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Filmmaker alumnus shares insights on Hollywood

By : Nicole Borawski

One of the first scripts Marc Lawrence ’81 wrote was a pilot called The World’s Most Famous House, based on his experiences living at 130 Murray St. in Binghamton. His latest project, the 2007 film Music and Lyrics, starred Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Clearly, he’s come a long way.

“Who I am today is a product of what happened here,” Lawrence told a crowd of students and faculty March 29 at the Anderson Center Chamber Hall.

Lawrence graduated with a degree in English and went on to law school at New York University. “In law school, there is this compulsion to make language mathematical,” he said. “The first year was agonizing and I didn’t enjoy it. Instead of studying or finding a summer internship at a law firm, I was writing screenplays in the NYU library basement.”

Lawrence left NYU after that first year and soon joined the staff of the television show Family Ties as a writer and producer. He left the sitcom and wrote the screenplay for the 1993 comedy Life with Mikey, which, like the TV show, featured Michael J. Fox.
“All you need is one person to read your script and give you a call, and then the journey has started,” Lawrence said.

The writing process is different for each script, though. Some make the rounds for years before they become feature films, Lawrence said. The average first draft usually takes him about three to six months to write.

Lawrence’s screenwriting career took off in 1999 with the films Forces of Nature, starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck, and The Out-of-Towners, with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin. His more recent movies include Mickey Blue Eyes, starring Grant and James Caan, and Miss Congeniality I and II and Two Weeks Notice, with Bullock.
“One of the greatest things about writing is it’s the most democratic job,” Lawrence said. “It’s all about what’s down on paper and not if you’re dressed well or know someone.”

He said his best ideas come from different places and things he hears and sees, often when he least expects it. A successful script must tell a story, and the dialogue needs to feel real, Lawrence said. “Dialogue that sounds written drives me crazy because it needs to sound like a conversation,” he said. “Whatever genre you’ve picked, it has to feel real within that world.”

Lawrence was accompanied on campus by his wife and fellow Binghamton graduate, Linda Nesenoff Lawrence ’83, and their three children. The family lives in Los Angeles.
“LA is not as bad as everyone says and the glamour of Hollywood is far from what I do, so it’s easy to stay levelheaded,” Lawrence said.

Noah Gold, a junior finance major, found Lawrence’s forum insightful. “I really learned a lot and he put things into perspective,” said Gold, who is interested in screenwriting.

Lawrence’s next project is a script with a political element that addresses the environment, even though his typical genre is comedy. “I like to move in slightly different directions, but as a writer, the voice you have is the voice you have,” he said.

“No matter how big the movie is, it’s all about telling a good story, an extension of a guy painting on a cave wall.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08