INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
SPECIAL REPORT Homecoming 2005
Writers share views on Hollywood, creative process
By Katie Ellis
Judging by the questions, comments and good-natured heckling, Andrew Bergman and Richie Walter, both 1965 graduates, educated and entertained a crowded Studio A as part of Homecoming 2005 last Friday.
More than a conversation between the pair about their lives as writers, movies today and how to break into the screenwriting business, the session saw old friends connecting and current students learning from two who have succeeded doing what they seemed destined to do — write.
Walter, a novelist, professor and chair of screenwriting at UCLA’s School of Film, Television and Digital Media whose students have written the Jurassic Park series, Tears of the Sun, Spider-Man, Road to Perdition and Mission Impossible; and Bergman, a screenwriter and director noted for writing Blazing Saddles, The In-Laws, Striptease and Honeymoon in Vegas, were not complimentary of today’s “corporate” style of screenwriting.
In years past, there were teams of writers, but Bergman said today’s writers are being treated better. “Now they’re like pitchers in baseball,” he said. “One reason movies have gotten sort of contentless is they’re written in a corporate fashion and the executives are involved.”
Walter agreed. “There’s more attention paid now,” he said. “Everyone is a producer and a writer and there’s more glamour attached to the movie feature world and more money paid to writers.”
But a track record can work against writers, too, Walter said. “This is one business where I know that no experience trumps experience. My students have a much better chance of getting a meeting than I do. In fact, people conceal awards they’ve won.” Bergman added to that. “Having done nothing is great,” he said. “That’s because your best work is in front of you.”
Questions turned to their favorite movies and television shows, and though Walter watches movies, he’s not much into TV. “I read,” he said.
Both Walter and Bergman stressed the importance of being well read and educated in the liberal arts as the basis for being a good writer or screenwriter. “How do you break into the business? You see a lot of movies, but you really need to have experience in life,” Walter said. “I think about my own experiences here at Harpur and I feel like only now I’m ready to begin studying. Follow your bliss and do what you love, but get a well-rounded liberal arts education if you want to be a writer.”
“I was programmed to be a history professor,” Bergman said. “It takes awhile. But at the least, take a lot of courses. If you only see movies and TV, that’s all you bring to it, and that’s why we see so many remakes. Don’t isolate yourself from experience.”
The pair share a love of the creative process, even in today’s corporate environment. “I didn’t start directing because they were wrecking things,” Bergman said. “The creative, collaborative side is the best thing in the world.”
“It is a miracle — trafficking in your own imagination,” Walter said. “You’re not really human if you don’t get creative in some aspect or another.”
Finally, Bergman told the aspiring writers in the audience: “Follow your instinct. The best way to write is just to write.”
Mid-'60s Alumni Gather to Reminisce
By Dania Zalen
Alumna Ronnie Goldberg has worked in the Bartle Library since 1970. But it’s much more than a workplace to her: It’s where she met her husband, Morton, in 1963. He’s now an adjunct lecturer in mathematics at the University.
The Vestal couple was among 45 mid-’60s alumni who gathered on Saturday during Homecoming. They roared with laughter as they listened to fellow alumni speak, tell stories and even play the harmonica.
In a song written for the occasion, Tom Friedman ’65, a radio/TV producer who traveled from Los Angeles, sang: “I’d never thought I’d see this day, 40 years have raced away, a gang of kids eating spiedies and hoagies, now we’re back as a bunch of old fogies.”
Jay Lovinger, Marcia Pearlstein and Bob Freeston also made presentations during Saturday’s event in the East Lounge.
Lovinger ’66 kept the audience in hysterics as he described his transformation from former managing editor of Life magazine to professional poker player. He’s working on a book to be titled Only the Good Die Broke: How I Lost my Money and my Mind but Found Salvation on the Professional Poker Circuit. Lovinger said the book, which documents his reinvention, shows aging Americans that life after 60 can be exciting.
Pearlstein ’66 gave a comical talk about aging strategies. “Modern technology,” she sighed, “some of us fear it and get crazy about it, but the greatest invention ever is the remote control to the TV.”
Freeston ’65, who works for Canal Press and Solar House Tours in Rosendale, brought a more serious tone as he shared his views on reusable energy in his speech, “Commercializing Green Power.”
Many of the mid-’60s alumni expressed shock at the way the campus has changed since their last visit.
Edward Yaw ’64, president of County College of Morris in New Jersey, was a member of the first class to be housed entirely on the Vestal campus. Previously, students were housed in Endicott, and traveled to Triple Cities College to take classes. Yaw presided over the student government.
He worked at Binghamton admissions for three years in the late 1960s and described how the admissions process has changed. Not only were students admitted based solely on their grades and test scores, but also the standards for women were higher than the standards for men, he said.
Goldberg also commented on how the school has changed. The University once had about 2,000 students, and fewer than 10 of them were non-white. The school also became part of the State University of New York system while she and her husband were undergraduates.
“It’s pretty exciting to have been here that long ago and to have seen these changes,” she said.
ALUMNA SHARES LEADERSHIP INSIGHTS
Binghamton native Margaret Lamphere Bellville ’75 talked about women and leadership as well as the broadband industry during a series of talks on campus Friday.
Bellville is the past executive vice president/COO for Charter Communications, and has been recognized as one of the top female executives and innovators in the cable and telecom-munications industry. She’s now a partner in CarterBaldwin, a national executive search firm.
An afternoon talk titled “Women as Leaders: Personal Power and Risk Taking” drew an audience of about 75 people, including alumni in town for Homecoming as well as community residents.
President Lois B. DeFleur introduced Bellville and shared her own tales of being the first woman to hold various jobs, including the one she has now. “I think that undoubtedly affected who I am,” she said.
DeFleur also detailed research she did about what makes men and women successful. “Mentoring and networking were really the differentiating factors,” she said, particularly for women.
Bellville agreed, and addressed their importance as she shared her own success story, which began with a part-time job in a telephone store. “Who’s on your board of directors?” she asked audience members, encouraging them to develop co-workers, friends and even former bosses into a board that can offer guidance.
When talking about networking, Bellville noted that a secretary or assistant can be just as important as a high-level executive in making a connection. “Everyone’s equal in the eyes of the Rolodex,” she said. “Don’t write anybody off.”
She also emphasized the value of change and risk taking, and the importance of being true to yourself and your ideals.
The audience enjoyed Bellville’s often-humorous top 10 presentation of tips to change your career and life:
10. Life is not a spectator sport – engage it – get off the porch.
9. Take charge of your career. Make a plan; if it’s not working, change it.
8. If you want to climb, be a calculated risk-taker.
7. Change is good.
6. The next job doesn’t always have to be a promotion.
5. Learning is a valuable creating opportunity.
4. Find a mentor and be a mentor.
3. Work hard but don’t forget to play.
2. To the extent you can, pick who you work for.
1. Enjoy the ride!