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East Lyme natives bring Hollywood home

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published May 20. 2012 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
From left, Ben Brand, Todd Linden, Chris Foster and Dave Goetsch, all former students at East Lyme High School with Hollywood careers, participate in a panel discussion at the Southeastern Connecticut Youth Screenwriting/Film Day at East Lyme High School Saturday.

East Lyme - You never know when something from your past will come in handy - even something like playing Eugene the nerd in a high school production of "Grease."

Writer Dave Goetsch said he brought up that geek-tastic stage credit when he was interviewing for a job on "The Big Bang Theory," since that show is, after all, about nerds.

Yup, he got the job, and he thinks the Eugene anecdote helped. Goetsch is a co-executive producer of the hit CBS sitcom, where he's worked for five years.

He recalled the whole scenario Saturday when he returned to the same East Lyme High School stage where he once performed. Goetsch, previously an executive producer on "3rd Rock from the Sun," was there with three other East Lyme natives who have gone on to significant showbiz careers.

Chris Foster is a film editor who has cut trailers and TV spots for such films as "Rango," "There Will Be Blood" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Writer Ben Brand saw his screenplay "November" made into a film starring Courteney Cox. He was a co-writer for the IFC miniseries "Bollywood Hero," and he wrote a pilot, "Inside Job," for Lifetime.

Todd Linden is a writer's assistant and script coordinator for ABC's "Happy Endings."

The panel discussion with this quartet was all part of Southeastern Connecticut Youth Screenwriting/Film Day, sponsored by the East Lyme Library Foundation and the East Lyme Public Library. The nonprofit foundation's focus is to develop and maintain an endowment for the library.

Saturday's session was filmed and will be available on DVD in the library for folks who weren't able to attend.

The event also featured a mini-film festival of short movies created by students from seven local schools. The students had a chance to get feedback on their work from panelists afterward. The films covered a wide span: one was about bullying, another was a noir parody, yet another was about high schoolers trying to get to a party.

The inspiration for the screenwriting/film day came from Dr. Robert Linden, president of the East Lyme Library Foundation. Both his son Todd, the ABC writer's assistant, and daughter Beth, a production coordinator for Discovery Studio, have gone into the entertainment business, and he knew other southeastern Connecticut natives who have done the same.

During the panel discussion Saturday, the four men talked about how they got into the field, what their education was and what their jobs entail. And they told plenty of funny stories, including a few about their days growing up in East Lyme.

Goetsch joked about how Brand started filmmaking with a "600-pound video camera" he got for his bar mitzvah. Brand, meanwhile, laughed about how, taking a cue from high school classes, he made a film back then in French - thus starting out as, well, a foreign-language filmmaker. He made a home movie in Latin, too.

Brand and Foster graduated from East Lyme High in 1988, while Goetsch left in his sophomore year for Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Linden graduated from East Lyme High in 2001.

They discussed their jobs now - the rewrites and more rewrites that are part of TV work, the hours that go into creating a sitcom. Linden described how it takes 12 hours a day for five days to shoot what will become a 22-minute episode of "Happy Endings."

Goetsch recalled how his bosses on "3rd Rock," who had written for "Saturday Night Live," wanted every scene to be like a sketch, making each moment work. "Big Bang" co-creator Chuck Lorre likewise doesn't worry about including lines that set up an episode's ending - only that each moment plays well.

Foster, the film editor, detailed what he aims for in a two-minute trailer for a film: to compress the story, to build excitement for the film, to capture the motion picture's scope and scale. Reflecting a production's tone is important, too - like the quirky tone of "Rango," whose trailer Foster screened Saturday. He spent more than a year (on and off, but mostly on, he said) working on that project.

As Goetsch said, effective trailers have become even more vital for all those "huge movies that live or die on opening weekend." And studios are making fewer big-budget films, so they spend more on marketing them, Foster said.

Someone in the crowd Saturday asked why trailers now seem to give away a movie's entire plot. Foster said that studios' audience research showed that the more people understand about a story, the more likely they say they are to see the movie.

The panelists had advice for students thinking of pursuing, say, a TV or film-writing career. You should give yourself three years to break into the business. You have tremendous opportunities via the Internet to demonstrate your movie-making skills - giving the current generation a different way to make an impression on people in the industry.

For those interested in writing, Brand said, the cliché holds: Write what you know. Yes, he penned a pilot set in 1950s L.A., and he did a lot of reading on that era. But the characters he populated the story with tended to be pulled from people he actually knows, he said.

So why have so many East Lyme kids ended up in the TV and film business?

"I think we had a really great group of friends," Goetsch said. "What really matters for me is my peers and what they're doing."

They praised, too, their teachers. Linden said he discovered his passion for writing in an English class here.

Brand said, "I can name 10 amazing teachers I had in K-12."

Even so, Goetsch said, growing up in East Lyme, he wasn't thinking about a career in Hollywood.

"It sounded interesting and appealing, but I didn't know how it would even be possible to do that," he said.

Later, he met someone who went on to work on "Cheers," and he learned just how becoming a TV writer was possible.

On Saturday, students had the chance to network with the panelists and several other folks: Beth Linden of Discovery Studio; Kevin Constantine, a systems engineer at Walt Disney Animation Studios; Megan Kirkpatrick, a coordinator for TV comedy development at ABC Studios in Burbank; and Crissy Spivey, a digital producer for NBC in New York City.

k.dorsey@theday.com

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