Nine years ago, Emerson alumnus Richard Arlook was on his way to the Sundance Film Festival. On his flight, he coincidentally sat next to fellow Emerson graduate Eric Kopeloff.
“We made the Emerson connection,” said Arlook, who graduated from Emerson in 1983. “[Kopeloff] called me two weeks later and said, ‘take a look at this script, let’s do something.’”
The script was for an independent film called Goats, based on Mark Poirier’s novel of the same title.
After seven years of filming and production, Arlook, the film’s producer, came to the Bright Family Screening Room this past Tuesday, Nov. 19, to watch his creation in its entirety at the place where it all began: Emerson.
Goats is a coming-of-age film about 15-year-old Ellis (Graham Phillips), who struggles to maintain normalcy in his disjointed family while he attends the New England preparatory school his father graduated from. His mother (Vera Farmiga), a New Age hippie, has a bitter resentment toward Ellis’ father (Ty Burrell), a stern intellectual raising a new family in Washington, D.C.
Through all of this, Ellis finds solace in desert treks with his pseudo-father, a live-in gardener called Goatman (David Duchovny) who provides Ellis with an abundant weed supply. Goatman is a bundle of contradictions: he provokes thought while providing the film’s comic relief. He encourages people to call him Javier, but Ellis points out that he’s actually Irish-American. Goatman claims to spend his time raising eco-friendly rescue goats, but his own goats refuse to obey him.
For Arlook, the screenplay stood out among thousands of others.
“The script was beautifully written,” Arlook said during the event. “I really just felt for this kid Ellis.”
He said that director Christopher Neil, who grew up in the Bay Area and had a stepfather similar to Goatman, found a connection with the script and agreed to helm the movie.
The film shares another Emerson connection in Caleb Horst, a junior performing arts major, who became involved in the production after his senior year of high school, when his theater teacher encouraged him to audition around the Albuquerque area. After landing a callback, Horst was offered the small supporting role of Bike Thief, a bully who punches Ellis and his father in the face in exchange for an expensive mountain bike.
Horst said that he was surprised by the complexity of the shooting process.
“We must have done the punch 35 times, just for the first one,” Horst said. “Luckily we didn’t shoot back-to-back, because I couldn’t move my right arm after the first shoot.”
Through another twist of fate, Horst later worked with Arlook’s son Ethan in a student production at Emerson, and realized how interconnected the entertainment industry can be.
Arlook emphasized the importance of the college’s many connections during a Q-and-A session following the screening.
“In LA, you’re always running into someone that went to Emerson,” Arlook said. “You’re going to meet tons of people your age who are on a similar journey.”
The Q-and-A session opened up a dialogue about the filmmaking industry, and gave students the opportunity to ask for advice on their own career paths. Audience members questioned Arlook and Horst about getting started in the entertainment business, and Arlook encouraged students looking to get a foot in the door to take any job in the industry, no matter how small. Arlook himself said he started as a contestant coordinator for a game show, but eventual created his own company, The Arlook Group.
It was this conversation that Anna Feder, events and internship manager of the visual and media arts department, said she strives to achieve in the Bright Lights series.
“The point is to give students access to industry professionals,” Feder said. “It’s not just about watching the work, it’s about talking about the work.”