Greg Berlanti was like any beer-drinking, rock-painting Northwestern student. Now, the former Wildcat has made it to the big leagues, contributing to the production of Dirty Sexy Money, Dawson’s Creek, Brothers and Sisters and Everwood. The director, writer and producer came back to campus for a screening Life As We Know It, a romantic comedy that was shot in Atlanta under his direction. Starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, the film is set to release on Oct. 8. We got the scoop on the motion picture, but more importantly, Berlanti’s collegiate escapades.
Tell me about your Northwestern experience.
I loved it. I was one of those kids that didn’t even go home the first year for Thanksgiving […] There’s not a better time to try different things out. I was in some plays that I was like “Gosh, if anyone ever saw me in this…” It was a great time to push your boundaries and expand your horizons.
Do you have any funny stories from your college days?
I got laked a bunch of times. I was in a fraternity house — I was a Delt — and they had a laking process where if anything good happened to you, they would strip you down, beat the hell out of you and throw you in the lake. And you’d be dragged naked to the lake and I was terrified by that process. And it happened three times I think.
Why did you get laked?
Senior year I was on the homecoming court. Some perfect blond Sigma Chi kid got picked for homecoming king, but I was on the court. So I got nailed for that.
What was the most important factor in getting you where you are today?
I would say more than anything, learning how to deal with rejection. When you get to Northwestern, everyone comes from their hometown and thinks they are the best at doing everything […] I went around and auditioned for four [plays] and got called back for one of the four and I didn’t end up getting cast in that one. And, you know, the feeling of rejection at that time was really difficult. [...] You can learn just as much from failure as you can from success.
Was there a defining moment that made you want to go into this?
I saw a production of Grapes of Wrath when I was in high school, and it was from the Steppenwolf Theatre and Frank Galatti had directed it. I remember seeing it and I cried and cried, and it was incredibly moving and I kept the ticket from the show. And I think I still have the ticket in my wallet. Yes I do. Here it is.
He pulls the yellow ticket out of his wallet and holds it out.
At that moment, I knew I wanted to make something that to me was that beautiful. I went to college and he was a teacher there and I didn’t have the courage to speak to him for the first three years. It was literally my junior year when I went up to him and said, “Professor Galatti, I came to this school to study with you.” And we took a long walk through the park.
And he said, “What do you want to do?”
I said, “I want to write like you do.”
And he said, “What do you want to write? What’s your favorite book?”
And I told him my favorite book, and the next year I adapted that book as a class underneath him with a private study […] That play got read downtown at the Court Theater in Chicago. And then it got another reading in LA, and that’s what brought me to Los Angeles.
Why should college students go see Life As We Know It?
You know it’s so funny, when we were testing the film, there were all these young women in the audience, 25 and under. And I almost had a heart attack. I was like, ‘Oh my God, they are going to hate it.’ And they had the opposite reaction. [...] I think there’s a lot about these characters that people will like at any age.
What was it like directing this film?
You know, it was intimidating, very tiring. It was a baby movie. The babies are in 85 percent of the movie. And the baby was triplets, so you are kind of running a mini day care center at the same time… It definitely was a lot to wrap my brain around, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience, probably one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had in years.
What would you say to aspiring filmmakers?
All the scripts you are writing now and the shorts you are making now, it all pays off. It doesn’t always pay off in the way you think it’s going to pay off. You just get better at it. And then by the time you get a real job doing it you don’t get fired because you’ve gotten better at it.
It’s tenacity and you really have to just love doing it because there’s going to be a lot of setbacks and a lot of people that tell you not to do it this way or not to do it that way. Don’t listen to anyone. But you have to be passionate about, because if you aren’t passionate there’s a lot of reasons to give up along the way.