Oliver Stone: Film School ‘Seemed Like a Crazy Idea’

Oliver Stone, Working Title's Liza Chasin Honored by Alma Mater NYU Tisch

Los Angelenos got a taste of the Big Apple on Oct. 28 when NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts held a benefit gala in L.A. for the first time in 10 years.

The Beverly Wilshire received a New York City makeover with Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building and of course, Washington Square Arch 3D projections. Alums director/writer Oliver Stone and Liza Chasin, Working Title Films’ president of U.S. production, were honored last night with the Big Apple awards for outstanding achievement in the cinematic arts and development, respectively.

Screenwriter Stanley Weiser presented the award to his mentor Stone. After watching his short “Last Year in Viet Nam,” which Stone made in college for then-professor Martin Scorsese’s class, Weiser predicted that Stone “would go completely insane or become a great director.”

“There’s a public perception of Oliver: he’s rude, paranoid, overly opinioned and a troublemaker,” he said. “While on some occasions I witnessed it to be true, in rare occasions, it is not at all the whole picture. Oliver has great faith in himself, but he also has great doubts. In Buddhism, great faith, great doubt often equal wisdom.”

Stone, who graduated from Tisch in 1971, said he was skeptical about applying to film school after returning to New York from Vietnam. “It seemed like a crazy idea,” Stone said. “How can you actually study film? You mean watch movies and get credit for it? What a rip-off.”

He ultimately enrolled after discovering that the G.I. Bill would cover 80 percent of tuition costs. “I was older than the others and the war had made me quiet and untrusting,” he said. “I can’t say it was easy. It was a tough talking New York state of mind.”

Despite his struggles, he said the no-holds-barred atmosphere prepared him to tackle Hollywood. “We’d sit there literally and watch the films we’d made,” he said. “Each of us would collectively criticize the film. We’d shred the film to pieces. I’d never been through that process until I got to Hollywood and had a meeting with Jeff Katzenberg and Dawn Steel and Barry Diller. That was one of the worst, but NYU was right up there.”

The event featured song and dance numbers by NYU students as well as a special performance by event cohost Steve Kazee. The Tony-winning actor performed a song from his musical “Once.” Despite the barrage of audio problems, Kazee kept the crowd in high spirits. “This is really embarrassing guys; Oliver Stone is here,” he said. When his mic finally worked, the audience erupted in applause. “If you thought that ‘check one’ was great, wait until you hear this,” Kazee teasted.

Like the rest of the night’s presenters and honorees, Chasin was in an Empire State of mind. “I remember I asked around about film schools — the whole New York versus L.A. of it all,” the Class of ‘87 alumna said. “And everyone told me, if you want to work in the business, go to L.A. If you love film, go to NYU. I chose love. And fortunately for me, I got the best of both worlds.”

Chasin said she first dreamt of joining Working Title Films in 1995 after watching an indie, “My Beautiful Laundrette,” that the production company had released.

“That film had such a profound impact on me that when it was time to put my education to work, I went in search of the company that made it, Working Title Films,” she said. “I even went to London in the hopes they’d hire me there. No luck. But I was not defeated. Some might say I was a stalker. I’d like to call it determination.”

The benefit, which raised $1 million for the school, marked Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell’s final gala. She’s retiring after 22 years on the job.

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