On Friday, Sept. 24, UR welcomed renowned Hollywood director, producer and entrepreneur Brett Ratner to speak to students in the May Room.
Ratner directed the “Rush Hour” trilogy and the third film in the “X-Men” series in addition to more dramatic films such as “The Family Man.” He has extended his creative expertise to the television world by producing “Prison Break” and he has even spent time directing music videos for new artists such as Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Heavy D.
These are only a few of Ratner’s many achievements, but as he discussed with the audience, he was not necessarily a film prodigy.
Growing up in Miami Beach, Fla., Ratner did not come from a Hollywood legacy. His parents were not affiliated with the film industry, but at 8 years old, after watching “Raging Bull,” he knew that his heart belonged to film. Ratner did his research and upon realizing that all of the best directors went to film school at New York University, could not wait to do the same.
But drive does not transcend the burdens of reality. He had neither the education nor the life experience to be ready to enroll in any college, let alone NYU film school.
Indeed, from a temporal standpoint, 10 years stood between Ratner and his opportunity to formally lay down the foundation for the rest of his life. The characteristic, however, that set Ratner apart from his 8-year-old peers was the fact that he was resourceful. After talking to his mother, he had her petition for him to skip a grade. To Ratner’s satisfaction he was placed two grades ahead and two years closer to cementing his dream.
Years passed and it was finally time for him to apply to NYU’s film school. You would think that he had secured his spot in NYU’s Class of 1990 by having stellar grades and being an overachiever. Wrong.
According to Ratner his grades were not up to par, which, during his visitation to the NYU campus, was the reason that a faculty member in the film school discouraged him from applying. Though he even brought a short film that he produced to show his potential and passion for directing, he was applying to college at a time when grades were all that spoke for an applicant and Ratner simply did not make the cut.
He was devastated. For 16 years he had envisioned NYU as the next step in his life, and in a few moments a complete stranger asserted his lifetime aspiration was a drawn-out delusion.
Yet, Ratner was not going to take no for an answer. Collecting his composure, Ratner went to the dean’s office, talked to the secretary and lucked into an opportunity to plead his case to the head of admissions. He screened the film for the dean and a few days later he received a letter offering admission to the incoming class of students at the prestigious film school. His destiny was once again in his own hands.
Post-graduation, he began making music videos for Def Jam records through a connection he made with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Finally his academics were put to practical application. After making the “Nothin’ But Love” video for Heavy D and the Boyz, — yes, once upon a time MTV actually played music videos — he was getting calls from all the major artists.
Although it was a steady money outlet, Ratner did not want to make music videos — he wanted to make films. He got his chance in 1997 with action-comedy “Money Talks” but gained notoriety after “Rush Hour.” He reached out to a former Def Jam comedian he met years before, Chris Tucker, and knew that he wanted to get Jackie Chan as his partner in crime.
This seemed impossible. Jackie Chan, after previous unsatisfactory experiences with American directors, refused to do Hollywood films.
Ratner, by showing kindness and respect, and humbly admitting that the script sucked but would be fixed, achieved the impossible to produce a comedic classic.
Ratner’s story reveals that, as long as you have passion and are assertive enough to create opportunities for yourself, your dreams can become a reality.
Talent is not enough. There are plenty of people with talent but what makes you successful, ameliorates you from living mundane life, is, very simply, following your heart.
Massie is a member of the class of 2011.