Q&A with alumnus, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Alumnus Andrew Kevin Walker graduated from the film program at Penn State in 1986 and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he has written the screenplays for and otherwise been involved in some  big hits, ranging from "Se7en" with Brad Pitt, "Sleepy Hollow" with Johnny Depp, "8MM" with Nicolas Cage and "The Wolfman" with Benicio Del Toro. His on-screen acting credits include Dead Man in his first big movie, "Seven," and the role of Sleepy Neighbor in "Panic Room."

Walker, who can be found on Twitter at @andykevinwalker, was back on campus recently to talk with current Penn State film students about the business and his career and he offered to answer some questions for us.

Who are some of the Penn Staters who had the biggest impact on you when you studied here?

Andrew Kevin Walker: Well, all my professors in all areas of study were super, but a few of my very faves were the great Dorn Hetzel, in the film program, which was part of the School of Arts and Architecture back then, and Tom Keiter [now with WPSU] was also a fantastic teacher whom I was lucky to have classes with. And I was influenced incredibly by my screenwriting professor, Jeff Rush. He teaches at Temple now, I believe. These days, if Jeff read my stuff, I don't know what he'd think of some of it, but everything he taught me is still a big part of the "craft" I strive to apply to my writing, and he and all of my film instructors instilled in me a love of moviemaking as ART.

You were born in Altoona, grew up near Harrisburg and studied here in State College. Is there anything about central Pennsylvania you miss now that you live in Los Angeles?

Walker: I love Pennsylvania and love getting back for visits. In L.A., you don't get a full-on, crisp autumn, that's for sure, and you end up missing snow and winter, or at least I do. But a little true winter goes a long way, eh? I mean, you don't miss driving in snow, and you don't really miss walking out your front door and having your face freeze off.

When you were not in class or a film lab at Penn State you probably went to The Diner for stickies, the Creamery, hung out at Café 210 West, and roamed the HUB and Pattee like the rest of us. Where do you spend your spare time in L.A.?

Walker: Well, I'm a true film nerd. There are great theaters out here, like the ArcLight Cinemas, the Cinerama Dome, Grauman's Chinese, and the Vista in Los Feliz. Oh, and also the incredible Cinefamily. We've got terrific museums, like MOCA [Los  Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art], and the L.A. County Museum of Art, where there's a great Stanley Kubrick exhibit right now, and excellent theater at the Geffen Playhouse, and downtown at the Mark Taper Forum.

However, as a writer, you're mostly a shut-in, if you're doing it right. 

The University has many accomplished alumni who have worked in the movie and television industry, going all the way back to Julius Epstein who wrote the classic Bogart movie, "Casablanca." Do you ever spend time with other Penn Staters working in Hollywood?

Walker: I started out in NYC for five years first, but a whole bunch of friends from PSU film ended up out here in Los Angeles. Many of us are still in touch, daily in some cases. There are Penn State alumni EVERYWHERE, as you know, and L.A. is no exception.

Your career has put you in the middle of some of the biggest directors and actors in the business. Who are some of the professionals you really enjoyed working with and respect?

Walker: It's hard to be specific here. I feel privileged ... lucky to even be doing this, and for so many years. My last real job was working at the Tower Records on 66th and Broadway, in the early '90s.

"Se7en" was a once-in-a-lifetime, better-than-you-could-ever-wish-for experience, beginning to end. It's the one that can't be taken away from me, and I'm grateful to every single person involved, and I also hope that I am sufficiently appreciative of the real, true friendships I have now which came about as a result some of the life-paths that crossed on that movie.

I've had more than my fair share of positive experiences on other films. Conversely, I've gotten what I thought were "bad" notes on scripts I've worked on. There have been certain disappointments to be dealt with. There is such a thing as "Development Hell," for example. It all goes with the territory of being a screenwriter, which as I like to say is often akin to being a manic-depressive. I think all writing is like that emotionally, to a certain extent.

A number of your movie themes are dark. Could you ever write a comedy?

Walker: I try to put humor in everything I write, regardless of the genre. I feel it's important. I did write a few straight "comedy" scripts, one of which we're trying to make now into an animated film. Don't want to say too much, but I'll keep you posted.

What is your favorite movie of those you have written, produced or acted in during the past 17 years and why?

Walker: Very proud of "Se7en," did I mention? Ha. I'm fond of the two BMW shorts I worked on, part of the series "The Hire," which BMW did. And I really dig this episode I wrote long ago of an obscure HBO show called "Perversions of Science." Amazing cast, and directed by Tobe Hooper.

I'm happy with certain things I rewrote for David Fincher; movies I don't have a credit on. On the flipside, there are movies with my name on them -- sometimes as sole credited writer, ironically -- that were rewritten by others beyond all recognition, embarrassingly so, that I never have seen, nor will I ever see, such as "8MM." Oh well.

Do you have any future projects you can talk about, something you hope to see on the big or small screen some day?

Walker: You never know what might eventually get produced, so I don't think I'll jinx anything by listing specifics. We'll see. My motto in all of this has always been, "hope for the best and expect the worst."

Last Updated December 12, 2012