has an idea or a project. They talk about. Sometimes it can feel like everyone is getting somewhere and you’re standing still. But the secret is and lean in close for this because the majority of them won’t admit it. A lot of those very people who do all the talking never finish their projects or worse they never even get started. They don’t actually put in the work. So when asked for some advice for our students. Let’s just say our panel of women gets straight to the point.

Make your. Like just make your stuff.

I was up at JFL just for laughs and like I was on a panel that was talking to some of the creators of family guy and some of the creators of animals on HBO and the guys from the animals team were just saying like don’t think you have to like make your 22 minute like 30. Don’t make your feature length film now like they said they just started by being like we’re gonna animate this joke we’re going to animate a minute of this joke and then like see how that goes. And if you love that. Like okay let’s animate five minutes. And then eventually like you get your whole thing or at bare minimum you have a minute of like this is what my show sounds like this is what my show looks like. Do you like this. And then someone’s like oh yeah. Do you want to do a lot more of that for money. It’s like yeah I do. I want to do that. So like just make your thing and like in reasonable chunks so that you don’t burn out because if you’re like I’m going to make 15 minutes and you get 30 seconds into it and you’re like I hate this then now you’re going to be like then I’m never doing it again it’s like no just like you animate 15 seconds that’s awesome. So like animate 15 more seconds animate 15 more seconds.

Not to mention like if I’m like looking at videos on the internet and I see it’s 15 minutes I don’t want to watch that like make it three.

I’m scrubbing through .

It’s just like yeah if you start something just finish it even if you’re like it’s like I don’t know if I like it anymore it’s like just get it done. Like so people can see it and it’s you know it’s not as good as I want but it’s like that was you had it in your head. Everybody is just happy to see it. You know.

You would be shocked at the number of people who start things and cannot finish them if you can finish a project that sets you head and shoulders above half of your peers at least. And again yeah it will never look as good as you want it to look because you are constantly getting better as an artist as you’re making it you know as a filmmaker as a board artist as a designer whatever you know you’re working on a film for two years. You’re drawing constantly so you’re going to look back at those drawings from a year ago and cringe but I’m watching it as a new viewer. I’m just sucked into the story and I don’t care. So don’t pay attention to the self-doubt goblin it is only there to hurt you. It will bite you.

A little known fact. Being nice and being social goes a long way in this industry because your reputation is everything. There are a million excuses out there to stop you doing. The things you love doing. Most artists fear the very success they crave. Creating a show is no different. And the fear of success can be real. But thinking you can do it all on your own that’s a hindrance all in itself. Because it takes a team. It takes trust communication and it takes total commitment and knowledge of where your show is going. Even past the first episode.

Writing a pilot is great and it’s really hard. What does your show look like in the 17th episode. Like really know what story you’re trying to tell because if I read the pilot and like great write a show and then you’re like oh no no. Get a good grip on what the story is and what the characters are going to be doing. If if that’s what you want to do.

About to say. Also don’t start out thinking that you’re going to have your own show there’s like so many people fresh out of school and they’re like time to have my own show. It’s like you’re going to do a bad job work for somebody else first like learn stuff. Figure out what it is that you really like doing. And then get really good at that. Meet everybody know how all the jobs work even if it’s a job you don’t like doing like if you know how to do everything or if you know what everything like entails it’ll make you better at your job it’ll make you better at working as a team with your co-workers. It’s just good to like learn and talk and communicate. Just like see what everybody’s doing.

Learning how to work on a team is another big piece of advice I would say like it takes a village. Like nobody made a show by themselves. And you need to learn how to like you said like talk to everybody communicate what you’re trying to get done. Understand what they’re trying to get done and like everything is negotiation everything is a collaboration. And also learn how to take notes like if you have friends that you like and trust. Send your stuff to them and have them give you notes on it and try to implement their notes because that is what your job is going to be for the rest of your life is like implementing other notes and feedback.

You’re not going to get it right on the first try. Ever and people like but I worked really hard on this. It’s like not hard enough. Like do it again.

Sometimes it’s not even a matter of hard it’s just experience like you just need to spend that time and you have every now and again lightning strikes. But for the most part the people who get shows have been laboring in obscurity for like a decade. Like you just you haven’t seen them because they’ve been in obscurity and now you see them and it feels like oh god they just come out of nowhere. But it’s true. It’s you put in your time you know you work hard to do your best and be generally kind to people and it grows from there. You’ll get there. It takes time but you’ll get there. And you will run into the same people over and over and over again. So do not be a dick.

Be nice.

Be nice.

I want to think Careen Ingle, Anne Walker Farrell, and Kelly Harper for speaking to our students. I’m Aerial Segard. And this episode was based on the panel moderated by Kelly Williams. To watch the full panel or just see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/newyorkfilmacademy. This episode was written by me edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden. Executive produced by 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. Thanks for listening.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you the man who greenlights and develops pretty much all your favorite Netflix shows chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Most people have no idea what they want to watch when they come on and that’s why a lot of our competitors will say things like well your show will get lost on Netflix. The truth is things get found on netflix at remarkable levels.

Some of you listening to this have HBO. Others may have cut cable entirely. Maybe two of you have Starz but I’ll bet every one of you has Netflix. Or at least the mooch off your parents account. In a relatively brief 20 years. Netflix has grown from a DVD distribution website to one of the world’s biggest TV and movie studios. Under Ted Sarandos and CEO Reed Hastings the company not only changed television but the entire entertainment industry. The one time direct mail distributor now produces feature films. Emmy winning TV shows documentaries comedy specials and practically created binge watching. Thanks in no small part. To a man who didn’t even finish college.

I thought from a very young age that I would be a journalist I was going to. I always thought that was going to be what I did. I didn’t even graduate. I did two years of community college and I had this epiphany that it was not a very good writer and that wasn’t good. So I was probably not going to be a journalist. And I was working part time in these video stores while I was going to school. What was cool about it was the video stores most young people don’t even know what a video store is probably. It’s like being a blacksmith. It’s a job that doesn’t exist anymore but the video stores are empty all day and so all day just watch movies. So I watched every movie we had in the store over and over again. And so it was like a crash course at a film school in one. And it was a thing that kind of got me grounded in the artistic sensibility of film and then the running the business was running a business so it gave me the kind of the business background as well. I went from that distribution I worked for the company that sold the videos to the video stores. Did that for a few years and then I met Reed in 1999 who came up with the idea for Netflix and the rest is history. So Reed was a brilliant software engineer he could write code and he had the idea to do this and knew how to make it work from the system standpoint from building a website that worked and all those kind of things. But really the film business was not his world. He didn’t have relationships with the studios and at the time I had been in this pocket of time when I was running the video stores and working in distribution that the heads of home video had become very important to the studios they were driving all the profits and these were the same people who were selling me movies out of books. You know at one point so I had the relationships where the studios at the time and knew how it worked. When I joined Netflix we were buying all the DVDs back in the early days of Netflix. We used to just mail DVDs around the country and back in those days we’d buy the movies at Best Buy and Wal-Mart and Costco. So basically in that first year that I joined Netflix it was getting direct relationships with the studios and eventually developing revenue share programs and all those kind of things. The beauty of the old DVD business was you didn’t have to have a deal you just had to go buy the disk. And we had everything ever made on DVD including all the HBO movie. So it was a hundred thousand movies on DVD or something.

For years Netflix delivered content on DVDs and Blu rays. But Mr Sarandos and Mr. Hastings foresaw that the future of home distribution was streaming so before the DVD and Blu ray market came to a dead end. They deftly switched lanes.

You know it’s funny meeting Reed in 1999. When the Internet was super expensive and very slow. That first time we met. The conversation was about how Netflix was going to be. Deliver digital content to homes. So he had a very clear vision for this in 1999. And that we never intended. We knew in 2000 DVD was not going to be the permanent format. That something else was going to replace DVD so we knew our business was going to be obsoleted. So by doing that you never really got that attached to that format. So it’s very unusual in business to move from one generation to the next like Greyhound buses you know Greyhound never had an airline Amtrak never got you know got into the plane business. And it’s very unusual to know that to get displaced by the next thing. And we did that we avoided it by knowing that there was going and admitting that there was going to be a next thing. So when we started we said Look the cost of postage because we were mailing DVDs is going up a little bit every year. And the cost of streaming video or downloading video is plummeting and right at that cross point that’s when we start streaming because if we start investing too early no one can watch the programming because it’s too expensive to download and if we do it too late. Someone’s going to beat us to it. So we were actually watching the trajectory of those two things to figure out when to get in. But we had no affinity I think for the disc really was finished it was for the content for the TV shows in the movies that people were watching on it.

After making their name as a leader in distribution Netflix set their sights on creating their own content. Their first original series House of Cards was viewed by most as a massive gamble but according to Ted Sarandos enlisting the show’s talented creators was the safest bet he could hope for.

It sent shock waves through the industry because it broke all the rules to give somebody 26 episodes without a pilot and creative freedom to boot.

Not just somebody. David David Fincher. He’s exacting. I love more than anything somebody who knows what they want and knows what is important and what isn’t and I would say that David never had a a wasted conversation or a wasted argument about anything and during this production and the trick of that thing was when we got the pitch for House of Cards we had three really beautifully written scripts from Beau Willimon who was nominated for an Oscar that year. David Fincher was going to direct first time directing television and Kevin Spacey to star and Robin Wright to star. I mean it’s felt like a no brainer if you’re going to do this you did this one and I was very familiar with the British version having seen the DVD version of it many times. It’s a great series. So it had this great source material a great adaptation great director a great star great scripts. The thing was we’ve never done this before. So when they said do you want to come and hear the pitch. I said no I want to come and pitch David as to why he should do it. In other words I’m saying yes right now but there’s a million reasons he should never do it here we’ve never launched an original anything all of our shows on Netflix of the time were licensed from other networks and reruns. And I saw we got the meeting to go in on Monday morning sat with David and I just said the answer is yes and we’ll give you two seasons with no pilot and no notes. So what you technically could give us 26 hours of your home movies but you have to put your name on it and the bet was that someone who really cared about their brand would really make it great if you gave them the freedom to do that. And that’s what we did.

Hundreds of original properties later. Mr. Sarandos Still chooses his shows the same way looking for the right mix of talent and material. So when the director of Billy Elliot and the writer of Frost/Nixon pitched the Crown Netflix leapt at the opportunity.

Yeah I think the crown came to us Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry came in for a pitch about a show about the life of the Queen and it would take six seasons of television to do it and that we would and we committed to do the first two out of the gate again other people had been interested but no one was committed enough to give them both seasons. And Peter writes every word of the show and it’s just it’s a I think it’s a remarkable bit of television.

While most studios comb the Creative Universe for intellectual property. Netflix is just as comfortable buying a completely original vision.

There’s 11 or 12 conference rooms that are down here on the first floor. Every day dozens and dozens of pitch meetings take place which are people either with a script or an idea or a bible for a show. Typically for us because we don’t do pilots we look for a show to be very well developed in a pilot script preferably in a Bible. Some attached talent directing talent writing talent acting talent and then it’s evaluated for our teams in a fairly traditional way. Is this a world that people want to spend a lot of time in or are these people that people want to spend a lot of time with. Is it a vision that could be executed and typically that comes from. Have you done it before. Can you can it be repeated. I don’t think it’s important at all. It’s just it is one of those things where a lot of things come from books and remakes and sequels but the things I’ve been most proud of are things like Okja or bright that are completely original worlds and are not based on a book or a spinoff or a remake of anything.

Netflix isn’t afraid of working with newer talent. If they were the world would have been deprived of shows like stranger things and we would have never experienced Eleven’s love of Eggos or the terror of the Demogorgon. Man that would have been a tragedy.

It helps if they’ve done something before right so you could look to something and I don’t mean have had a TV series that’s a very high bar but something like the Duffer brothers when they created stranger things they had made a very low budget film at Warner Brothers that had never been released. So when they gave us this pitch my team was really blown away by the concept. And it was pretty ambitious what they were proposing and the big challenge was well can these young guys who have basically done a couple of episodes of wayward pines you know run a show it’s like being a showrunner is like being a CEO. You know it’s a big first job. So we loved the concept. We loved their take on it. We had some questions as to whether or not we thought they could execute so we got a hold of that movie that they made for Warner Brothers and everyone loved it and loved what they did on very low budget and it was enough.

Mr. Sarandos understands that their audience of over 100 million has a taste much more varied than his own. He also appreciates how deeply we connect to our favorite shows.

The thing I remember is that we don’t program for my taste. We have to program for everybody. So.

And what is your taste.

My taste is all over the board. I like I personally like grounded drama and comedy more than sci fi or. Fantasy. I just have never been a big fan of sci fi and fantasy. Every once in a while I stumble into something I really love. But for the most part you know really grounded drama human stories you know. So what I’m looking for like I said is that. That worldbuilding. Right that I can’t wait to see these people again. I’m 54 years old so I I grew up at a time when television was kind of the center of my world. There were only three networks and three hours of prime time. And you knew what night things were on and you knew what networks they were on and you knew the characters you knew their first and their last names you where they worked. Right. I mean the shows that you grew up on I always tell people about you know all in the family you know they lived on Houser’s street. Knew his wife’s first and last name I knew his cousin Maude. You know so you really were invested in these people on television. And I think what’s happening now is that content is a little bit commoditized in a way that it’s everywhere. It’s like my kids are 21 and 23. They have no idea what night anything’s on any network or how to find anything. It’s a different relationship. So I’m looking for that thing that will. Pull you back and make you say I’m going to spend 13 almost uninterrupted hours with these people.

The unique way Netflix conducts business with Shonda Rhimes Adam Sandler and others. Actually parallels the unusual way audiences watch their shows. So instead of spreading out their salaries over years they pay them in full right up front.

Well mostly there is no back end where we would rather the shows that are on Netflix and the films that are on Netflix be only on Netflix as a reason why people subscribe so we think there’s more value in exclusivity than there is in the aftermarket for the product. So we buy it we figure out with the talent you know what their share of a back end would have been and guarantee it and pay it upfront back end deals meaning that they would get a percentage of the DVD sales. We don’t sell DVDs so there’s no yeah but we yes we do awards bonuses and I’m like yeah it’s meant to be competitive with how it would have gone through any other channel but since we’re not selling DVDs or we’re not in theaters we’re not selling syndication that whatever their share would have been in success. We agree to that number up front.

Though Mr. Sarandos used to oversee pretty much every creative and business decision he now empowers his associates to greenlight the next must see movie or show.

Well on the artistic side the only way that we could do. What we do at the volume that we’re doing it. You know we produce original films television shows you know scripted series documentaries documentary shorts kids shows feature films unscripted television. So we’re producing across every discipline of content creation and I have an amazing team that I trust and I empower so the two people who work for me have absolute Greenlight power meaning they can buy any project in the room. And they don’t have to wait for me. They don’t need my approval and there’s no way that if I created a bottleneck of decision making that we could keep up with that. Secondly I wouldn’t want the programming at Netflix to reflect my taste. I want it to reflect the vast majority of other people’s taste. So you know cause we’re programming for the world. So what I really you know there are shows that I fall in love with that I champion. There are some that I say you know give them a second listen. I think you might have missed something but for the most part it’s an amazing team we’ve built and there are shows today on Netflix that I don’t see until I watch it on Netflix with you. And that’s a good place to be in terms of being able to let things go so that you can move fast. To me I think it’s about necessity. So like when we said that we were not going to give David Fincher notes it was perfect. I had nobody to give him notes I had no staff and I think right now if I had to watch everything that was on Netflix there’s not there’s literally not enough hours in the day anymore to watch every episode or every cut or to read every draft. Now in the early days were doing. First year we did House of Cards Orange Is The New Black Arrested Development and a show called Hemlock Grove and Lilyhammer. And watched every cut read every draft went to every production meeting visited every set and you know obvious you can’t do that today.

Netflix has also resuscitated a number of beloved properties from other networks. Mystery Science Theater full house and even the movie wet hot american summer all returned to the screen thanks to Mr. Sarandos and company. But perhaps most deservedly the legendary Bluth family from Arrested Development got a long overdue reunion.

I don’t have time for your magic tricks.

Illusions dad You don’t have time for my illusions.

What is wrong with you.

These are my awards mother. From Army.

There are dozens of us. Dozens.

I’m a monster.

Why does everybody think that I’m scared of girls.

Because you’re a chicken you’re a chicken.

Michael and women.

That’s what I was just telling him.

Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken.

Arrested Development. I think is you know when something fails and people try to make you feel good and they go it’s ahead of its time and it’s usually a lie. But in Arrested Development’s case it was 100 percent true. What I mean by that is the year that it got cancelled was the first year we started streaming on Netflix and because it had only made it through a couple of years of seasons it didn’t have enough seasons to go into syndication. So Fox licensed it to us. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t have if it had been in syndication and because it was on Netflix this whole new generation of people started watching it and the show. The problem with the show in terms of mass appeal is that and I say problem it’s a very wonderful problem to have but it’s so dense with jokes and storyline and character that for a 30 minute sitcom with commercials they were moving so fast. And sometimes what Mitch Hurwitz the creator would do is he’d set up a joke in episode 2 and the punchline would be in episode 7. And in network television when you’re watching a week in a week in a week you lose the audience half the audience didn’t hear the setup. So with Netflix you watch the whole thing and it’s a piece of art like you’d never seen before. And the fan base actually got bigger and more passionate for that show five years later when we started doing originals. So I had seen that behavior on Netflix had my own kids like have you seen the show called Arrested Development like it’s like it’s a brand new thing. And so I met Ron Howard at a party and just told him about how I think the show could come back and it could come back on Netflix and he introduced me to Mitch Hurwitz and we had a conference call in a room and Mitch actually put a baseball cap on his on the speakerphone because Ron wasn’t there. So you know it felt like Ron was in the room. But then we said yes and we made the plan in the room.

