Director says failures lead to success

Keane Robertson

Writer, director and producer Nick Stoller credited his breakthrough in comedy directing to a failed show that put him into contact with the right people, in an appearance with four-time Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman ’95 in Ahmanson Lecture Hall on Dec. 11.

The sit-down was conducted as part of a five-year running series with Reitman called “Speaking of Movies,” where he questions current figures in the film industry.

The series is hosted by Harvard-Westlake Video Art and the Harvard-Westlake Entertainment Network.

Stoller recently wrote and directed the romantic comedy film “The Five-Year Engagement” starring alumnus Jason Segel ’97, in which a couple’s engagement is continually extended and their wedding postponed, straining their relationship.

He said he got his start writing for Harvard University’s “Lampoon,” the school’s famous comedy publication.

Upon graduating from Harvard, he used his talents to score a job at a New York advertising firm.

“From the minute I got there, everyone who I was working for made fun of me because I was constantly trying to figure out how to get out of there,” Stoller said. “I was trying to break into television writing. That’s hard in New York because there’s ‘Saturday Night Live,’ late night shows and not much else.”

After a year at the firm, Stoller moved to Los Angeles where his agents got him a job on director Judd Apatow’s show, “Undeclared.” Through his friendship with Apatow, Stoller directed 2008 comedy hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” jump starting his directing career.

Stoller called these experiences “collaborative” ones that influenced his style of directing.

Reitman said Stoller’s improvisational approach to filmmaking makes him unique.

With Stoller’s “Get Him to the Greek,” Reitman said he saw a form of directing he “had never seen before.”

“[Stoller] was right next to the camera with a notepad full of ideas,” he said. “There were a couple of other guys, and the crazy thing was that [he was] pelting ideas at Puff Daddy and he was just taking them. It was very fast-paced and I had never seen anything like it.”

Stoller told students interested in the art of film-making to write without hesitation, citing his initial failures as necessary for his ultimate successes.

“Just start writing, because the first three to four screenplays aren’t going to be good,” Stoller said.