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As the academic year draws to a close, it’s time to congratulate professor Paul Larsen on his retirement after 25 years of teaching at the U.

Larsen has been a key figure in the U’s Film & Media Arts program. As screenwriting professor, he has influenced countless students and encouraged a vibrant storytelling culture. In fact, professor Hubbel Palmer was a student of Larsen’s. “Paul Larsen is the best writing teacher I've ever had. When I walked into his classroom for the first time many years ago, I was immediately struck by his wisdom, insight and humor,” Palmer said. “He has a peace and a stillness about him that somehow buoys your wavering creative confidence. He inspired me to believe that if I wanted to be a screenwriter, I could be. I just had to be willing to work at it.”

In addition to Palmer, Larsen has mentored many students who have gone on to have successful writing careers. “The one thing 95% of our successful alumni in Los Angeles have in common is one or more sections of Paul’s screenwriting course in their past,” said U Film professor Kevin Hanson. “It seems that understanding story and being able to write are skills worth developing.”

In celebration of Larsen’s career, here are some memories of Paul from his previous students and U alumni.  

“When I started graduate school and walked into Paul's evening class, I remember his baseball cap tilted low and the hint of mischief in his eyes; I felt I was walking into a laboratory where we were going to blow stuff up. His class became an oasis for me, a place where I fell in love with writing and the act of working with other writers around a common table. We wrote about life and love, and we raged against the things we felt powerless against. I'm sure all of us felt the joy of what Paul was helping us to discover: that creative writing and staking our place in the world are very much the same journey. As he retires, I hope we do him proud--baseball caps on! Let's blow things up!”
— Lee Isaac Chung (MFA ‘04), Academy-Award writer and director of "Minari" and the upcoming "Twisters"

“[Paul] is a thunderstorm. A distance, powerful force that beckons. And if you have the courage to follow, he’ll teach you how to catch lightning in a bottle. Anyone who’s taken Paul’s class in the last 15 years has probably heard the story he tells of a young writer who, back in the days of the old OSH building, jumped up on the desk in a desperate attempt to get their pages read.  Well, I was that young writer.  Back then, competition to get your pages read was steep.  So, you had to advocate for yourself and force your work out there.  It certainly taught me a valuable lesson.  Be persistent and outspoken in your work and about your work. On a personal note, I’d just like to say that I owe a lot to that good man.  No amount of thanks is enough.  So, please allow me the chance to thank him publicly.  For inspiring me. For believing in me. And for showing me that my little corner of the world could be bigger, if I only wrote it so.”
— Anaya Fakhraie (BA ’08), writer of "Gaslit" and "Orphan Black: Echoes"

“Simply put, Paul is a wonderful teacher. With sensitive artists, it doesn't take much to crush their spirit--and sadly, with many professors, that is often the case. Writing can be a very vulnerable process. And being a writer himself (a fantastic and incredibly accomplished writer, at that) Paul understands what it's like to put your heart on the page. That may be why he always focused on the positive. He taught me the craft, the form, how to be economic with my words... But it was his warm demeanor and kind smile that I remember most. Yes, Paul taught screenwriting, but he also showed us how to be generous and respectful of other artists' work. Paul shined a light on the aspects of a script that made his students unique. He encouraged us to tell the stories that we wanted to tell--whether that was high-concept action, or contained character drama--and he never allowed his own personal taste to become an obstacle to helping his students find their own voice. He certainly set me on a path to discovering my voice, and cultivated my burgeoning talent at a time when I needed it most. For that, I will be forever grateful.”
— Enzo Mileti (BA ‘), writer on "Fargo" and "Snowfall," show runner of upcoming HBO adaptation of Bong Joon-ho’s "Parasite"

Larsen has been awarded the title of Associate Professor (Lecturer) Emeritus in recognition of his significant service to the institution. The Department of Film & Media Arts wishes Paul all the best on his next adventures.

Merritt Mecham 

Merritt Mecham is a writer based in Salt Lake City. Her work has appeared in Bright Wall / Dark Room, The Female Gaze, RogerEbert.Com, and City Weekly, Salt Lake City’s Alt Weekly newspaper. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Film & Television from Emerson College. Prior to joining the College of Fine Arts, Merritt worked for the U’s Film & Media Department, Sundance Film Festival, and KSL NewsRadio. Outside of work, Merritt is an avid movie-theater-goer, and enjoys collecting hobbies— from beading to painting to cooking to embroidery.

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