The extended plant and payoff of Arrested Development was perfectly suited for Netflix. Though their method of releasing an entire season all at once was initially less of an aesthetic choice and more of a practical one.

So prior to house of cards we got everything all at once because we were a year behind. So the season would run they would deliver us all the episodes we’d put them all up. So everything we had was all at once. So when it came down to this we thought. Well we didn’t really even think about how we’re going to be releasing it till a few months before and somebody said to me like well how are we going to do this. We could do one a week we can do four a month and we can do all the different things. And I thought well everything else on Netflix we have thousands of things to watch on Netflix. We’re going have one thing that you watch once a week. It just didn’t seem like it made any sense. So it really wasn’t a big strategy to change television it was a practical decision and it turned out to be the thing that differentiated us from everybody else. I think people started bingeing television shows on Netflix and DVD days because you can get the DVD in the mail there’d be four episodes on the desk. And what we noticed was that those disk would get turned faster than a movie because people would like burn through a season of a show and you know there are two or three discs they’d have out. And that’s how I watched The Sopranos in the box sets. And I remember getting to that last disc and feeling I got to wait another year. So it was the same thing.

Despite the proliferation of digital streaming there remains one element from the analog days of home video that is alive and well. Browsing used to be we would walk up and down the aisles of blockbuster all night.

Blockbuster Video. Wow what a difference.

Trying To find one title. Everyone agreed on. And now we can scroll through seemingly endless pages of choices. To find that one perfect title.

The truth is things get found on Netflix at remarkable levels. About a third of the most popular shows on television are on Netflix. Because this happens so there’s a movie kissing booth.

For me there was nothing more important than following the rules But in life. You can either follow the rules. Or follow your heart.

I presented to 500 agents over two days from four different agencies you know five 500 entertainment professionals and less than a dozen of them had ever heard of the movie and yet it was one of the most popular movies in the world at that time meaning that more people watched kissing booth on Netflix than saw Solo in the movie theater. You know what I mean. So you look at that and say but that audience all new solo because it’s a star wars movie. But there’s a whole culture of people who are talking about and seeing and watching and tweeting and telling their friends about movies that grow to these enormous audiences and it’s shocking for people that it’s happening you say so well. There’s a movie that tens of millions of people found on netflix in a sea of other great things to watch. But these are you know studios don’t make romantic comedies anymore. They find them very hard to sell. Just go with it the Adam Sandler and we’re shooting another one right now with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler right now called Murder Mystery shooting in Montreal and then Italy next week. And I don’t know why that something. I think what happens is buyers have a conventional wisdom about something and just decide it’s true. And then it becomes true. So like romantic comedies don’t work they don’t travel well that’s not true. But somebody said that so they stopped making romantic comedies. Adam Sandler is a great example of that where they’d say oh Adam Sandler movies don’t travel so they don’t open them. Therefore he becomes domestic. And we have a big global audience where when Adam a couple of years ago Adam went on vacation to Italy and I said you’re have a terrible time in Capri. It’s a tiny little place and you’re going to get mobbed for selfies all day. And he said no my movies never play in Italy. People don’t even know me there. And what happens since last time he was in Italy is his movies came on Netflix and he was enormously he got mobbed. He had a horrible time. So that’s what’s different. I think a great example of the bias of buyers influencing what people get to watch. Last year at Sundance there were two movies about rappers Patti Cake$ which was the biggest buy at Sundance that year.

Introducing miss Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$ aka Killa P.

And Roxanne Roxanne which was an amazing movie about Roxanne Shanté one of the early New York rappers.

Do you know how old she is she’s 16.

Do you want your daughter to be happy or something you want her to be miserable just like you.

You a naster mother.

And I will tell you the frenzy around Patti Cake$ that everyone has was going to go buy it. And they said we’re going to buy one rap movie the rap movie with the white girl in it. Not the real rap movie and that movie went unsold until Netflix came in and picked up Roxanne Roxanne and almost ten million people have watchd Roxanne Roxanne on Netflix. It’s a great success story and Patti Cake$ came out and did less than a million dollars in the box office.

Netflix may have brought movies and shows of all shapes and sizes to a massive audience. But even Ted Sarandos the company’s chief content officer was unable to save one of his personal favorites.

If you want to give an insight into my taste there’s a show that did. Unfortunately we only did two seasons and it didn’t do that well. But Lady Dynamite I think is one of the better comedies on television that we did. We just finished the it finished it’s second season last year. Maria Bamford it’s just a really fun. Quirky envelope pushing comedy that I’m just really proud of.

I’m a 45 year old woman who’s clearly sun damaged. My skin is getting softer yet my bones are jutting out so I’m half soft half sharp. And I have a show. What a great late in life opportunity.

That’s closest to my taste. I think I mean it’s a hard thing because they feel a bit like your children you can’t pick a favorite kid. And I think sometimes the experiences are not as good as the projects and the other way around where it’s a really grueling shoot as you know. And then suddenly turns out to be amazing. So that’s the harder one to pick. I think I really liked the discoveries you know like things like end of the f**king world this year that no one saw coming and they changed everything. I think in terms of you’ve got a cast that was barely known. You’ve got a first time writer first time showrunner and had no reverence for the format at all. One of the episodes is only 17 minutes long and just like you watch the whole season in three hours and 20 minutes or something like that and it’s just I thought they did a remarkable job like reinventing the form and that’s what I look for and that’s where you get really excited about when people are willing to do it.

One of Netflix’s greatest contributions is bringing the Documentary a sometimes underserved genre to a larger audience than ever before.

I think the market’s never been better. I mean prior to Netflix I mean the whole business was based on. Could you sell movie tickets in arthouse theaters and DVDs. I think one of the reasons that Netflix became so popular on DVD was that underserved audiences Foreign Language Film documentary film had no place to see these movies. It’s the only category of the Oscars that all five nominees would never be available to most people. And so if you had Netflix you could get all of them you see them and it built and built and built so we had we always had a differentially big foreign film and documentary fanbase. So we actually our first part of it before we started doing original shows. We had a label called Red Envelope entertainment where we were producing and acquiring documentaries like The Oscar winner. Born into Brothels and that was like it predated our original content initiative by several years. But we weren’t quite big enough to support it yet so we were ahead of our time too. But now we are fully financing and producing we have 65 original doc features we’re releasing this year. And we have a documentary series like Wild Wild Country and evil genius and doc shorts. We’ve been nominated for three Oscars for our doc shorts and won last year. So I would say this. When I said what’s the market like. It’s not a great way to make money. There’s not a lot of money in it you have to be you have to get ready for that. But it’s a great way to showcase your work. It’s a great way to tell really powerful and meaningful stories and it’s a great way to work on your craft.

Under Ted Sarandos the Netflix audience continues to expand and diversify as the network’s content becomes increasingly global friendly.

We try to make things you know and make them all global. We just launched a show in India called Sacred Games. You can watch it here and we use the technology to overcome the language barrier dubbing and subtitling. And we’re trying to get really great at dubbing into English which is really there’s no real call there hadn’t been really much call for it prior to you know what we’re doing. You know movies that wouldn’t play here you know they were dubbing Godzilla movies but not arthouse movies from Japan. Same thing with kind of Hong Kong cinema. The dubbing into English was really bad so it never really became much more than a little niche. So we are putting a lot of energy into dubbing our content better and better for the world including the English market. So we produce a show in Denmark called the rain. The actors in Denmark all spoke perfect English too so it was local language but they also dubbed themselves into English and then we used voice actors for all the other territories. So we try to make everything available subtitled and in most territories both subtitled and dubbed and now picking those projects I have teams all over the world. We have an office in Mumbai in Singapore in Tokyo that are watching the content from around the world and doing what we’re doing here but all over the world. So they’re inbounding shows hearing pitches reading scripts and producing global shows but from everywhere in the world.

The only place where Mr. Sarandos expressed any doubt about expanding the Netflix Empire is the movie theater.

What I think is that the world is moving very quickly. And the generations behind me who are raised on the Internet have an expectation of kind of what they want where they want how they want. And the notion of being in a movie theater seat at 8 o’clock. Makes almost no sense to a guy like you and your lifestyle. My guess is that the viewing experience at home has gotten remarkably good both in the fidelity and the comforts of home and all those things and the experience in the Multiplex has gotten pretty lousy. Smaller screens people on phones sticky floors rigid Showtimes commercials and by the way I love movies. I love going to the movies but I like to go to the iPics here. I’d like to go to a clean theater I like to go to the Arclight but most people in the world have no access to the Arclight. So we’re not trying to hurt or save the theater business. We’re trying to serve film lovers. And for the most part there could be nothing more aggravating than this film that you hear about all over the world. Everyone is talking about and you have no ability to see it for six seven eight months until after it came out and by then another 400 movies have coming out because you forgot. So it’s just this super inefficient distribution model and increasingly it’s not a great experience for people. I say that broadly because I get to go to the Arclight but like I said for most people who have got a tiny little theater in their town or or worse a multiplex with fifteens tiny screens it’s not really that much different than watching at home anymore. I think the desire to have that big theatrical thing is generational meaning people who grew up on desiring to make a movie for a big screen. That’s how they perceived it in their head. So if they ever get to realize that it feels like a lost experience but the truth is when you see a movie at a premiere or you see it at a festival it happened you saw it on a big screen with an audience. But the rest of the world is going to experience it much different. So we’re not trying to push our movies out to broad theatrical. I’m not trying to keep them off of screens. I would love the theaters to book our movies but I want to do it day and date so meaning that I don’t want to hold back a Netflix movie from 130 million people so that a couple of hundred people can watch it in Chicago. So no that’s not the drive the drive is to work with really great filmmakers tell really great stories serve film lovers and the theater is something that is I hope it lasts forever. And I hope people keep supporting it. But in general I don’t. It’s a very differentiated experience. I think.

When asked about how to start a career in entertainment Mr. Sarandos advised our students to go after every opportunity instead of just following a dream.

When you out of school I mean you didn’t finish it. Did you have a plan at that time.

No I wasn’t sure what I would do that time. I wanted to be a journalist going. I thought I think one of the worst pieces of advice that young people always get is to follow your passion. Because I think it’s really what you want to do is figure out what you’re really good at and you’ll be really passionate about things that you’re good at. I would love to be a professional golfer. That’s never going to happen. So I can keep following that passion. But it’s going to come at the expense of a lot of everything else. So I think the best thing to do. I think in your 20s and early 30s is to really try as many things as you can and figure out what you’re really good at and even if you’re not passionate about it I bet you will be if you’re great at it.

Golfer or not Ted Sarandos has been a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. He’s one of the few producers who has worked across all genres of film and television and succeeded at all of it. We want to thank him not only for speaking to our students but also for bringing them to the amazing Netflix campus for the Q&A. And of course thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced 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 Netflix Sajja Johnson Melissa Enright our media content and events departments as well as the staff and crew who made this all 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.

Please note the term Netflix and chill was not used in this episode despite my repeated attempts. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And thank you for listening.

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you stuntman turned director Chad Stahelski.

I’ve had over a thousand stitches broke my back my neck both arms both shoulders both knees ankle and my face has been reconstructed twice.

As Keanu Reeves’s stunt double. He battled an infinite number of Agent Smiths in the Matrix trilogy. He helped wolverine slice Spidermen swing Mr. and Mrs. Smith wreak havoc and even worked as a stunt double for Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame. Can you imagine how terrifying stuff must be if Johnny Knoxville wouldn’t even do it. But it’s his directing on the john wick trilogy which has established him as one of the best action directors out there. And his remarkable career might not have even happened if not for. Of all things snow.

I’m from Massachusetts. East Coast was well decided to go to school at USC at the time because geographically it was about the furthest place I could get into. That was away from snow at the time I was very heavy into martial arts. My parents were athletes so I got into it. Remember. This is way long ago when martial arts weren’t cool you didn’t really get a date if you did karate. You know the UFC wasn’t around yet. Jackie Chan wasn’t known yet if you knew about Bruce Lee you really didn’t go on a date. So yeah that was my kind of gig. And as I was going to school I was competing and stunt coordinator was in the audience you saw me compete said Well you might make a good stunt guy. So they had me double Kris Kristofferson on like a million dollar movie. And that was probably in 1990. And then I just got into the business through them and. I was doing a lot of TV work at the time and my boss came to me one day and I just got hit by a car. So I wasn’t really seeing things right and he said hey look they’re auditioning stunt guys who have a certain skill set. For this guy Keanu Reeves you know anything about him was like I don’t know you know saw him in that bill and ted’s movie. So I went and auditioned and that movie ended up being the matrix. And I passed all the auditions and then I was with the Wachoskis and Yuen Wo Ping who’s one of the best martial art choreographers on the planet from Crouching Tiger fame got to know Keanu and we spent the next eight years making the Matrix trilogy.

A common expression in Hollywood is you need to pay your dues considering what Chad Stahelski has put his body through as a stunt man that feels like a massive understatement.

To date I have 13 surgeries under my belt. I’ve had over a thousand stitches broken my back my neck both arms both shoulders both knees ankle and my hip my face has been reconstructed twice on the first Matrix I broke everything in my right side. That’s why you see like I don’t sit still. And that’s because things start hurting. But that’s again. I was. In the top 5 percent of stunt doubles at the time I was actively performing nearly. Every day or every other day on high end martial art shows and at the time you know what you guys what we called rigging or wire work. Before wire removal they did it on piano wire. So the stunt guys were very small very light. They had to be otherwise the piano wire would break. When you’re figuring you’re doing high end ratchets or what we call wire work. When you see a guy gets yanked back or they fly that’s wire work at the time the systems weren’t quite developed. So you kind of had a better than average chance of coming out. OK. But when you doing from there about 80 feet in the air and 200 feet that way. Doesn’t always work out well sometimes the math is a little off. OK. When I started maybe there were three or four deaths a year. And it’s usually it all goes back to human error. Or people just being really either ignorant or just f**king dumb. Someone should have said this isn’t a great idea or they didn’t rehearse it properly. You know doing a rehearsal in a gym is one thing doing it out on location with explosions with stuff. And every all the factors are different. And it’s you know I was on the set of the crowd I was on the set of the expendables. I’ve witnessed two fatalities. And it’s always down to the same thing it’s let’s hurry up and go. Don’t worry it’s a lot of yes men going. All right. We’ve got no time. If you had had time if they had had time or if they had like another three hours ago no one would have said go. They all would have said yeah this is dumb but because you gotta go we got to go let’s go. We got to go. We got to go. And everyone goes yeah we got to go will it be OK yeah should be OK. Let’s go. And like you get a bunch of. Like a person is smart people are dumb. Ever hear that expression you get a group of really smart people together but they’re all tired and they all got to go and they want to make it happen. That’s when dumb decisions get made. And every time I can try to when I have been hurt a lot of times it’s me being like you know I’m trying to go into ego stunt guy I’m a tough guy I can do it. I should have no business getting up on that thing. Should have tested the rig and done it and then we should have done three or four more tests. No we got it let’s just go. I can do it I can make it. And next thing my legs turned around backwards. And believe me it’s not like the movies. Literally where you get up and go Yeah and you spit and you wipe the blood off. I cried and peed my pants and then I went to the hospital. So yeah that wasn’t cool. But it’s so much better now nowadays honestly because my wife is still a performer and I’m ultra protective of her and the stunt team she works with most of the time it’s just our stunt team now. But the rigging capabilities the safety precautions the entire industry has come a long way. Like stunt men are all professional athletes that are usually in bed by 9 because the competition. If I told you right now just be really good listen to what I say and you can make half a million dollars. Smart ones will make it. You know. Will go to bed early stop. They’re not going to chase girls all night they’re not going to do drugs they’re going to drink they’re going to go work out in the gym like it’s a whole different attitude nowadays. It’s very very very professional and everybody’s very very into being safe because there the few accidents do happen. Trust me it’s crushing crushing when it happens to the entire industry.

A discussion about stuntmen would not be complete without a shout out to the great Hal Needham like Chad Stahelski. Mr Needham started out taking his bumps as a double for the irreplaceable Burt Reynolds. Before launching his own directing career with Smokey and The Bandit. Mr Needham had a distaste for digital chicanery that was used to remove harnesses and other safety measures. But As Mr Stahelski explains stuntwork is no longer treated like the Wild West.

It was a fledgling part of the industry back then but again even the special effect guy where they used to be known as a little bit loose and yeehaw and the stunt guys yeehaw and the stunt guys the effects guys were like put more black powder in. It’s kind of changed in that everyone’s on the same page. The whole level of people you’re talking about you know MBAs in chemistry. Now you’re talking about structural and physical engineers are taking over. It’s just the money involved now. And the lawsuits and like you know Marvel has a you know 3 billion dollar interest in their movies you know like Warner Bros and DC like those are you do not want somebody getting hurt on you don’t want anybody turn ing an ankle. You know like these are franchises and dollar amounts to be protected so yeah everyone wants to you know they got the half a billion dollar insurance policy. Like you don’t want anybody getting hurt you don’t want a hang nail. So the medics I think everybody it’s pretty pro. I mean. The last couple of times I’ve been on set is incredibly incredibly well put together incredibly safe.

Mr Stahelski had been a stunt performer for years when he signed up for the Matrix. Not only did he perform in some of the best action scenes of the past 20 years. He also found a pair of artistic mentors in the Wachowskis.

