Posts Tagged ‘Oberlin College’

“One of the things that [then Oberlin College] President Starr said to me, which stuck with me, was —’look out into the world and see if there is a gap that needs to be filled, see if there’s something you really want to do that isn’t being done, and then go and do it.’ And that you don’t actually need additional degrees in order to do that. And that really rubbed true to me especially since I probably couldn’t have gotten into any graduate school in the country given my low GPA when I was here at Oberlin. So I took that as a firm piece of advice.”
Two-time Oscar winner Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) on advice he got as a college student at Oberlin College
(And what set the philosophy major in the direction of journalism, which led to screenwriting.)

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the questions you get asked when you’re a professional filmmaker is, ‘I want to be a director, how do I do it?’ And the only real answer to that question is ‘make a film.’ Twenty years ago, even ten years ago it was harder to do that. But with the advancement of digital technology with the fact that, yeah, I can shoot a whole movie that can be on television and in theaters on a camera you can buy at Walgreens.”
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)
From the video below produced for the Cinema Studies program at Oberlin College

Just because screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal took the metaphorical train from Oberlin, Ohio to the Oscars doesn’t mean they are the only ones from the school in Hollywood. Turns out that there’s an Oberlin Express that has produced numerous people working in film and television.

Actor/writer Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio)
Screenwriter Peter Buchman (Che, Parts One and Two)
Director Julie Taymor (Frieda) She’s a Emmy and Tony-winner and has also received an Oscar nomination.
Writer/Director James Burrows co-creator of Cheers
Writer/Producer Nick Wauters (The Vampire Diaries, The Event)
The great writer Thornton Wilder (Our Town) attended before transferring to Yale.
Writer/director Lena Dunham (Girls)

“I was hell bent on going [to Oberlin College]. I had visited Oberlin on a beautiful spring day when I was a junior and found it magical.”
Lena Dunham 

Dunham graduated from Oberlin in 2008 with a degree in creative writing. She began writing short films while in college and the year after she graduated created (writer, director, producer, costar) the web series Delusional Downtown Divas and made the indie film Tiny Furniture which was released in 2010. Somewhere along the way she got on Judd Apatow’s radar and Dunham had a small role in his film This is 40 and in 2012 Apatow began producing the HBO show Girls—which Dunham created and is one of the main actors.

Now to come full circle back to Jonathan Demme. An education at Oberlin College will cost you a little more than that camera you can buy at Walgreens. (Does Walgreens even sell video cameras? Maybe he meant Wal Mart.) But Demme didn’t answer the question how do I become a director by saying you had to go to film school, he didn’t say you had to drop $100,000-$200,000 on an undergraduate program. (Or double that getting a master’s degree.) He said get a cheap camera and make a film.

BTW—Back in the ’80s I was at a talk Demme gave at AFI as part of their Directors on Directing program, and he essentially said the same thing. It’s just back then you did need a small army of people and a chunk of money for film. Below is the trailer for the documentary I’m Carolyn Parker (2011) where Demme was producer, director, and cameraman. Along with a small team of people Demme spent five years documenting one woman’s story in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Related post:
Oberlin to Oscars
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University (Another non-USC/UCLA/NYU school with quite a track record in Hollywood)

Scott W. Smith

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Live. Learn. Lead.
Motto of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio map

Last year Oberlin was voted the “Best Hometown” in northeast Ohio by Ohio Magazine.  The city of just under 10,000 people was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, and just happens to also be the place that helped develop two top Hollywood screenwriters. And while the city sits between Cleveland and Toledo it’s interesting to head over to Europe to see the original roots that links Oberlin to the Oscars.

Oberlin, Ohio was named after Jean-Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826) who was a German minister who worked to build a better community in the Le Ban de la Roche region in France.  (Known for his work in medicine, agricultural, helping to build roads, bridges and oraphanages—along with his spiritual teachings.)  The J.-F Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach is dedicated to celebrating his 59 years of ministry work in the remote valley.


Oberlin College was established in 1833 by the same two ministers who founded the town. According to Wikipedia, Oberlin was a key stop for the Underground Railroad in assisting escaped slaves and  the college  “was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835.” And while Oberlin College is strong in the arts, and today has a Cinema Studies program, the school’s most successful screenwriters majored in different disciplines.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman was an English major at Oberlin before he wrote the novel Harper which led to a career in Hollywood. His best known films are Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, All the Presidents Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Goldman also wrote the insightful book Adventures in the Screen Trade:  A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. That book includes the entire screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Though first published in 1982, it’s the first book any inspiring screenwriter should read. Here’s how Goldman introduced Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the screenplay.

A MAN idly walking around the building. He is BUTCH CASSIDY and hard to pin down. Thirty-five and bright, he has brown hair, but most people, if asked to describe him, would remember him as blond. He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men, but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Written by William Goldman

The other screenwriter from Oberlin is Mark Boal who majored in philosophy. While the much respected Goldman is on the tail-end of his career, Boal who graduated from Oberlin in ’95 is at the front end of his career but already has four Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, resulting in two-Oscar wins. Here’s how Boal introduced Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) in The Hurt Locker:

Working the joystick on the laptop is SERGEANT J.T. SANDBORN, a type-A jock, high school football star, cocky, outgoing, ready with a smile and quick with a joke…or, if you prefer , a jab to the chin. Think Muhammad Ali with a rifle.

