Filmmaker Peter Segal graduated from USC as an English and broadcast journalism double major, but he says: “I feel like I’ve been adopted by the film school.”
As a student, Segal’s best friend and roommate was a film major, and Segal would crash some of his friend’s courses to get a sense of the moviemaking process. Today, not only does Segal make hugely successful films, but he has a say in helping develop USC’s film school curriculum.
He is a founding member of USC Cinematic Arts’ Alumni Development Council, which currently includes industry bigwigs John August, Jay Roach and Stacey Sher as members. The council serves as an advisory committee to dean Elizabeth Daley on issues related to the curriculum, helps plan anniversary celebrations, and, of course, assists with fundraising.
As a Hollywood power player, Segal is especially interested in helping ease the transition for recent graduates from the classroom into the workplace. Just because USC is a top-ranked film school doesn’t mean recent alums necessarily understand how to land that first job.
“A number of years ago, I had an assistant who graduated from USC film school, and he came by way of a restaurant where he was waiting tables, and I thought: ‘why didn’t you become a production assistant on some project?’ He said, ‘No one taught us how. Once we graduated, that was it. The cable was cut.’”
Segal says he understands from personal experience how important the right opportunity can be, especially for students who lack a sense of direction. “When I was in college, I was envious of my friends who were pre-med or majoring in business because they had an exact idea of what they wanted to do. And when I lecture to kids now at USC, I always ask them to raise their hand if they know what they want to do. And a few hands go up.
And then I say, ‘how many of you don’t have any idea what you’re going to do with your lives?’ And most of the hands go up and I say, ‘well, I was just like you.’ And had I not been shut down by the football team and forced to think about my next career move. I never would have gone to KCBS for an internship. And so one door closes and another opens.”
“Pete represents the absolute best of what USC alums are,” says Daley, who has served in her role for 27 years. She draws a parallel between Segal’s facility with students and his strengths as a filmmaker. “One of the things that you look for in a director is always, can they connect to the audience?
Do they have any sense of the zeitgeist? And clearly Pete does. It is a tremendous tribute to somebody who makes entertainment that they’re able to sense what people will derive pleasure from. It’s a kind of empathy that is much needed right now.”
In 2010, USC became the first university to train filmmakers in comedy, and Daley says Segal has been particularly instrumental to the program. “Pete came in a few weeks ago to Talent Week and listened to students pitching comedy, and critiqued their pitches.” According to Daley, it was impressive “just to watch his understanding of comedy, of what it means. And there’s not a lot of people who can articulate what they do. Pete’s very good at articulating that.”