The Wachowskis took me under their wing. Most of what I know about filmmaking really came from them and they really are genius filmmakers. If you look at the way they. Compose and detail and create worlds and I ended up directing they gave me a camera and I was like trying to figure it out and then I’d go shoot little things and little tactically second unit things. From them over the next eight years I learned quite a bit from them. And then I had a good relationship with Warner Brothers afterwards and they gave me a few smaller films to action direct. And then it just kind of blew up from there when the matrix came out and it was such a success. There weren’t a lot of people with our skill set as choreographers a choreographer is just a dance choreographer. Every time you see a martial art fight or a fight scene or wire work or even a gunfight there’s a guy like me that will go and block it and choreograph it and hire the stuntmen to do it and help the director find the interesting angles to shoot it and how the logistics are of you know whether it’s visual effects wire work stunts explosions all that kind of stuff and we help them put it together. So after the matrix came out that was very much in demand. So it was like a niche market. Second unit for you guys who don’t know most action movies or most bigger movies have at least two units sometimes three. What they call first unit or main unit that’s your real director. A lot of the dialogue the acting. Sometimes there’s a second unit which is technically if you’re going to want an aerial shot of Rome you send that guy first unit never even goes. They just do their shots sometimes it’s like four guys a camera in a helicopter and that’s second unit. Or second unit could be bigger than first unit doing a big battle sequence you know like in the new movie hacksaw Ridge. There’s a big second all the big establishing shots are probably second unit or Braveheart with all the horses. Anything that doesn’t have your lead cast in it then you have like an action unit that may or may not have lead cast in it. And do big sequences then you may even have a third or fourth unit with visual effects that are shooting all your blue screen elements or the digital composer or modeling or anything like in the original Star Wars. So we got very good at crossing line in all the other directing work.

As a stunt coordinator. Mr Stahelski helped create the ultimate superhero showdown in Captain America Civil War.


Nice job kid.

Hey everyone.

The airport battle with the Avengers split in two going against each other helped bring the Marvel Universe to dizzying new heights and the sequence never would have worked without the extensive preparation before they filmed. With this in mind Chad Stahelski and his partner David Leitch started a company focused on bringing action to life.

My partner Dave Leitch and I Dave’s directing the new Deadpool as well. He was my codirector on John Wick. We have a company called 87Eleven we’re a one of a kind company that pretty much we call it its action design you can hand us a script you hand us a sequence and we write it. And we design it and we bring it to fruition rather than just writing something that can’t be achieved or can be achieved for an extra hundred million dollars. We work with the producers the directors anything and actually build an action sequence and hopefully employing just like you know a couple years ago the X Games were new snowboarding was new the MMA was new. Now you cut to what’s new tomorrow. Not what they’re trying to do today so studios will come to us a lot and have us design a new sequence. So the Russos are kind of friends of ours from the commercial days people that we had know and really really dug and they had just saw John Wick and they were like oh my god. Can you help us with Spiderman we’re like yeah sure that would be great. So we helped design the Captain America and Bucky stuff in civil war and we helped design the airport sequence and that’s the sequence we shot the airport sequence with all the actual civil war part. Part of I think why we got such the education we did or the back and we did is you coming up. You work with the Wachowskis you work with Fincher we did Zack Snyder we did worked a lot with Guy Ritchie. I mean just that alone. Is. You know on second unit jobs. I got to direct Robert De Niro I got to do Hugh Jackman I got to do Tom Hardy I get like you know these are just so by the time you go to film school like that you’ve directed you’ve worked with lead cast you’ve worked with some of the best directors on the planet if you pay attention not just to you know where to put the camera but how to run the business how to budget and how to spend the money they give you. You can be fairly efficient. And that’s kind of the best film school you could ever go to.

One of the reasons Mr Stahelski achieved success as a stunt coordinator was because he was needed on set and the directors who didn’t do their homework or prep for their action scenes but they needed him even more.

You gotta know where directors come from you know back in back in the day they could have been artists or photographers or poets or writers or novelists like it. They’re very well. Versed in in a broad sense of education. Now you can have a music video director. You can have anyone of you right out a film school you know you do a cool project somebody sees it oh he’s got a little bit of shine and they’ll give you a fifty million dollar movie OK and there’s guys that come from production design that are directors and a stunt guy you know visual effects supervisors so you don’t really know if they’ve come from an on set or in the trenches background they probably have an inkling of at least what a good stunt or bad stunt is or what an action design may look like. Most of the problems with action design is tone like what kind of most directors don’t know tone that’s where most of the cleanup jobs we have to go in and fix are tone it’s like that’s why sometimes you watch a movie and it’d be kind of funny kind of weird kind of serious kind of cause the guys kind of gaze all over the place go. You know we always want is OK so what do you want out of your movie. And they’ll go well you know that scene in Captain America we’re going to do that but then we’re going to do Bourne. But then we want this scene where it’s like you know American history x and then but it’s a little Buster Keaton and I’m like. Wow that’s a hell of a movie dude. So if you don’t know what your movie is you’re going to have a problem. You know tonally through the action as well. Like you brought up earlier like John Wick it is brutal it is violent just because of the way we chose to shoot it because it’s it’s connective it’s not like the typical gunfight where you do a single on the guy shooting and you reverse and see the guy falling down. It is connected. And in order to do that that’s in close proximity intimacy always brings more emotional content to it but that kind of ties in with tone and that’s what you have to explain. So if you can get that but back to your question. Different directors come from different backgrounds some are very versed some are not. The best thing I can say to anybody here that wants to be a director is it should never be the way it is kind of in Hollywood today. That’s kind of the biggest thing I shouldn’t say. That’s why I have so many houses right now. I don’t I only have one but it’s really big. It’s mostly because they come in and they think oh well Chad’s the action guy or Bob’s the action guys or Scott’s the action guy. So I’m just going to go eat lunch. That’s the worst attitude you can have. How many movies have you recently watched where it just becomes a gunfight or just becomes a fight scene and it’s the obligatory third act. I got to beat up the giant robot. But you don’t really feel anything you don’t care. You don’t really see the actors faces cause he’s in a suit a hood or a mask. That’s because it wasn’t shot by the director that’s because the cast wasn’t even on set. That was the second unit guys trying to get it done with what First unit gave them because you know you know Bob the action star has already gone home or he’s in his house in the Bahamas. And we’re trying to finish the movie. It’s become this thing where action has been divided where storytelling stops. And then we’re supposed to just go in and do an action scene because the studio wants an action scene like at what point like take your godfather. Anything like that. DeNiro was in that scene. You know what I mean Scorsese shot it. You know what I mean like they kept it in storytelling was just part of the action.

When you watch The Matrix you’d assume the Wachowskis had an extensive background in martial arts. Well that’s not the case. They just did their homework.

When you go into a director whether they know or not the best ones they may not know anything about stunts the Wachowskis didn’t know. They’re two kids from Chicago that used to draw comic books and that’s how they got into the business. Used to draw comic books but as soon as they knew they always loved watching Kung Fu they went to China got hooked up with Yuen Wo Ping the best Kung Fu choreo on the planet. They went to the source and for two years educated themselves and wrote the matrix. So when they came to us they can they can name every move with the Cantonese name in that first fight scene in the dojo. You know and they burn in they were in every rehearsal they were they were in live in rehearsals with an actor how many of you guys have seen an Arri 3. It’s a big ass camera that weighs about 85 pounds. They put it on their shoulders just to find the angles and figure out what is possible. So they get those great angles in the matrix like they gave a s***. They knew action is a huge part of what the Matrix is. Imagine matrix with sh*** fight scenes. It’s not the same movie right it wouldn’t blow your doors off. They did it. They knew that. Why is Jackie Chan. Well it’s simple because it’s Jackie. They’re like OK well we’ve got to get Jackie Chan we’re just going to call him Keanu Reeves. And Carrie-Anne Moss and they are all that was in the contract. It’s like you’re going to give us six months of your life in a gym and then we’re going to do this movie. But we ain’t going to pay you. But it’s going to be a great movie and that takes a lot for a castmember to do so kudos to Keanu and the rest of the cast but that’s directing. If you’re going to do a movie about you know horse racing learn about horse racing you’re doing a movie about boxing learn about boxing. Don’t divide it up. Storytelling is storytelling.

Mr Stahelski’s growing list of credits as a stunt coordinator and second unit director showed that he was more than ready to direct but he faced one small problem. The material being sent his way was just not good until he came across a professional bad ass named John Wick.

It’s not what you did son it’s who you’d do that too.

That nobody is John Wick.

You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond you may well find something. Reaches out and you back into its depths.

I lost everything.

They know you’re coming.

Of course. But it won’t matter.

People keep asking if I’m back yeah I’m thinking I’m back.

We’d been trying to direct my partner and I for a couple of years but we just we got I think let’s see like every Navy SEAL ninja assassin script out there and they’re really bad. I’m certain you’ve seen probably most of them that were made. No they were really bad scripts and then Keanu who I hadn’t talked to in a while called up one day and said hey I got this script did you want to read it. And I read it and John Wick was let’s see. He was 65 years old. His dog was a German shepherd. His wife died when she was 50. And it all took place in New Jersey and it wasn’t nothing against New Jersey. It just wasn’t very sexy. So I was a big fan of when I was in college I was a big fan of mythology Greek mythology and stuff so we said Well why don’t we just remodel this to be a Greek myth. So we did it if you go back and watch the first John Wick you’ll see that there’s a lot of mythological references in it. The underworld Charon the river Styx all this kind of stuff. So we just painted it over and made it a mythical world. After spending ten years with the Wachowskis you. Nothing else you know how to world build. So we kind of went into that and our action background gave us like I don’t know if you guys know about budgeting but the first John Wick was made for about 18 million bucks. That sounds like a big chunk if you’re gonna buy a new car but for making a movie it’s not very much money. So we had to come up with ways to do things very cheap especially when you’re shooting in New York. So when we do a longer takes and stuff like that we just literally told Keanu Yeah like the more coverage you do the longer it takes. That’s why you see all the editing so we’re like look we want to do something cool we’ll do like we’ll go back with Jackie Chan and all that stuff and we’ll do longer takes less editing. But the payback is like. You know Keanu’s got to spend three months in the gym learning all this stuff because at the time he was 50 years old. I don’t know if you guys most people can’t walk when they’re 50 let alone do jujitsu. So we beat the s**t out of him for about three months. We have a facility. Here in town that trains cast. That’s where we train all the Marvel people the DC superheroes and all that stuff so we got Keanu in there with the best tactical gun people jujutsu guys and stunt guys and just he literally lived there.

John Wick is one of the best action franchises produced by Hollywood in years. When you watch the film’s set pieces it’s clear there is a stunt man behind the camera and it’s also clear that Keanu Reeves who’s now in his 50s is the one doing his own hand-to-hand combat.

The reason we did what we did on John Wick was not just to you know show off and say look at our guy. The reason is like how many you guys have seen in action movies the scene with the two FBI guys and CIA guys open the folder and go Joe. He was Navy SEALs he was three tours like he’d tell you how bad ass he is. But do you ever see him do anything bad ass. Not really. We figured let’s not do that scene and John’s going to cry over a puppy. He’s going to lay down in his boxer shorts. He’s going to be mopey. And then when he picks up a gun then you get to see him. You don’t have to ask whether he’s bad ass and you don’t have to worry about the editing. You don’t have to worry about the VFX you’re actually seeing who. Keanu Reeves do something that you think is kind of difficult right. There’s no cuts. It’s him doing it all. You all love Jackie Chan right. Jackie’s awesome. Great guy. Give me the name of his character in any movie. Maybe you get a Lee. Most of the time it’s just Jakie right. But you really don’t care because why it’s Jackie you going to see Jackie you don’t care who the character is. You don’t care what the plot is you want to see Jackie. And why do you love him so much. You don’t love the back of his head right. You don’t love the super wide Top Shot. You love Jackie because you know that’s the guy that fell off that f**king clocktower right. Yeah that’s why you believe it. So there’s believability in the character. When you see a character emote it’s the same thing when you really see Christian Bale cry that’s really Christian Bale crying. You get on board with that. But if you just saw the back of his head crying you don’t really care. It sounds silly but that’s what you’re doing with action. If you see the guy doing his own action that’s great. Like stunt doubles are great don’t get me wrong I made a great job out of it. But at some point not everybody can do the splits well some of us have got to go on and do the splits. That’s just the way it is. Not everybody wants to get hit by a bus. Some of us are dumb enough to go and get hit by a bus. OK for a lot of money.

Perhaps most impressively John Wick’s action scenes are actually clear. We feel the tension all the more since we understand and feel what’s happening. But Mr Stahelski shares the credit for this. With all the directors who inspired him.

It’s not really us. We copied stuff from the 70s 60s and 70s and obviously you know we have a huge influence with. Sergio Leone Bernardo Bertolucci Andrei Tarkovsky all framing composition you probably recognize in there the Wachowskis are obviously huge but you gotta remember why editing exists. It controls pacing and framing wise it exists. I believe in choice more than anything. And when I was a second unit director working say I was working for you I would try to design a sequence and help design it so that you had choices. Meaning I’m trying to get the actor to do as much as you can like so you try to give the director choices about how to spin the choreography how to make the guys move. I believe that editing should be a creative choice. I believe framing and shots should be a creative choice. Most things are done today unfortunately like. Let’s look back at Paul Greengrass second Bourne when we first really brought back shaky cam. When I was coming up shaky cam was just called bad camera work. And you got fired for it. And now it’s back so they don’t even try you can just do this. You had to call. It was like pool You had to call your shot back in the day and now you just swirl around with five cameras. But Paul did it for a very interesting reason just didn’t talk about it he did it because he wanted Bourne the character of Bourne to feel frantic and frenetic and disorientated. That’s why he did it. And if you go back and watch the secong Bourne. It’s not super kooky it’s just kinetic. And you get that he put the pulse in it he wanted to infuse pace in something I think that’s a great use of handheld that’s a great use of more ballistic editing even when you’re crossing the line and doing things like that. Unfortunately that’s become a time saving technique. I’m sure you guys know time is money in the film industry. You have a 12 hour day. Some directors average three setups a day. Some can get as many as 50. You’re judged by your setups setups mean coverage coverage means you have to time time management is probably the best logistical skill a director can have because you don’t want to spend two hours shooting this guys close up and then 20 minutes on your close up when it’s Brad Pitt going to get yelled at for that. It’s become a way to hide. Instead of a way to show.

In John Wick Chapter 2. One of the flat out coolest sequences was set in a club filled with mirrors. It turns out it was also the most difficult.

The mirror room just logistically. I only mean that because no one knew what the hell I was talking about when I pitched it. I’m a huge Bruce Lee fan so that was my tribute to enter the Dragon. We wanted to do it like that something like that doesn’t like that location doesn’t exist. We built that that’s one of the few builds in the movie. So when you get that you have to think 1 What is the cost. What is the just you have to think of that one three months before you even show up on set. And you gotta start designing it. Now no one’s ever built a mirror room before for a gunfight that I could find. So you’re like okay so me and the stunt team went out and bought a bunch these really cheap dance mirrors. About 50 of them and lined a room about this big with them and started creeping around with a little toy gun on weekends with our iPhone’s and trying to figure out okay you see the guy there I don’t see that we figured out we had to rotate the mirrors and they rotate not just for fun. But 50 percent of what you don’t see is because I can angle the mirrors or I’m hiding camera teams behind mirrors. So it took literally 3 months to figure out and at the same time I have to build the set. The first budget came back at about one point two million to build that set so we had to shrink it down and shrink it down figure out and like that’s why it’s not real glass in every shot. Sometimes it’s lanothane its a reflective material. So when you shoot it it doesn’t shatter which is another handy thing to know. So we get it down to about 700,000 and that’s just to build the thing. But you can’t build it all in one day. You build a small section of it. You test it going. I think this is going to work. Then they build another piece or you have to tear it down and rebuild it. As you go. And then now you’re in there. Now where do I hide a 50 person crew. Five stunt guys and still get my cameraman. Okay well that goes to VFX you know the original budget came back. Well it’s going to be 800 to a million dollars to remove everything. And you’re like whoa hey that’s. So much. So you’ve got to figure out OK well screw it we’ll have to figure out how to do it practically. And then it’s back to the with the stunt guys and little mirrors on your iPhone. Figuring well if the mirror moves if I do this I put the camera guy low and shoot Keanu up high. So it’s just a lot of rolling up your sleeves and figuring it out and knowing what you spent. While still trying to look cool. That’s why we put mirrors on the ceiling trying to be inventive otherwise that could be got really boring too.

Chad Stahelski might now be sitting in the director’s chair. But when it comes to his action scenes he just can’t seem to let go.

I’m one of the choreographers. There are two or three other stunt guys that have become directors who they weren’t choreographers and they kind of let other people do stunts. I am again an incredible egotistical control freak. Most of the choreography you see is something I’ve either performed or put together. I still coach I still teach martial arts to to stunt people. Pretty much every morning. It’s what I enjoy it’s what I do. I have a facility by LAX that we train some of the best stunt guys around I’m probably better at that than I am at directing to tell you the truth. So I kind of stay involved because it. That helps me create. If that makes any sense to you you know when I choreograph I’m trying to picture what the character. Any any good action sequences has moments. Like. You guys have all seen the first Matrix. You probably can’t tell me three kung fu moves. Okay spitting hook kick but you could tell me Carrie-Anne walking on the wall and doing the eagle thing you can tell me. Keanu leaning back in the bullet time right. You can give me moments you give me the spoon bending. So I try to stay in it because that gives me the moments it’s like Keanu going ah or looking like you know the pencil was an actual joke because I got so frustrated at the first stunt guys in the first John Wick cause he wouldn’t I stabbed the guy with a pencil. Wake up. And I was like that’d be cool. Stab a guy in the ear with a pencil. And it was just like seriously. Moments of genius come that way sometimes. So I enjoy it. It’s something I think and again to my point I want to live by example. You know I go wardrobe shopping. I love shopping for I love going shopping I’ve got the best wardrobe supervisor ever. He’s got me into the world of fashion and just understanding what that is. That’s a big part of John Wick like those suits didn’t just didn’t get invented we tailored those. And we went to Italy we went to France we went to Milan just to see what the new styles were and then took what we wanted out of that. I don’t see stunts any different than lighting I’m a huge lighting freak composition or wardrobe. It’s just another department that you have to be vested in.

