One of this year’s University of New Mexico Homecoming Week highlights was the presence of Brian Levant, a 1974 Media Arts graduate and seasoned Hollywood veteran, whose six-week course on sitcom writing wrapped up on Tuesday.
With five decades of entertainment industry experience under his belt, Levant has been at the creative helm of some of the biggest franchises in family entertainment, the Cinematic Arts Department writes.
He helped bring to life projects such as, “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy,” along with feature films like “The Flintstones,” starring John Goodman and “Jingle all the Way” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Levant’s feature films have grossed well over a billion dollars in worldwide box office,” the department said.
The course he taught concluded with a forum, which began with Levant expressing his appreciation to the faculty, staff and students of UNM’s Cinematic Arts Department for a successful Sitcom Boot Camp. The course culminated in an onstage reading of an original episode fashioned by Levant’s students.
He recognized his friends among the audience of about two dozen and reminisced on his time as a UNM undergraduate in the ’70s. As he would later note, the first script Levant sold was inspired by an on-campus mishap involving his old roommate in the girl’s dorm hall.
He highly acknowledged his mentor, Ira Jaffe, professor emeritus and founder and former chairman of Cinematic Arts at UNM.
Levant then provided his artistic genealogy using a film mash-up featuring some of the classic TV programming that influenced the cinematic sensibilities of an entire generation that witnessed the dawn of the television age.
The forum was scheduled to be two hours long.
“I don’t think they realized that my longest movie, including credits, is like 86 minutes,” Levant joked. “I can keep you entertained for 86 minutes. Beyond that, we’ll think of something else.”
In the entertainment industry, he said, there’s simply no substitute for hard work and being willing and able to contribute at a moment’s notice.
“It’s working hard, coming through, delivering, being there when you’re needed, being able to prove yourself. When you’re doing that, opportunities do happen,” Levant said. “For me, somebody developed a taste for heroin on the ‘Happy Days’ staff and they bumped me up from $200 a week to $300 a week as a story editor.”
There’s also no substitute for experience and “putting yourself out there,” he said. Some of the best advice he received during his education was to start wherever you can, so you can put yourself in a position to learn.
“The worst thing that happens sometimes is: people get in over their heads too fast and they’re given opportunities, and they don’t deliver, and it really, really hurts them career-wise,” Levant said. “Be capable. Be ready.”
Johnny Viscaino is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thedailyjohnny.