It appears that The Hangover director Todd Phillips can add his alma mater NYU to the ever-growing list of people and institutions he’s pissed off (a list that already includes the MPAA, HBO Documentary Films, and, probably, the makers of Land of the Lost). Phillips came to NYU on May 28 to present a screening of his new film and to participate in a Q&A. Presumably he regaled the students with stories about following one’s dreams and what Zack Galifianakis is really like in person. But something went horribly awry, and the chairs of the university’s film departments had to follow up with a letter forcefully decrying and condemning what Phillips said.
The point of contention appears to be a story Phillips told about how he managed to procure equipment for himself as a student by claiming his equipment was stolen and then ripping off the insurance company. Which mightily pissed off the chairs of the film departments, because NYU currently has huge insurance issues: Undergraduate students have been forced to find their own insurance for shoots, due to some serious equipment losses that resulted in the school’s being unable to insure them. As you might imagine, a major Hollywood filmmaker showing up in the middle of all this and inspiring a bunch of starry-eyed film students to commit insurance fraud didn’t exactly sit well with anybody. Here’s the letter of condemnation:
Dear Film Students,
On Thursday, May 28, Todd Philips, a former NYU film student and director of several major films, participated in a Q&A at The Director’s Series, following a screening of his latest film. While we appreciate former students and alumni who return to NYU to share their films and experiences with our community, we were appalled by a story in which he made light of committing insurance fraud as a student. Whether or not this story is true, we assure you we never have, and never will, condone behavior that does not respect people, property, and legal documents.
As Chairs of the three film departments in New York and Singapore, we would like to take this opportunity to stress the importance of developing professional responsibility. We also want to reiterate that the path to making wonderful films that win awards and launch careers is not through devious or dishonest deeds. The vast majority of NYU students who have gone on to enjoy successful careers as filmmakers earned their breaks through their ability to tell good stories, and to get good performances from their actors. Most of their films were made on modest budgets and were noticed by industry professionals who recognize and reward the ability to make quality work within professional standards and with limitations.
Finally, it is important to remember that while telling tales of outrageous behavior can be entertaining to some, your place in the film industry will be built around your reputation. It is actually quite a small universe, and many a talented filmmaker has found it difficult to work if they develop a reputation as abusive, untrustworthy, or indulgent with a budget. We encourage you to be a filmmaker who commands the respect of your colleagues for your professionalism and decency, and who every actor and crewperson wants to work with. Then, please come and share your experiences at the Director’s Series, and set a good example for the next generation of NYU filmmakers.
David Irving, Chair, Grad Film Program, Tisch Asia
Lamar Sanders, Chair, Undergraduate Film & TV
John Tintori, Chair, Grad Film Program, NY