Career Spotlight is our feature where we interview someone about their line of work.
This month’s spotlight features Paul Wolansky, California-based Screenwriter, Producer and Associate Professor at the Chapman University, Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts
Q: How did you become a screenwriter and professor?
Looking back you can see pivotal and branching moments when something happens and it resonates so deeply that it points you in a direction. For someone else it might not be film, it might not be an art, it might be something completely different, but for me the combination of the beauty of film and then being able to teach and play in the creative sandbox, that was me finding my place.
I started out in pre-med as a bio major at Columbia [University in the City of New York]. I was learning a lot but at the same time was not sure of that being a right path. I watched a television series that showed some of the greatest films ever made. Among them was the Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. It’s about a village that is going to be robbed by bandits and the villagers are going to starve unless they can protect themselves. They hire seven masterless samurai to protect them. I was mesmerized by the film. It was the most stunning, eye filling thing I’d ever seen. At that point, I had to see everything that Kurosawa ever made.
After I graduated from college I thought about a lot of different practical things. I did a semester of business school and I felt like I was suffocating. Other students had their three-piece suits and briefcases and I was wearing a denim shirt and jeans and knowing I didn’t belong. I took a creative writing class and fell in love with writing.
I studied writing and directing at Columbia [Master of Fine Arts]. I worked independently in film, writing and editing independent movies and videos in New York City. Some of my classmates at Columbia had gone out to Los Angeles. Frank Daniel, who was a famous Czech producer and writer, had been my teacher at Columbia and had become the Dean of the USC Film School. They were all saying, come out to California, it’s great. So, I decided to move out there. I got there and luckily enough he [Frank Daniel] offered me a job teaching one class.
I continued writing and editing independent films, but it costs a lot of money to make films and it’s hard to make money. When you work freelance, it’s feast or famine. At the same time, I was teaching at the USC School of Cinema-Television and I found that I really loved teaching and started doing more and more of it. Eventually I went full-time. After 13 years at USC I moved to a tenured position at Chapman University and I’ve been teaching there since 2001. I’ve continued to write both documentaries and narrative films and my steady day-job has been teaching.
Interested in hearing more about what it is like working as a professional screenwriter and professor? In our next installment, Paul Wolansky shares likes and dislikes about his profession.
Interview by Nina Hornjatkevyc
Registered Psychologist and Practice Lead
Calgary Career Counselling and Synthesis Psychology