Neil Landau named executive director of MFA Film Program

Neil Landau (MFA ’18), an award-winning screenwriter, creative producer, author, and educator has been named Executive Director of the University of Georgia Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media.

“Professor Landau brings a vast amount of experience not only in the film industry, but in the MFA space, as well,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College of Mass Communication and Journalism, which co-sponsors the MFA Film program along with Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “He’s been an amazing addition to the Entertainment & Media Studies department, and he has vision and energy commensurate to the task. Our MFA program in Film, TV and Digital Media truly is one-of-a-kind, and he’s the leader it needs.”

Landau addresses the third cohort of the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program during orientation at Grady College on Aug. 12, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

Prior to assuming the Executive Director title, Landau served as Director of UGA’s screenwriting curriculum, where he created the Distinguished Industry Mentor program. The Distinguished Industry Mentor program enlists some of the industry’s most prominent screenwriters, directors, and TV showrunners — including David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”), Allison Liddi-Brown (“Friday Night Lights”), and Peabody Award-winner Steven Canals (“Pose”) — to share their expertise with students via master classes, mentoring sessions, and networking.

Of his new role, Landau says “I’m genuinely excited to be part of building and leading our MFA film, television, and digital media program, based on a production company/active studio model, to meet the rapidly expanding Georgia film and TV production ecosystem.”

Landau describes the MFA Film program as interdisciplinary, providing students with the opportunity to find and hone their unique voices as visual storytellers. They not only write original, feature-length screenplays and TV pilots, but also direct at least three short films. Landau continues, “We’re training them to be hyphenates in the Industry; whether that’s as writer/director or writer/producer, we’re preparing them to be innovators and trailblazers.”

“Neil Landau is instrumental to this program and for its success going forward,” said Nalani Dowling (MFA ’22), a recent graduate. “He makes each student feel like he really cares about our success and genuinely wants to understand our work and where we are coming from.”

Mr. Landau is a graduate of the UGA Narrative Nonfiction Media Writing program in Screenwriting and brings years of academic experience to the job, including more than two decades as a screenwriting instructor at University of California, Los Angeles School of Theater, Film & Television, and several years as Assistant Dean of Special Projects and co-Director of the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program.  He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film/Television from UCLA.

As a screenwriter, his credits include feature films “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” and the global animated blockbuster “The Adventures of Tadeo Jones” (for which he won a Spanish Academy “Goya” Award), and the television series “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” Upcoming projects include the worldwide release of the animated feature film “Mummies” from Warner Bros. in late February, and “Little Big Boy,” an animated western, currently in production. His latest original, live-action screenplay, “Flinch,” is currently being produced by Teri Schwartz (“Sister Act,” “Beaches”), in partnership with WME Independent.

Landau is also author of six books including the 2022 second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: Creating Great Television in an On Demand World,” featuring interviews with 19 of the most respected showrunners in television, such as Issa Rae of “Insecure,” Chris Mundy of “Ozark,” Sam Levisnon of “Euphoria,” and Jesse Armstrong of “Succession.”

The MFA Film program is a two-year intensive program teaching students directing, screenwriting, producing and other skills needed for creative careers in Georgia’s film industry, which brought $4.4 billion to the state in fiscal year 2022.

Jeff Springston, who previously directed the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program, continues directing the MFA Narrative Media Writing program.

Photo of MFA graduate with MFA faculty members
Landau (second from left) poses for a picture with MFA Film graduate Nalani Dowling (MFA ’22) and MFA Film faculty members Sanghoon Lee and Shandra McDonald after graduation ceremonies at Studio A of Georgia Film Academy on Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

 

Neil Landau authors second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap”

Interviews with 19 of the most respected showrunners in television today are at the heart of the all-new second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: Creating Great Television in an On Demand World” by Neil Landau.

Landau, founding director of screenwriting for the UGA MFA Film program, follows the success of the bestselling first edition of his book, supplemeted by interviews with today’s most trailblazing showrunners, including Issa Rae of “Insecure,” Chris Mundy of “Ozark,” Noah Hawley of “Fargo,” Jesse Armstrong of “Succession,” Liz Feldman of “Dead to Me,” Sam Levinson of “Euphoria,” Steven Canals of “Pose,” and Daniel Levy of “Schitt’s Creek,” among others.

“This book reflects the enormous changes that have occurred since the first book came out in 2014,” Landau said about the new edition that focuses exclusively on streaming shows and features several international shows.

Among the topics covered in the new book are a conversation with Hawley about reinventing the Coen Brothers’ classic film; insight from Damon Lindelof of “Watchmen” on world building, and an interview with Alex Pina of “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”) on non-formulaic episodic story structure. Other topics covered by Landau include the power of empathy, family dynamics, antagonists and pitching projects.

