Head for the hills

Dylan Mulick’s career in Hollywood traces back to English classes at Carroll

By John Walsh

Like many students entering college, Dylan Mulick ’04 had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. But with encouragement from English professor Chris Roark, Ph.D., and summer classes he took in New York, Mulick developed a passion for writing and the arts – and an almost clinical fascination with film.

After a stint studying and working in New York, Mulick moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. Along the way, he became a music video director. So far, he’s beaten the odds among the crowd of people pursuing their dreams in Tinseltown, working with the likes of actor/TV personality Nick Cannon and musicians Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, and Jemina Pearl.

While at Carroll, Mulick took a short fiction class as a sophomore taught by Roark, who introduced Mulick to singer/songwriter Tom Waits and author Ray Carver.

Dylan Mulick with Nick Cannon on the set of the movie “School Gyrls

“I didn’t know what I wanted to major in or what to do with my life,” he says. “I couldn’t write a convincing essay, but Dr. Roark pulled me aside and said there was hope for me.”

Mulick decided to major in English his sophomore year with Roark as his advisor.

“I went home to New Hampshire that summer and wanted to take a writing class at my hometown college, but nothing was open except a screenwriting class,” he says.

That class led Mulick to study at The School of Visual Arts in New York the summer of his junior year. Then he took film history and English classes at Columbia University – as a visiting student his final semester – where he saw an advertisement for a general film internship. While interviewing with an associate producer, Mulick learned she had family members who attended Carroll.

“She knew the school, and that separated me from the pack, and I got the internship,” he says. “It was with John Sayles, a hero of mine in American independent film and an Academy Award nominee. It was a cool introduction to the indie film world and a vastly different experience from Cleveland.

“By then I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, I just didn’t know how,” he adds. “Those things aren’t taught. I didn’t study film in college, but I’ve worked with many ex-film majors from some of the top schools. It’s common knowledge film writing and directing is learned by doing. The Catch-22 is finding the opportunity to do it.”

“He wasn’t a demonstrative or talkative kid, so I didn’t know he had this bent,” Roark recalls of Mulick when he was at JCU.

The Big Apple
After graduating from Carroll with an English major and art history minor, Mulick freelanced as a reporter for the New Jersey Star Ledger while looking for work in film production.

“I couldn’t get a job in New York,” he says. “The tax incentive hadn’t begun, the industry was close knit, and I wasn’t on the inside.”

Mulick studied at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York for six months and wrote for the Star Ledger, where he learned to write precisely and objectively, on and off for a year. He was writing a brief and boring column for the paper. Then one day the editor needed a reporter to cover an art exhibit for a feature story, and he wanted to assign the story to a senior reporter, but no one in the newsroom was available. Because Mulick wrote many art history papers at JCU, he was able to write the story well.

“I got a good response to that article, and the editor said I could write features and pitch story ideas,” he says. “But I always wanted to write screenplays. People liked my writing, so I kept at it. The Star Ledger was a big paper, so there was some glamour to it. I miss that job. That experience also was relevant to film. You push in a tactful way for the opportunity to impress, hustle, and hope you have the goods when the opportunity arrives.”

Mulick finally landed a film job in New York – as a first production assistant, which is at the bottom of the ladder. He embellished within reason to get the job.

“I had only worked two days at Columbia on a grad-student film, but my tenacity – I called the producers so much – won them over,” he says.

Film production consisted of four weeks in Trenton, N.J., and one week in New York. Mulick was promoted on his first day to key production assistant.

“I was the head of the production assistant department and had the least experience, but they loved me,” he says. “I learned the ropes as I went. I faked it a bit. I always made it look like I was busy. I walked fast and deliberately. Whatever I was pretending to do, I made it look important. It worked well.”

Mulick moved to California with the movie for the last two weeks of shooting. He progressed to second-second assistant director while filming commenced in Carmel, Calif., by then having a good idea what the job entailed.

“I just moved out to L.A. with the movie and never left,” he says. “I had planned to move to L.A., and I was told that to become a screenwriter I’d have to, and this was a perfect, though perhaps a little crazy, opportunity.”

Tinsel Town
When Mulick first moved out to the Golden State, he lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica with five roommates. They lived right down the street from the American Cinematheque. Unemployed at the time, Mulick would walk down to the theater every night and stay well past closing time, partly because one of his roommates was the manager.

“That was kind of an idealized time for me,” he says. “I had no job and no money but had free popcorn and double features every night.”

Since then, Mulick’s career has picked up. He worked on a TV show called “The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman” with actress Laura Kightlinger. He was a key production assistant, working 17-hour days for weeks, all on location.

He then moved into the hip-hop music video world after being hired on Chris Brown’s “Wall To Wall” video.

“I fell in with big-budget music video filmmakers, back when budgets were big,” he says. “On my second day in the office, the producer, Roger Ubina, asked me to stay on as his assistant, and I’m still with them to this day. I became a treatment writer for their directors, and I’m now on their roster of video directors.”

Ubina introduced Mulick to Cannon, who’s also an executive at Nickelodeon, for which Mulick wrote and directed two TV movies. Mulick met Cannon on the set of a Mariah Carey video, and Cannon knew Mulick was a writer, so he asked Mulick if he was interested in writing a tween movie called “School Gyrls” with him.

“I went to his house to talk about the story line, excited to write for him,” he says. “I wrote the entire screenplay in about five days and sent it to the producers. I then sent it to Nick, and he was surprised I could write so fast with such sound structure. I was writing that fast because I didn’t want him to talk to another writer in the meantime. I never write that fast now because I don’t get great results.”

The movie premiered on Nickelodeon rather quickly, and less than a year later, a second “School Gyrls” movie, co-directed by Mulick and Cannon was released that.

Since then, Mulick has directed 15 music videos, recently completing one for Universal Music Group and another for Atlantic Records. However, he wants to progress to more dramatic film.

“Continuing to make music videos I’m proud of is rewarding and challenging, but writing is my focus,” he says. “Music videos can be a creative outlet. Commercials, which I aspire to direct, help pay the rent, and feature films take a long time and a lot of luck.

“However, I’m fortunate because I can always be working on a script while hustling to book music videos and pushing myself into commercials,” he adds. “It’s a great way to prepare for feature films.”

Mulick recently began writing a feature film in partnership with Cannon’s Ncredible entertainment company. Photography for the film is scheduled this spring.

Roark isn’t surprised about Mulick’s success because of his maturity and focus, which is needed in such a competitive field. He also has a sense of humor about himself.

“Dylan was meant to write because he actually does it,” Roark says. “He benefitted from a liberal arts education that was broad. He read a lot of different stuff, which stretches you, and you benefit from that as a writer.” JCU

For more information about Mulick and his work, visit www.dylanmulick.com.


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