Career Spotlight is our feature where we interview someone about their line of work
Welcome back to Career Spotlight!
Much has changed since we brought you Part 1 of our interview with Paul Wolansky in March 2020. Since our last Career Spotlight post, our team has provided useful information to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and about the Black Lives Matter Movement, and we remain dedicated to supporting all aspects of your wellbeing. With 2021 underway, we are now returning with our Career Spotlight series to provide useful information about people in interesting careers. Below is Part 2 of our interview with Paul – stay tuned for more posts in 2021 and beyond!
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: What do you like about your career?
I naturally gravitate towards being interested in and learning things and being entrusted in summarizing and distilling knowledge and conveying it to other people.
One thing you do when you do screenwriting is outlines. A director has to explain to the actor or actress where the scene comes in the larger film because it may be shot out of order. You have to tell them what happened before, where the scene is happening, and where it’s going to go later. That’s what the actors want to understand, where are they in terms of their performance, in terms of their character. That was something that always came naturally. I always found myself interested in outlining, structuring, writing what we call treatments, outlines, beat sheets, which is sort of the blueprint that you write for a screenplay before you then dive into writing pages.
A second reason is that ideation is a lot of fun. I loved playing in the sandbox when I was a little kid. What I’ve discovered is that with my students it is basically a creative sandbox of ideas. I constantly get to play in there with them and try to figure out do they want to do a thriller, do they want to do a drama, do they want to do a comedy, do they want to do an intensely personal story, or some kind of science fiction epic about the end of the world. Regardless, it’s like getting in there with them as they try to figure out what’s the way that they can convey the story and how to convey it in a way that an audience gets it, will get immersed in it, will get the thrill you get when you go to a movie and you have a great adventure, you laugh, or you cry, you might be very moved.
I think that teaching in film, teaching writing, combines that interest in distilling things to their essence and conveying it to people, but also getting to really have fun and play with students and help them be creative.
Q: What do you dislike about your career?
Many people in the film business are driven by the desire of seeing their name on the titles, the credits of the movie, on the movie marquee outside. There’s an awful lot of ego, narcissism, self-centeredness in the business that drives people because it’s a very difficult business to succeed in. There’s an enormous amount of competition, there’s an awful lot of rejection, there’s an awful lot of people that are not necessarily the nicest people in the world. You run into frustrations and aggravation and dealing with people that sometimes seem to go out of their way to be obnoxious. That’s not everyone, but there are enough people like that, that when you run into them, you end up butting heads with people like that and that’s the less appealing aspect of the business.
Academia is a somewhat protected setting. Working with the students is preparing them for what life after film school will be, but you can still protect them to some extent. It’s very scary to present one’s writing when you don’t know how good you are. It’s very easy to shut someone down, to criticize, to tear them apart, to make them feel bad. There are occasionally people that seem to delight in doing that, in being really tough on new aspiring artists, writers, directors, as if saying, throw them in the deep end and see if they could swim. I think that you can encourage even while preparing them.
That’s what I like about the film school environment. You have to teach students what’s out there, to give them the skills they need to compete, maybe to find themselves as artists, that they have a voice, something to offer, but you don’t run into quite as many people who delight in beating out and destroying their competition. I like being able to nurture and work with young people that have as big of hopes and dreams as anyone has but they haven’t necessarily done it yet and they may be vulnerable to criticism.
Making films and writing scripts but also teaching strikes a really nice balance. It’s always great to go back into the creative sandbox and work with the students. They’re very inspiring to work with. So I’d say that that’s the best thing and they compensate for those aggravations, the frustrations that you run into when you run into people that seem like they could be an awful lot nicer than they’re choosing to be.
Interested in hearing more about what it is like working as a professional screenwriter and professor? In our next installment, Paul Wolansky provides advice for those interested in his profession.
Interview by Nina Hornjatkevyc
Registered Psychologist and Practice Lead
Calgary Career Counselling and Synthesis Psychology