10 -- The Mwhigait j -r iuiay March 12, 1999
egardless of the fact that the University did not have
program until 1972, it has sent numerous alum-
to the film industry. The reasons for this are less of
a mystery these days with a firm program in place and alum-
ni in the business to help incoming graduates. While there
is no official reach-out agenda coming from the University,
alumni and students alike have banded together to create
one of their own and bring a Michigan tradition to the fabled
land of Hollywood.
has undergone many chang
a junior or senior we felt it t
it was going. A lot of it is p
who have made it very pub
the University," he said.
While Michigan is "not1
Kassan feels that the Uni'
ground that primes students
1997 University graduat
with producer Amon Mi
A history with Holywood University as being part of,
Many University alumni enter the film industry from a variety of "Generally speaking, the
backgrounds. A formalized film degree was not available to students schools who are getting i
years ago. Only a small independent film society, the University of Michiga
Cinema Guild, existed on campus. focused people
Peter Benedict, who graduated from the AdamI
University in 1970, is one of the many screen
University alumni who left campus Pic
with a liberal arts degree and i
whose educational background
was not that of a formal film
"I knew I wanted to go into
film but my intention was to
go into entertainment law,"r
said Benedict, who graduated
with an honors degree in his-
After graduating from the
University, Benedict went on to
attend Columbia University Law
School and opened his own law
firm. In 1986, he started a small
talent agency with an acquain- Courtesy of the film and video studies program
tance, Martin Bauer. In 1991, Film and video studies Chair Gaylyn Studlar joins program
his agency merged with anoth- Profs. Kurt Luedtke and Jim Bumstein at the Michigan Theater.
es since his time on campus. "When I was
aking off but we didn't really know where
probably happening because of the alumni
licly known that they are giving money to
known for being a filmmaker's school,"
versity provides a strong creative back-
s for success.
e Erika Schimik, a development assistant
ilchan's production company, sees the
a bigger picture.
re's a big trend of people from prestigious
nto entertainment," Schimik said. "The
n just pretty much falls into the trend of
that would lead them here."
Herz, who graduated in 1996, sold his first
play, American Pie, last year to Universal
Mures for $750,000. It will be begin screen-
ing in theaters at the end of May. He cred-
its determination and snappy material
with getting him work, although he sees
the University as a blessing in disguise.
"The irony is that the University of
Michigan is such a large school. It's
really good preparation for when you
get out here in Hollywood."
Ray Utarnachitt, a 1994 University
graduate who works as a production sec-
retary and also does freelance writing
work, shared Herz's feelings.
The University's size "really made
people want to stand out. It kind of bred
the leader type," Utarnachitt said.
"They're very driven people. I think
that's why Michigan people do so well
"My students were so talented," he said. Of the program's first
Screenwriting 11 class, three students received the prestigious
Hopwood award. Two of those students were accepted into graduate
programs at the American Film Institute and the University of
Southern California and two sold their screenplays.
"We got very excited with the results of our rewrite class,"
Burnstein said. The success of University students is especially
astounding considering the fact that of 43,000 spec scripts submitted
to Hollywood last year, only 50 were bought. Only seven or eight
eventually became films.
"I think it's a great class," said Screenwriting II student Blair
Adams. Adams, an LSA senior working on a screenplay titled "Four
Nights From Hell" said he intends to try to sell it as soon as he grad-
uates. He said professors in the program have inspired him because
of their sincerity in encouraging students to pursue their dreams.
Roger Lowenstein, who graduated from the University in 1964
with concentrations in both honors English and history, was a script
writer for shows such as "L.A. Law," "Courthouse" and "Equal
Justice." Lowenstein visited one of Burnstein's classes to speak to
students. "I was very impressed with the quality of writing," he said.
In April, the program will be bringing Larry Kasdan to campus. A
University alum, Kasdan directed "The Big Chill" and wrote the
screenplays for "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Empire Strikes Back"
and "Return of the Jedi."
Burnstein is not only the head of the screenwriting program but
also a working screenwriter himself He is the author of "Renaissance
Man," which starred Danny Devito and was directed by Penny
Marshall, and "D3: The Mighty Ducks." Bumstein also graduated
from the University, receiving an English degree in 1972 and a mas-
ter's degree in 1974.
er and became what is now the
United Talent Agency.,
"it is the fourth largest talent agency in the world," Benedict said,
naming off clients such as Jim Carrey, the Coen Brothers and Martin
Lawrence. UTA also has launched a few television shows, including
"Seinfeld" and "Law and Order."
