Iconic screenwriter discusses networking, persistence in virtual talk

By Emma Kaden

Persistence has been a hallmark of screenwriter Norman Steinberg’s career, starting in the ‘60s when he regularly tried to make of famed comedy writer Mel Brooks his mentor when he’d run into Brooks at a New York City coffee shop. 

Brooks repeatedly brushed him off and finally, to get rid of him, handed Steinberg a business card and said, “Call this guy.”

That guy was the producer of “Get Smart,” which as Steinberg explained during a Feb. 16 virtual talk at the Career Center, 618 S. Michigan Ave., was a crucial break in his career as a screenwriter and producer for films and TV shows that included “Blazing Saddles,” “Doctor Doctor” and “Flip.”

A crowd of 20 students listened with rapt attention as Steinberg advised them how to break into the TV and film industry.

Moderated by Richard Petrizzi, an adjunct professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department, the talk focused on the importance of networking and following your role models’ career paths to achieve your goals.

“If you want to start a career, what you’re going to have to do is go somewhere,” Steinberg said. “And when you get there, show up with a lot of passion.”

He said there is no single way to succeed in the TV and film industry, noting, “There’s no career path here, except the one you choose.”

Petrizzi echoed Steinberg’s comments about networking and approaching people for advice.

“You will be surprised how people, and famous people, will talk to you,” he said.

Petrizzi stressed that networking is an essential tactic.

“You need gentle persistence. You need to continue to press and have some facts behind you, and not just write, but produce,” Petrizzi said. “If you are not out there gently pressing, if you are not out there networking … maybe you’re wasting your time.”

Tim Nolan, a senior cinema and television arts major, said the talk reinforced his drive and passion to succeed in TV writing and production.

Angela Sheridon, creative industry liaison at the Career Center, said she’s looking forward to seeing how the Career Center uses technology, as it did with this talk, to showcase people from around the country. She also said people like Steinberg are important contacts for students to make and instructors like Petrizzi can be valuable as well.

“[A huge] takeaway for any of the students is that an instructor is doing everything he can to use some of his industry connections and resources, including the Career Center, to make it happen, not just for his students, but for all students,” Sheridon told The Chronicle.

Petrizzi said he hoped the talk would jumpstart the students’ career activity.

“Hopefully, it’s given them an opportunity to find another networking network to go to, and maybe it’s even lifted the fire a little bit more,” Petrizzi said.

This talk is one of a series with industry professionals and the next two sessions will be with a cinematographer and a news editor at Channel 7.

Other events planned by the Career Center include a job and internship fair in April, an advertising career night on March 4, and the Chicago Feminist Film Festival on March 8.