Students would be hard-pressed to find similarities between Penn's campus and the current hit, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
But despite the apparent lack of connection between the campus and the sci-fi adventure tale -- which chronicles the 1930s effort of a reporter (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a fighter pilot (Jude Law) to save the world from the hands of an evil scientist -- the link is stronger than one might think.
Sky Captain is the brainchild and a production of Penn alumnus Jon Avnet. In its first week at the box office, the movie soared to No. 1 and has already generated over $30 million in ticket sales.
Avnet graduated from Penn in 1971 and has since forged a successful career in Hollywood. Filling the diverse roles of writer, director and producer, Avnet has been involved in the production of more than 50 motion pictures and television movies over the course of his 25 years in the industry, giving him an innovative and experienced outlook on filmmaking.
"Jon knows the industry extremely well," Cinema Studies Department Chairman Timothy Corrigan says. "He's had a variety of experiences and has been involved with everything from screenwriting to technology to production, which has really given him a unique perspective and made him an expert in the field."
Avnet has applied his varied experience to a broad spectrum of projects. Although he has directed and produced large-scale blockbusters like George of the Jungle, Mighty Ducks and Risky Business, he has also been involved with a number of movies addressing serious social and political issues -- a fact he attributes to his time at Penn.
One such example is Uprising, a television mini-series which chronicles the experience of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.
"Film is a tremendous tool for addressing social and political issues. Whether you like it or not, movies have a huge impact on American politics and culture -- just look at Michael Moore," Avnet says. "A lot of the political ideas in my movies are products of what I felt and came to believe while I was a student at Penn during the Vietnam War."
In addition to engendering a sense of social concern and providing subject matter for his films, the Vietnam War also propelled Avnet's career by encouraging him to push limits and challenge boundaries through artistic experimentation.
"Jon is personally attracted to the avant-garde" says Al Filreis, faculty director of Penn's Kelly Writers House and a personal friend of Avnet's. "He is really interested in alternativism and experimental art forms, which you can really see in the cutting-edge computer technology that he used in Sky Captain."
In fact, because of his extreme creativity, Avnet frequently found Penn's academic emphasis during his undergraduate years to be somewhat stifling for artistic expression.
"In general, the environment at Penn was not really conducive to art or artistic pursuits at the time I was a student," Avnet recalls. "There was a huge emphasis on pre-professionalism, and a lot of people were just there to become doctors, lawyers and businessmen."
"In college, it dawned on me that I wanted to do the impossible -- make movies for a living," Avnet says.
The director pursued his desire to enter the film industry, winning a directing fellowship at the American Film Institute, an experience he describes as "invaluable." At AFI, Avnet had the opportunity to interact with people from every aspect of the filmmaking industry, from screenwriters to directors to actors.
However, despite his positive graduate experiences after Penn, Avnet remains a firm advocate of a liberal arts education as a foundation for any career, and has become actively involved in the Penn community. As a Penn parent, Avnet has helped to create the Cinema Studies Program, serves on the School of Arts and Sciences Board of Overseers and has delivered several lectures at Penn.
"I'm a big believer in going to college and getting a broad-based education first," Avnet says. "If you want to go to film school, or any graduate school afterward, that's great, but it's always helpful to have a strong general education background."
Exemplifying this value, Avnet notes that while his English and humanities classes at Penn were important in providing him with an artistic outlet, there were a number of other courses, including business and math, that have unexpectedly helped him tremendously.
"I prefer writing and directing, but you need business skills to get by in the industry or you'll end up as roadkill on the Hollywood freeway, because it's very competitive," Avnet says. "When you make a film, it takes a great deal of money, and you need to know how to deal with the financial side of things or you're in for some rude awakenings."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.