When Professor Howard Lavick retires to Southern Oregon this summer, we will be sad to see him go. But Lavick, who began teaching film courses at LMU in 1984, has left a legacy built on an uncommon foundation of wit, good humor and common sense.
It was Professor Don Zirpola who first recruited Lavick to teach three classes for a “short period of time” at the film program, then operating within LMU’s Communication Arts Department. “I needed someone to replace me on faculty,” said Zirpola, who was ascending to department chair. “I convinced him to come to the school even though he was fully engaged at SelecTV where he was in charge of interstitial programming.”
Fast-forward thirty-one years: Lavick has served the film program as associate professor, department chair, school director, acting dean, and most recently, interim associate dean. He is among a group of Founding Faculty who grew the film program from 250 students to a fully-fledged School of Film and Television with over 700 students. He was a guiding force behind the development of the SFTV International Documentary Program in Bonn, Germany. And he established the Ian Connor Student Cinematography Award to honor a cherished colleague and beloved teacher.
“Like our students now,” said Zirpola, “they loved him then as well. Students were always at the center of everything he did for the school.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that Lavick is adept at guiding his students both academically and professionally. “Professor Lavick inspired us in and outside of the classroom through his wisdom on filmmaking, but most importantly in how to stay grounded and operate in our pursuits of a career in the entertainment business morally and ethically,” said Matthew Law-Phipps (Production – B.A. ’15), a recent thesis student. “There is no sense of superiority when Professor Lavick gives his input, only care to make the best possible future for each of us.”
Before earning an M.F.A. in Film Production from the USC School of Cinema in 1977, Lavick served in Vietnam as an Army combat photographer with the 25th Infantry Division and as a reporter with Pacific Stars and Stripes. For his reporting of the South Vietnamese combat mission into Laos in 1971, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Before Professor Lavick ‘s final class, he took a moment to reflect on his tenure at the film school and to share with LogLines his future plans.
We are going to miss your sense of humor. What will you miss the most about the film school? My sense of humor. That, and Fig Newtons at our faculty meetings. Laughter can help deflate the tension of a meeting so that we can all breathe – and smile – again. So I will miss the laughter shared with many dear LMU friends during the past thirty years.
Of course, that makes total sense. What parting words of advice would you leave to your students, especially those on the verge of graduating? Work together in school. Your LMU friends will help you get your first job. Your skill, knowledge and integrity will help you to succeed and get the next one.
Is there a single accomplishment that you are most proud of achieving while at LMU? Two, actually: 1) Establishment and growing success of the SFTV Bonn program. I hope this will continue and perhaps serve as a unique model for future SFTV programs abroad as well. And 2) As Chair, helping to guide the then-Communication Arts Department through a period of stability, unprecedented growth and student accomplishments that led to our becoming a full-fledged School of Film and Television. This was due to the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff and students. By demonstrating to the University that we were able to manage our own affairs well, we earned this opportunity. It was not handed to us.
Given the choice of the following retiree role models, which person most fits your idea of retirement and why: Jimmy Carter, Walter Cronkite, Bill Clinton, Phil Jackson, or David Burcham? Geez Louise! None of these old geezers! Well, actually Dave Burcham is taking a one year sabbatical and will spend half his time travelling in Europe, so that’s pretty cool. But I’d like to do what Henri Cartier-Bresson did – spend his life doing what he loved: photography, painting, drawing and traveling with his wife and friends. Bresson’s philosophy: “To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.”
In all seriousness, what do you plan to do with yourself now that you are free to follow your bliss? Do you have any film projects lined up? Do you have other interests you wish to develop? Well, right now my epitaph would read: “My life was a series of unfinished projects.” So, I plan to change that and get back to doing my own creative work, finish several documentary films and renew my love of still photography. Oh, and take the time to enjoy the wineries and new life with my wife, Michaela, and family in Southern Oregon.
Anything else you would like to share? Yes. Albert Einstein had a messy desk.
Chantelle Wells’ (WPTV – M.F.A. ’15) journey from her youth to advertising to staff writer on the CW hit comedy-drama Jane the Virgin is an unconventional one. As the recent grad prepared for commencement, she spoke to LogLines about her humble beginnings and what it has taken for her to get where she is today.
You landed a staff writing job just before completing your M.F.A. How? That was all the CBS Diversity Writers Fellowship. We’re assigned mentors in the fellowship who are CBS executives. One of my mentors was the director of current programming for the network and the studio, and one of the shows he covered was Jane the Virgin. With the relationship we’d built over the course of the fellowship, he felt confident and comfortable enough with me to mention my name to Jennie, the show runner for Jane. He gave her my pilot to read and made no promises! The chips would just fall where they may. Jennie read my pilot, really liked it, and I was asked to come in to meet with her for a staff writing position on the show. We had been training all throughout the program on how to take a meeting with a show runner, so even though I was nervous, I felt prepared. I guess I was prepared, because exactly a week after I met with Jennie, I found out I got the job!
