“The Peanut Butter Falcon”
I waited my turn as the introductions snaked around the conference table toward my seat at the other end. It didn’t help that I was an English major working at a film production company, or that I was the youngest intern by two years, or that I have the tendency to mumble when I’m anxious.
“My name is Kelly, I’m a senior, and I am a communications major at NYU,” said the girl just down the row. I was only two introductions away from the plate. I started to feel the slight humidity in my palms, gathering in the crevices between my interlocked fingers before me, and I couldn’t help but rehearse my own lines in my head. It didn’t help that I was among the last to introduce themselves.
“My name is Rom; I’m a student at the Peter Stark School of Production at USC,” the boy next to me said, smiling behind his fully-grown-in beard. The producers at the head of the table sat patiently before their interns, nodding as if to approve of their prospective assistants. Every so often the two men would share a smile that seemed familiar with the titans of Hollywood.
“My name is Oliver, and I’m a rising sophomore looking to major in English at Kenyon College.” Phew. Done.
“In Ohio?” questioned the producer before the next USC graduate could introduce themselves. He glared at me through his horn-rimmed glasses.
“Yeah,” I replied, careful not to stumble over my single syllable. The producer nodded and smiled, observing me for a second more than he necessarily had to. That was it, the only reply to 31 introductions given at that week’s Q&A. And it wasn’t unrelated to the very fact that I was one of two liberal arts students in the program.
That producer was Albert Berger, an executive with credits on “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Nebraska” and, more recently, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” a film the interns had viewed prior to its release in August. The movie stars Zack Gottsagen, who plays a similar man named Zak with Down syndrome who runs away from his nursing home to become a professional wrestler. “In our business, it’s all about finding the story,” Berger would later tell the interns in the Q&A. His additive question during the introductions was enough for me to muster the courage to approach him after the conference had ended.
I would later find that Berger himself had received an undergraduate degree in English, and his two sons had gone to Bard College and Wesleyan University. And from there on, I was lucky enough to develop a relationship with a highly established producer at Anonymous Content on the basis of our atypical educational background within the industry.
Who knows, I thought, maybe I could benefit from taking my first film class next year at Kenyon. Although readily available, a film major would potentially disintegrate my individuality into a forgotten resume, between stacks of other film majors and name brand institutions. Studying English in the middle of Ohio is a part of my narrative as a liberal arts student. Although the English department at Kenyon will endow me with the invaluable ability to tell stories, within the fast-paced world of Hollywood agents and production companies, sometimes the most valuable resumes are just conversation starters.
Upon its release, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” did exceedingly well, gaining immense critical acclaim on both Rotten Tomatoes (with an approval rating of 95%) and awards at South by Southwest. It turns out the film grew out of the screenwriting team’s discovery of Zack Gottsagen’s role in 2014’s “Becoming Bulletproof,” a movie about filmmakers with and without disabilities who collaborate annually at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont to produce original short films. Around the time of the movie’s release, I remember sitting in Berger’s office, asking him nervously if I should live and study in Los Angeles if I wanted to be a filmmaker. I remember he told me that if all movies came from the same place, there wouldn’t be many stories to tell, and that if I wanted to tell stories in the first place, it was of utmost importance that I initially learned to properly do so.
In my sophomore year at Kenyon I have enrolled in Writer-in-Residence P.F. Kluge’s famed “Introduction to Fiction Writing,” as well as Assistant Professor of English Andrew Grace’s “Introduction to Poetry Writing.” One of Kluge’s most celebrated works, a Life magazine article titled “The Boys in the Bank,” was adapted into the American film classic “Dog Day Afternoon.” Albeit far from California, Kenyon’s ability to teach its students individuality, as well as connect them to a global niche, locates it not far from the golden gates of Hollywood.