Ya know, in my years at USC I've had a couple of pretty worthless professors (some of the "those that can't do, teach" variety), countless Red Tape Wars on everything from class schedules to copyrights, and have spent enough money to save between 10-12 starving villages in Africa (I did the math. Sorry Kymabai, Kenya! Got movies to make!). But, despite those problems (and many, many more), overall I have felt incredibly fortunate and thrilled to have spent my last three years in at the over-groomed outpost of excess that sits in a sea of urban blight known as USC.
Now, as I mentioned a little while back, I'm taking (Brokaw voice here-->) "a look back, at the top five moments I've had at USC's illustrious and overpriced School of Cinematic Arts."
My #5 top moment of these past years of USC film school is when Jon Favreau came to campus to talk about IRON MAN and me and a few friends were lucky enough to be clued into it.
Now, there's been a LOT of celebrity filmmaker types who've slummed it into USC's stuck-in-the-1970s iron gates all these past few years. LEGENDARY types. Plus, plenty of really famous alumni. So, with all due respect, why put this guy in the Top 5?
Taking a Matt Dillon-esque tone....
What the Hell is Jon Favreau doing here?
Well, to begin, I want to set the mood a little bit. This was back in the 508 semester (Fall '08) and my friend Jose was assisting for a class that was studying the film IRON MAN and had invited a select few (Smug Alert) friends to the "Favreau class" that night. Now this class was held in a cramped little room in the old, crappy community college-esque Lucas Building, with probably a capacity closer to 25-30 versus the usual 300 that would pack regular big speaker events in the cavernous Norris Theater.
The quarters were so tight you could almost smell the Downey Jr. on him. With such a small setup, Favreau didn't just speak to us, he spoke with us--it was a conversation as close and casual as chatting with a friend at a movie or that annoying guy in the edit lab.
Maybe because of this much more informal setting (more likely irregardless of it) I found it incredibly easy to relate to Favreau and think that "as brilliant as this guy is, he's also a lot like me. Maybe I could be him someday!...not in a creepy 'Mr. Ripley' sort of way or a wacky 'Being John Malkovich' thing, but I could be like him...I could end up making entertainment for a living...maybe".
Why exactly did this relate-ability come across?
Mostly, because Favreau could not hide how much of a total fanboy he was. Granted, anyone who makes movies is a movie fan, but Favreau wore his obsessive, nerdy fan-ness like a badge of honor: quoting the Simpsons, geeking out over visiting Skywalker ranch, and talking about how surreal it was for him to helm a giant action picture like "Iron Man".
"It's like this big machine, with all these moving parts..." he said about directing Iron Man. "its an unstoppable force--the release date is set: MAY 2ND---and you just have to try and guide it as best you can."
He talked about how different the epic scale of Iron Man was vs. the run-and-gun scrappiness of making an indie film like "Swingers"...at which point I'm thinking..."I'm scrappy! I have guns in my movies...and I run".
He told stories from his early days about being cramped in tiny locations and making split decisions when everything seemed to be falling apart, while also joking around with actors and having a general blast on set. "Now", he said "things are a bit more organized and professional. You can't be making all kinds of on-the-fly decisions when the scene you're shooting that day has been in pre-viz by the VFX people for the past 10 months".
That was what really did it for me: to think that Jon Favreau - who was now an audience-tested, studio-approved A-list director - was once running around, doing shit on the fly, creating and owning his own material, and generally making movies as a guy who's a total nerd for movies.
It was really inspiring, to put not-to-corny spin on it all.
Plus, he was just so f$#*ing C O O L. Favreau was laid back, funny, happy to be there, talked to people after, and just came off as an all-around nice guy. This was also good news, because you often get the idea that evreryone who works in movies is a complete and total dick who like to throw hot coffee on underlings or send Native Americans to pick up awards for them....geez, talk about LAZY.
So just seeing that he was outwardly a pretty regular guy (but still a BRILLIANT storyteller inside) and that he had certain experiences that had, in some ways, mirrored my own - made his visit really stand out to this day...obviously.
BUT, all that "inspiration" and "he's a nice guy" stuff still may not be enough to get to Top 5 range, and the cherry on top came after he spoke.
I split cuz I was incredibly stressed that night (week, month, semester) with 508 and didn't stick around to bend his ear any more. While I was walking back to my car I passed the USC "special guest" parking spots and there it was - a beautiful, silver, straight-off-the-showroom floor Maserati. Parking pass on the dash - "JON FAVREAU"....
It was so choice. If you have the means I highly recommend picking one up.
So yeah - he's cool, he makes awesome movies, he's a fanboy, he used to be a run-and-gun filmmaker and he now he drives a kick-ass Mas.
Then, after standing in admiration for while - and mentally debating "hanging around" the car for an extended amount of time....eventually realizing that'd be both creepy and a little bit threatening...even though Favreau was in "ripped" mode by then...still....I could have had a knife on me....- finally deciding to continue walking, after a while he drove past in his "fuck-you!-in-a-good-way" Maserati down 34th street and made a u-turn by the fountain to head back out the entrance.
I attempted my best casual wave thing....it must have looked like I was flicking some gum off my wrist...I doubt he saw me or let alone remembered me from the class...and I watched him drive away.
I don't know what his music choice was for that ride home to whatever palatial pad he so richly deserves that night, but in my head he got on the 10 at Hoover, looked at that L.A. skyline and busted out the Sabbath.
Or SOME kick-ass -"My Life Rules" song. Some song that would be really....."money".
Yeaaaahhh, didn't think I'd go there, didja?
Well, I did, cause that's what its all about. Iron Man to Elf to mansions and the Mas, all came from one tiny movie he wrote that told a story about a guy who couldn't get over a girl.
Now THAT'S money.
Thanks USC! #TopFive!