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Alumni Newsmakers

Writing for the Reel World

Screenwriter Jason Filardi, BA ’93, pictured here in Paris in December, used his GW English degree to write Hollywood hits such as Bringing Down the House, starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.

When Jason Filardi, BA ’93, graduated from GW with an English degree, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter.

Like thousands of others, Mr. Filardi had toiled away at his craft, but he hadn’t gotten that big break. As he sat down to write another screenplay in 2000, Mr. Filardi figured this would be his last shot before moving in a completely different direction: going to graduate school and becoming a teacher.

This is a story that has been told countless times before. Except unlike many others, Mr. Filardi sold that screenplay, which became the 2003 comedy Bringing Down the House starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. After struggling in the business for seven years, Mr. Filardi’s perseverance paid off.

“Writing movies was the only thing I wanted to do with my life,” Mr. Filardi says. “I wasn’t ready to give up my dream yet.”

Since his big break, Mr. Filardi has been busy with multiple projects. His other writing credits include Drum (2004), an independent film about a black investigative reporter in 1950s apartheid South Africa, and the comedy 17 Again (2009), starring Zac Efron and Matthew Perry, which grossed nearly $135 million at the box office worldwide. He continues to write screenplays and also is keen to move into directing.

In September 2008, Mr. Filardi returned to Washington, D.C., for the first time since his GW graduation to share tips with aspiring screenwriters at GW. He told more than 100 students and young alumni in attendance that “there is no such thing as an overnight success” and focused them on the importance of hard work and establishing relationships.

Mr. Filardi expanded his contribution beyond a one-time lecture. In spring 2009, he uprooted from Los Angeles and came to D.C. for five months to teach a screenwriting course to 15 lucky undergraduates in the GW English Department.

“Teaching the class was so great for me,” Mr. Filardi says. “Writing is tough—it’s a struggle, it’s a fight within yourself every day. Being in a class with young, talented, creative kids who haven’t been disenchanted by Hollywood yet made me remember how fun writing could be.”

To take it one step further, he pledged $25,000 over five years to establish a scholarship for a GW student interested in the arts, writing, dancing, or theater.

“I thought of my four years at GW—in the classroom, living in the city, interacting with new people, the whole GW experience,” Mr. Filardi says about establishing the scholarship. “Helping somebody have the same great four years there is priceless. I’m hoping one of those kids will get a shot one day at doing what they love, what they are passionate about.”

Mr. Filardi’s contributions converged when he learned that the scholarship he funded went to Gregory Nanni, a student in his screenwriting class. “He is a hard-working kid and I know he wants to be a writer,” Mr. Filardi says. “I like to see where the money is going, and I want to see it really affect somebody in a positive way.”

Although Mr. Filardi is hard at work in Los Angeles, it may not be long before the GW classroom beckons. One of Mr. Filardi’s ideas for a future project is about a writer who goes back to college. What better setting for a screenplay than Foggy Bottom?

Watch a video of Mr. Filardi’s lecture on “How Do I Become a Hollywood Screenwriter” below.

—Matt Lindsay