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From the Desk of Richard Walter: Stumbling and Bumbling One’s Way to Success

By Staff · August 18, 2017

They say you can’t have it all, but don’t I have it all?

I have first of all an intact and loving and, thanks to the arrival of grandchildren, a still-growing family. Grandchildren are not as wonderful as people say; they’re even better. They’re all of the fun without any of the cholesterol.

I also have creative work that I love: writing and teaching.

If I’m not rolling dough, I have all the money that I need. Once one has as much money as he needs, what’s the difference how many more dollars he earns beyond that? To be rich, in my view, is to reach such a station as to have no worries regarding money. It is not lost on me for a moment how rare and precious a privilege that is.

Did all of this arise out of a well-focused strategy undergirded by clear goals and crafty design?

It did not.

It derives instead from stumbling and bumbling around blindly, sometimes even stupidly, exploring varying approaches to diverse pathways and, above all, staying open to the surprises. I expect this is worthy advice for souls shaping not only their life narrative but also the dramatic narrative that lies at the heart of whatever screenplay they happen to be writing at the moment.

A man of my age, race, and privilege might, during the legendary and over-appreciated 1960s, just might have been going to college in order to avoid the Vietnam War military draft.

I am no kind of political activist; indeed, I am a card-carrying, practicing American patriot who flies the flag on national holidays and also on September 11 (you can take the kid out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the kid.) I regard the Vietnam War as a colossal mistake that squandered American (and Asian) blood and treasure in a useless, worthless, lost cause. I find it meaningful that, at the time of this writing, communism has been out of business all around the world for nearly thirty years, except in those nations where we attacked it militarily.

If I had been true to my principles I would have returned my draft card to the Selective Service Commission office in Queens Plaza and refused induction. This would have resulted in my having to spend perhaps fourteen or sixteen months at a federal honor farm, that is, a cushy prison in New England or California where I might very well have ended up playing Knock Hockey or ping pong in the prison rec room with former members of the Nixon administration.

After struggling through a challenging course of study to win my B.A., I breezed through what I have characterized elsewhere as a jackpot, giveaway, draft-dodge of a Masters program in Radio/Television at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

I was all set to return to Syracuse to continue my draft dodge–oops!, I mean my course of study—pursuing a PhD in something like Instructional Communications in the School of Education. I had a cozy apartment, a girlfriend, plus sufficient scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships (and those were just the ‘…ships’) and would actually end up not losing but earning money during my tenure there. (Full disclosure: even if I would give up almost all of that, I’m married now a half century to the girlfriend; don’t let anyone tell you, therefore, that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too).

Between the awarding of my Masters and the commencement of my PhD studies I had about six weeks to kill. Never having been further west than Cleveland, I climbed into my rusty, and not entirely trusty VW Beetle and made it to California in all of three days.

I saw hippies in San Francisco, a bullfight in Tijuana. At the last moment, just before heading back to New York State, I decided instead to enroll in USC’s Cinema Department.

As I have said elsewhere, it was the right time at the right place.

USC film school was a hotbed of talent at that time, a fact then known only to those of us who were there. Among my classmates were artists who would turn the word of film and media upside down and inside out.

There was future writer/director John Milius, best known for the script of Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian, which he also directed. (I call it Conan the Librarian.) He also wrote and directed Red Dawn and Big Wednesday and other major Hollywood fare.

There was Hal Barwood, a game-developer genius who also wrote (along with his USC classmate Matthew Robbins) Stephen Spielberg’s first theatrical release, The Sugarland Express.

There was Willard Huyck whose student film, Down These Mean Streets, remains in my memory among not merely the best student films ever made but films in general. He would move on to win an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay for his work collaborating on the script for the timeless icon of Western and, indeed, World culture: American Graffiti.

There was Walter Murch, a sound designer and editor who won multiple Oscars for his work on multiple films in a single year. At the time of this writing Murch is a widely known amateur expert on theoretical mathematics, astrophysics, and cosmology.

A particularly close pal of mine was Paul Golding, who collaborated with Lucas on his student films, and edited Haskell Wexler’s extraordinary movie Medium Cool.

Most notable among all of my classmates back then, of course, was George Lucas.

About the Expert: Richard Walter is a screenwriter, author of best selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, associate dean, entertainment industry expert and longtime professor and chairman of the graduate screenwriting program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. In September 2017, Richard Walter will offer an exclusive online 6-week course. Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with the world’s most accomplished screenwriting educator. And, he’ll read your script if you complete it within 1 month of the class! Reserve your seat at: To join Richard Walter’s email newsletter list email him at

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