Truck driving. I’m really excited; I graduated from college to be a truck driver. It was who I knew.” That’s Jon Vang’s story, at least part of it.
Vang graduated from CSUN in 2011 with a degree in screenwriting. That’s what he wanted to do, write comedy. He’s a funny guy with ideas. He learned structure, he learned proper comedy, he learned how to pitch his ideas. What he never learned was how to network, who to talk to.
Now the 25-year-old has a stack of potential hit-comedy scripts for original sitcoms tucked gently away in his bedroom that may never see the light of day.
Maybe if he followed in the steps of 27-year-old Jeremy Wick he would have been better off.
The year Vang was in his cap and gown with diploma in hand, Wick was accepted and ready to register for classes here at CSUN. He’s an economics major, at least that’s what he thought he was until he said “Fuck it dog, life’s a risk.”
After dropping the retail-apparel stocks that had kept his wallet padded in favor of his obsessive inclination towards writing, he dropped the idea of higher education for the same. Fast forward to a chance encounter with a friend of a friend outside a suburban Starbucks a couple months back. Wick is now working on the screenplay that’s about to land him in the Writers Guild of America – the organization that is a must for all screenwriters of any caliber.
Wick had never considered screenwriting until teaming up with recent LA Film School grad Shane Strickland, 23, after giving him some feedback on a screenplay. The two immediately clicked and Strickland shook hands with his new writing partner.
The fact that Wick has no experience in film or screenwriting means nothing to the film school graduate.
“I could have learned without going to school. I wouldn’t know formatting, but you can pretty much buy Final Draft and figure it out after a while if you read a certain amount of scripts, (and) theory you can learn alone, just read a book on it,” Strickland said.
Hell, writers for the pinnacle of all sitcoms that is “Seinfeld” didn’t even learn the trade through school. Take Harvard graduate Dave Mandel for example. He studied government and planned on being a lawyer.
He did the bare minimum to graduate. Instead, he spent his time at the Harvard Lampoon he had learned about through his comedy-obsessed youth.
“As I got more and more involved in the Lampoon and writing, I was doing the minimal amount of schoolwork as humanly possible so I could just do writing. It’s not exactly what most people go to Harvard to do,” Mandel said.
Through the Lampoon he did a movie for Comedy Central in ’92, still studying government. It essentially snowballed into more work with Comedy Central, then Saturday Night Live on to Seinfeld.
“There’s no screenwriting at Harvard, that doesn’t exist,” he said. That clearly didn’t stop his future writing partners Alec Burg and Jeff Schaffer, also Harvard alumni, from getting his foot in the door at Seinfeld. It didn’t stop the trio from writing “The Cat in the Hat” and “Eurotrip” and doing work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Vang shares the same sentiment as Strickland–if you’re into film, you can learn it on your own.
“They should give you a class on how to contact people. All they have is your pitch. I was good at doing pitches, but where do you go? “ I understand it’s a ‘who-you-know’ business. And I don’t know anybody”
Maybe it’s something they can’t teach. But through his education, he never learned.