When I graduated with my MFA from USC, I told my professors that I wanted to come back and teach there someday. None of them laughed at me, at least to my face, and three years later, after the release of my first film, I got the call to come back to campus and have remained in the classroom ever since. I taught at USC for six years, then SUNY Oswego for one, and I'm now a tenured associate professor with DePaul University's School of Cinematic Arts in Chicago, currently serving as chair of the screenwriting program.
How do we best develop a story to show an audience what we want them to see? How do we best make them feel what we want them to feel? The focus of my teaching is process. I hope the scripts my students write win awards, lead to jobs, and ultimately be produced, but my greater goal is for emerging writers to discover their own process, and to learn who they are and how they work best as individual artists – because at some point, I won’t be there to provide grades and deadlines, and the supportive creative space of the classroom will disappear. Unfortunately, for many beginning writers and filmmakers there is grave creative danger in the loss of academic structure, so I strive to teach my students to understand how to maintain productivity in a vacuum, and to confidently rely upon the tools, techniques, and self-knowledge – the process – they gained from their time in the classroom. While I excel at teaching story design, characterization, structure, format, visual story-telling and all of the tools we use to build great stories and sharpen craft, I expect students to treat their time in my classes as a personal discovery process. I am not in the business of creating one-hit wonders. I am the business of building careers and helping people fulfill their dreams.
One of the writing exercises I created, "Notecard R & D," can be found in the anthology, Now Write! Screenwriting: Screenwriting Exercises from Todays Best Writers and Teachers. I am also a screenwriting and education columnist for ScriptMag.com.