So what advice does a successful martial arts expert stunt man fight coordinator and director give for launching a career well don’t just do your job do your homework too.

Again the industry is always changing. Like you guys probably know more about what it’s like or whatever they’re teaching hopefully than I did in the day. It’s whatever you do if you want to make movies. You guys have this rare technological advantage that we didn’t have. Like right now. Any one of you can pick up an iPhone and go make a movie like there’s no like you can edit that you can learn to edit you can learn simple concepts of editing right now you can learn simple concepts of music design like you can what sound forge. I don’t know what iTunes you guys can do that you make a movie on your iPhone which is we had to go out and save every penny we could to get this big VHS camera and then do VCR to VCR you guys know what a VCR is. OK VCR to VCR. Good thing to know for you guys too is part of it is like just know what people make that helps you like. Never underestimate the power of controlling the money. OK it’s not like that should be your only job but you should know what things cost. You should know what people cost you know what time costs you know what cameras cost it helps a stunt guy right now is about 800 bucks a day for the first eight hours then he goes in overtime unless you’re on a weekly then he’s about 36 37 hundred dollars. It’s not a bad job. OK. Just getting hit by cars or shot. It’s a good job. It’s easy to get in. Say you’re a 21 year old kid you just graduated you know. Now you’re making anywhere from three to five a week. It’s pretty you can live pretty well you can get a new car you get a nice apartment you get. You get suckered into that easy life and you don’t do your homework. Like you still got to look through those lenses you still got to find out what a Gaffer does you still got to learn about light ing you still gotta. You know I’m a avid photographer I live and breathe with a lens. That’s what I do all day long wherever I go. I live and breathe with a lot of writers right now just because I want to hear stories I want to hear how people tell stories. If you’re willing to do the work and be a storyteller yes obviously make monie be on set. Do your thing. And at the same time learn how to tell like you can go both in parallel. You don’t have to do one then the other. You know be the stunt guy you know you’re young you want to get hit by cars you want to do fight scenes you want to to live the life and be Hooper right on the same time right now you never know you could talk to the right person. You do that little short film and bang you’re in. So the answer is yeah man go for it. Don’t land on your head though that’s bad.

We want to thank Chad Stahelski for all the blood sweat and tears he’s shed to make so many memorable films. John Wick Chapter 3 can not come soon enough. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Tova Laiter and myself. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As check out our youtube channel 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.


NYFA: Fair warning our guest in this episode uses some language and some themes that are a bit adult so if you got little ones nearby throw on some earbuds.

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 one of the stars of Blade Runner Sean Young.

I think in Ridley’s mind Deckard was a replicant. That’s the impression I got the entire time we were working.

And it’s one of Eric’s favorite movies of all time.

I mean I’ve only seen like five times.


10. 20. All right fine. A lot. I don’t even know anymore. It’s really good though.

She also acted with Harold Ramis and Bill Murray in Stripes.

And started opposite Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura and Kevin Costner in the fantastic thriller No Way Out.

Worked with David Lynch on Dune Oliver Stone on Wall Street and was the original Vicky Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman. But was recast due to an onset injury.

But it’s her work in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that might be her crown jewel.

It was quite a jump for a young actress whose initial game plan was to dance.

Young: Both my parents were journalists my dad he was a producer for NBC in Cleveland and then in New York. He had a very type A personality and was very prone to heart attacks let’s say and my mom was a journalist and I wanted it to be a dancer. And I started dancing a little bit late at 14 in terms of classical training and went to Interlochen Arts Academy and at 18 I came to New York City and I modelled for about a year and I went yuck. I didn’t like it and my mom introduced me to an agent at ICM in New York because she was a writer and a journalist. But she had published two biographies and had an agent and the agent introduced me to agents in the film department and then a month after I was there I got a job and so they were encouraged. And so and then like very quickly after that I got stripes and then very quickly after that I got blade runner. So it all happened very quickly but I was really wanting to be a dancer. That was actually what I was intending in terms of growing up and I don’t know how this acting thing happened. You know I don’t. I just I caught on quick and I did study. In New York. I did go to various different teachers and I did read and I did learn and I you know did my best and took advantage of the opportunities that came my way on a set. My favorite place was always by the camera because my dad shot films. He had a Bell and Howell camera that you’d have to crank up. You know it had three different Angelou lenses and he did all these family films of us which you could actually see on my YouTube channel which is msypariah which I’ve edited together because it helps me express myself. You know in terms of like being a director and he left me great footage.

Her rapid ascension as an actress included working with two legendary teams in our first two roles Merchant Ivory and the comedic duo Bill Murray and Harold Ramus.

Young: I did a movie with James Ivory and Ishmael merchant who’s now dead. It was Jane Austen in Manhattan and it wasn’t a very good picture. But they went on to do a room with a view and a lot of really nice pictures. And they had done Shakespeare Wallah before that or something like that. And that was my very first picture. The second one was stripes.

You pretend there’s a forcefield all around your body. And you try and get as close to each other as possible without actually touching.

That was a funny picture. And then. And then Blade Runner yeah third film. The problem with early success is it’s not very edifying. I mean in the sense that you know when you when you’re 19 years old or 20 or whatever it is and you’re in the same playing field as everybody else and you’re all sort of in the same boat. You get your lessons and you accept them and you learn them when you get lifted up to some sort of other level. You don’t get the lessons that you would have gotten at 19 or 20 like everybody else so then you have to kind of fall from grace a little bit to get in with your comrades at a later point at least that that was my experience.

In her next film Sean Young played Harrison Ford’s love interest right as he was becoming the biggest star on the planet.

Young: The movie Indiana Jones came out when we were working on that movie and he was very proud that it made a lot of money on the first weekend. You know I remember he had he had made it but it hadn’t come out yet. So how I booked it. I did an interview a reading and I didn’t do very well in the first one and I called my agent up and I said I didn’t do very well. I said can you get me in again he said OK I’ll try because I didn’t understand the script. It was like Voight Kampff and this and that I was just like really confused and really young and I didn’t I didn’t really understand it I couldn’t quite grasp it and I hadn’t read the book. And so I did get another interview. And I read the book and I read the script again a few times and thought OK I can try to understand this so that helped a lot. Having a second chance to go in.

That second chance got her the role of Rachael a replicant with an all too human heart. It’s a character so fascinating they even spoiler alert brought her back for Blade Runner 2049. For Miss Young working with visionary director Ridley Scott meant she even gained some unexpected skills.

Young: I remember Ridley. Feeding me cigarettes. You know because I didn’t smoke and I learned how to smoke on that movie. And. One of the problems was I remember that I needed to look older be more sophisticated than I was because I was only 20 so I was sort of playing twenty eight. So I was playing older than I was so he was always trying to make me sound more mature and I think I sort of have a flat voice anyway so I think that might have been part of why I got the part because I can kind of be kind of what you think whatever you know he fed me a lot of cigarettes and would talk to me on the set. I remember that a lot to kind of lower my voice because when you smoke a lot of cigarettes your voice gets like a lot lower. And my voice was always like excitable at 20. So I would go you know. So he fed me a lot of cigarettes and then talked to me and would sort of kind of I think three or four cigarettes later I would end up going on to and actually getting into it. Ridley was always very attentive to me a lot more so than I actually even understood at the time.

Thirty five years after its initial release Blade Runner remains a benchmark of science fiction and art direction. But when it first arrived in theaters its box office was far from out of this world.

Young: Michael Deeley who was the British producer on it considered it a dismal failure at the time of release. He was just devastated actually. He was like. And it was 45 million dollars. I mean I remember hearing that it cost forty five million dollars to make Blade Runner and that was this massive sum of money. You know.

NYFA: I think it opened to six is what I read.

Young: Yeah so everybody was not happy about the amount of money that it made at the time. And then of course it went on to become a classic cult kind of classic but and I’m sure they’ve made money on it now and they’re all happy now. But at the time it was released it was it was not considered. A big success. But you know what. I remember feeling like it was ahead of its time. I mean I remember the first time I saw it and I was just like I saw it for the first time when I did looping. When I had to do voiceover work and go and fix certain kinds of dialogue. And I remember looking at it going wow you know because I never got to see any of it as we were shooting it. And I just remember thinking Wow this is amazing. And then when it didn’t do as well as everybody had hoped for or expected in 1982 because we made it 80 and it got released in 82 because they spent a whole year doing the special effects a whole year doing that. We shot it for like four months and then they took another year to do the special effects and whatnot. And everybody expected it to be a blockbuster because that was sort of the model for those were the new days of that kind of blockbuster that if you didn’t have a blockbuster you didn’t have a picture. You know it’s just different kind of model at the time. So it didn’t do well when it came out and they were kind of disappointed.

Blade Runner could have just been an ambitious box office failure but ten years after its initial release a new version of Blade Runner reached theaters it’s a true Director’s Cut going back to Ridley Scott’s original vision. The ending was darker. The wall to wall voiceover was removed and critics in fanboys alike swooned.

But in Sean Young’s case she still prefers the original.

Young: I think the first one still but I liked the last one too because the quality is really good in the last one in terms of the visuals but it was always pretty stunning wasn’t it. The visuals on that on that movie Harrison didn’t like the voiceover He was all pissy about it. He didn’t. He never wanted to do the voiceover but he did it. And in my opinion it was really funny because when you listen to the voice of the original he’s like.

They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex cop. Ex Blade Runner. Ex killer.

I quit because I’d had a belly full of killing. But then I’d rather be a killer than a victim.

Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings. Neither were blade runners. What the hell was happening to me.

He’s just so flat. And I think he was trying to like piss him off like just be as flat as he can be because he really didn’t want to do the voiceover. So he does he does this really horribly flat but it worked against him. It was just so Humphrey Bogart and it just it just totally worked.

Sometimes I wonder what strange fate brought me out of the storm to that house that stood alone in the shadows. As I probed into its mysteries every clue told me a different story. But each had the same ending. Murder.

I loved the original but I think it’s just because there is nostalgia in me remembering the original and when I was 21 when it came out. You know it was really like it was Humphrey Bogart. You know that voice over to me. You know what I think this version is good too. We saw this at the Comic Con a couple of years ago or whatever it was when we Ridley came out with his final final the absolute final. And I missed the voiceover. I liked the voiceover Because I liked those older movies the black and white movies like with Humphrey Bogart and I don’t like movies that do over use voiceovers because now a lot of movies are like let me tell the story by doing a voiceover You know which is stupid because you should be able to as a filmmaker tell a story and not even have anybody talk you know as far as I’m concerned you should be able to do that. But. I like the voiceover in Blade Runner.

Director Ridley Scott has made what feels like an infinite number of remarkable films alien.

Gladiator. Thelma and Louise.

Black Hawk Down.

The Martian. Though Ms Young discovered that his perfectionism included an unorthodox approach to crafting her performance.

Young: One of the things he used to do. Because I was so young he told the ADs that I had to stay in my little box and at the time they didn’t have these trailers that they have now all over the place they had these little huts made out of wood. Literally that had wheels on them and they used to wheel them around and they didn’t. The huts didn’t have a bathroom. So you would get out of your hut and you’d have to go walk a few whatever it was to the public bathrooms there’s like a bunch of different bathrooms on this lot that were here. But it’s changed now and there was an air conditioner in your little hut and the little huts looked like camp. You know what I mean like little camp little huts right. Well Ridley left instructions that I was to be confined to my hut. And his reasoning in his own mind. I asked him later was he wanted me to feel unconnected to humanity. Like really you know isolated. He wanted me to feel really isolated and not relaxed and not comfortable and that was his thing he didn’t want me to feel comfortable and I remember bribing the ADs and saying you’ve got to let me out of here. I am going crazy in here it’s four months in here. You know I said give me a radio. He won’t find out I promise you he won’t find out. I had to convince them that they wouldn’t. Ridley would not find out that I was on the loose on the lot because I couldn’t stay in there all day long. You know in this little in this little hut. I was just going crazy and it was like four and a half months. So they would give me a radio. The ADs were really sweet and I would have my radio and I would hear everything that was going on with my radio and I would go and I would check out other lots other studios others you know stages and stuff and see what was going on because if I had to stay in that hut all day long for after about a month and a half I was like OK guys you can’t keep me in this f**** hut all day long I mean come on you know. So we made a little deal but the only thing was that I was they knew and I knew that if anything happened and I was found out I couldn’t say who it was. I mean they would all deny it so I said I’m not going to do that if I get caught. We won’t be naming names right you know. So that’s that’s how I survived the last three months of that shoot was the ADs gave me my freedom.

Even when Sean Young didn’t see eye to eye with certain directors she’d still jump at the chance to work with good ones again. In the end the play’s the thing.


Young: The best quality a director can have is to make a f**** good movie. You know what I mean you know period. It’s like be an assh***. I don’t care just at the end of the day. Make me a good movie don’t make me some piece of s*** that I’m going to be embarrassed about. You know what I mean. If you want to be an ass*** be an assh*** if you want to be sweet be sweet be whatever you need to be. But make me a good movie at the end of the day that I can go to see and be proud of. Because. As an actor we’re not in control of that we are. We are having to show up for you. I don’t care what kind of ass*** you are if you make me a good movie all is forgiven. You know what I mean. All is forgiven at the end of the day. Make me a good movie. That’s the best quality you can have as a director. Make me a good movie and if I’m in it make me look good. You know. You know. That’s the best thing you can do as a director.

For Sean Young landing her first roles in Hollywood felt like a like a sprint. But she discovered that staying on top was a lot more like a marathon.

Young: My best years as an actress were were from 1981 to 1987 or 88. I. Think I’m a really wonderful actress but I’m not. I’m not a really wonderful politician and I’m not real good at bulls***and I’m not really good at. Parties. You know. I’m just not I’m just not I’ve never been good. And so one of the things as I get older is I realize. This is strange to say but really if you think you’re supposed to be at a certain level in this business like hey I’m talented I should be at a certain level in this business it’s all kind of a. Kind of a ridiculous thought. If you’re not willing to do the work. That the people who are at that level are willing to do so at a certain point I kind of recognized that I wasn’t willing to do the work. Necessary. To maintain these contacts and to maintain these friendships and to maintain these relationships as they’re called you know it’s important what I wish I had known earlier in life is reputation is everything because mine got destroyed which you know happened but I didn’t really understand the value of a reputation at that point in my life. At age twenty seven or whatever it was when my reputation got destroyed and you can have your reputation destroyed and have nothing even to do with it it can happen beside you and you have nothing to do with it. It’s like it happened and you had no relationship with that you know it can be destroyed regardless of any of your own behavior. That was a really difficult thing for me in the business relationships. At high levels like a list and all of that kind of stuff. There’s a certain. High School. Prom night about it. You know what I mean. There’s a little bit of. Immaturity you know emotional immaturity among the people who do well in the business at least that’s been my perspective and a certain coldness. Certainly not like I couldn’t say that I find this business filled with down to earth people. You know I mean I really don’t. I don’t find that that’s not been my experience. And so at a certain point recognizing that my aptitude. For showbusiness wasn’t as great as maybe my ability to do it. You know like maybe my talent was fine. That was all in order. But my aptitude for the business wasn’t wasn’t nearly the same as my my my actual talent you know and that I think is an important thing to remember if you have ambitions is that it’s not just talent you know talent great it’s wonderful to have talent. And I think you have to walk in the door with talent but it’s also your aptitude for dealing with. Lots of different types of people who are at lots of different stages of their own involvement and. And some of them aren’t necessarily on the same level as you might be and your job might end up being hello you might need to lift a few people up here and there. And. Usually lifting people up requires patience. And I didn’t have a lot of that either. I’m not really patient with. Bulls***. And there’s a lot of bulls*** in show business so I mean you really have to have an aptitude for B.S. or else you know you don’t you don’t you don’t go far if you don’t have a good aptitude for that. You know I mean it’s important to have B.S. skills it really is you know. No I mean it is it is. It’s important.

Ms Young described that in Hollywood it’s hard to keep your feet on the ground when there is literally no ceiling.

Young: The reason people like this business is because you can make a hundred and fifty million dollars like Jim Carrey he made 20 million bucks on after Ace Ventura. He went on to make 20 million bucks for his. I forget what film it was. But you know and I’m like Jim are you kidding me. He was like the first person to make 20 million bucks for a movie. So the stakes become very high for people in the sense that. It’s an industry that can provide you with no ceilings. You know you can go to a place where where if you were in school for whatever whatever you’d know maybe you’d make this much money a year you’d make this much money a year or whatever it is you would make in show business. You can make something outrageous that has no ceiling. Just because you’ve done this or you’ve done that or you’re connected with these people so this is why people get nutty because there’s no ceiling there’s there’s absolutely it’s like you can you can you can move into a medium that doesn’t have any walls. If you have the talent and you have the ability to deal with bulls*** and you have the ability to understand politics and you understand the stakes of the people on the level who are investing in that. Understand their point of view. You know what I mean and you can bring all of those elements together and make it work for you. You can you can find yourself in a situation where you’re in an industry. That has no ceilings and that’s unheard of in any other industry. In most cases you know what I mean it’s I don’t know of any other industries that that do that do you. I mean I mean most industries have a top level and you can’t kind of go above that you make 20 grand a year 30 whatever that is whatever that ends up being. You know you expect that. But in show business it’s a wildcard.

Well I think too you have actors who are expected to open themselves up so vulnerably You know and then be completely normal.

