Filmmakers talk shop at Master’s Tea

It was a dark and rainy day, but weather was the last thing on students’ minds as they gathered to listen to the creators of the upcoming movie “All the King’s Men” at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Thursday.

Writer-director Steven Zaillian, producer Mike Medavoy and executive producer David Thwaites discussed their newest project, the business of filmmaking, and how they came to be who they are today in front of an audience of about 20. The moviemakers also gave advice for students interested in entering the film industry.

Zaillian discussed how he came to adapt Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel “All the King’s Men” — the story of a political titan in the Deep South during the 1930s — into a movie, which features Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Sean Penn and Kate Winslet.

Since classics usually do not have as much mass appeal as popular bestsellers when made into films, Zaillian said the group hesitated when they first became interested in the project — which is, Zaillian said, not a remake of the 1949 movie of the same name, though that movie was also based on the novel. Zaillian said the power of the original novel was what compelled him to write his own treatment.

“The story has a certain vitality that a lot of classics don’t have,” Zaillian said. “So I decided to do the best job I could and not worry too much about what others would say about it.”

Zaillian said the biggest danger of adapting books to film lies in matching the vision that readers have when they put down the novel, since a movie that fails to meet those expectations will inevitably disappoint fans of the original work.

“What I try to do is just to be as faithful as I can to my interpretation of the book,” Zaillian said. “I try never to lose sight of how I felt when I first read the book.”

Regarding his success as a screenwriter, Zaillian said he did not find the work — the work found him.

“When I graduated from college, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do,” he said. “Just don’t be single-minded. It’s never a straight line.”

Executive producer Thwaites advised passionate students who are interested in starting out in the film industry to start by moving to Los Angeles and earning some work experience as interns.

“Interning is a– brilliant way to learn,” Thwaites said. “In Hollywood, everything is wide open for you. You just have to really want to do it.”

For his part, producer Medavoy emphasized the necessity of networking in Hollywood, where he said only dedication and connections typically yield success.

“Give yourself four years,” he said. “You have to learn how to fail. You can’t win all the time. The good thing is that you learn and get better as time goes on.”

Aaron Bray ’10, who has read the original book and has also seen the first version of the film produced in 1949, said he enjoyed listening to the guests.

“[The tea] provided an interesting background for the movie,” Bray said. “I’ll be interested to see how the movie ties the book together. The book was very cohesive. Hopefully, the movie will be as well.”

Naomi Okuyama ’07 said she was glad there were three guests, so that the audience could hear different perspectives on the same issues.

“It was nice to hear about both the creative aspect and the business aspect,” she said.

Zaillian has written screenplays for several hit films such as “Schindler’s List,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Gangs of New York.” Medavoy, the film’s producer, has been involved with over 300 feature films, and his movies include “Zodiac” and “Vertical Limit.” Thwaites, who is both an actor and a director, has produced films such as “License to Wed” and “Black Autumn.”

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