Breaking into Hollywood while living in New York City

By Zachery St. Laurent

October 18, 2019

An evening with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Michael H. Weber '00

Michael Weber '00 poses with a group of students
Current Newhouse NYC Students with Oscar-Nominated screenwriter Michael H. Weber '00 and television, radio, and film professor Evan Smith Photo courtesy of Newhouse NYC

On Thursday, Oct. 17, Newhouse NYC students and Syracuse University alumni were invited to attend a discussion with Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Newhouse graduate Michael H. Weber '00 at Syracuse University’s Lubin House in Manhattan. A television, radio, and film alum, Weber is now a screenwriter and producer of various studio and independent films such as “The Disaster Artist,” “The Fault In Our Stars,” and “(500) Days of Summer.”

Before a crowd of around 100 students and alumni, Weber was interviewed by his former Newhouse professor, Evan Smith. When asked what his biggest takeaways were from his Newhouse days, Weber was quick to praise his former professor: “I took as many classes with Evan Smith as I could.” He credited Smith’s knowledge as both a writer and executive as being very helpful in his career.

Michael Weber '00 and Professor Evan Smith
Weber was interviewed by his former television, radio and film professor Evan Smith. Photo courtesy of Newhouse NYC

During the talk, the screenwriter discussed his experience breaking into Hollywood while living in New York, where he still currently resides. Television, radio and film alumnus Connor O’Brien '17, who now works at NBC Sports, said his favorite part of Weber’s discussion was “showing how to come from New York, but also have a presence in L.A.” Weber also entertained the group with stories from early in his career, interning at TriBeCa Productions and also working as one of Robert De Niro’s personal assistants.

Newhouse NYC director Cheryl Brody Franklin, who helped to organize the event, discussed what she hoped students would take away from the event, writing in an email: “[Weber’s] determination is inspiring, and I hope it motivates all the Newhouse NYC students to dream big and work harder than they ever thought they would. This is a competitive industry, and you have to really want it to succeed.”

The discussion was the first Newhouse NYC event to be held at Syracuse University’s Lubin House. When Weber spoke to students just three years ago, the event was held at Syracuse University’s Fisher Center in midtown. Franklin highlighted the importance of events like these for the Newhouse NYC program and its students. “My goal is for all of the students to meet as many alumni as possible while they are here for the semester, and these events give them this opportunity.”

A collage of images of Weber, Smith and Brody with students at the event.
The event gave Newhouse NYC students and alumni a chance to network before and after the discussion. Photo courtesy of Newhouse NYC

Both current Newhouse NYC students and alumni expressed excitement at getting to hear from the successful screenwriter. Newhouse NYC advertising senior Cerinn Park said, “Hearing [from Weber] made me feel motivated to do things, even if I may be afraid of them. I know the key is to keep trying.” In his talk, Weber outlined the journey of him and Scott Neustadter, his writing partner, to get noticed by Hollywood, conceding that just getting a foot in the door was extremely difficult.

“Everybody wants to be first to be second,” Weber said, and this proved to be true. Once Weber and Neustadter finally broke into the industry with the film “(500) Days of Summer,” their perception in the industry changed and production companies became willing to take a chance on them. Now, Weber notes that most of the work comes to them, a contrast to the early years of his career. 

“Perseverance,” said Newhouse NYC broadcast and digital journalism junior Matthew Evenden when asked about what he learned from Weber's story. Determination was a big theme of the night, with Weber simply saying “when I’m not writing, someone else is” to describe the competitiveness of the industry and the dedication necessary to be a successful writer. His advice to up and coming students in the industry? “Take some chances. That’s the nice thing, you’re not locked in.”

Zachery St. Laurent is a junior advertising and IT major, and a fall 2019 Newhouse NYC student interning at Matte Projects.