And also be able to walk in a room at a party and be able to negotiate B.S. really well. It’s like I’m not supposed to be honest here but I’m supposed to be honest there I’m not to this here but I’m supposed to be able to do that here. So it becomes those skills I wish I understood better at an earlier age. But you learn them and your life experiences growing up in who you were and what you what you are. I mean I mean I’m Ohio cornfed country type girl you know and I didn’t have any nepotism. I mean I didn’t have anybody helping me I got it all on my own and and it all happened very quickly for me in the very beginning. So it was it was not a very edifying situation. Like I said it wasn’t like it it it educated me on what it was like to become spoiled. But not what it was like to be forced with facing situations that were demanding that I didn’t really know how to deal with that came later in life.

Miss Young also bemoans how the industry often relies on decision by committee. It’s one of the reasons Blade Runner was altered before it was released and it’s what makes Miss Young considerably less excited about working on bigger projects.

Young: Studios TV companies it’s Committee it’s a committee of people it’s a roundtable of. Like. However many people 10 people. 15 people who decide together. What’s what movie is going to be made or you know what budgets are going to be decided upon who’s going to be in it or whatever that’d be like being in a family of 15 people like brothers and sisters. Right. Can you imagine who’s going to be trying to dominate you know and who’s going to be trying to say their point of view is there a point of view. And so it really just becomes this back and forth like 15 10 people deciding blah blah blah. So it’s a lot of blah blah blah. Isn’t it better that just one person gets to decide. Like in the French days the auteur. You know the auteur like what’s his name is John Cocteau. You know what I’m saying like one person says this is the way it’s going to be. This is the movie we’re making. We’re not in a committee situation here. I’m the boss and this is how we’re going to make it OK. Because it’s my vision and that’s the way it’s going to be. It’s like how many movies are made like that it’s all committee. You got this assh*** and this assh*** you got to answer to. You know I mean that’s not a good situation for art. That’s a committee that’s what’s made movies go down in quality in my point of view and this is one of the reasons why independent movies were so popular at a certain point like Hillary. She did. Boys Don’t Cry. Yeah. And she did that for like hardly any money. She’s in my spin class. She’s. You know. And she did something that she could do and not have a committee decide how it’s going to be you know. So a lot of these backdoor independents that end up being studio released pictures this is one of the ways you can swim this this business you know that’s one of the ways but yeah it’s very hard to get a true vision without a bunch of people telling you you know what you’ve got to do a true vision being able to have your movie made how you want it to be without you know. This is why skills are very very important in negotiating how you deal with people. You know it’s very hard.

Over the years Sean Young has learned how to pick projects that excite her and interest her. Rather than just picking projects for the money.

Young: I just recently got offered something in London and it was so depressing I read it. They offered all this money and then it was all like vampire. Blood sex drugs coke and I thought Are you kidding. And I read it and I just wilted I just big money. No not a good product right. Then a friend of mine sent me a script. Really wonderful script real story wonderful wonderful part. No no money zero like s*** money. And I thought I’d rather I’d rather do this. Because at this point and you make decisions I mean like in my I guess in my 40s I did some movies purely based on the fact that I needed the money because I have two children and I thought better do this. You know it’s not a it’s not a great thing to have to do a movie for money. It’s not. But at the same time it’s it’s great to be able to be offered something and be able to actually say OK I’ll do this s*** for the money. You know I mean it’s a gift regardless of the quality of it. You know but to be able to do a great movie for no money is a better option than doing a really you know huge budget movie that you hate. But actors have to do what they do and when you get older you get less opportunity to do that as well. I mean my choices in my 20s were different than my 30s different than my 40s and I’m 51 and they’re different they’re different now so so I base it on like what Bette Davis said which is take the best offer you have at the time you have it. You know what you can bear what you can stand.

Looking back at her career. Ms Young sees how she could have approached things differently. But in a lot of what it takes to make it didn’t really interest her then and it really doesn’t interest her now.

Young: At 51 I would do a lot of things differently than I did at 20 30 or 40. You know what I mean. But at the same time. It’s like I’m not perfect but I’m. Just perfect as I am. You know it’s just it’s hard to accept that about a person yourself it’s like it’s hard for a person to accept the bad things about themselves in a peaceful spirit. But that’s the work I do. You know on a daily basis that’s what I do. And and. I wish I could have been more politically correct. I just wasn’t able to. You know I just never was able to do that. I just wasn’t a real good B.S. artist You know I just never was and I’m not today to this day I’m not you know and ultimately this is an interesting thing which is sometimes you know in my private meditations I go boo hoo I wanted Julia Roberts career you know. But at the same time I was I was never willing to do what she did. You know the work she put it in the people she met and the contacts she maintained and you know and the effort that she put into it I was never willing to do that. It just never was something I was had the hunger for. You know so so it’s in reverse. It’s like don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time it’s like don’t whine if you can’t put your effort in it. You know what I mean it’s like if you want it then go for it. But you got to want it you know and you and if you don’t want it be clear about that to yourself it makes it easier.

NYFA: I think it’s important to hear her perspective. She’s 100 percent correct. This industry is made for certain people and if you’re not 100 percent in it then it’s a hobby. So if you’re not willing to go completely through the race to B.S. when you need to B.S. to network when you need to network to make friends with people you don’t necessarily want to make friends with. You might as well just consider it a hobby and do it in your hometown.

It’s like so much of the work is not the acting or the writing or the directing it’s making sure you’re in a position where you can do the writing or directing or the acting. Yeah I think Sean Young for years did it and then at some point was like I’m good.

I’m glad she doesn’t need to be that person. She is not that person. And she’s OK with it. And I think that’s what the lesson is. What you can take away is that you either look at what she’s saying and say oh that’s me maybe this isn’t for me maybe I’m not cut out for this or it makes you want to do it more. And on that note I want to thank you Sean Young for being so honest with us.

And thanks to all you guys out there for listening. That’s Aerial Segard.

He’s Eric Conner.

And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Jeff grace 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 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 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.

This test will determine if you’re a human or replicant. A train is moving from Omaha East at a speed of 75 miles per hour. Another train leaves Kiev going 10 miles per hour. At what point in the Atlantic Ocean will the two trains meet.


Close enough.

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 an actual OG Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson.

Ghostbusters did this weird thing to my career and I’ve been working before Ghostbusters I’d done some films but when it came out people began to think of me as a comedian and not a comedian. I mean those guys are from improv I’m not I’m an actor.

Conjured up a 100 foot marshmallow man. Blew the top three floors of an uptown high rise ended up getting sued by every state county and city agency in New York.

Guy shows up looking like a mime from hell and you lose him right out int he open.

My people are the ones who opey the law.

20th Century sumks. Maybe the 21st will be better.

He’s also appeared in more than 200 movies and TV shows. He was flat out terrific as the kindhearted cop in the Crow and then he’s completely believable as a simple minded handyman in the Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

Ernie Hudson had recurring roles in Grace and Frankie. Modern Family Law and Order Desperate Housewives OZ with our previous guest JK Simmons.

St. Elsewhere Congo directed by another guest Frank Marshall Miss Congeniality Transformers prime oh gosh I think we’ve only got through about like 3 percent of his credits.

Such is the career of a quintessential character actor a performer just as comfortable playing a prison warden as he is hunting ghosts with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

And to hear Mr. Hudson describe it his career never would have happened if he found any other job he was even halfway decent at doing.

I grew up in a small town that was really economically depressed. Nobody in my family had been in show business. I mean you know it wasn’t even part of a consideration. And so when I got out of high school I wanted to find a quote unquote good job. My mother always said well just find a good job and I really really tried. But you know I was just really so bad at everything. I mean you know you ever take those jobs and you think you’re going to get fired and you know you’re not good at it I mean it’s like even if they say you’re doing a good job. You know you’re not doing and I’m like man. So when I found acting when I when I walked into a theater and I was at home I thought I can do this. That was you know OK. I mean just so I do this and get the lines down and and I get paid. That’s cool. I mean that’s so you know forty five years later I’m still. It’s like that. I mean. And people said well you did it because you love it so much. Yeah I guess I love it but I love the fact that I this is what I understand. It’s like this is what I it makes sense to me as opposed to other jobs that I probably could get through. But I just had never really felt right.

Mr Hudson was on the scene for close to a decade when he heard about a little comedy called Ghostbusters but even though he had just worked with director producer Ivan Reitman on a previous project.

Space Hunter adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

Mr. Hudson still had to fight just to get a chance to read for a role that changed his whole career.

I first heard about Ghostbusters from Ivan Reitman I don’t know if people remember and Ivan Reitman is the producer director of the movie. I did a movie with him the year before called space Hunter for Colombia. And I heard about Ghostbusters you know they’re casting this big film. But my agent said there was nothing in it for me and so that was the end of it and I never thought about it. I saw Ivan Reitman in Los Angeles on an elevator and he said. i’m doing this movie with Bill and Danny. I didn’t know Bill and Danny were I mean he just said Bill and Daddy like we all know and then he said but there’s nothing in it for you. And I said OK well good luck with that. And then I found out that there was a role that there were thinking about going black with the role and and everybody was getting in. And my agent couldn’t get me in and and I didn’t understand because I thought you know you make this assumption that your friends you know and but I couldn’t get I couldn’t get an interview. And this went on for a couple of months. I mean they had everybody I knew was going and including guys who weren’t black. I mean it was they were seeing everybody. And then finally we got this interview and I got a hold to the script I read the script and it was a great great character. I mean it was like I was a single parent at the time and I thought this is this is a game changer. I mean if I get this if I get this role. I mean my life is. And so I went in at Warner Brothers where they were we were auditioning. And Ivan was there and Harold Ramis was in the room. And you know I killed em. You know I was funny man I was good. You know when you go Yeah you know and I just knew I had it. And then nothing happened for a couple of weeks and then they brought me back again to put me on film. But I thought they had a camera in the room the first time but OK so I went back again and went on camera and and I nailed it again. And then they said but you know we want him to come back again. We put him on camera. And so I went in again and I heard from my agent that they really really like me it was really it looked like it might work out. And then a month or so went by and I didn’t hear anything and then I made the mistake that actors do. I call Karen the casting director Karen Ray I don’t know if she’s around anymore and said of course I tried to be clever I said you know actually I’m thinking about taking a vacation to Hawaii. I was just checking because I wanted to make sure that I was here in town in case it came up I don’t want to be out of town. She said well they are in New York and there’s an they want to see Clevon Dericks. Then they’ll decide. So a week or so later after all this stuff they offered me the role. And that was the beginning of that whole thing. So. It was kind of bittersweet. I mean I went in I fought for the role I got the role. But. it was in many ways a very difficult job.

Despite having such notable SNL alums as Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the cast Mr. Hudson didn’t view the film as a guaranteed hit.

I don’t think you can really tell when you work on a film. They say there’s three movies that you make the movie you intend to make. The movie that you make and the movie that you thought you made because by the time people get through playing with it you don’t know what you got. So it’s kind of hard to say what’s going to be successful and I’ve done a lot of films that. People would have thought was going to be just you know huge that didn’t do anything and other films that we did the hand that rocks the cradle and I didn’t think anybody would ever even watch it. And it turned out to be a hit. And we did the cowboy way that they tested off the charts and they thought was going to be huge and you know it wasn’t except for some cowboys in Arizona who I met. But but. It’s hard to say. So I knew that Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Harold you know with the Saturday Night Live stuff I knew they were really popular. And I think when we were making it because you know it was a big budget you knew that it would do business. But the fact that I’d be talking about it 27 28 years later I had no idea Ghostbusters 2 came along. Five years after the fact which I never could figure out why it took so long. I thought five years was long. Now it’s been like 20 years. But since the last one. But you know I love being a part of it. I thought the first one was just really just much more original. But I made more money doing the second one. People say you have fun you have most fun when you making money and. You know that’s kind of cool too.

While working on Ghostbusters Mr Hudson got another surprise that was unfortunately not quite so pleasant the one that showed him that the role you get will not always be the same that you actually play.

The character in Ghostbusters. I thought that was a career changing character. Now what. There are so many things that as an actor you don’t control the role in Ghostbusters that came in on page 6 and was this amazing role. By the time we get ready to shoot it he came in on Page 68 so that was a very different character than what I thought I’d be going into. Now part of my growing up process is you have to adjust to what is which was not an easy thing to do and the game has changed. I find most actors no matter what they’ve done or how successful they’ve been. People still want you to audition to come in to read. And so ultimately you have to make a decision. Is it something I really want to do. Is it worth my. Because if you want it then you’ve got to go and fight for it. And if you haven’t saved your money and you need the job you got to go in and fight for it even though you really don’t want it which is really sucky place to be at. But yeah most people still want you to. Come in to audition to do this thing. They seem to think actors it’s fun. I’m like why is that fun. I mean as a director you might show some of your work but you don’t have to come in here and I feel like auditioning like you really go in. And you pull your pants down and you stand there and they say OK thank you. Thank you Ernie for coming in. And then you kind of pull your pants up and try to be somewhat graceful about it and then walk out. I mean that’s an awful but that’s how it feels. The acting part is a lot of fun. The auditioning part especially when they know your work. Well why am I here reading three lines. I mean it gets like that. And you’re lucky to be the guy who gets in to read for three lines because the guy you know who had a series for eight years he can’t even get in to get the three to read for the three lines. So the game has changed a bit. But that’s part of it that’s what we do and I sort of take it that way.

But as an actor auditioning for a role that you really want is beyond worth it.

If you want that you have to fight for it I used to say there are only three reasons for working. One is it’s a great role. I mean I’ll do anything for a great role I’ll pay you. If it’s a great role. I did a movie called everything’s Jake. We shot in New York. These two students from Syracuse wrote this great script about this great character. And we shot in New York and I loved the movie it didn’t they knew how to make a movie but they didn’t know how to get it distributed and the movie sort of went nowhere. But I love that character. So as an actor give me a reason. If it’s a great role yeah because I want. I’m still looking for that opportunity to do what I know I can do which I don’t feel I’ve been able to do it on stage I did the great white hope and that was everything I had everything I had. I haven’t had that opportunity to do that film. I love the fact that Brandon Lee got the crow before he passed away because I think it was very tragic that he passed away. But what a role to get a chance to show what you can do. So if there’s no role then then pay me some money. I mean I love people you know say well why’d you do that role. Well they gave me ten million dollars. People go OK you know I understand what it’s like. But when there’s no role and you have no money. I’m like why do I want to do this now. The third reason is if somebody it’s Spielberg you know it’s somebody who you think is going to be kind in the future remember the favor you doing for him which doesn’t happen very often anyway. But at least you go. I want to work with good people. So you know Andy Garcia who’s a friend he was here I guess a few weeks ago and he’s in a movie and somebody asks so OK I’m doing it for that reason. But you know I get offered films that the character is not even well developed. There’s no money. And I ain’t know the people doing it and actors we. Have a hard time saying no. I was listening to Betty White’s book on tape and she was saying it is very hard to say no. And I was like oh a chance to work I maybe I should take this because maybe it might be seen and maybe but good roles are hard to find.

A few years after Ghostbusters Ernie Hudson appeared in one of his other biggest hits Curtis Hanson’s psychological thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

Their trust.

I don’t know what we would have done without her.

Is her weapon.

If something happens to my mommy would you take care of me.

Of course I would.

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand the rules the world.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

The role of Samuel a mentally challenged handy man originally called for a completely different physical type. But Mr. Hudson knew he could pull off the part and put in the research to make it work.

Well you know after the hand that rocks the cradle came out people out meet me and they’d go. Hello. Hi. So but Ghostbusters did this weird thing to my career and I’ve been working before Ghostbusters I’d done some film but when it came out people began to think of me as a comedian. I’m not a comedian. I mean those guys from improv I’m not I’m an actor. And so getting dramatic roles were you know it’s just difficult even getting interviews. And so when the hand that rocks the cradle came along. Disney was doing it through Hollywood films and I once again I had a hard time getting interviews so I sometimes you almost have to go and you have to stay on the agent and you have to do everything you can do to get in the room because I really related to the character. You know the character is written as a 5 foot 8 fair Irishman whatever that means. And it didn’t mean me so but I just felt really that if I can get in here. And so I went into the meeting with Curtis Hanson. But in working on the character which is what your question is. They have these in San Bernardino. There’s a Friday night party. They go to. And so I went to I went to some of the homes and met some of the people when I first went to the party. I went in and people came over to me and they said hi and they kind of hugged me and and I thought oh because you know they know I’m a ghostbuster. No but they did it to everybody it was like it had nothing to do with anything. But I found a guy who was see sometimes you can be mentally disabled but sometimes you can be high functioning in a certain area. And this particular guy I met he couldn’t live on his own but he could really do these elaborate drawings certain things he could really do really well which is what Solomon had to do to be able to build a fence and all that. And he was the one I patterned the character on. Also I think I used to believe that I could be different people and I’ve since learned that you can’t be different people. I mean it’s you just can’t you are who you are but if your life had gone in a different direction and with different influences you could be differently. And when I was a kid a soon to work in the fields and pick fruit and this guy once kicked me and I fell and hit my head and knocked me unconscious. And I mean I was fine at least I think I am but that I always wonder if something had seriously happened and I had gone in that direction. So Solomon was me. If something had happened and how do I you know. So and that’s how you so you just. To me that’s how you kind of with a lot of characters you know because acting is believing so if I can create as much believability then if I can believe it then you can believe it. If I can’t believe it then I don’t expect anybody to believe it.

Ernie Hudson faced a very different challenge. On Frank Marshall’s Congo based on the Michael Crichton novel.

As Patton Oswalt described in an AP Bio.

It’s got everything teens love it’s got gorillas it’s got lasers it’s got a character named Herkemer Homolka.

That character is played by Tim Curry and the gorillas do sign language. Laura Linney goes full Schwarzenegger and.

