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'Garden State' Director Braff Returns as Film Teacher

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April 21, 2005
Zach Braff

Zach Braff


Northwestern alumnus Zach Braff — a rising star of television and movies — came back to class April 19, assuming the teacher's role in front of an audience of eager filmmaking and acting students.

The students packed Pick-Laudati Auditorium for an up-close look at a local success story and also to get some answers.

After watching Braff's breakout movie “Garden State,” students asked him questions about the movie industry and the challenge of writing, directing and acting in the same movie.

Students were eager to learn how he broke into the industry after graduating from the School of Communication in 1997.

“You just have to keep trying, no matter how many people say no," he said.

Braff showed off his directing skills when he recounted a key scene in "Garden State" with co-star Natalie Portman. The scene — a tight shot of the two actors sitting in a bathtub — employed what he called dueling cameras, which was useful in enabling Braff and Portman to construct a genuine dialogue as they sat for hours and talked, playing off each other's words and capturing real reactions.

Braff filled the hour-long session with humorous stories and jokes, keeping the audience engaged throughout. But he ended the event on a serious note, relaying a memorable lesson learned from fellow filmmaker Kevin Smith at a similar event during his Northwestern days.

“Kevin Smith said he would never take a ‘by credit’ for a film,” Braff said. “Because a film is not made by just one person, but by the 100 or 200 people who all worked on it together.”

Following the afternoon Q&A, Braff hosted a second, campus-wide question and answer at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall open to the entire Northwestern community.