Vic Levin ’83 Lays Out The Road To Hollywood
By Sonum Dixit '13, News Section Editor
What connection could the movie “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” and the show “Mad About You” have with Amherst? The screenplays for both were written by Vic Levin ’83, who hosted a series of talks throughout the week, including “Hollywood from an Amherst Perspective” on Friday, Oct. 15 in the Red Room at Converse Hall.

Levin’s talk, which included clips from the final episode of “The Sopranos” and the films “Jules and Jim” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, offered an insider’s perspective on the ins and outs of the showbiz industry and made showbusiness more relatable to Amherst students and faculty. “The advent of the Film and Media Studies major has not come too soon at Amherst,” he said.

Levin said that he used many of the things he had learned at Amherst in his career. “I carried with me the thoughtful criticism on my writing by many of my professors,” he said.

He also used many of the concepts he learned at Amherst in his presentation. He handed out a packet titled “Accompanying Crucial Visual Aids,” which consisted of pie graphs and a complicated statistical formula. The first pie graph claimed that 61 percent of all shows and movies having a chance of being good. This number slowly decreased on each page as he changed the criteria to “might still be good” to “still hoping” to “could make you proud” to “river of goodness” to finally “joy.”

Of the packet, Levin quipped, “I know it is ironic that I am discussing the digital media age through paper handouts.”

Levin began writing screenplays at Amherst. One of them, titled “Death at Scarsdale,” was published while he was a student. He entered Amherst with no intention of becoming a filmmaker, but ended up in the film and movie industry. “According to my parents this is the opposite of what should have happened,” he said. “It seemed mysterious like Io and Europa.”

Levin told the audience about how he, as an undergraduate, asked the Dean of Students for funding for one of his projects. “She was more terrifying than any studio chief, but she said yes,” he said. “Part of Amherst’s job is nurturing creativity.”

He still faces challenges when writing screenplays. “Jokes must be funny to everyone, everywhere who has ever considered laughter,” he said. “The guillotine is always poised. Both [the script’s] and your own fate are determined in hours.”

“It’s important to remember the difference between art and entertainment,” he said. “You can’t sell an idea in the form of an action figure. Nobody would buy conscience forging Barbie.”

He spoke from his own experiences, where people had to press a button to signal approval for new shows. They seemed to prefer scenes that contained attractive actors and actresses.

Levin also discussed the transformation of cable, the difference between cable and broadcast programming and the challenge of adapting to the large increase in online media downloading and streaming films and shows on Netflix.

“It took cable 10 years to do stuff completely different, but it has edgier stuff. In cable, you can go out on a limb, make a statement,” he said. “You can fail honorably for something you believe in.”

On the other hand, Levin believes that broadcast television is more cutthroat than it ever was before. “Shows such as ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ and ‘Mad About You’ were given a chance to succeed.”

He had a short question and answer session after the end of his presentation. One of the participants asked about product placement in movies, and Levin talked about how conspicuous most product placements are. Still, he admitted that “it isn’t rational to give up product placement.”

Someone else asked him what he shows he currently watches. He replied, “You watch everything once because you refer to it in your work and someone else had to beat the odds to get there.”

Of the popular television show “Glee,” he said, “It’s like an LSD experience come-to-life.”

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 02:48:22