Paul Wolff


Paul Wolff

Paul Wolff is a popular screenwriting instructor at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. He has taught at the university for over twelve years. Before he made the move to teaching, Wolff had a prolific career in television which spanned nearly three decades.

Career

Television

Paul Wolff first entered the television scene as a writer for the 1970s TV series, "Family". He later went on to write for such memorable TV shows as "Little House on the Prairie", "Family Ties", "Fame", and "Home Improvement".

In addition to being a successful television writer, Wolff also achieved a great deal of success through his career as a television producer and showrunner. He served as executive story editor on the hit series "Remington Steele", starring Pierce Brosnan and Doris Roberts. Wolff also created, excutive produced, and acted as show runner on the short-lived series, "Annie McGuire", starring Mary Tyler Moore. In addition, he served as a producer and director on the early 1990s series, "Life Goes On", which followed the life of the Thatcher family and their Down syndrome afflicted son, Corky. [ IMDB, "Paul Wolff (I)" [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0938305/] ]

Teaching

Wolff currently teaches a variety of screenwriting courses at the University of Southern California, including CTWR 206 and CTWR 499, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants", a class Wolff conceived himself in 2007, which focuses on the role and importance of the storyteller in society.

Other Endeavors

Paul Wolff was one of the founders of the "Unica Film Collaborative", an experimental film group that focuses on the “process” of filmmaking, rather than the product. Unica’s first feature film, "Blue in Green", was chosen by Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas to screen at the LA Cinematheque’s Alternative Film Festival. [Paul Wolff at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts [http://cinema.usc.edu/faculty/wolff-paul.htm] ] Most recently, he has discovered a passion for acting, delivering Prospero's final monologue from Shakespeare's The Tempest at the Egyptian Arena Theatre's Shakespeare Festival in April 2007. He has since rescinded his initial disdain for the art of acting, once responding, "Not if I can help it," when asked whether he dined with the stars of his show.

Teaching Style

Paul Wolff is well-known around the USC campus for his distinct wardrobe, which consists mainly of western-style attire, such as cowboy boots, large belt buckles, denim jeans, and a black cowboy hat. As such, his teaching methodology follows a similarly laid-back pattern, focusing on the role of the writer as a "craftswoman or craftsman" and her/his significance in the centuries-old craft of writing and storytelling. Through his teaching, Wolff strives to emphasize "narrative drive," or, the way in which a story keep its audience hooked from beginning to end.

Wolff is also known for his tendency to attach long-winded and often entertaining metaphors to his writing lessons, which serve as both humorous and helpful reminders for his students. Wolff's most famous metaphor likens writing a screenplay to a horseback ride, in which the rider (the writer) attempts to successfully ride a "stealth bucking bronco" (the screenplay) from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Often, claims Wolff, "riders" become sidetracked and will find themselves stranded in a pumpkin patch in Fillmore, California, instead of their intended destination.

In addition to his sage-like metaphors, Wolff often shares witty anecdotes from his childhood in Brooklyn, New York with his students. From these small tales often come a bevy of memorable quotes. For instance, when attempting to explain the importance of naïve innocence to his Spring 2007 "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" class, Wolff shared a tale of when he and his friends were asked to babysit a young neighborhood child for the afternoon. Pointing up at the sky, the child asked Wolff about the clouds. As Wolff attempted to explain to the child the names of the different clouds, he noted that,

"She wasn't seeing a cloud anymore...She was seeing the mystery of life. She was seeing...God."

Wolff also often tells his students to "not be ashamed of anything [they] have done, but to be ashamed of anything [they] haven't done."

References in Popular Culture

*Los Angeles-based indie electropop band [http://www.myspace.com/virginiaandthewolves Virginia and the Wolves] pays homage to Wolff's Santa Barbara metaphor in their song, "Riding a Horse to Santa Barbara."

Quotations

"there are professors there that will blow you away. I continue to meet with one of the greatest teachers in the universe, Paul Wolff, who has become a great friend of mine and is still teaching me the craft of writing and life to this day. " - Joe Ballarini, filmmaker, from his interview with AbsoluteWrite after he sold his first screenplay for a large sum.

"I was a film student at USC and took a handful of writing courses. It's the instructors, though, that make that program. Paul Wolff, for instance. The guy is the Zen Master of screenwriting. Anyone can teach the fundamentals, but he helped me find my passion for the craft" - Adam Sztykiel, screenwriter, from his interview with Who's Buying What, after he sold another screenplay.

Trivia

*Paul Wolff is in fact the man.
*He has been known to favor Santa Barbara over Fillmore.
*Wolff adopted his trademark "cowboy" style seven years ago after visiting the Utah ranch of a friend. Noting the "coolness" of the look, Wolff slowly adapted the style into his wardrobe. He states that the only time he ever considered ending his distinct wardrobe occurred during the release of Brokeback Mountain, for his outfits often provoked attention from homosexuals. Although not biased in any way against the gay community, Wolff did not want to give off false signals. To combat the stereotyping, Wolff decided to wear a large American flag pin on his shirt to give the impression that he was a "right wing conservative."
*His first produced script for television was an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" entitled, "The Craftsman." The episode featured many sayings Wolff often relates to his students.
*Believes that if a screenplay is straying off-course, one should always insert a shot of the "bad guy" laughing.
*Often states if a screenplay needs comedy, one should always cut to a shot of a monkey.
*Has been quoted as saying, "There is always something to be learned...even from Calvin Coolidge."
*He enjoys writing parables.
*Wolff has claimed Francis Ford Coppola's film, "The Godfather II" as his favorite movie of all-time. He also states that "Spartacus" was the film that sparked his initial interest in becoming a filmmaker.
*Often cites the poet Rumi and William Shakespeare as his favorite writers.
*In his younger days, he and a friend created their own "in crowd" by acting confident in an unfamiliar location where an "in crowd" hadn't been established.
*Has met three of the four Beatles.
*Is the father of Jon Wolff, entrepreneur behind social networking site Casagogo.com
*In his first job at United Artists, he was punched in the mouth attempting to defend Steve McQueen at the premiere of "The Thomas Crown Affair".
*Believes in the craft of writing above all else.
*He likens good screenwriting to striptease.
*During a workshop in Vietnam, he changed the destinations in his famous metaphor "stealth bucking bronco" to Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi and Da Nang.
*In the same trip, he was given a Vietnamese name: "Việt", by his students.
*During the Fusion Arts Exchange program in Summer 2007, where three Lebanese students where attending, he changed the destinations in his famous metaphor "stealth bucking bronco" to Tripoli and Beirut.
*Explaining it to an Egyptian student he changed the locations in his metaphor of the Stealth Bucking Bronco to a ride from Alexandria to Cairo, ending up in Tanta if one was "off the horse".
*The first game of soccer he ever attended was Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Guadalajara Chivas in July 2007.
*During the FAX program at USC in Summer 2007 he explained the famous Stealth Bucking Bronco metaphor to a couple of Mexican students, changing the locations to a ride from Guadalajara to Mexico City... if you fell off the horse you'd end up in Pachuca.
*On a recent teaching trip to Jordan the honorary name of Hamza was bestowed upon him.

References


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