Hey hey calm down take a breath. Good thanks to special effects wizard Stan Winston Mr. Hudson didn’t have to share the screen with a single real ape. Though as he explains acting with special effects presents its own set of problems.

No I don’t work with gorillas real gorillas so that so that means none of the gorillas were real in anything that I was in. But it’s funny because a lot of people ask because Stan Winston who did the animatronics or whatever they they did a great job but it’s great when you have. I mean it’s they’re believable looking and you. It makes your job easier. You know if you got a marshmallow man that there’s nothing there. And then they’re trying to describe it to you. It’s a little bit harder to you know to go with it. But obviously that’s what you getting paid for the in ghostbusters 2 the train sequence where there’s a train coming. And I get hit by the train.

What’s what’s.

What’s what.

Sounds like a train.

These lines have been abandoned for 50 years.

I don’t know sounds awfully close to Me.

Did you catch the number on the locomotive.

Sorry. I missed it.

Ivan Reitman who directed it. I said OK just so I’m clear now the train I’m on the tracks and the train hits me so yeah I guess it’s just like if you were on a train track and the train comes and bam you get hit. And I said well what is the train like. It’s like it’s like a locomotive it just comes down the track and so when I got hit I thought I got hit by a locomotive. And then when I saw the movie it’s like this little Choo Choo was like this fake choo choo. I was like that’s not a locomotive. I don’t know what I would have done differently. But sometimes when you see stuff it’s not at all. I mean you can’t really imagine the marshmallow man climbing up a building until you see the movie you’ve got oh that’s the marshmallow man. Even though you got a little model of him but it still that takes it to a different place.

Similar to how CGI changed Hollywood. There were a few HBO shows back in the 90s that completely changed the landscape of television. The Sopranos the Larry Sanders Show and the prison drama Oz the groundbreaking show brought a new level of authenticity and depth the performance to the small screen. Ernie Hudson was proud to be part of it but the nature of his character often affected how he was treated on set.

It’s interesting because I’m very humbled because I can’t believe that I’m actually an actor. I mean I just think what they do is really cool and so the fact that I get to do it but I’m really impressed by when actors sort of you know. Put things on the line. But when I would go and I have a little ritual with most characters especially if you’re doing a TV show because you have to kind of do it every week and you have to kind of get up for it. It’s a little bit different than when you’re working on a film. So when I go in I would go into Oz you know I’d shine my shoes I put on the uniform I put on the suit. So now you know I mean I’m I’m the warden. And. I’m not one of those guys who I got to be in character all the time. I mean like you know we just do it. And it’s done let’s move on 30 40 years ago when I first started. You know my kids couldn’t call me by my name. They’d have to call me by the character’s name but you know you sort of change but these are a lot of young actors and not young age wise but a lot of them just really starting out and they were really into character. So when I’d go in everybody’s going hey Ernie what’s up and all that but when I came out in my it’s like they would just it was like nothing it was really cold. And I’m like hey you know no it just wasn’t happening. And I I just found that very odd. And also they would be in a scene that we’d be doing and they’d be like like out there you know and it was like OK. All right. So we got to do it like that so we got to OK.

One thing Mr. Hudson’s behind the scenes work does not include is the burning desire to direct.

You know I think to be a good director you really got to like to. Run the show. You really I like to be the guy who organizes everything and pulls it together and the guy in charge. I don’t like being the guy in charge you know what I mean. I like doing what I do. I know that sounds lazy but you know get it together. You know the actors just left and. We don’t know why she’s in a trailer. You go talk to her. I don’t want to be the guy to talk to her. You know what I mean. I don’t want I want to do what I do. So that wouldn’t make me a very good director. I do like writing because in my world as a writer I control everything until you take it and screw it up. But until then it’s my world. And I know that about myself you know. So I don’t really. If there was a project I was really passionate about with good people. When I was in college I did a lot of directing for stage and actors are so you know man they get into their stuff. And they they’re late and it’s very frustrating. I’m not the kind of guy who. Who likes to control some guys love that. It’s a challenge you know and I’m not one of those people you know. You know the hard the hardest time I have now finding a good assistant is I’m like you know what never mind I’ll just do it myself. So I end up paying somebody I end up doing all the work anyway it doesn’t make sense you know. But that’s that’s my that’s my flaw.

So what does the future hold for Ernie Hudson. Well most likely another 100 plus roles with no plans of slowing down.

That’s the only thing I know how to do. You know I do it as long as you know. I mean I’m not very good at anything. So. You know I mean I could write. But that doesn’t mean anybody going to pay me money to do it. So. This is what I’ll do until I’m not saying I wouldn’t do anything else. But you know I mean. I’ve always worked and even as a kid so you know find a way to make a living doing something. Hopefully the same thing I’ve been doing and hopefully bring something to the table and hopefully there’s a reason why people I mean why would somebody give me a job. You hope you bring something. I mean if you’re going to do something then for God’s sake do it well enough to where you bring you don’t want to be in a situation somebody gives you a job as a favor. You know or. Because they want to sleep with you. I have no problem. People wanting to sleep with me but. I like to think I got the job because I’m the best person. Because I bring something to the table. I mean you’ve got to be that good. I like to believe that they cast me because I really was the best person out there. And not because. I knew somebody. But that’s just me. I’ll take the job however I can get it but I like to believe that it’s because I’m really good .

We want to thank Ernie Hudson for turning these jobs into so many memorable roles during his 40 year career.

And thanks to all of you for listening. He’s Eric Conner.

And she’s Aerial Segard. And this episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane to watch the full interview or to see 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 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.

The Backlot Podcast: Adam Driver

Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you the man who killed Han Solo. Adam Driver in just under 10 years the immensely talented performer has worked with Spielberg Scorsese Terry Gilliam the Coen brothers Spike Lee J.J. Abrams Steven Soderbergh Barry Levinson and Jim Jarmusch who directed Mr. Driver in the lyrical indie film Paterson. But wait there is more. He’s been nominated for three Emmys as Hannah’s sometimes love interest in HBO Girls and he’s returning to Broadway next year in Lanford Wilson’s Burn This and for my fellow Star Wars geeks out there. He even sang with Oscar Isaac aka Poe Damaron in Inside Llewyn Davis.

“I’ll show you the dark side.”

“If I’m going to be totally honest with myself I don’t think I’m ever going to die.”

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”

“I would rather do nothing for the rest of my life than have my name attached to something mediocre.”

“You’re a hip chick you kissed me you’re married to my friend. But I get it.”

“The resistance is dead. The war is over. And when I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi.”

But before he worked with Hollywood’s finest directors Mr. Driver answered a more personal calling when he enlisted in the Marines.

Driver: I think it was right after September 11th and I feel like a lot of people my age in. Middle America or maybe across America. But I can only really. Talk about where I was really wanted to do something and be involved and I hadn’t gone to college and I didn’t have a job that was really realistic. So it was a kind of dual purpose. It was filled with like a sense of patriotism and wanting to get involved. Not really sure what that meant. But also coupled with I wasn’t doing anything that was really a value or anything I was like proud of. To tell people what I was doing so those kind of two things came together. And then it kind of informed everything about being an actor for me. I think there are a lot of things about it where it’s you know working with a cohesive team. You know you have a role. You have a role within a larger group it’s not about you in your role you have to do your role well and know it and be proficient at it so everybody else can do a good job and collectively. I think you see in a short amount of time the benefit of discipline and self maintenance and you know team effort and there’s somebody in charge like a squad leader and when they’re competent at their job they’re what you’re doing feels necessary and valuable and important and when they’re not it feels dangerous and stupid and a waste of time and a waste of your life and I think because of that I took away that you know life is precious. You don’t have a lot of time. I didn’t want to waste it. You know so it applies to being on a film set where it actually takes the pressure off and suddenly you think everyone’s focused on you and there’s so many other kind of unsung roles that are making you look good or look make it look better for supporting you or not supporting you.

Once he completed his military service Adam Driver turned his attention towards making his lifelong dream a reality.

Driver: Looking back I think I always kind of knew I wanted to be an actor I just didn’t really like I didn’t piece it together I didn’t have the confidence that that was a realistic job to do. From where I was from I was from like I was born in San Diego but I was raised in Indiana in a very small town which didn’t really have a lot of acting opportunities. It was like the local round Barn Theater like the South Bend civic center or something. It didn’t seem like a realistic thing where you could actually have a family and be an actor. Because Los Angeles and New York was the places that people were making movies and doing that that seemed like going to Mars. But then when I think after I got out of the military it was like you are filled with so much confidence which is kind of false confidence that compared to the military civilian problems will be really easily manageable and like because I know you know if it doesn’t work out well I can live on the streets because it’s can’t be different than the mountains in California. So then I was lucky enough I auditioned for school here in New York and got in and then went to school and graduated and. Then kind of worked right away. It was. Which was which was very lucky I did a lot of theater. And then did like little things in movies and. TV shows and then it kind of just snowballed from one thing to the next.

As he made the transition from acting student to professional Mr. drivers youthful ambition helped his career just as much as his talent.

Driver: I mean I feel two ways about it sometimes I feel like the first play that I ever did because I was so naive and not naieve necessarily but ambitious and idealistic about what acting can be. And I would in a cast of people who had been acting for a while and I could tell that the agenda my agenda was like you know way different than theirs because I was still kind of in school it was like a summer stock. Play or in between semesters of my third and fourth year Juilliard and they were like the pressure and I was like oh it’s all about the story. So you have to do is tell the story and it’ll take care of themselves and they were like What are you talking about. Like I’m wanting this job to lead to the next job. And I get I get that now in retrospect. But surely the doing of it makes you I think if the opportunities that I got now would have happened for me earlier I wouldn’t have been prepared and I wouldn’t have seen the other side of you know the auditioning part and being rejected and like you know trying to filter out information that’s useful and you know things you don’t like to do things you do like to do if I would like jumped in and had like a monumental thing where suddenly it was so public so soon. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it. So it was helpful for me. But but that’s me. Some people probably have had the opposite thing and they’re totally able to cope. But yes repetition and doing it is always best.

Pretty much right after he graduated from Juilliard. Mr. Driver appeared on Broadway in the classic play Mrs. Warren’s Profession. When asked about preparing for a film role versus a play Mr. Driver explained that his process is surprisingly similar.

Driver: This is going to sound like a bad answer but knowing lines is my biggest thing like knowing lines like first day of rehearsal for for everything going on set and not having to think about lines. That’s a really big. You know it all kind of depends on what the what it is for for a play. I just know that it’s the self maintenance is more of a bigger thing because you’re doing seven shows a week and then you’re telling the story with your entire body where as a film it’s you know isolated moments. But even then sometimes on film I am not so conscious of where the camera is so so I’m not thinking about that so I’m not like oh it’s only on my hands so I can relax everywhere else because I feel like it eventually you know you can kind of tell in somewhere that you’re kind of checked out in one area. So I don’t know that it’s dramatically different if the thing itself is so different. Like the pace of it is so you know you know as a play you get to rehearse it and you get to do it every. Day for hours and hours and for a month and then you get a six month run. I always feel at the end of a six month run of a play or a long run of a play that I like now I have a better sense of it you know. Like now I wish I could go back to the very beginning and do it now because it’s so in my body and whereas a film that all of that time is compressed to hours some times where you don’t have weeks of rehearsal before you start to you have you know you’re meeting people as you’re shooting at it. It’s just so they’re so different. But the one thing that’s constant is knowing my lines and then doing as much research if it requires it’s as possible just knowing as much as you can to be as comfortable as you can.

Since finishing school Mr. driver’s career has zigzagged from indie projects like Noah Baumbach’s while we’re young the slightly larger budgeted Star Wars sequel. In the indie film Paterson. Mr. Driver got to work with Jim Jarmusch the auteur behind Stranger Than Paradise and Night on Earth.

“When you’re a child. You learn there are three dimensions.”

“Your name really Paterson or they just nickname you that.”

“No. My real name is Paterson.”

“Height. Width. And depth.”

“Working on a poem for you.”

“A love poem.”

“Yeah, I guess if it’s for you it’s a love poem.”

“Like a shoe box. Then later you hear there’s a fourth dimension time.”

“Oh you’re a poet.”

“Would you like to hear one. It doesn’t really rhyme though.”

“That it’s okay I kind of like them better when they don’t.”

“Then some say there could be five six seven.”

“Was your day okay?”

“It was until the bus broke down.”

“This is Paterson bus 23 I have a situation.”

“I knock off work have a beer at the bar. I look down at the glass and feel glad.”

In Paterson, Driver plays the poetic bus driver named Paterson who lives in Paterson New Jersey. It is a beautifully subdued turn that couldn’t be more different than his work as Kylo Ren. It’s a character that came to fruition thanks to his close collaboration with the director.

Driver: It was through a lot of rehearsals with Jim and the ideas that he had about kind of a. Movie that’s kind of anti drama where you would expect. You know the bus to blow up and it never does or you want an answer about the twins that someone’s going to come back and kill the dog. And you know I don’t know there’s a thing or reference him being in the military at the beginning and it’s kind of an open ended question that’s never answered. So you know all that kind of a friend of mine kind of described it as like this. You know the banality of process you know that it can be Paterson’s someone who structured his life so he can kind of go on autopilot. He doesn’t have to think about where he’s going or the right button to push to open the door it’s so on automatic which allows him to kind of float in life and create and be open to the things around him because his body he wears the same clothes every day takes the same path to work he gets you know his wife makes the you know she gets to create indoors and he’s kind of outside creating you know. So all those kind of ideas that are in the script so and we kind of talked about so I knew I think right away that there wasn’t really much you have to put on to tell that story because it was so clear in the repetition of things and in the details of the apartment and the props you know how it was set designed by Mark Freberg and the costumes by Catherine George. It was it was really just clear I just was you know surrounded by people like Golshifteh Farahani where you just have to listen and be available and trust that do you know that thought is cinematic enough.

Actors have been known to do rather unusual preparation for a role. Losing weight shaving their heads bulking up. I think Daniel Day Lewis may have even traveled back in time when he did the crucible. But Mr. Driver might just be the first actor who prepared by becoming a certified bus driver.

Driver: I read a lot of poetry because I didn’t. Poetry was something that I had accessible to like I didn’t really know much about or had access but I didn’t. I couldn’t access it my brain. So reading a lot of William Carlos Williams and Ron Padgett who wrote the poems for this and. That was helpful. A lot of conversations through Jim. We had two weeks of rehearsal which is kind of unheard of in a in a film. And then I got my bus driving license because along with this idea of his physicality being on autopilot I didn’t want to get there on the day and limit the amount of shots that we could get where you have to sub in a stunt driver because we couldn’t get this one shot if we didn’t. If we had to sub in someone else driving it so I didn’t want to limit Jim because also we’re on him so much when he he’s if we’re following this idea that everything in his life is on autopilot and he’s been doing this job for years then physically I should not have to look where the lever is to open the door or know where the gas meter is or know where the signs are or you know know if the electricity is running low or the tire pressure is right like these things should be on autopilot. But I only have a couple of months to get ready so I had to try to drill that as much as I could. And I felt would be helpful to get a driver’s license so I wouldn’t so I’d be used to it. And know the stress of you know driving it should I have a pillow should I not have a pillow. So things like that.

This level of research helps Mr. Driver focus on his character while opening himself up as a performer. Even if that means throwing away some of the choices he prepared.

Driver: I feel like once you’ve if I’ve exhausted every option in my mind of of you know I know what the script is I don’t want to think about that. I know the bus. How to operate a bus and I don’t have to think about that. Like I’m like ticking things off. So when I get on set I’m open to the other actors I know their lines as well as mine. I know what they’re going to say. The stressful thing about that is you can only you can do as much rehearsal as you want to or much preparation as you want to but you have to be willing to throw it away if you get on set and there’s like something’s wrong you know or there’s a better idea or the dog isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing you know which is quite often you know you have to be like you know everyone hated that dog. But I try to know as much as I can so I don’t. I’m not thinking so much and I’m open to the other actors plus I’m surrounded by like you know William Jackson Harper you know or you know Golshifteh. So all I have to do is listen to what they’re saying and they’ve they’ve made my job way easier.

He explained that his hardest role yet was actually for Noah Baumbach’s upcoming untitled project even though they worked together on multiple films. Mr. Driver Was not quite ready for the toll this part would take.

Driver: I just did something actually that I would say is the most emotionally challenging role. Noah Baumbach and I just did something at the start of this year and I didn’t prepare for it. Maybe that’s why it was as challenging as it as it was. No I did prepare like I prepared but I didn’t realize it was going to be as emotionally challenging but it was good for me because I don’t know how you would have prepared for that. You know you can’t really. Think of things like this is emotional so I have to play it emotionally. I don’t think you can think of emotion. Sometimes it happens and sometimes you’re not. If you’re lucky you’re with people who you know if the story calls for that. You certainly don’t play it. And if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen you know. But if you have a great scene partner they make it a lot easier and if you have a great script with a great director. And they’re all kind of challenge I always take them all too seriously and then I feel like I failed and then I go home. Just a series of just anxiety attacks and. Disappointments Yeah.

The one part of acting that Adam Driver does not find difficult is memorizing lines. Well, at least if they’re good.

NYFA: Is it hard to learn lines?

Driver: Well, it is if it’s if it’s not well written. If it is well written then you’re not memorizing lines, you’re memorizing ideas and thoughts and thoughts are easier to memorize them than your lines because they all make sense and lead to the next thing. If it’s bad then or people aren’t relating to each other it just makes it way different because it’s you have to like piece together an incoherent thought.

Mr Driver has been at this for only 10 years and yet he has already worked with a virtual who’s who of America’s greatest directors. So when asked about the differences between Jim Jarmusch and Martin Scorsese. Mr. Driver explained he was far more impressed by what made them similar.

