December 1, 2022

Alumni Spotlight: Larry Stuckey '93

By Olivia Kuhn

Larry Stuckey ’93 graduated with a BA in Production and is a writer and producer for Delirious Media, helmed by critically acclaimed filmmaker and fellow alumnus Jay Roach ’86. Larry has worked on a variety of projects, including Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, and is currently working on an array of personal and collaborative projects, including a prequel to Ocean’s Eleven. He joins us to discuss the thrills of filmmaking, the emotions behind the craft, and shares a variety of stories from his college days and his time in the industry.

 

 

What initially inspired you to become a filmmaker? 

I grew up in Arizona before smartphones and online gaming. Off-leash kids had a lot of time on their hands. So, when my parents saw I liked performing, they helped me find community theater and any local classes. They were also the parents who let our teenage band practice in the den at Volume 11, and endured us destroying way too many Velvet Underground songs. (I’m grasping to sound cool… My parents also supported me being a cheerleader. It was a disastrous ploy to go to San Diego cheer camp.) 

When I was about 14, I was a “local hire” for a small part in a movie filming in Tucson. Academy Award Winner Bruce Dern was a lead, but I was star-struck by his fellow cast member, 80’s punk rock superstar Adam Ant. It was a low-budget, end-of-the-world genre movie, World Gone Wild. To me, it was a revelation. Being on set, watching all those people play make-believe and blow stuff up… I was hooked. 

My family didn’t have any connection to the film industry. They’d heard USC had a film school, so they encouraged that. I was lucky to get accepted into undergraduate film production.   

If I’d wanted to be an astronaut, a tightrope walker, or any similar stable career, my parents would’ve been equally supportive. They keyed into my enthusiasm and made my passions feel achievable. 

What production courses and experiences during your time at SCA were the most formative to you as a filmmaker? 

The adventure of college is more than class—it’s all the stuff in between. My core film courses didn’t start until junior year and I couldn’t wait, so I started making Super 8 movies with my roommates (and these guys are still my best friends.) One was at Otis Parson's art school, another was at Grove School of Music, and another skipped all that and worked in the art department on music videos. They helped with design and production and scores. We’d project our movies in the living room accompanied by live music. We lived in a sprawling old house in West Adams, which became a creative crash pad. A painter moved into the attic. A guitarist slept on the balcony off our bathroom. Everybody had a talent, but nobody could wash a dish. We called it "The Vineyard," named for an old grapevine in the back. My girlfriend Dana (to-be wife) and I made wine with the grapes, and we even shared a bottle with Timothy Leary when he came for a screening. That house gave me a love for collaboration. (It also gave me food poisoning and a staph infection.) 

As for classes, 310 was the junior year project, making a 16mm film with a partner. My partner, Braden King (still a great friend), learned we could satisfy the credit by taking a graduate documentary course in visual anthropology. Our professor was Patsy Asch (a celebrated documentarian with her husband and partner, Timothy Asch). We shot a film about our favorite 24-hour diner, The Pantry Café. We were given a limited amount of film, so we couldn’t just let the camera roll, and we weren't allowed to have sync sound, so we couldn’t do talking head interviews. Most of our semester, we just hung out doing all-nighters at The Pantry. We befriended managers and waiters and cooks. We fostered relationships and recorded conversations without ever bringing a camera. We learned to listen for the story instead of forcing it, and by the time we filmed, we were a regular presence, and we captured footage we never would’ve gotten. All the limitations actually made for a much better final product. 

480 was the final senior year project, and I was lucky to be one of four students chosen to direct. Tom Abrams led the writing and directing class. He was a young, dynamic teacher who was also actively working as a screenwriter. He was a pro and gave us real-world advice. Because only a handful of students got to direct, it could be competitive, but Tom made sure we all supported and encouraged each other. In that class, I met my friend, Marco Schnabel, and we still talk through scripts daily. Tom’s mentorship extended beyond school. After graduating, we'd still catch movies at The Nuart and share a beer and a talk after. 

There are hundreds of film schools now and the tools to make videos are available to anybody. The most valuable resource USC provides are people and relationships. The teachers have first-hand industry experience, visiting filmmakers and artists share their time every day, and your classmates are the people you know throughout your career. 

How did your partnership with Jay Roach start? 

Jay was a USC film alum, and he was working at SCA when I was a student. My friend Marco was Jay’s assistant even before Austin Powers. When he grew out of the position, he put me up for it, and I’ve been in Jay’s orbit ever since. 

The industry can be cut-throat, but anybody who works with Jay quickly realizes he’s more than a rare talent; he's a good person. He's confident and still humble. He's the smartest, most capable guy in the room, and he still wants to listen. I got lucky.  

What roles do you take on as a team member of Delirious Media? What kinds of experiences have come out of these roles? 

My first role was Jay's assistant on the hockey movie, Mystery, Alaska. It was on location all winter in Canmore, Alberta. They built an entire ice-skating town on the outskirts with frozen sidewalks, a luge track, and a lake they Zamboni-ed. Russell Crowe's stardom was launching after LA Confidential, and Burt Reynolds was having a renaissance coming off Boogie Nights. Everybody was on location in this small town with one bar that hosted us, and we all played hockey together on Sundays. The stories from that experience would take a whole other conversation. It was my first real movie after college, and I was hooked.  