Landau explained that at the time the first edition came out, there were very few books about creating and writing an original TV series, and few people know the role of a showrunner, or the person who is the head writer and executive producer of a television show.

“This book is for people who may someday be showrunners,” Landau, who said he was raised on television, continues. “It breaks down the process of what the elements are to writing and creating a successful television pilot and how to sustain it over time. It’s a book for writers and creators.”

He added that the first edition was frequently used in the classroom, including the Sundance Institute Episodic Lab.

Several themes emerged while writing the current edition of the book, according to Landau, including the international impact of entertainment.

“The entire entertainment business, not just television, is global. It’s not a Hollywood-centric business anymore,” Landau said.  “You cannot sell a show if it doesn’t have international appeal.”

He further explains that most of the growth happening with Netflix, HBO Max and Paramount+ and other streaming services is occurring because and they are opening offices in cities all over the world and their focus is local programming produced by people who live in that country using the local language of that country.

Landau also said that intellectual property is now driving the entertainment business. He said the Spider-Man and Batman movie franchises are prime examples.

“If you have a built-in marketing hook, like a show based on a best-selling novel or super popular characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, entertainment providers know that when they go to air it, they will have a built-in audience,” Landau said. “There are still original shows being written, but most are based on known source material. The value of intellectual property is more crucial than ever to break through the noise of over 560 scripted series across multiple platforms—an all-time record.”

Landau also notes that the lines between cinema and television have blurred.

“Television is not a lesser-form of creativity. It’s actually an artform unto itself.”

He continues: “Because TV is available globally, at its best, it can plant seeds of empathy, and reinforce that we all share a common humanity. Hopefully this book will show that we are in the midst of a creative renaissance and it will inspire people to participate, because your voice matters.”

Landau has numerous screen credits including “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” His animated movie projects include “Tad: The Lost Explorer” (“Las Adventuras de Tadeo Jones”) for which he earned a Spanish Academy Goya Award, Gaudi Award, and Cinema Writers’ Circle Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2014.

This is the sixth book that Landau has published. Previous books include “TV Writing on Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era,” “TV Outside the Box: Trailblazing in the Digital Television Revolution,” “The Screenwriters Roadmap: 21 Ways to Jumpstart Your Story,” “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: 21 Navigational Tips to Create – and Sustain – a Hit TV Series” and “101 Things I Learned in Film School,” reissued by Random House/Crown in 2021.

 

Neil Landau says movies premiering on streaming services will have lasting business ramifications

Warner Brothers recently announced it will premiere 2021 movies on the HBO Max streaming platform at the same time the films release in theaters.

The groundbreaking business decision affects distribution of many films created here in Georgia. We asked asked Neil Landau, associate professor in EMST and director of screenwriting for the MFA Film program, about the ramifications of this announcement and what it means in regard to evolving viewer habits.

Landau teaches a class at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester. (Photo: Sarah Freeman).

“This is a sea change that will have lasting, if not permanent, repercussions on the movie business — from P&A (prints and advertising) and distribution to exhibition and all-important opening weekend box office tallies,” Landau said.

He says home streaming offers advantages and access to some productions that audiences may not have previously had.

“Depending on the post Covid-19 economic rebound, I believe streaming movies at home is here to stay,” said Landau. ” Not only is it much cheaper for those on a budget, it’s also more convenient and offers more global choices.”

The relationship between movie theaters and streaming services will continue to be defined and Landau says there are some critical questions that must be answered through audience behavior.

“Can both cinemas and movies-on-demand streaming at home co-exist?  Will people, who have mainly been staying home to avoid contagion, be compelled to return to the communal movie-going experience,” Landau questioned.

“My hunch is that while the communal experience of cinema will survive, many movie megaplexes will downsize or go out of business (tantamount to book stores and shopping malls in the age of Amazon Prime),” Landau said.

Like all industries that rely on people gathering, Landau says the new landscape must be defined through the public response to medical breakthroughs as COVID-19 treatments are administered. However, he says many of the business decisions are made because streaming profits benefit movie studio groups too.

“We already had signs of what I call “Digital Darwinism,” but Covid-19 has made it impossible for movie theaters to compete,” Landau said. “Once we have a vaccine and we get the economy back on track, it’s anyone’s guess.  We all know for certain that sports will remain huge.  Ditto for video games.  But movies on-demand at home and relatively inexpensive monthly streaming subscriptions are not the competition for the major studios because they own or have a stake in most of these streaming platforms.”

“You could look at HBO Max’s decision to collapse theatrical windows as cannibalizing their own business —until you realize that they’re profiting from increasing their HBO Max subscriptions exponentially,” said Landau. “And a monthly subscription fee and access to customer data are both gifts that keep on giving, not dependent on what’s opening at the movie theater.”

Learn more about the UGA MFA Film program at: mfafilm.uga.edu.