Academy Award Winner John Avildsen

Media 66 Interviews Academy Award Winner John Avildsen

Media 66:  When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in Film?

John Avildsen:  That one was never on top of my list growing up.  I wanted to be the guy that was going to play Gene Kelley when they made a movie about him.He was my hero and then I was very interested in advertising and started working in advertising when I was 17, I wanted to have my own agency by the time I was 30Then when I was about 22 or so I got a job at a really good agency, I was a copywriter and there I met my boss, Jack O'Connell. He was a frustrated movie director and he told me that the movie director in America was the prince of the 20th century.  He filled my head with how everybody felt that movie directors were the cats meow and he was going to direct a movie, that was his dream.   So at a certain point I got drafted and he went over to Italy to go work for Antonioniand Fellini on a couple of Italian movies and when I got out of the army in 61 I worked for him on his first movie as his assistant.  It was so much more fun then advertising, it was all on location and different places every day.  It was like make believe.  I then said “ This is for me”. 

Then one thing led to another and 6 years later I saw an ad in Backstage Magazine looking for a movie director and I answered the ad.   In the mean time I started making industrial films for an advertising agency that made them for people like Shell Oil and Clariol and IBM.  I would direct shoot and cut these things myself and that was a great learning experience.  I didn’t go to film school and stuff like that .  I got the practical experience of making them.


Media 66:  Do you think that someone needs to go to film school?

John Avildsen: Not this person!  (Laughs)

Speilberg and Lucas, they went to film school and they didn’t do badly. It depends on the individual.  First of all there wasn’t much in the line of film school when I was in my early 20s and the practical experience I got from doing it I felt was very valuable.  

I taught a graduate directing class at Columbia University in NYC in the mid 80’s and had about 5 or 6 young students who were graduate students studying film directing and they would spend the year writing a script and talking about it and watching classic movies and then at the end of the year they would make their feature.  Well I thought that was a waste of time, and I said we are going to do something different.  We are going to make a 1, 2 or 3 minute movie every week, each of you.   Its going to have a story with a beginning middle and end with actors, the school there had all the equipment and then you are going to cut it and then we are going to talk about it every week and they did that and they loved it.  I was the most popular professor on the campus. Out of the 6 or 7 people in the class 4 of them went on to make feature films.

So I am a believer in the doing of it, I don’t think you need the college experience, but that doesn’t mean its going to stand in your way.  A lot of people follow that route but I didn’t .


Media 66:  Can you offer an insight into what you do and what it takes to preserve . The doing of it.

Well its never been easier to do it!  There is a movie camera in everybody’s pocket right now.  And you have an editing suite in your computer. The making of a movie has never been easier and with sites like YouTube its never been easier to distribute and show your talent.  With all the social media and everything and having a video outlet its never been easier to get your stuff made and viewed .  Now you’ve got to do it and you have to start with a story.   Because if you don’t have a good story no matter how clever you are you are wasting your time.  

So the first thing to do is to get a really good story . And then shoot it, and every time you shoot something you learn a lot and the next one is better.  So the more you shoot the better you get at it.  That is what I would recommend and don’t give up and don’t think it is going to happen over night.  


For more on John Avildsen check out this interview he did with John Woods for Nite Hawk Cinema



The photo used for this interview is from