Driver: I think what they have in common is they’re very and what I think all great directors have in common is they’re so. You could easily imagine that you’re Jim Jarmusch or you’re Scorsese. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it and it’ll be right because you’re that but they’re the exact opposite that they have. They create an environment on set where they actually hired you for your opinions and they’re not expecting to just you know railroad everybody and it be a dictatorship it’s very much open to what feels right for you because they’re hiring you for your instincts and your insights and your perspective and point of view and there’s no ego telling you where and what you should do their energies are just totally different. You know like Scorseses you know really fast and has this encyclopedic knowledge of film and but they’re both very interesting and interested people like Jim is really interested. Last time I talked to him was about he’s really interested in like trees and how different regions are like growing different trees and how the wood produces something different in guitar sounds. OK. You know that’s not my. They’re just and silence. You know it’s like a Portuguese Jesuit priest it’s not like a big blockbuster kind of theme and like you know a bus driving poet it’s not like a huge it’s not a money making enterprise. You know they’re deeply committed people to their craft which is also helpful for me because it I feel like where you are now as a student it’s kind of like what I was saying it’s like the most idealized version you have of being an actor it’s so full of optimism that you have yet to hit the part where the brick wall of you know people telling you this or that but then when you meet people who actually embody you know the things that made you excited about being as an actor in the first place then it’s always kind of. Empowering’s kind of maybe overdramatic but it’s comforting to know that there’s people out here who take those details specific and they don’t take the job that they’re doing for granted.

No matter who he’s working with. Driver and all performers for that matter need a director with a real understanding of story.

NYFA: What things from a director help you give a better performance when you’re acting for a film.

Driver: Competency clarity of story. That’s a good question. I mean those are two answers. It’s hard to say because it’s so different from every and they communicate in different ways like a Terry Gilliam is such a visual director that sometimes he can’t articulate what it is that he’s trying to say. But then you get on set. You’re like oh I get it. And it’s such a different thing that it’s like it’s a different way of communicating. Maybe that’s it communicating I guess. But again a thing that they all have in common is they’re so specific about the story they’re telling. There’s a great quote and I can’t remember who it is if it’s like a Godard quote or is like making a movie should be as urgent as taking a piss. I think where. Where it’s like it’s that urgent that you have to get it out like you have to move. You have to like get it out of your system. Again I’ve been really lucky enough for working with people who have who have that kind of energy. And at the same time are crystal clear about the story they’re trying to tell. And they all articulate it completely different ways.

At this point Mr. Driver cares far more about who he gets to work with than what a project will do for his career or for his bank account for that matter.

Driver: I don’t think of it as like an opportunity or what it’s going to do for me because I know that’s kind of wasted energy. I knew that right away. I don’t know why but I always knew I never thought of like this is going to be big and it’s going to lead because I got to do the job. And it could be bad. It could just as easily be. So I don’t think of it. But you know for me I just know that I have to structure my life that I live within my means to allow me to do the things I really want to do which are director driven you know films. You know I lucked out with other things where they pay you on top of acting but even those things was for me a director choice. You know those for me have more value. They’re easier to talk about. They’re easier to show up to work. The people are just better for me. I don’t think of things like I’m sure. I only go with no brainers. You know if you if you want to do your work with Jim Jarmusch. Yeah yeah. Scorsese sure you know all that so that’s a no brainer to me. Soderbergh is doing. Yes. Yeah. That sounds like it’s going to be more interesting and creative. And regardless of what the money is don’t do for money. But I mean you have to live. So figure out a different way. You know in a way that you know I can say that now but I know that’s easier said than done. So I’ve been lucky. But some people don’t get that but that’s how I think.

As a former Marine. Driver wanted to bring the power of the arts to his fellow servicemen. In 2008 while still at Juilliard he founded the nonprofit arts in the armed forces. Its mission statement is to provide high quality arts programming to active duty service members veterans military support staff. And their families around the world. Free of charge.

Driver: So I started this nonprofit my second year at Juilliard where we tried to bring theatre to a military audience contemporary American plays and it kept getting a response from preexisting veterans organizations that theater didn’t fit a military demographic. That they would rather see San Diego Chargers cheerleaders. Which is great I mean cheerleaders are great. I felt that considering like our occupation even at the time I remember those events and I thought we could handle something a bit more thought provoking than dance numbers which I that’s not what I mean dance numbers just like over sexualized you know mindless kind of entertainment that like a Shepard play would actually maybe. Indirectly arm a subculture that is you know mostly told that they won’t understand theater because it’s really for people who have gone to college or live in New York that somehow that it will give them kind of arm them with a means of self-expression that they are told that they won’t have access to because of where they’re from which I think is bulls**t. So we tried to create this project where we know like a traveling theater troupe. We go to a different military bases like hospitals and overseas and chow halls hospitals and just read contemporary American theater that is not military themed at all and by Shepard and Kushnir and Dimitra Vance and all these great playwrights you know. Then they tell us about the material in the way. So we’ve been doing that for 10 years.

When Mr. Driver transitioned out of the Marines he discovered an understanding of his own complicated emotions through the writings of Tony Kushner in August Wilson arts in the armed forces is now doing the same for others.

Driver: From a theater background in Indiana. I didn’t really know much about these great playwrights and suddenly coming from the military and filled with kind of like this a lot of anger and resentment and like you know trying to adapt as a civilian for the first time I was reading these plays that had nothing to do about the military at all but were somehow articulating my military experience in a way that before to me I couldn’t describe and that felt very like calming to it. I came from an environment where you know using your words to describe feelings and because of what you’re surrounded by a bunch of guys who can’t articulate themselves and I can see how aggressive we all would get because of it. And saw the value in having language as a not necessarily a weapon but as a tool to use you know open up a door for lots of things using language and through theater in particular because it’s so the writing’s so good. You know reading in August Wilson play it’s like you know it has nothing to do with the military but somehow it’s describing it in this indirect way that I couldn’t have described before and that to me was very empowering. So I wanted to share that with the people that me at the time were the closest still to me which was people in the military and I saw how they still like language is not their first go to especially post deployment where everyone is trying to process what’s happening and they can’t really name what it is but you know you read Tony Kushner play and you know a diner scene talking about you know government and really he’s talking about guilt. You know we did this one speech where he’s reprimand this woman is reprimanding her her female employee for not wearing a bra not following the dress code and I picked it because it was funny but the military audience that we showed it to the men were coming out of it being like thought the whole thing was good to go. I just thought that that one piece was an indirect attack on our structure in the in the military. We have a dress code for a reason. And the female Marines were coming out of it being like I loved the whole thing especially that monologue because I know what it’s like to be female in a male dominated society where you have to wear your hair in a bun and hide it under your cover. The uniform is very you know straight and hides. You know any kind of gender. So it was you know they they pick things indirectly and tell us as I was saying about the play more than why we picked it sometimes and why not arm the people that are protecting your country with a new means of self-expression.


Mr. Driver’s Journey from the heartland to the military to Juilliard Broadway TV cinema and a galaxy far far away is inspiring the fact that he’s giving back. Makes him even more impressive. If you want to support arts in the armed forces please visit their website AITAF.org. We want to thank Mr. Driver for talking with our students and thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our 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 the media content veterans and events departments and the staff and crew in New York 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.


Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor and New York Film Academy. And in this episode we bring you Jay Roach who you may know is the director of not one but two legendary comedic franchises Austin Powers and Meet the Parents.

The trickiest part for me was getting used to being sued like I got sued fifteen times I think or something personally. My name you are you’re now being sued for millions of dollars because you have invaded my privacy.

But his credits go far beyond.

Groovy baby.

And the Focker circle of trust his producing credits include Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno.

Great success.

His work on TV has leaned towards the political including the movie Recount based on the Bush-Gore election and Game Change the Sarah Palin John McCain satire. And that’s enough for you. He directed Bryan Cranston to an Oscar nomination in Trumbo. But as he informed our students. It took a long 10 years away from school before his career really took off.

You know it is a question and it’s the question I had. You know that took me 10 years to answer so no not to be discouraging. It still will work out but it might take a while. You know I did. I did so many different things to kind of weasel my way and including you know getting a job based on other people’s you know clips from other people’s movies. But one of the things that I find has been has not only worked for me but worked for many other people that have worked for me since since I came up. Was that the notion of getting work. Not in the typical way. Like becoming a P.A. or. A camera assistant or you know a producing assistant or something that’s on the set in the middle of the to me the very best gig can get out of film school is as a writing assistant. I got a gig from an old friend. Being a writing assistant for a guy named Pen Densham who produced Backdraft and a film which I wrote the story for called blown away and a few other things that they were they were kind of you know very much in the zone. And I was in the writing rooms just taking notes I’ve taught myself the type really fast. But beyond that I would help them organize the notes into manageable accessible information kind of documents and even sometimes took a shot and would organize the scenes in an outline order and try to present back to them here’s what I think you guys have in mind and eventually they said why are you kind of helping us write this why don’t you write a couple of these scenes. I wrote some stuff without credit and then one of them got really busy and got a gig doing a sci fi television show and he said why don’t you write the pilot. I have a story you write a pilot so I wrote a pilot it got picked up as a series. It did not turn out to be a good series and didn’t last very long. But again out of that I got to direct second unit and I got to direct scenes that the directors didn’t want to deal with but know it was my first shot at directing actors and I’ve hired since then a ton of writing assistants of my own.

Being an assistant might be considered just paying your dues. But to Mr. Roach it’s incredibly valuable to be to paraphrase Hamilton in the room where it happens .

Shawna Robertson who became Judd Apatow’s main producer did 40 year old virgin and a slew of his films. Larry Stuckey who has now become my writing partner Michael McCullers was our writing assistant on the first Austin Powers wrote the sequels for the second two just from being in those rooms where you are in touch with every decision that goes into getting the film created and made. And it’s an incredibly good way. You’re involved in casting you’re involved in the studio. You know all the politics you hear everything in that room on comedies the writing goes through the shoot it goes through post-production. So you’re kept involved through the shoot and you do get to end up on the set but you’re also the person up late at night. You know after everyone else has going to bed trying to make sense of the notes that came up in that rehearsal that day. You sit in rehearsals you actually get to see that the directors directing the actors because you’re improving in the rehearsals and turning that into script pages and as a writer producer I would only hire the smartest people young people who could if they were given a shot probably do better at writing. I always would always hire people I thought were smarter than us. So anyone who can get a hold of working writers and get that gig and I think that’s the best. The other big one is write scripts all the time shoot and write just every second. I didn’t have the opportunities you guys have of getting things seen a two minute comedy short can be seen by millions of people if it’s good now by just bumping it up on YouTube and try to avoid the kind of dead end jobs like PAing just I know so many people who went that production route and if you want to be a first AD or a line producer PAing is great if you want to write and produce just working as a writing assistant in the daytime and at night write your own movies and on the weekends shoot your movies with all your friends and that’s you. I can’t if you have any talent at all within a couple of years someone will figure out you have it and will give you a gig.

Along the way Mr. Roach was connected with SNL grad Mike Myers thanks to his literal rockstar wife Susanna Hoffs from the bangals. And from the union. Myers and Roach sprang our favorite 60s British spy.

Who is this Austin Powers.

The ultimate gentleman spy. Irresistible to women. Deadly to his enemies. A legend in his own time.

Allow myself to introduce. Myself.

We hold the world ransom for. One million dollars.

Do you really expect them to pay.

No Mr. Powers. I expect them to die.

I shall call him mini me.

Get in my belly.

You know I have one simple request and that is to have sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads.

Yeah baby yeah.

I had ten years to get ready for the leap because I graduated in 86 from USC film school graduate grad student and. I had done a few things I had written a little bit and I shot some second unit on some campy sci fi things and stuff. Mike Myers I knew him indirectly through our wives kind of knew each other. I had done some work on a very bizarre sort of psychological almost David Lynch style thriller was about Adolf Hitler and the psychology of evil. Mike saw that and said oh you should do Austin Powers. So that’s. And that’s true because he was he was a World War II history buff. We had things in common they just weren’t. You know James Bond derived comedies. It was a pretty big leap and he just kept saying to them I’m not going to do it unless this guy I think he is the guy and he is really the one who took the crazy leap then the studio went along with that risk. But Mike really staked everything so that’s how it happened.

The pitch for Austin Powers must have been tricky. It’s a riff on the James Bond formula but not a parody. It’s a comedy that would play many of its jokes as dry as a vodka martini. Shaken. Not stirred. Mr. Roach needed to convince the studio that his unusual vision for this comedy could work.

We had a lot of influences that was one of the thing to try to avoid just being a parody movie. We wanted it to seem like it was sort of derived from a lot of different influences the way I got the job because I didn’t really have a reel or anything to show but I cut together some clips from movies that I had been aware of that were sort of off center blow up you know which we ripped off heavily at the end with all the photographing but also a movie called the tenth victim with Marcelo Masrani and Ursula Andrus it was kind of a trippy pop art thriller or something. I mean I had to convince them that style could be funny and that it wouldn’t just be a parody because we didn’t want it to seem like I like those kind of films that are deliberately parody films that we hoped it would seem like as they say it was something else and you couldn’t quite trace all the DNA of it. So we used films like that and I showed those clips in a big meeting and said I don’t have anything to show to prove that I can do it but here’s some films I like. And they they they hired me based on liking the same films.

650 million dollars and two sequels later Austin Powers. Now seems like a no brainer. But when Mr. Roche and Mr. Myers were making the film success was anything but guaranteed. And if they listened to the test screenings we would never have had the shagadelic spy with danger as his middle name.

Says here name danger powers.

No no no no no danger’s my middle name.

It wasn’t that big of a hit. It never previewed Well we did some previews in this very room. People didn’t get it. At first it came out as a modest hit that summer and it could have just ended there. If Mike DeLuca had not been so brave I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the preview process but you do invite people to rooms like this. They come and watch the film fill out cards and do a focus group and you want to hit in a mainstream comedy at least in the 80s you know to get a sense that your film will be successful in the scoring process and we never got above 55. We started out at 48 and we worked our way up after three or four score previews and DeLuca said you know what. I know it’s not. Not everyone’s going to get this and we’ll just put extra money into marketing to kind of find the audience that will get it and we’ll take a shot. But most comedies there are many director careers that would have been stopped in their tracks after the first film. And it did become an acquired taste and people because it is weird. I mean it’s it’s kind of campy in a certain way. Camp isn’t that successful in America. Usually it’s know Mike’s looking right into the camera making mugging jokes and that’s not doesn’t usually work for American audiences so we didn’t expect it to work honestly we just made it because we love those films. And then the video took off in some weird way. And then Mike did this trailer for the second movie where he pretended to be sort of a Darth Vader kind of breathing because Star Wars was coming out that summer. And he did this long push in to the back of the chair on the spaceship and he turned around and it turned and he said Oh expecting someone else.

You were expecting someone else.

You know and he has the cat and it’s Dr. Evil and he says if you see one movie this summer see Star Wars but if you see two movies see Austin Powers.

If you see only one movie this summer see Star Wars. But if you see two movies see Austin Powers.

That’s right Mr Bigglesworth. We’re back.

And it exploded it was like a crazy phenomenon that one crazy teaser it wasn’t even a full trailer it was months before the movie came out. And that sort of fanned the video sales on the first one and then by the time the second came second one came out everybody was it was fun the midnight shows and the whole deal really a blast. But it was not predictable in any way. So once I was in that club I honestly was kind of naive about it. You know you take your first film for scale and you just. So I was so lucky to even get a break and Mike and I worked so closely together and it was like on the job training for me because he knew so much about comedy. He actually has a system in his mind you know having done SNL Second City and worked with Del Close and improv training. Lorne Michaels and SNL I mean he just hasn’t encyclopedic brain about comedy. He could give a master course you know that would blow your mind and why certain things are funny and why things that you think would be funny are not. You know and I learned while doing it. So then once you get in the club I started realizing wow this is actually a good club to be in. It was thrilling. It was really cool.

Austin Powers open numerous doors for Jay Roach eventually leading him to his next comedic trilogy. Meet The Parents. Despite the massive success and star power of Austin Powers one and two. Mr Roach admits that he did not feel any more confident when helming Meet The Parents.

In comedy confidence almost at least for me doesn’t exist. You are always insecure it’s why most people in comedy are pretty crazy and pretty neurotic because you. It just never feels funny enough. Unfortunately most of the films I’ve been involved with on the comedy side the scripts never come together entirely and you have to start shooting before you have the ending and so you’re kind of writing every night and. My mental health traced through my comedy films. They’re really deep dips every time especially in prep so and DeNiro scared the hell out of me and scared the hell out of you know Ben Stiller too which I saw in the dinner so this is going to work you know because he was intimidated then we did the sequel to Meet The Parents then it was Dustin Hoffman Barbra Streisand and we didn’t want to make a sequel unless we brought something new. But I felt like it was it was suicidal. They were known at the time as being kind of tricking people to harness. And they were sweet as pie. They were great you know. And most of the people once they get performing for each other one secret in comedy is just cast only funny people. The funniest especially in improv so that they always are playing with each other. And you can kind of just sort of set the table. A lot of comedy is around tables in those movies and just kind of get out of the way.

Confident or not. Mr Roach was able to finesse terrific comedic work from a trio of legendary performers who have been known to be well let’s just say at times difficult. Dustin Hoffman Barbra Streisand and the original Raging Bull Robert DeNiro.

You know Greg’s in medicine too.

Oh really. What field.


That’s good.

Not many men in your professional are there Greg.

No Jack. Not traditionally.

My father was never in the rare flower business. He was in the CIA for 34 years.

I’m a patient man that’s what 19 months in a Vietnamese prison camp will do to you.

