"Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until I came to Columbia University School of the Arts that I learned what it meant to be a writer. My years in the Film Program there taught me the craft of screenwriting, as well as the business of making movies. In so many ways, Columbia was the perfect combination of arts: conservatory and trade school, a place where I could read Aristotle and Eisenstein on narrative theory, and analyze budgets and box office like a science. It was a safe, protected place, but it was never precious. I learned how to hear criticism, how to survive a table full of different voices, different perspectives. In school, they were my fellow students. Eventually, those voices would be studio executives and producers and directors, but the dynamic never changed. The lessons learned at Columbia – how to analyze and synthesize perspectives, how to treat your work as an ever-evolving document – serve me every day. Making movies is always a process of collaboration and compromise. The writers who don’t know how to adjust and adapt, simply don’t survive. I learned those skills at Columbia, I learned how to hear a table full of opinions and mine them for good ideas. And there were always good ideas at Columbia, from teachers and students alike. For all the incredible faculty and facilities, perhaps the greatest resource at Columbia is the students. Smart, creative, diverse, driven, and open, they were (and remain) the greatest group of collaborators and conspirators any artist could hope to find. Their words continue to resonate with me years later, and the lessons learned around those tables (whether in classrooms or coffee houses) inform everything I write.
Specifically, I write action movies – movies where characters fire guns and blow things up and sometimes characters fly or shoot beams out of their eyes. Big, loud movies. The Columbia Film Program is world-renowned for its attention to character, drama, dialogue, emotion. At another school, I might have been able to get by on the car chases and gunfights alone, as long as things were in focus. But Columbia forced me to go deeper with every scene, every character. I wrote Mr. and Mrs. Smith as my thesis project, and I know it never would have attracted world-class actors and an innovative, indie-minded director if not for my professors (especially thesis advisor Jamal Joseph) and students pushing me to explore the characters and themes, challenging me to take the emotional drama seriously, encouraging me to start a summer action movie with a scene of marriage therapy. The questions and challenges at Columbia were never, “How do you make it bigger or louder or faster?” They were, “How do you make it deeper and truer and more original?” Whether I ended up succeeding or failing was ultimately my responsibility. But Columbia did for me what it does for all of its students: it taught me all the right questions, and prepared me to answer them to the best of my ability. Columbia gave me the best chance at success, creatively and professionally."