Richard Walter, co-chair of the screenwriting program in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA, came to Pomona College to give a lecture and seminar for selected screenwriting students on Apr. 9.
Professor Rick Blackwood, who was Walter’s student in 1980, was one of many Pomona faculty members involved in bringing Walter to Pomona.
“Richard and I have exchanged favors over the years,” Blackwood said. “Mostly, as last week proved, I get the best of that. We couldn’t develop a more important relationship—we meaning Pomona College’s screenwriters—than with the UCLA film graduate program.”
Blackwood first invited Walter to speak at Pomona while Blackwood was a visiting professor in the spring of 2008. This was Walter’s third visit to Pomona. When asked if he would consider coming back, Walter responded, “Just try to keep me away!”
“Rick is among my favorite writers and teachers and a longtime alumnus of our program in Westwood,” Walter said. “His students have consistently shown strong writing every time I’ve visited Pomona.”
In his lecture, Walter––who has trained an impressive list of writers and directors that includes Penelope Spheeris, Alexander Payne, Paul Schrader, Dustin Lance Black, Laeta Kalogridi and Francis Ford Coppola––spoke to students about the film industry and film school.
Walter opened by refuting the common argument that screenwriting cannot be taught.
“No one expects an aspiring cellist or clarinetist to walk into a closet and suddenly step out as cellist or clarinetist, so why wouldn’t screenwriters require training?” Walter asked.
Walter said film school has become the most promising avenue for breaking into the film industry.
However, he said very few people matriculate to UCLA’s MFA program directly from undergraduate institutions. Walter explained that this is because college students often lack the experience required to be a great screenwriter.
“Writing about real-world experiences accumulated over time is far more compelling than the funniest shenanigan that ever occurred in the college dormitory,” Walter said.
Walter added he considered pursuing an undergraduate degree in film a mistake.
He also said the admissions committee at UCLA places little emphasis on an applicant’s major, GPA, or recommendations.
“Our admissions committee seeks out strong language skills and a fertile imagination,” Walter said. “Often students are admitted based on short stories, poetry, and other forms of creative writing besides screenplays.”
Later that day, Walter hosted a seminar for the students of Blackwood’s Advanced Screenwriting class. Each student showed Walter two pages of his or her screenplay and received feedback.
“The small seminar was a transforming experience for me,” Walter said. “I hope and expect the writers around the table found it worthy.”
Blackwood expressed a similar sentiment.
“It was one of the best reading, close-analysis, and teaching days I ever had,” Blackwood said. “Richard was brilliant…But that was the least of it. Our students blew him away. I was so proud of them. And Richard went back to UCLA more than ever believing in what we do here.”