More than just Professor McConaughey: a look inside his class 'Script to Screen'

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Madi Shaffer | Daily Texan Staff

In class, Matthew McConaughey doesn’t sign autographs — he assigns schoolwork.

The Academy Award winner graduated from UT Austin with a film degree in 1993. Alongside faculty member and filmmaker Scott Rice in 2015, McConaughey developed the curriculum for Script to Screen, which provides a behind-the-scenes view of each stage of a film’s production.

“I had the idea for this class 10 years ago,” McConaughey said. “But, I didn’t have the confidence to say, ‘Let’s create that curriculum and teach about it.’”

With the help of friends and family, he decided he had much to offer to the classroom.

“I realized, ‘You’ve got 25-27 years of experience, that’s worthy of sharing,’” McConaughey said. “‘Not everyone has that, and you shouldn’t take it for granted.’”

As a co-teacher, McConaughey became more involved over time since creating the class, Rice said. McConaughey was recently promoted to a professor of practice within the radio-television-film department.

“He started by giving students inside access to his films and their directors, and now he’s providing on-set production opportunities,” Rice said.

The name of the course comes from McConaughey’s observation of the difference between final versions of films and their original scripts.

When he visited the class earlier this month with director Jeff Nichols, McConaughey said he was intimidated in film school because he thought each of his films had to be what the script said verbatim. Later, he realized the script is a foundation for the creativity that occurs on set.

“You have to adapt along the way,” McConaughey said. “That script can inspire you to do other things. Through the class, you see why.”

On top of studying the filmmaking process, the class’s primary goal is to help students feel confident when walking into the competitive film industry.

Cristin Stephens, film production graduate student, said Rice teaches the class on a regular basis and offers hands-on opportunities to work on film sets and pitch ideas for scholarship grants, along with the curriculum.

McConaughey, Stephens said, attends class on special occasions and helps provide real-world perspectives with the opportunity to discuss the development of scripts not yet available to the public.

When McConaughey introduced himself, he told students he prefers to go by either his first or last name, not “professor.” Rather than lecturing through PowerPoints, Stephens said he simply talks about his experiences with the class in a conversational setting.

“I’m not giving the answers to any tests,” McConaughey said.

When the  UT  celebrity  is  in the  classroom, radio-television-film senior Jonathon Broughton said students don’t snap selfies or pitch projects. Instead, they treat McConaughey like any other professor.

“He’s just Matthew,” Broughton said. “At first, I was intimidated to be in the same room as him … (but) he started at the bottom, where we are right now, and getting a mentor like this is unparalleled.”

As a mentor, McConaughey connects students to the film industry by bringing in directors he works with. This semester, students are studying the work of Guy Ritchie and Jeff Nichols, specifically focusing on their films starring McConaughey: "The Gentlemen" and "Mud."

“The department has now taught ‘Mud’ here twice,” Nichols said. “Matthew and Scott are bringing it down to earth with this class and connecting students to something that might feel impossible.”

Stephens said the best piece of advice she received during Nichols’ and McConaughey’s recent visit was to battle filmmaking perfectionism. Her notes from McConaughey’s conversation about ‘Mud’ detail this idea.

“The key is to start now and to do it badly,” McConaughey said. “Show it, shoot it, record it. Screw it up. I dare you, you can’t.”