How did you hear about the fellowship? It’s funny, I almost didn’t apply. You have to submit a spec of an existing show and an original pilot. I felt great about my pilot. My spec… I felt like maybe I should work on it a little more and just apply next year. But I changed my mind and just went for it. I have to actually thank my third year WPTV cohort for that. I wouldn’t have even known about this fellowship or any other if my peers hadn’t been discussing their applications. I asked someone what it was, they told me, and the rest is history.
Many of the professionals you met through the CBS Diversity Writers Fellowship, from your mentors to the executivess to the program director, really took you under their wings to make this dream come true. Getting into the fellowship has been a life-changing experience. The program taught me so many things. Most of all it teaches you how to be “staffable.” It teaches you the skill of taking a meeting with a show runner–this is not the kind of thing you just walk into; it actually is a skill you don’t learn in school. There is prep, and there is a very intricate dance that takes place when you’re in a meeting, and I wouldn’t have learned any of it without the program. It also demystified the writer’s room as it gave all of us the opportunity to sit in and shadow a real TV writer’s room. To be able to watch working writers in the industry breaking a story is invaluable. We also had “manager night” and “agent night” where it is set up like a speed date and we basically pitch ourselves in order to get representation. That’s how I got my manager. And I met an agent in that session who helped facilitate a meeting with the agent I have now. I cannot encourage writers enough to get out there and apply to these programs. Some of them are diversity programs, some of them are not and are open to everyone. But, the most important lesson is to be your own advocate for your future. Don’t depend on your education alone. It’s not enough. You have to find the avenues that will help you get to where you want to go and, for me, that was the CBS Fellowship.
That’s great advice. You also persevered through some early life challenges…living in the back of your family’s car for a while, being the only African American girl at an all white high school. How have these experiences shaped you as a writer? It’s given me a voice and a perspective that no one else has. That’s true for anybody with a unique background. Your experiences inform your writing, and no two people share exactly the same experience in the same way. So, I’m the only one who can speak to those particular issues in the way I experienced them. I channel a lot of what I was feeling back then into my characters. It’s never the same situations, but it’s always emotionally honest. I put my characters through a lot of crap! But I pull from where I’ve been and I put it all into the writing. It’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy!
You earned your B.S. in marketing in Boston and worked in advertising for eight years. What was the catalyst to change your entire career from writing for commercials to writing for television? I had always loved television. Growing up, I set my schedule by the TV schedule. So, I knew that I wanted to get into something that had to do with TV. Growing up the way I did, having a steady income was really important to me, so I tried to think of a career that was stable and still in TV – commercials. I did that for a long time until my mom got sick and I left my career to move back home to help take care of her. Getting away from the hustle and daily grind of my career, I was able to sit in some peace and really evaluate my life – who I was, and what I wanted. And I realized that advertising just wasn’t fulfilling for me. There were stories I wanted to tell that could never get serviced by a 30-second spot. I began to write a whole lot during that time and the light bulb finally went off. I can be a TV writer! So, after a three year journey, I became one.
As you embark on this new journey writing for Jane the Virgin, do you have a favorite SFTV memory? Having class with Jack Orman. He has taught me more in one semester than I’ve learned in three years. I’m a better writer because of him.
David Koutsouridis’s (Screenwriting – B.A. ’15) The Out Crowd: Tales of High School will run Friday, April 24th and Saturday, April 25th at the Santa Monica Playhouse. The Out Crowd is a series of one-act comedic plays set at the offbeat public high school of Fairview High. Each play centers on students at Fairview, and the social issues they encounter, such as bullying and weight struggles, as they try to find their place in the world.
Australian native Koutsouridis, the author of Life is Too Short To Be Fat, a book based on his experiences of overcoming childhood obesity and high school bullying, drew from personal events for the play. He collaborated with fellow classmates on the production, recruiting Jennevie Olivieri (Screenwriting – M.F.A. ’15) as co-producer, Bernard Badion (Screenwriting – M.F.A. ’15) and Nick Hurley (Screenwriting – B.A. ’15) as directors, and alum Justin Small (Screenwriting – B.A. ’14) as one of the actors.
Proceeds from The Out Crowd will go to My Friend’s Place, a charity that helps L.A.’s homeless youth build self-sufficient lives. “This cause is very dear to my heart, and having done extensive homeless charity work in Australia, I know how much of a difference a helping hand can make. Since arriving in Los Angeles, I have been searching for ways to continue my charity work, and that’s how The Out Crowd came into fruition,” said Koutsouridis. “I am hoping these plays not only shine light on the forgotten outcasts, but also on LA’s homeless youth, who all deserve a chance to live out their potential.”
The Out Crowd: Tales of High School
Friday, April 24th and Saturday, April 25th, 7:30pm
Santa Monica Playhouse
$5 tickets with discount code LMU2015
Purchase tickets here
The animation student and co-founder of the LMU Cinema Club talks to LogLines about serving as the first-ever U.S. student representative on a special jury at FICG.