I couldn’t tell you another connection between Goldman and Boal, but for the sake of this blog, two great screenwriters passing through the same small city decades apart makes it a city of interest. And a reminder that talent comes from everywhere.

Related posts:

William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Descriptive Writing—Pt 3, Characters

Scott W. Smith

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“I started out in newspapers, went on to narrative nonfiction magazine articles in the late 90’s, and then began trying my hand at screenwriting…In 2002, Kathryn Bigelow optioned a piece I did called ‘Jailbait.’ It became a short-lived TV show on Fox that she directed. That was really my introduction to television and film. Then I continued on the dual track I’m on now, trying to merge the two disciplines. This really started with The Hurt Locker, which was based on reporting, and continued with Zero Dark Thirty.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Interview with Rob Feld
The Hurt Locker: The Shooting Script 

Here’s a link to Boal’s article Jailbait which got the attention of Bigelow.

P.S. Back in 1995 Boal graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio where he majored in philosophy. In this 2010 talk at the school Boal told students, “You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success. And once you achieve that you have to be willing to put up with a bunch of rejection before you can get anywhere.” (I don’t get too much criticism from this blog, but when it comes it’s usually in the form of, “you make this sound too hard to do.” I think Boal’s quote and Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg‘s similar quote—“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”—pretty much sum it up.

BTW—Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All the Presidents Men) graduated from Oberlin College with an English degree.

Related post:
Screenwriting Quote #126 (Mark Boal) Boal proves you don’t have to go to film school, but you do have to learn from others. (And it’s a bonus if those others are Oscar-winner Paul Haggis and Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow. The key is to write something good enough to get you in the room with that kind of talent.)
Hitchcock Loved The Hurt Locker
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip#2)
First screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s my first Oscar nomination, my first screenplay. I think I should quit now, and take up a bonsai tree.”
Mark Boal

Quick what do screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boel’s have in common? Let me back-up. You may be asking who is Mark Boal? He was just nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay The Hurt Locker. Though he received a story credit on In The Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker is his first screenplay.

Since I write a lot about how common it is for writers to write anywhere between 6 & 23 screenplays before they make their make their first sale, I thought it would be fair to point out the exception to the rule. But before you think it’s that  easy, let me get back to what Boal’s and Goldman have in common.

They both went to Oberlin College in Ohio. (Goldman was an English major and Boal graduated in ’95 with honors in philosophy.)

Boal went on to write articles for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone Magazine, Budapest Sun, Mother Jones, The New York Observer and Playboy.

“Before 9/11, I covered politics, the war on drugs, technology and the Internet in relationship to privacy, but it was always hard news and investigative reporting. Then Sept. 11th happened, which was a big turning point for me in terms of what I wrote about. After that, I started covering the war on terror and writing about the military. “
Mark Boal

It was while being embedded as a journalist in Iraq that he came up with both ideas for In The Valley of Elah and The Hurt Locker. The later being a film that equaled Avatar with nine Oscar nominations and that Roger Ebert named as the second best film of the last decade. Not a bad start for Mr. Boal.

Scott W. Smith

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Every once in a while I pick up William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade and flip through it. I don’t know if that or Syd Fields’ book Screenplay was the first book on screenwriting I ever read, but I remember discovering them both while in film school. Many have built on the foundation of structure that Fields laid out, but I don’t think that any writer has come close to writing a better overall book on screenwriting than Goldman’s since it was published back in 1983.

Goldman stands alone in being able to have a long lasting career as a screenwriter with a string of great movies as well as being able to explain the process of screenwriting. I’d guess that 90% of all screenwriting teachers and screenwriting book authors have never had a feature film produced from their work, and probably 8% have had movies made that were made but you’ve never heard of, never saw, did poorly at the box office, or did okay at the box office but really weren’t that good.

So for  William Goldman to write the national bestseller Adventures in the Screen Trade and also write the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, and All the President’s Men is unbelievable. And that doesn’t include all his films or all the script doctoring he’s done, or the two Oscars he’s won.

As a living, breathing screenwriter William Goldman is a giant and he stands alone. So if you haven’t read Adventures in the Screen Trade, seen his movies, or read his scripts, you now know where to start to begin understand screenwriting. All I’m doing here is pointing the way.

I’d also like to point out that Goldman has strong Midwest roots. He was born in Chicago and raised in Highland Park, Illinois and received his undergraduate degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio.  After getting his master’s at Columbia, Goldman wrote the novel Harper which got the attention of Paul Newman who would star in the film version of that book. (It’s worth noting that Newman was just a few years older than Goldman and had graduated from Kenyon College, also in Ohio.)

It’s also worth noting that before Goldman turned his talents to screenwriting he had already written five novels and had three plays on Broadway.

“If you want to be a screenwriter and you live in Des Moines, that’s a terrible curse to bear. It’s a terrible curse in Los Angeles, too—but at least you’re not alone. And oh boy, when you’re beginning, does that matter….”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade
page 84

Now Goldman wrote those words over 25 years ago and while it still may be a curse to want to be a screenwriter, at least the Internet has helped writers have one big support group. A great place to get information and network. And these days there are writers groups all over the country—even in Des Moines, Iowa. Not to mention filmmakers, too. (And don’t forget those film incentives.)

Tomorrow we’ll look at a couple recent success stories that couldn’t have happened 25-years ago.

(And just for the record, Des Moines is so hip these days it’s now known as DeMo. At least that’s what is known as by some of the creatives who live and work in the East Village.)

Scott W. Smith

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