Director John Avildsen Shared Advice At “Speaker Series” Event
By Cheval John
When Sylvester Stallone presented the script for “Rocky” to John Avildsen back in the 70s, he did not know what to expect.
Avildsen had turned down then unknown Stallone, two previous times.
Fortunately, Avildsen decided to direct the movie and because of it, he won the Oscar and was able to share his successful career with the capacity audience in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center (GPAC) on the campus of Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, Texas.
Avildsen’s appearance was part of SHSU’s President’s Speaker Series, a yearly event that transpires in the fall and spring semesters which brings prominent leaders to campus to share a message that will have a tremendous impact on students and the Huntsville community.
The Speakers Series is underwritten by the late Lu Ellen Gibbs and have included prominent guests like David Robinson, former Astros owner Drayton McLane, Debbie Fields and many more.
This semester’s event was produced by Priority One Public Relations, an on-campus public relations service staffed by students, who provide the on-campus colleges, departments, organizations and community with PR services.
Though it is a class, the 11 students that filled this semester’s Priority One team gain practical experience on the day-to-day operations of a public relations firm that will give them a leg up in the job market after they graduate.
It really was an first class event because of the hard work and dedication that Priority One and the staff from SHSU’s Office of the President did.
Avildsen got a first-hand view of the quality production when musicians from SHSU’s School of Music played the “Rocky” intro while he and moderators, Dr. Dana Gibson, President of SHSU and Peter Roussel, Warner Chair of Journalism in the Department of Mass Communication and Priority One’s advisor, was walking towards center stage to commence the event.
From there, Avildsen shared how being persistent in achieving your goals are important and that you have to start somewhere to get the ball rolling.
He said that anyone who has the desire to become a film director have the tools and technology to do it.
Avildsen added that all they need to do is get a camera and shoot anything that interests them.
From the overwhelming success of Rocky in 1976, Avildsen directed many more successful movies.
None more successful than “The Karate Kid,” a 1984 film that went on to become another blockbuster that cemented his legacy in Hollywood and allowed the late Pat Morita to earn an Academy Award nomination.
Avildsen’s life and career is documented in the book, “The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Other Underdogs, that was written by Tom Garrett, Associate Professor in SHSU’s Department of Mass Communication and Larry Powell.
The city of Huntsville, Texas and the SHSU community, who in a sense is an underdog, benefitted greatly from listening to Avildsen, who made a career in depicting underdogs that overcame obstacles to become successful.
As for the Priority One students, they will never forget the opportunity they received in producing an event for an Oscar winner.
Just ask Taryn Gann, one of the members of Priority One.
“I’ve learned throughout Priority One that team work is a huge factor,” Gann said. “I feel that our team at Priority One has definitely come together and we have put our heart and soul into this.”
“No college student can say that I have put on an event for a Oscar winner,” Gann added. “The experience is definitely rewarding.”