What were you doing in Guadalajara? I was offered the chance through the film school to participate as a juror in the Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG) over ten days in March. Specifically, I was serving on the Mezcal Jury, which is a jury of students, both local and international, that selects the best feature Mexican film from those screened at the festival, including documentary, animation and live action. This award is considered the biggest at the festival, as it honors the festival’s beginnings; this was the 30th edition of FICG, which began less as a festival and more of a celebration of the best of Mexican cinema from the year. So as the festival has grown from its local roots to become internationally recognized, this award maintains its original intent.
How many films did you watch? Can you translate that into minutes? We had a little over a week to watch 21 films, plus a few more on the side that I got to see out-of-competition. So at the very least that’s a couple thousand minutes.
That’s a lot of time in a dark theater. The first film would typically be around 9 or 9:30 a.m., and the next after a short break. I’d usually use that time to get down any thoughts on the previous film before jumping into the next – some days we’d watch as many as four in a day, so note-taking was important in order to return to the films later after having watched so many more. Once we’d seen a good block of films, the jury would convene to choose a couple of films that would be contenders in our final vote at the end of the week. While that kept us busy most of the day, we did have many evenings free, so we could use the time to go out for dinner, see the city some, and attend some of the parties.
Thirty international students debated the merits of each of these films? That seems like a large group. How was the critique managed and how did you deal with the language barrier? It definitely is a large group – and that was one of our concerns, since it does make discussions harder to manage. The way the jury is divided is that half come from Guadalajara – again to honor the local heritage of the festival – and the other half come from other parts of Mexico and other countries, mostly throughout Latin America. The language barrier wasn’t so bad. We chose early on that we should express our ideas in our own language, and we had an excellent translator with us so I was able to stay in the discussion throughout. Usually someone on the jury would volunteer as moderator, and would give the floor to whoever wanted to speak. The first meetings were definitely more discussion-based, and the final meeting was more structured; we reviewed the films we had selected so far, and then each made arguments for our top two choices until we felt ready to vote.
Did any key themes emerge among this group of Mexican films? Topics or styles that were favored, for example. Did anything surprise you? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the documentary films were among the best films we saw at the festival, which consistently delved into the more complex and rich themes of identity and memory. Violence was a consistent concern in the dramas, but perhaps most surprising were the soap-opera sensibilities of many of the comedies.
The jury selected 600 millas as the winner of the $40,000 prize. Was that your favorite film, too, and if so why? The jury named 600 millas Best Mexican Film of the festival, which according to the festival’s director was a surprising choice. I thought it was an accomplished film, a first feature from the film’s director, but I did not agree that it was the best film of the festival.
Can you tell us a bit about the film that you championed. Like I said, my favorite films were from the documentaries; Shih was one in particular that I championed, which was an intimate direct cinema study on a young Taiwanese-Venezuelan woman reuniting with her father after their long separation. It’s a film that deals with the fragility of relationships, especially in the globalized world we live in today. It’s an authentic and deeply-felt film, not at all sentimental, and one that I would definitely recommend seeking out.
Were you the “lone wolf” for this film, or were other jurors also fans? I was particularly vocal about Shih, but definitely not the only supporter. We gave two films a special mention, this and another, Tiempo Suspendido, as the group was pretty evenly split on which should receive the mention.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have most influenced your work? I could go on and on. Some of my favorite films are from the silent comedy tradition: Keaton, Chaplin, Tati, Etaix, etc. Their particular approach to character and storytelling through movement has been a valuable lesson for me in my own films, and an approach that is wonderfully suited for animation.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to you while you were in Guadalajara? Being considered an expert on U.S. issues was very strange. I found myself explaining many things from the three branches of U.S. government, Indian reservations, and the California drought.
This was your first time in Mexico. What are some lasting impressions of the country that you will cherish? Guadalajara was without exception one of the most welcoming and hospitable places I have ever been to. I was very lucky to have had some free time to go with a few of my fellow jurors into various parts of the city and get a better sense of the place. Some of the sights there, including the murals at the Hospicio Cabañas and the architectural beauty of the Teatro Degollado were truly breathtaking. As is usually the case, what is really the best part of the trip are the people who I met. My fellow jurors were terrific and close companions throughout my stay. One of my professors, Jose Garcia-Moreno, flew down for a few days as well and introduced me to a close community of professional animators from the area, which was wonderful. And on that last night, I had the chance to meet the directors of Shih. They were both incredibly excited about the special mention, and I spent time chatting with them about their new projects
LMU School of Film and Television is a Community Sponsor of FICG in LA, a regional extension of the Guadalajara International Film Festival, which brings the best of contemporary Mexican and Latin American cinema to the Egyptian Theatre for its fifth year, from August 27 to August 30, 2015.