I was working for Jay when one of my spec scripts attracted an agent, and I went off to become a working writer. Later, when Jay started a new production company, he wanted a writer and story-focused executive. I came on to help develop scripts, look for new projects, and create original material. That position kept evolving. I started co-writing projects with Jay and worked on his projects Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers. All that furthered my writing career, and I took on assignments and developed projects at other production companies and studios, all while maintaining a home at Delirious.  

Jay now has an amazing team led by his producing partner Michelle Graham. They lead a supportive, creative kind of family. I’m fortunate to be part of it. It feels like the collaboration I had during college at “The Vineyard,” minus the psychedelics and the staph infection.   

How do you approach beginning to write a script? How do you collaborate with others in the writing process? 

Every script starts in its own way. The idea might spark from a world you want to explore, a great hook, or a predicament from your life, but it ultimately focuses on character. Whose soul is at stake? What do they want? Why are they going after it? Who’s trying to stop them? Who’s trying to help? Who do they love? Are they doing this for themselves? Are they doing it for others? What are they willing to sacrifice? You try to know them and the plotting comes from the characters’ choices. (There are hundreds of books trying to answer these very questions.) 

Every collaboration is unique too. Sometimes we’ll plot everything on a corkboard with 3X5 cards. We’ll work out detailed outlines and then divvy up scenes. Each person writes pages, then you share those pages and do notes and rewrites. You go back and forth like that, creating a cohesive tone. Other times, you might write scenes together. We project the computer screen on the wall and one person “drives” the keyboard while we’re talking and acting it out. That’s always the most fun. 

I once co-wrote like that with Susanna Hoffs (Jay's wife and co-founder of The Bangles.) We were writing an animated musical based on The Beatles—it was a blast. We’d act out the scenes and take turns driving the keyboard, and she would play guitar and sing Beatles’ tunes. She brought so much joy to the process. (Although, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I danced to her songs at prom.)   

To you, what makes a script or project promising? 

Movies have two incredible powers. They can create fantastic spectacle, transporting us to other worlds, and they can be incredibly intimate, taking you right into a person’s inner world and emotions. Both rely on character. 

No matter how spectacular the concept, it will only work if you care about the people. We fall in love with them. They scare the hell out of us. They make us laugh and cry and want to sing along. A movie is only as effective as our connection to the characters.  

What is it like seeing a project go from the development stages to the final product? What is the most rewarding part? 

So many elements have to come together just right for any script to get made… it’s a mystery. As a writer or producer, you’re going to develop a lot more scripts that don’t get made. So, embrace any victory along the way: that initial spark of an idea, a pitch that lands like live theater with genuine laughs and the studio execs don’t check their texts during it; that brainstorming session at John O’Groats that solved a story hole, the relief of finally figuring a way through Act II B; or characters taking on a life of their own and surprising you with choices and dialogue you didn’t have a second ago. Embrace that grateful flow, and you can grow beyond the blank pages, self-doubt, anxiety, over-eating, under-eating, lost weekends, absentee parenting, Xanax, or any medicinal sativa you require. (And that’s all during a success.) 

If a script does make it into production and they still want you on set, wow! Take it in. You had a hand in bringing all these people together: artists, craftspeople, and creatives at the top of their game. Grab a breakfast burrito from crafty, don your headphones at video village, and watch a star play a scene that blows away your expectations. That’s rewarding.  

How have your career goals evolved over time and with experience? Have you faced any setbacks? 

My overall goal has stayed the same while the path to maintain it winds and changes. It’s not a day job—it engages your whole life, and you need to find the best balance.  

I was lucky I met my wife Dana when we were 19, and she became my life-partner-collaborator. She was there from film school, through the lean years, and onto becoming super-mom leading our family of three boys. Her support, feedback, and kick-ass attitude gave us that work-life balance. Tragically, Dana passed away during COVID (not from COVID), and that delicate balance was upended.  

I’m raising three sons on my own now, and the basic day-to-day tasks of home life and work require everything. We’ll never have the same balance, but the boys and I are finding our new path together.  

I’m fortunate to be part of a company with career-long collaborators, and I know I wouldn’t have made it through without them. You’re never in a career alone; relationships create the balance. 

What is next for you? Are there any projects on the horizon to look out for? 

As a company, Delirious always has a bunch of amazing projects in development that tap into comedy, politics, and social relevance. Some upcoming projects to look out for are High Desert, a darkly comic series for Apple. And there’s a classy prequel to Ocean’s Eleven in active prep. 

As for me, I’m writing a musical screenplay and co-writing a couple television pilots. Life is constantly evolving, and you hope your experience will inform your work. The latest script is inspired by my wife and how a great love doesn’t end, but continues to guide and inspire. Emotional but not a bummer—it’s a celebration of life. 

What piece of advice would you offer to current film students? 

Nobody’s path in this career is the same. It's different than jobs with a clear ladder to climb. Find great friends who inspire you and give them everything in return. The USC "network" people talk about isn’t just the current pros who can give you a job. The connections are your peers. Right now, you might be an assistant grabbing somebody’s breakfast burrito, or the boss makes you turn off your zoom camera during important video conferences. Just as quickly, you could be a showrunner looking for great talent, and you'll already have some trusted collaborators. 

Life might throw you some hard times, but remember the creative exhilaration and thrill you had coming up. That’s proof that it’s possible, and all that joy can happen again.