May 5, 2014
SCA Alumni Stories: Tim Dowling
Spotlight on the writer of Role Models and This Means War
Tim Dowling ’96 is a successful screenwriter with credits such as Role Models, This Means War, and Just Go With It. He also serves on SCA’s Alumni Development Council and on the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors. He recently took time away from his next writing project to answer a few questions from Reality Ends Here.
You graduated from USC with a degree in theater. How did you make the transition toward screenwriting? I have always loved movies and always wanted to get into and make movies. I grew up acting in plays because growing up in suburban Massachusetts, trying to act in movies wasn’t really an option. I came to USC to study acting and then ended up with their “Hydra” degree, a degree in Humanities with an emphasis in theatre. This enabled me to take screenwriting classes, film classes, history, law. After USC I worked a little as an actor, enough to somehow pay the bills but my auditions were few and far between. In the meantime I spent a lot of time on the phone with friends giving them notes on their scripts and helping them develop ideas. After a while I felt that maybe I could do this. That maybe I needed to put up or shut up -- I’m giving them all notes on their script but I’ve never written one on my own.
Around this time I did a short film called George Lucas in Love with director Joe Nussbaum ‘96 (Sleepover, Prom) and Joseph Levy ‘95 (who just made the amazing doc Spinning Plates). I was one of the writers and was only involved to help Joe get attention as a director. But the short was so successful people started asking me if I wanted to write as well. So anyway all these things together got me to write my first script.
What do you remember most fondly about your time at USC? Many things. I love SC. I loved performing and doing plays there. I did a play every semester I was in school and they were always a blast. I was also in the improv group COMMEDUS INTERUPTUS and we did improv shows every Friday on the lawn. That was always so much fun. The group is still around on campus and many alumni have gone on to great careers such as: director Jason Reitman, writers like Elizabeth Hackett and Abby Kohn, and performers like SNL’s Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney.
But in addition to that, I would probably say the friends I made.
How has being a USC alum impacted your professional career? In many ways. Most of my close friends went to USC. Some weren’t even there at the same time as me, but we all had similar experiences being part of the Trojan family that it feels like we were there at the same time. And I think that’s true professionally as well. If you are meeting with a director or an executive and it comes up that you both went to USC, it just feels like there is an instant camaraderie. I think it’s a really hard business and it’s great to have graduated with a whole bunch of people who want to do the same thing and are struggling with the same things you are. So it’s a nice support system. I also have a ton of talented friends from college and am always sending them pages to get their thoughts and see if they like something while I write. So that’s been really helpful to me as well.
If you could go back and speak to your 20-something self, what advice would you give? Oh man, so much. I’d tell him that you love sushi and pinot noir a lot, things he did not know then. I’d tell him to have more fun and travel. I was so focused on my career when I was young I was so afraid to be gone because I might miss an audition or some opportunity. I’d say it’s a balance and you need to do that stuff too. I’d probably also tell him to start writing sooner. Although I guess I started when I was 26, so that’s not that bad.
For other people I’d say write movies you want to see, not what you think will sell or what other people want. Write something you’d get excited to pay $15 dollars to see opening night.
Visitors to the Mary Pickford Lobby Men's Restroom at SCA may notic your nameseveral plaques inside. Can you talk about the reason for this and why it was important to you? Well, I think most of us grads now look at the amazing Cinema School complex that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and many others put together and are like, “I don’t have that kind of money, I can’t put my name on anything.” So with the bathroom and the urinal naming we wanted to do something fun. The bathroom is ten guys I went to school with. We wanted to do something that hopefully other alums would see and think, “Okay I can’t donate a building but I can give something back and name a urinal or a sink or whatever”. We wanted it to inspire people to get creative and just give back whatever they can.
What’s a typical writing day like for you? Do you have a particular routine you follow? Yes. I am not a morning person and usually am up late. I get up, check emails, return work phone calls. Read about other people’s movies online. I’m a huge movie and information junkie so I love to know what’s going on and get excited about all the movies coming together that I’ll get to see in a year or two. I also think that for students and young alums, it’s good to know what movies are getting made, who’s getting hired and all that stuff. You should know your business.
Anyway, then I’ll start writing. Usually I will take my laptop and go write someplace out at lunch. It’s good to get out of my house and see actual people. So I’ll write at restaurants while eating. Then I’ll go home and keep writing for the rest of the day. I’ll usually go to dinner with a friend or see a movie so I’ll again see actual people. If I’m on a deadline or really busy, then I’ll keep writing until late.
What are you working on now? I have a movie that I’ve been working on for close to two years that is going into production in a month called Pixels. It’s very much like the movies I loved growing up. It’s in the vein of an Amblin movie or Ghostbusters but with 80’s video game characters attacking the world. Chris Columbus -- one of my heroes -- is directing, and it stars Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Michelle Monahan and Peter Dinklage. Really excited about that. We just did a reading of a Midnight Run sequel I wrote with Robert DeNiro starring and Brett Ratner directing. Hoping to finally get that going. Working on that was a dream come true. And last, I just finished my first spec script in 6 years. So pretty excited about that as well.