April 25, 2019

Rosenberg and August at SCA

Film, television, and interactive media are permeated with alumni of the Peter Stark Producing Program. Graduates from the USC producing master’s division form the backbone of many Hollywood companies and function as a “Trojan Mafia” within the “Trojan Mafia.” This past Tuesday, two Starkies gathered at the USC School of Cinematic Arts to hold a talk and Q and A to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the School.

Melissa Rosenberg is the showrunner of Marvel’s Jessica Jones who wrote the Twilight Series, Step Up 2: the Streets, and ran Dexter. John August is the writer of Corpse Bride, Big Fish, Go, and the cohost of the most listened to screenwriting podcast on Earth, Scriptnotes. The two are powerful producers, respected screenwriters, and proud Trojans who took time to give back to their alma mater.

Rosenberg and August spoke on their time at USC, how the entertainment industry is changing, and how having a good attitude is just as important as being a good writer.

Rosenberg opened the evening by telling her story about transitioning from choreography to screenwriting. “I wanted to be a dancer but I moved out [to Los Angeles] and discovered that things are actually written,” said Rosenberg. “So I decided to do that. I knew I wanted to write but I thought writers were powerless so I went to the producing program. It turned out to be a very smart move. In a way I started by trying to protect my work but it ended up being much more than that.”

August agreed and said that he was looking for a “safer” degree while still being in the entertainment industry. “I thought I wanted to write but I didn’t know if I was good enough to do it,” said August. “I chose Stark as a safer, businessy degree and it was the right choice. The people were so smart and so driven and kept me on their toes and I flourished.”

Both Rosenberg and August noted that their classmates were a big reason they broke in as screenwriters. Their classmates at the Stark Program went out into the industry and became an immediate network of connections and family. They both broke in with the help of their classmates.

August and Rosenberg both agreed that executing at an entry level job is key to thriving in the entertainment industry. Rosenberg said that it’s important to maintain humility while starting out and learn from the people above you in the pecking order instead of being egotistical.

“My first show was called Class of 96. It was on Fox and the writing room was about seven or eight people,” said Rosenberg. “Coming up through the ranks you get to know people and you get to see how they do their jobs. When you have down time, you’d better be writing. Be friends with every writer and every assistant on the job. Be of use to everyone there.”

Before opening the floor to questions, Rosenberg and August remembered the first director of the Stark Program, Art Murphy. Professor Murphy was known for his temper and chain smoking. They both joked that Murphy’s approach and temper probably wouldn’t fly in today’s academic environment.

Alumni of the Peter Stark Producing Program have changed the entertainment industry. Without them, you wouldn’t have ER, Django Unchained, Napoleon Dynamite, Rush Hour, Adaptation, Silence of the Lambs, Girl’s Trip, or countless other iconic film & television shows. August and Rosenberg are certainly two of the top Starkies in that proud lineage and continue to connect with students of the USC School of Cinematic Arts with regular visits.

The talk had a reunion feeling and several generations of alumni gathered to hear Rosenberg and August. The event was held in celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the School of Cinematic Arts. The alumni speaker series is in celebration of the incredible history of the School through our diverse alumni community, to foster unique and entertaining dialogues that bring alumni back to campus throughout the year.

For more information on the 90th Anniversary program, please visit: https://cinema.usc.edu/about/90th.cfm