Benedict said the University encouraged him to follow his entre-
preneurial instincts. "I loved it at the time," Benedict said.
Now in the business, Benedict mentioned that he tries to hire
University alumni. One University graduate who works as a talent
agent in his office is Lisa Hallerman.
A 1990 University graduate, Hallerman concentrated in sociology
and political science and later attended law school. She still considers
her University education as a source of her success.
"I loved my four years at Michigan," Hallerman said "I think it
created a huge network for me The best thing was the support I got
out here from alumni.
She explained that she is constantly meeting University gradu-
ates within the industry. "It's really hard work and coming from a
good background helps," Hallerman said. She is now an agent for
some well-known talents like Jason Priestley and bean Cain,
Another Universy alum, I foward Bragman, who graduated in
1978, also connected his success to the education he received.
Graduating with a double concentration in journalism and psycholo-
gy, he later became . Holz wood pubicist and is the ftunder of the
public rdlations firm Bragman, N vman and Cathielli:
$ragtan :,aid he or iginull hadt't plaiiid t' gi mbnt f iln. lHe
intended to rirsue a 'arei it ,i dhetising
"I tell into it but m aiways gaietui to the broad-based education
I got." he said. I think it's na eclectic Indust, v and an undergraduate
edutia oo at Michigat; is_ w. -k Ictw (legieu
'I he inundtktion of a r0ntal film and video progiarn at the
Uimversity has giver. many Ntidents the opportunity to explore film
before graduation, art oppoi tniy that v as not available to previous
generations of stude's.
here is a t. w g:eratio of =tlunmni coming out of Ann Arbot
these days, thanks in part to me fiim and video program's move
towaid aiding more productior. courses to the curriculum.
keceur iniv ersit.7 alumn are working to create a University net-
work in Los Angeles. Matt Kassan, who graduated in 1995, is in
trai'iing o be a pry dutc anra has been instrumental in organizing
what he :adl the ov \t., 4 nii ersity of Michigan Alumni
-F :) M ichigan, there 'i t was an organied thing out here"
Kassart said "Out in i A ., d bunch of Michigan grads network and
help each other out in the inaustry." Kassan said he looks forward to
helping fresh University graduates get their first jobs in film tar sim-
ply mnviting them to watch Michigan's sports competitions with other
alumni tIhe e-mail address for the alunini group is umala(aao1.com.
Ka ait acknowledges tlwi the program in film and video studies
But Utarnachitt was quick to add that
being a University alum does not automatically guarantee a prospec-
tive employee a job.
"Being an alumni from Michigan doesn't mean you're going to
get the job. There are no rules out here." Still, Utarnachitt said he
doesn't dispute that a connection between University alumni in the
film industry is growing more cohesive every day.
So, what does a growing connection of University alumni or ties
to the film program mean for University students pursuing a career in
the film industry today? Unlike older University alumni, who trav-
eled down different paths during college to end up in film, today's
University students have opportunities their predecessors never had.
Many older alums look fondly upon their the education and expe-
rience they received at the University. Many of the alumni remain
active in the University community, which is helping the film and
video studies program transform itself.
Robert Shaye, founder and CEO of New Line Cinema Corporation,
graduated from the University School of Business Administration in
1960. His production company has released such films as "Nightmare
on Elm Street" and "Austin Powers."
In 1998, Shaye donated a $1 million dollar gift from his Four
Friends Foundation to the University. This gift funds both the James
Gindin Visiting Artists and the Masters Classes program for screen-
writing, as well as the Donald Hall Library Collection in honor of
two professors who, Shaye said, greatly influenced him during his
Throughout its history, the University has produced a crop of
strong writers - some of whom have used their talents in the film
"Michigan has a history of producing excellent writers and (it is)
tnought that Michigan could make its mark through the screenwrit-
ing program," said Margaret McKinley, who works in the LSA
[he University's screenwriting program was established only two
Shaye said he hopes to launch what "will become the premier
screenwriting program in the country.
"There is no school in the country really focusing on producing
great screenwriting," Shaye said in the Fall 1998 edition of Leaders
& Best. "I thought the program could distinguish itself by focusing
on one aspect of the film industry and doing it well."