I’m a sex therapist specializing in senior sexuality.

Look at this I married a teenager. At least you have the libido of a teenager.

I gave her a little matinee today.

Mom I’m truly not comfortable having this conversation with you. I’ve been telling you that since I was 11.

I will bring you down baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown.

You want to hear a story I milked a cat once.

I had no idea milk a cat.

Oh yeah you can milk anything with nipples.

I have nipples Greg. Could you milk me.

I did start to develop a kind of reputation for working with people who had been known as being tricky to work with but they often were so cool. And Bob was challenging for me only because I was projecting on to him the killer guy. He actually turned out to be an incredibly generous and cool guy. I always tried to keep Ben and him at each other’s throats if I could but it didn’t last long because Bob is really cool and he was even cooler on the second film because you had Streisand and Hoffman and all these people and they none of them wanted to disappoint each other so they were off often just performing for each other a lot of it’s situational and our situations turned out to be fun. And I actually got to ride on their coattails you know Ben has directed many times so to have a star who is capable of solving comedy problems with you. You know as almost like a fellow director in that moment is brilliant. It goes to what I was saying before. I don’t have any special you know charm. It’s more about I do so much homework to convince myself that it’s working because I’m so scared it’s not that if I can get over my own fear and terror and anxiety dreams that slowly eat away my organs then I can go on the set you know there’s nothing Burt Reynolds can do that’s scarier than what I’ve done to myself. But with all those guys they will push too hard. You know this isn’t good enough. Why. What’s going on. Why is that idiot standing over there in my eye line. And they’re right there. It’s not good enough until it’s good enough and none of those people are compromising easygoing people. They’re excellent and they demand excellence and if they know I’m just as scared about doing something less than excellent. I’m sort of invincible from an ego point of view I have no ego. So you try to hurt my ego. Good luck.

Mr. Roach’s approach to directing comedy requires both intricate planning and coverage while still letting the actors do their thing.

In film school you’re taught to kind of work it all out and Diagram it and I did that and there’s many jokes and Austin Powers that are very geometrical for example blocking his naked bits. Both his and Elizabeth’s. There’s geometry there that you know you could chart a NASA launch with as much time as we spent on lining things up. And some of the set pieces in the Austin films are so complex that they had to be pre blocked and previsualized you know I’d sit and just work it out and draw. I start with overhead diagrams just little circles with representing people moving around on various pieces of paper and then and then I start to storyboard it with a storyboard artist who I just act out what I see in the frame and how it will evolve. But I only do that in a super technical geometrical scenes for everything else. All the performance scenes you have to trust that when you get there. And if you’ve sold what matters in the scene and where the turning points are that the actors will tell you how to block it. You will say let’s just read it and then read it again. Now let’s start walking around and they are like iron filings around a magnet you know the right. Blocking emerges because there’s a forcefield in a way that is the right blocking and then it’s up to you to make sure the cameras in the right place. I only wish I could do more scenes where I didn’t cover so much. That’s one of the things I keep trying to work on in my evolution as director is I prefer long masters that evolve and. But in comedy if you don’t do oppositional angles you can’t cut out the crappy stuff in comedy you just don’t know what’s going to work and there’s such a high mortality rate if you don’t have the oppositional angles you can’t extract or expand the scenes so you’ll see in a lot of the cutting. I often set up an axis and stay on one side of it. The main thing is just trust the actors and don’t over puppeteer them.

Mr Roach appreciates what an actor brings to a project when he was pitching his political satire of the campaign he sold the film to studios on just the premise and the star power of Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell.

The campaign is an interesting story because we sold it on a pitch here at Warner Brothers and because it was myself Zach and will who’d come to me to ask me to do it all of us were in the room. Pitching a story and we only had about. Three paragraphs. And we told all the studios. We wanted. To make this film in about six months and we want you to greenlight it in the room or don’t take the pitch. So we got all of their it was very arrogant to do this but we got them all to each of the studios that were interested to put their not only their head of the studio and their creative executives but the head of marketing both domestic and international and head of publicity domestic international head of physical production. So we had like the quote unquote Green Light Committee that studios now have in the actual room listening to the pitch and we didn’t have the actors so Adam McKay Chris Henchy and myself had to sort of act out you know the parts and how they would go. And. We’re not good at that. So we had to we just had to have a hook you know and it was an example of where. OK it’s it’s two political candidates in the south kind of loser slacker incumbent who is just coasting along and an upstart played by Zach and they could picture that character we were talking about doing this slightly effeminate Southern conservative.

I am beholden to only one man and that is the greatest American that has ever lived. Jesus Christ.

And they’re just going to smear the crap out of each other in a relentless battle of negative campaigning until one of them dies. You know basically.

Marty Huggins can’t even take care of his own wife. So I did. That night Marty’s wife voted. Multiple times. I’m Cam Brady and I seductively app rove this message.

Zach and will two of the funniest guys on earth. What do you think. And that was the pitch but it was. It actually did. You could kind of picture what the movie became off of that pitch. It was a stupid way to from a directing standpoint to ever get into because you think Oh good we’ve got them hooked and we’re committed and we have a shoot date and a release date by three or four days later and then you go oh no we don’t have a script and we it was so excruciating again I swore I would never do that. But you know if you have a what I call a controlling idea of in your own mind of what is the hook and in Meet The Parents. You know I talk about it because that when we had a little more of a script but it was touch and go almost every day there was a threat to shut it down for different reasons budget reasons you know actor reasons. And for me it was so easy to say don’t know yeah but don’t forget it’s a guy who loves a girl so much and is sure he doesn’t he doesn’t deserve her. But he’s going to overcompensate and try so hard to get her that he’s just going to make it worse by sneaking and lying and becoming exactly the person no parent would want to have engaged to their daughter. And the person is going to come up against is a human lie detector a person who is a bulls**t detector meets a bulls**tter. How can you how can that not work. If it’s Ben Stiller and he’s you know the world’s most interesting bulls**tter and Robert DeNiro is an assassin a killer dressed in soft sweaters and a little cat and a waspy wife. That’s like that sounds funny. So that’s how you. If I if I know I can tell that story because as a director you become this sort of cult leader of the of the faith and whatever you’re doing if you can tell it with that much enthusiasm to not just the studio but to the to the DP who’s trying to convince you know to shoot it this way and you don’t want to shoot it that way and here’s why because this idea depends on this to work or the costume designer trying to sell you. You know you have to. You just have to keep organizing it. Back to that one controlling idea. And if the pitch is strong in the room when you first set it up you can keep pitching it to everybody who threatens that pitch or threatens that concept. All along the way until you know it sort of survives somehow. And. Turns into a movie.

One of Mr. Roach’s fondest collaborations was working with writer Douglas Adams. The remarkable mind behind the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The extraordinary story of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins very simply. It begins. With a man. An earth man to be precise. Who no more knows his destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Company.

The answer to the ultimate question. Of Life. The universe and everything. Is. 42.

Sadly Mr. Adams did not get to see the final product.

I didn’t direct hitchhikers but the most amazing thing about nearly directing and then ending up producing it was working with Douglas Adams because he saw Austin one and had been trying for years to come up with screenplays for hitchhikers and a guy named Michael Nesmith from the Monkees introduced us. And you know and it was an amazing and an unbelievably transcendent experience working with him he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And just you know a brainiac and you were it was sort of like he’s very similar to John Cleese in my mind and how he looks at life and approaches life and I was such a Python fan anyway so I worked with him for quite a while and then he sort of struggled Disney didn’t get it and he died. He died you know having moved here ready to do it and it was very sad. And I just couldn’t face doing it without him. So I talked to two guys that I met. They came up with a really actually kind of a novel twist on it and invented a lot of new things on top of Douglas’s script. So it was that was that was actually a tricky one.

If there’s any modern talent that can match the genius of Douglas Adams it is Sacha Baron Cohen the man behind Borat and Bruno, Ali G and most recently who is America. Though finding the perfect vehicle for Mr. Cohen’s Kazakh creation turned out to be a very bumpy ride. Once they let Borat be Borat the resulting film shattered our funny bones.

My name Borat.

In Kazakhstan it is illegal for more than five woman to be in the same place. Except for in brothel or in grave.

I have come to make Pamela Anderson my wife.

Great success.

This is Natalia. She is my sister she is number four prostitute in all of Kazakhstan.


My name is Borat I come from Kazakhstan. We support your war of terror.

Great success.

It was hard to get a story and actually Trey Parker and Matt Stone worked with us for months on a more scripted version. But it was so scripted that it didn’t allow Sasha to do his live interaction with real people. So then we went back and started over with Sasha and all his writers. The trickiest part for me was getting used to being sued. I got sued fifteen times I think or something personally. My name you are you’re now being sued for millions of dollars because you have invaded my privacy. Yeah we did invade your privacy but we think we had a right to and. We won all the cases we weren’t at risk ourselves because they always indemnify you. He must be impossible to insure now based on how many times he’s been sued. Because even if you win the suits the legal expenses are high. He’d been doing it for ten years and if I come to you and I said I’m doing this movie with this this Kazakhi reporter don’t worry he’s a he’s just a representative of the youth of Kazakhstan and he’s come to America to figure it out you would say Oh OK that sounds good. So you would sign it and read probably the first three pages well on page 56 at the bottom it will say by signing this you agree that we can use your likeness even if the Kazakh journalist turns out not to be a Kazakh journalist. And even if the movie turns out not to be a documentary and even if it’s like it basically outlines everything he’s going to do and you agree to it without realizing that you are signing off to be in Borat the comedy movie lawyers now do seminars based on that contract. The crazy thing even people who didn’t sign it sued us people who had wandered like he was in New York City. He went after this one guy who was like a Wall Street executive or something. And the guy freaked out and like was chased down the road and Borat’s chasing him I want to kiss you. And that poor guy didn’t sign anything. Didn’t see the posters that say if you stand around in this area you could be filmed and still lost the lawsuit because the judge said what Sasha is doing is in the public good because it’s exposing racism homophobia anti-Semitism and the public good of the film overrides your individual right to privacy at that moment. I will say the one cool thing that I got to do in that movie I didn’t direct the film but I directed all of the publicity stunts after the movie when he was in the green thong on the beach in Cannes. When he went to the White House and we found out that the Prime Minister I guess of Kazakstan was coming to America well a couple weeks before he threatened to sue Sasha that was like thank you. That’s the best thing that could ever happen. So we went to the Kazakh embassy he’s in character found out the guy was coming over in D.C. and was being presented with this giant statue on the lawn of the embassy of Kazakhstan. So we thought oh great we’ll just show up too and see what happens and as they unveiled the statue it was the prime minister himself riding on a tiger carrying a hawk.

This week Washington is playing host to the president of Kazakstan a former Soviet republic.

Well the threat comes from Borat who may be Kazakhstan’s most famous representative even though he doesn’t really exist. And the guy who plays him isn’t really from there.

The unveiling today on the embassy lawn here of a Kazakh warrior riding a flying leopard provided just the right note of solemnity.

All the embassy they celebrated and they went to lunch well all the CNN NBC about two dozen media outlets were there on the risers facing where the podium was and they just were carrying it out. We ran it with a podium dropped it down and Sasha started giving a speech. My name is Borat I am here to present my movie film to President George Walker Bush.

I would like to make a comment. On the recent advertisements on television than in media. About my nation of Kazakhstan. Saying that women are treated equally and that the all religions are tolerated. These are disgusting fabrications. In fact main purpose of premier Nazerbayev’s visit to Washington is to promote this movie film. This screening will be followed by cocktail party at Hooters. On 825 7th streets. Thank you. I must now return to my embassy where I have talks with my government.

Well the embassy people called the cops who now had mostly gone to lunch following him and said There’s someone breaking into our embassy there’s someone trying to invade the embassy. So you see the cops in the background of the footage. Looking at the window saying where and he because here’s a politician giving a speech that’s supposed to be going on and they’re in the background trying to figure out who’s breaking into the embassy. He just kept going and going got publicized worldwide. Sacha Baron Cohen in front of the with the guy with the hawk in the background.

And if you like your comedy filthy, Borat has one scene so raunchy that you might never recover.

I’ve never seen an audience react to anything like the way they react to one scene in that movie which was the naked fight.

We got to go all over the world presenting this movie. I have never seen people laugh harder at anything and people were going ah oh my god. Took their clothes off and two people ran down to the screen and ran back high fiving the audience was like a tent revival people speaking in tongues or something and you could study that and figure out how to surf laughs. And you know it happens in previews in rooms like this where you sit and try and figure out OK got I’m laughing harder here how can we make them laugh harder here and keep going and surf that. For I think that goes on for you know two or three minutes that was scripted you know they had inappropriate positions they got into the only part that was unscripted was they run out into the hall chasing each other. And they go into the elevator. These ladies shriek and run out and then they’re still standing there and they’re there looking very guilty. The doors close and then the camera slowly pans over this guy just a civilian just trapped their. He was not he wasn’t he was not an actor and just was like what the hell is going on. The door opens they run out and then they run into a banquet style meeting room in a hotel filled with mortgage bankers who really were real mortgage bankers and they just run into the room and start fighting on stage naked.

We have a special guest here this evening. Ruth Bader is here.

In making two movies with Sasha he only broke character once in the middle of shooting after he can be in character for nine hours. But on the set if someone catches him out of character. We shut down that second because the gig’s up people know that day he broke character said don’t hurt Asamat don’t hurt him because the security guy was choking him. Was so pissed off that he was going. So that was real.

Just like Sacha Baron Cohen Jay Roach has to stay in character at all times when directing. His inner thoughts may be filled with fear uncertainty and despair. But he still needs to project that all is good. His advice if you have doubts with directing keep them to yourself.

I always get overwhelmed when I’m directing. There’s so many aspects to it and you’re in charge of everything. How do you deal with something like that. Do you actually share it with your actors or producer or do you just.

You don’t share it with anyone involved in the film. Because you have to actually be seen as being so calm and the grown up in the playground or you know or the insane asylum depending on what it is which is tough because you’re really most often if you I can on the set okay good let’s try it again. Yeah that’s good inside are cartoon characters running around hitting Bell pulling on alarms and trying to put out fires and getting the suicide machinery going you know because it just seems like you’re not going to survive it really feels like it’s going to kill you. Especially in prep for me once I’m shooting I actually do calm down a little bit but in prep it just doesn’t seem possible ever I mean it gets worse too because the expectations get higher you think it’s going to get easier in prep I’m usually a basket case. And I talked to my wife about it and she’s she’s pretty cool at keeping me calm. I’m trying to think of what’s the worst I’ve ever revealed. I mean when I got sick on Meet the Fockers was crazy because I was shooting a big scene with all the actors and at 3 o’clock I noticed my ankles are swelling up and by 8 o’clock I couldn’t move I couldn’t move all my joints were like you have the mumps in every joint. And I was the line producer took me to the hospital DeNiro knew these people at UCLA. So they were like shoving gunshot wound victims out of the way pregnant ladies out of the way. Get this guy in there you know they were dragging me right into it because they were they were afraid their movie was and it cost them half a million dollars to I was so stressed out. And so not sleeping. You know you can hide it but it’s going to get you. Comedy is so hard and it’s so much harder doing these HBO movies. You’d think the Sarah Palin movie would be scary. That was like that was so much fun. It was like Cause you know you’re not worrying every second is this funny enough because there’s nothing more painful than bombing you know and putting up some scene in a preview and thinking it’s going to be the ending finally got the ending. Oh thank god people are looking at it going I don’t know I don’t think it’s funny. What we just spent you know a week reshooting that ending you don’t like it cartoon characters running around again. So there’s nothing you can do except just prepare and know what you care about. Know what matters so much that all you can do is the best you can do and show up ready to fight for that and be persuasive and throw every ounce of your your energy and your charm and your you know your willingness to put yourself out and not be embarrassed and not have any ego and you have to have a tolerance for failure that is so high I always say in dailies on Meet The Parents everything we shot was terrible. It was terrible. It was like what is DeNiro doing why does he he would sometimes start mugging because the crew is laughing because he would he would think because they were laughing and I would be going what is going on and you know you get in the cutting room and you put in the one or point 0 5 percent that’s great. And it’s amazing with DeNiro. It’s amazing. You know it’s not just all that ninety nine point five percent that sucked. No one’s ever going to see that. So you were thinking about all that the whole time when you were you know trying to figure out which vein you would open first at the monitors that’s you don’t have to. It’s going to be OK if you just get that one point five percent of that day’s shoot. And you can make a great movie out of it. So you just have to be kind of stupidly optimistic and delusional. During the process and still fight for what you care about and that’s all you can do. You can’t you just have to trick yourself into thinking it’s going to be all right. And fight for what you what matters in the scene and you know sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve definitely had some. Stuff that didn’t work. That’s keeps me up but it works eventually.

Right now at some noisy dive bar. Someone is doing a terrible Austin Powers impression. We can’t blame Jay Roach for that but we can thank him for Goldmember. Gaylord Focker Julianne Moore’s Emmy winning work is Sarah Palin and the indelible side of Dalton Trumbo writing in a bathtub. We want to thank Mr Roach for sharing his story with us and thanks to all of you for listening. By the way if you got a little more time check out our previous episode with Bryan Cranston talking about his work on Jay Roach’s Trumbo.

With Trumbo. He was such a chain smoker. And he had. An affectation. You know and he went he went up and down. It was a fun thing.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. To watch the full interview or to see our 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.

Release the sharks.

Dr. Evil. It’s about the sharks we tried to get some but it would have taken months to clear up the red tape.

You know. I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with fricking the laser beams attached to their heads. Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that cannot be done. Would you remind me what do I pay you people for. Honestly throw me a bone here. What do we have.

Sea bass.


They are mutated sea bass.

Are they ill tempered.


Well that’s a start.