From GW to Hollywood

Judging by the number of students who attended a lecture on how to become a screenwriter Friday, GW students aspire to be more than just senators.

Speaker Jason Filardi, a Hollywood screenwriter and 1993 graduate, has worked on such movies as “Bringing Down the House” and the upcoming “Seventeen Again.”

The former English major said he always knew he wanted to do something with writing. After watching his brother move west to write movies, he decided he would like to do the same.

Then why come to GW, a place known primarily for its abundant presidential hopefuls?

“When I came to visit, I just fell in love with the city,” Filardi said.

But not all of the University’s prominent alumni in entertainment came here with Hollywood in mind. In fact, out of the entire board of GW’s Entertainment and Media Alliance, a networking group for alumni in entertainment, only one came to Foggy Bottom specifically to study television and radio.

Roy Lee, who produced movies like “The Departed” and “The Ring,” was one of the converts. It was only after earning a political science degree and going through law school that he decided to work in entertainment. He said he would attend GW all over again, though.

“It worked out for me, gave me a well-rounded education,” Lee said. “It enables me to work well in Hollywood.”

Most of Lee’s colleagues, however, went to schools better known in the entertainment world, such as USC, UCLA or NYU. For School of Media and Public Affairs professor Christopher Sterling, this is not a surprise.

“There are lots of better places to study entertainment,” Sterling said.

For many years, the University had a respectable department focusing in electronic media, television and radio. This department closed about three years ago to allow SMPA to focus on journalism and political communication, which school officials felt was tailored more to the strengths of the District. This decision was not without criticism, however.

“There were all kinds of wailing when (the department) closed,” Sterling said.

Some still feel that a more entertainment-oriented department or major is needed. Senior Kristin Dross, who originally came to GW to study political science, is now interested in screenwriting but was forced to take a class on it at NYU, as GW does not offer one. As a creative writing minor, she has taken and enjoyed playwriting classes, but “they could offer more,” she said.

Filardi feels similarly, crediting an intensive screenwriting class in California as being “very helpful” to his success. Screenwriting classes at GW were not offered while he was a student, though he took courses in playwriting and acting. He would like to one day teach screenwriting, perhaps at GW, he said.

“I think the University should have all opportunities out there,” he said.

There are still some options for GW students interested in the entertainment field. Students can register for playwriting and acting courses, and the Columbian College offers a minor in film. Student groups also produce various theater productions throughout the year.

SMPA also has some entertainment-oriented courses remaining, such as “Hollywood and Politics” and “Political and Social Commentary in Science Fiction,” both taught by professor Patricia Phalen. And there is the semi-serious advice Filardi offered lecture attendees looking to make it in Hollywood.

Filardi said, “Persevere, work hard and sleep with the right people.”

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