The visiting artists program brings in screenwriters to campus such
as Kurt Luedtke, who wrote "Out of Africa," Richard Friedenberg,
who wrote the screenplay for "A River Runs Through It" and John
Briley, who wrote "Gandhi," to conduct seminars and teach master
screenwriting classes for advanced students. All three have either
been nominated or won some of the industry's most prestigious
awards, including the Academy Awards.
"The unique part of our program is we have working screenwriters
teaching screenwriting," said Jim Burnstein, coordinator of the
By Edn Podolsky
Daily Arts Writer
Officially founded in 1972, the
University's program in film and video
studies has grown quickly since the days*
when it was just a ragtag collection ofjoint-
ly appointed professors. Housed originally
in Lorch Hall, the program now occupies a
suite of offices in the Frieze Building.
In 1988, Prof. Ira Konigsberg became
director of the program and worked to revi-
talize it. It was at that time, when the
University administration authorized the
hiring of faculty exclusive to the program,
rather than just joint appointments through
other departments, that the film/video con-
centration changed radically.
The early days of the program featured
only a single production course, but now
production classes have increased to com-
prise a full third of the concentration cur-
riculum. "It's a much larger enterprise than
it was even 10 years ago," said film and
video studies Prof Gaylyn Studlar, the pro-
gram's current director.
In fact, the last five years have seen huge
program growth, to the point where there are
nearly 200 film concentrators - and rising.
Because it is a traditional liberal arts
major and not solely a film school - as
opposed to New York University or the
University of California at Los Angeles -
the film and video studies program does not
actively help students find jobs in the film
industry, although it encourages contact
with University alumni in the business.
Instead, the concentration is designed to
prepare students to enter either the academ-
ic or the business end of the industry.
"We're not a technical school. We try to
build on what we see as the University's
natural strengths ... It's harder to learn to
think critically when you're out of school,"
Studlar said, adding that she sees the pro-
duction aspect of the concentration as "a
tool for students to experiment in the cre-
ative end of the moving image."
The program offers several scholarship
opportunities for students. The Sidney J.
Winer Scholarship offers financial support
for an internship in the film industry.
Screenwriting scholarships include the
Leonard and Eileen Newman Prize for
Dramatic Writing, which is an annual com-
petition sponsored by IUJnited Talent
Agency. Other scholarships focus on pro-
viding funding for students who are work-
ing on large film projects or a thesis.
The film and video studies program is cur-
rent in the process of becoming a full-
fledged department. "It's an appropriate time
for film/video to obtain departmental status,"
Being a department will bring still more
resources to the program, which has recent-
ly opened the Donald Hall Library
Collection in the Frieze Building.
With its increased focus on dramatic writ-
ing, the program in filni and video studies
is poised to continue its expansion into the
next century. With the opportunities for
learning and experience it offers students,
as Studlar said, "If you want to know about
film, then I think this is a great place to be."
Screenwrlting 11 students listen to film and video studies lecturer
Terry Lawson. Lawson is a Detroit Free Press film critic.
Current film students also produce their own films. One example of
such an endeavor is the making of "Girl 4 Me 2?!" Produced by LSA
senior Ericka Smith, the cast and crew of the production involves sev-
eral University students and six other people from the Detroit area.
"I know a lot of people in the department and we were looking for
people without a lot of experience to give them hands-on experience
they wouldn't get otherwise," since the University isn't located in
traditional film centers such as New York and Los Angeles.
Eastern Michigan University alum Frank DaQue Stovall 11, the
film's director wrote the script -a basic boy-meets-girl story, he said.
"They say that students can't make serious love stories and we
wanted to prove them wrong," Stovall said.
Stovall and Smith said they hope to submit the final production to
film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival and the Acapulco
Black Film Festival. They are planning to try to get a video distributor.
An increased University presence in Hollywood is a product of time
and effort by alumni and students interested in the film industry. The
numbers are growing each day as more people join one of the nation's
largest high-profile industries. Traditions that began at the University,
which led many graduates down a path of perseverance and success,
have helped secure ties between the University and the film industry.
There's no doubt that in Ann Arbor and in Hollywood, those affil-
iated with the University work to maintain the image of being leaders
and the best.
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