Screenwriter, director, film producer and former UCSB student Jeff Nathanson hosted an exclusive prescreening of his upcoming movie “Tower Heist,” starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, last Thursday at Pollock Theater.
Nathanson, a former Daily Nexus writer, penned the screenplays for motion pictures including “Catch Me If You Can,” “Rush Hour 2,” “Rush Hour 3” and “The Terminal.” Following the screening of his latest film, Nathanson spoke with students in a Q&A session that touched on his ascent to success and the experiences at UCSB that drove him to pursue his current career.
Excluding the film’s world premiere at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, Nathanson said he decided to exclusively screen “Tower Heist” at UCSB because of the inspiration he drew from his time as a Gaucho.
“I definitely would not be a screenwriter without UCSB,” Nathanson said. “Even though I was only here for two years, I think about those years a lot, [and] they were probably the best years of my life.
During the Q&A session, Nathanson gave candid accounts of his time as an aspiring writer, throughout which he tried his hand at various mediums before settling on the silver screen.
“I was an English major and wrote for the Nexus] from ’83 to ’85,” Nathanson said. “I still remember walking though here and thinking about movies.”
According to Nathanson, two courses at UCSB — Introduction to Screenwriting with Paul Lazarus and Creative Writing with Marvin Mudrick — cemented his goals in the film industry.
“Those two classes were everything to me because I didn’t even know screenwriting existed or that it was even possible to take screenwriting classes,” Nathanson said. “I loved movies … I liked writing, and it was the perfect combination of everything I liked. From then on I knew screenwriting was what I wanted to do.”
The climb to success was neither immediate nor easy, according to Nathanson.
“I wrote a lot of scripts — scripts that should have been kept in a drawer,” he said. “I had a lot of bad jobs in L.A. I was a towel boy; I did some janitorial work; I managed four different video stores … I did all kinds of terrible pay-the-bills kinds of jobs.”
At 26, Nathanson was hired by Imagine Entertainment — the makers of “Tower Heist” — after writing his first commercially recognized script. Although the movie never made it to the big screen, Nathanson said he was content to hone his skills as a writer.
Since then, Nathanson has been credited with numerous impressive blockbusters and has worked with film legends such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
“Tower Heist,” an action-comedy about a band of blue-collar workers who rob their Wall Street boss after he swindles them in a Ponzi scheme, satisfied even longtime film fans like fourth-year film and media studies major Natalie Torbey.
“[Tower Heist] was a refreshing box-office movie. It didn’t try as hard,” Torbey said. “It was great to see serious actors playing comedic parts.”
Despite his success, Nathanson said his line of work is nearly as difficult to work in as it is to get into.
“You’ve got to maneuver through incredible systems,” Nathanson said. “There are producers, studio executives, agents, lawyers and generally a lot of people involved that you don’t think about when you’re sitting in class thinking about writing movies.”