After Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens screens Sunday, May 15, at UCSB’s Pollock Theater, manager Matthew Ryan intends to dig deep for behind-the-scenes secrets from the film’s editor Maryann Brandon about assembling what became 2015’s highest-grossing film, working with fellow editor Mary Jo Markey, and, of course, collaborating with director J.J. Abrams.
The Force Awakens will mark the 31st edition of UCSB’s Script to Screen, an ongoing program in which Ryan breaks down a movie by screening it and then moderating a discussion with its prominent talents. Last month, it was Jaws and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb. Past screenings include Field of Dreams, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Grand Budapest Hotel — and not just screenwriters but directors, production designers, and, well, editors. Ryan originally interviewed Brandon at the Oscar Wilde Awards, and “she was just so interesting and cool, I thought we should bring her up.”
Ryan has overseen the 296-seat Pollock (equipped to play digital and traditional film formats) since October 2010. Script to Screen evolved with the support of former Universal Studios chief/Montecito Picture Company head Tom Pollock (whose parents, Joe and Helene Pollock, are the theater’s namesakes) and screenwriter Scott Frank, who funds the program (which Ryan runs with 23 students: 16 interns, seven staffers). “I teach them how to make a four-camera TV show,” Ryan said.
The series is also culturally valuable. “Most [students] had seen [Jaws],” Ryan said of 1975’s groundbreaking Steven Spielberg film, but “they said, ‘We’ve only seen Jaws on TV or home video. I really want to see it on the big screen.’”
Initially, Ryan called favors on friends, such as Legally Blonde screenwriter Kirsten Smith. “It was such a great event; the students loved it,” Ryan said of that inaugural June 2011 Script to Screen, which fell on the Reese Witherspoon comedy’s 10th anniversary. Since then, it’s become “easier and easier” to get guests. A self-described “Lostie,” Ryan credits building relationships with Abrams’s Lost associates to attract more talent, including (Abrams’s Fringe alumnus) Josh Singer, co-screenwriter of 2015’s Best Picture–winning Spotlight.
One of Ryan’s most memorable Q&As was with 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley. He was “an emotionally open guest; he cried onstage,” said Ryan. “He was so insightful and vulnerable. He stood there an hour after and talked to the students.”
Ryan also enjoyed interviewing Bob Nelson, cowriter of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska; Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle; Trumbo director Jay Roach and screenwriter John McNamara; and American Beauty producer Alan Ball. However, his inner fanboy will forever treasure June 2012’s Back to the Future convo with screenwriter Bob Gale and Doc Brown himself, actor (and Montecito resident) Christopher Lloyd.
Ryan, who has also received UCSB alums Jeff Nathanson (Tower Heist) and Don Hertzfeldt (World of Tomorrow), would love to have Payne (given how Sideways has burnished North Santa Barbara County’s legend) on the program as well as Jennifer Lawrence — not to discuss The Hunger Games or X-Men but deep-cut works such as Winter’s Bone or Joy. “I don’t love the celebrity talk shows,” he said. “I want to hear about [their craft].”
Script to Screen: The Force Awakens is Sunday, May 15, at 2-5 p.m. at UCSB’s Pollock Theater. Admission is free, but RSVP is recommended. For more information, visit carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pollock.