As a lovely beginning to the spring semester, Montclair State University’s Film Forum welcomed writer and actor Jeff Kahn on Jan. 31.
An Emmy award-winning writer and a member of the Writers Guild of America, his credits include “The Ben Stiller Show,” “Dilbert” and “All-American Girl.” He also has deals with Sony and Castle Rock Entertainment and has written for major networks such as MTV, Disney Channel, FX and Comedy Central.
As an actor, Kahn started his career as an improviser in Chicago before transitioning into working with celebrities like John Cusack, Jeremy Piven and Mike Myers. He has been in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage” as well as feature films such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Tropic Thunder.”
Film Forum Professor Roberta Friedman co-moderated the event with Montclair State’s own Professor Guy Nicolucci, who teaches the School of Communication and Media (SCM) “Week in L.A.” class that takes place during spring break. Nicolucci’s class was in attendance at this Film Forum, which showed a screening of Kahn’s current project: a pilot entitled “Swayed.” Also shown were sketches from his career including an improvised web series called “The Writers’ Room,” a commercial called “Bac-Os Bacon Chips” and a small role on the TV show “Blossom,” starring Mayim Bialik.
While talking about various sketches and highlights of his career, Kahn stressed how you should find the people you want to work with now. He would also share stories from his time both as a writer and an actor throughout the presentation.
One of these stories was about his friend Larry Charles. Charles wrote 22 screenplays and would keep them in the trunk of his car and hand them out to people. Despite none of the stories getting produced, Charles learned to be a better writer through his many drafts. What Kahn took away from the story was, to be a writer, you have to practice. He encouraged the audience to write a little every day.
Kahn also warned the audience about the obstacles that come with writing and acting.
“Your biggest obstacle usually is yourself and your ego,” Kahn said. “Because that can get in your way. But at the same time, you need to have a big ego so you can withstand everyone saying ‘no’ to you so much.”
This advice about rejection being a big part of trying to break into the industry resonated with Leslie Gallagher, a senior communication and media arts major.
“I want to be a television writer myself,” Gallagher said. “So seeing someone in the flesh who has written pilots and has written sketches and has had a successful acting and writing career, I find that to be a really good resource for myself as a student and to get that insight on what could make me a better writer or just break in myself from someone who has done it before.”
Toward the end of the forum, Kahn cautioned young writers to not jump into writing a script before they think about what the story is going to be about, how it will play out, where the scene is going and what the character wants.
Friedman said she believes in the importance of seeing a writer’s and an actor’s perspective and explained that Kahn, because of his knowledge in both, can present something not everyone can, especially since an actor has not been present at Film Forum until now.
“I think everybody these days [has] their own trajectory of what they do,” Friedman said. “And every person we bring [to Film Forum] presents a different view. I think the most interesting part of the whole series is that you get to see and hear a wide variety of approaches to working as a professional.”
Film Forum takes place in the School of Communication and Media’s Presentation Hall on Tuesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m.