What makes Columbia Heights produce so many Hollywood screenwriters?

The Columbia Heights municipal website talks about the City Hall elevator and Abraham Lincoln’s funeral car, which was once on display in the city. But that doesn’t mention that neighbor to Minneapolis’s north might be Minnesota’s epicenter of humor.

A surprising number of Columbia Heights High School alumni have gone on to become screenwriters of films, mostly comedies.

There would be hardly anything funny from the mid 80s to the mid 80s without 1965 graduate Pat Proft, whose credits include the films “Police Academy”, “Real Genius”, “The Naked Gun”, “Bachelor” Party “and some of the” Horror Movies “.

Among the school’s 1963 graduates, Mike McManus, Greg Norberg, and Tom Sherohman have occasionally collaborated with Proft, writing and producing credits that include “Mr. Magoo,” “Mafia!” and “hot shots! “

And there’s a lot of laughs in the work of 1984 graduate Nick Schenk, author of three Clint Eastwood films, including “Gran Torino” and “Cry Macho” from this fall.

Some might say that there is something in the water of Columbia Heights. But Kristen Stuenkel, director of community education and communications for the school district, thinks there is something in the classrooms. Her informal research comes from interviews with the recipients of the high school’s Alumni of Distinction Award, which Proft won in 2011.

“They talk a lot about how the teachers gave great instruction but went above and beyond to engage the students,” said Stuenkel, who also notes that the Heights Theater made it easy to get hooked on movies and that Minneapolis doesn’t was only a stone’s throw away. . “They grew up in what is essentially a small town on the outskirts of a big city, so they had the drama of a town literally down Central Avenue, while living in a town where they could go wild. “

In a Zoom interview, Proft (who now lives in Medina), Norberg, McManus and Schenk (who are all in California) explained why they think so many Hylanders were successful in the movies (Sherohman died in 2018). The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On the beginnings of writing

Schenk: I got into it, like the rest of my life, because I have no skills. A friend and I started doing cable comedies.

Benefit: It’s all I ever wanted to do, acting. I treated every school I was in like a vaudeville scene.

Schenk: My hair fell out in eighth grade. You learn to be funny.

McManus: A guy named Stu Anderson, the theater coach, pushed Greg, Pat, and me into plays and skits. He was the cool teacher.

Benefit: His class was a mishmash. The improvisations would begin.

Norberg: And he was the father of [eventual “MacGyver” star] Richard Dean Anderson.

Humor on the heights

Benefit: I’ve always hung out with funny people in Columbia Heights. There were many of them.

McManus: Pat and I used to walk around with an 8mm camera and movie skits at the barber shop and Huset Park, for our own amusement.

Schenk: We did Super-8 movies with my only rich friend who could afford to develop this stuff. I think Heights gives you a solid foundation and you carry that decency with you.

On the way to comedy

Benefit: After graduating we started having fun at the Brave New Workshop.

McManus: It was the start for a lot of people.

Benefit: Half of the Brave New Workshop was originally from Columbia Heights.

Schenk: We did little skits like a mock hunting show. We grew up with [outdoorsman] Babe Winkelman and all the fishing shows, so we did “Clown Hunting” instead of “Deer Hunting”, by attaching clowns to the hood of the car.

Norberg: We started doing skits and stuff for high school support rallies.

Schenk: Everyone wanted to be Pat and these other guys. It was the goal. Everyone has watched and reviewed these films. When Pat contacted me on Facebook, I was stunned. Also, coming from Minnesota, [comedy] was the only big ticket.

On the use of paper

Benefit: Sometimes I don’t have a story. I just think, “Sounds interesting,” and I get by. I have pieces of paper everywhere.

Schenk: To this day I still write like that [holds up a sheet of scrawled-on paper]. It doesn’t sound that bad. You just need to make sure you download them before they make any sense to you.

Norberg: At least you can read your stuff. Working with Proft, he had a pile of old papers on his deck that he hadn’t thrown away. I had no idea. Could not read it.

McManus: These remains date back to high school. We would all be together, writing stuff.

Schenk: When you have a group that’s tight enough, you just try to make yourself laugh. That’s the point. Then the producer comes and [expletive] all that.

Benefit: Twice I have had a [Harvey and/or Bob] Weinstein who suddenly knew comedy.

Norberg: Well, look who’s laughing now.

About penetration in movies

Benefit: We were all stand-up at the Comedy Store and Improv in LA when we started making movies. It was “Hot Shots!” the first one?

McManus: No. the [Ken] Shapiro’s thing, “Groove Tube.”

Benefit: Law. We used to sit in a room, we get fucked by [director] Ken Shapiro. This was around the time when we knew we could get the money to do this. Then I partnered up with Neal Israel. He had gone to a bachelor party and hid under the bed and seen all these crazy things going on. I think we did it for $ 4 million or something and then it was brought to 20th Century Fox. I was lucky. After “Bachelor Party” [Tom Hanks’ second hit], it was: “What do you want to do next?”

Schenk: The first movie I sold was written with Rich Kronfeld, who is from St. Louis Park. It was called “Kevin and Mike’s Daycare” from our cable show. We were so green. When we returned it there were 236 spelling and punctuation mistakes and they thought that was part of the shtick. It was not.

On introducing Minnesota into the scripts

Schenk: I put my friend Tim Kennedy’s name in every script. I put [former WCCO personalities] Don Shelby and Mark Rosen in “The Judge” and I had a heavy rewrite, so its name ended up being Old Shelby Road, instead. So Don called me and said, “Now my name is Old Shelby?” Rosen cut himself off completely.

Benefit: Most of my life I was on Jefferson Street, so there’s usually someone called Jefferson somewhere. Or Sullivan Lake. I have spent a large part of my life there.

Schenk: By Saint-Philippe [Lutheran] Church?

Benefit: Yes. Just behind is the target. I enjoyed living in Columbia Heights and have many fond memories. So I like to slip in the name of a teacher or a park. It’s a kind of “hello” to everyone.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367