Middlebury Alumni Win Big at Oscars

By RILEY BOARD

ANDREW H. WALKER
Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman,Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – Animated Feature – ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’
91st Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA – 24 Feb 2019

Two Middlebury alumni took the stage last Sunday — at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, for their Oscars acceptance speeches. Rodney Rothman ’95 won the award for best animated feature as the co-writer and co-director of “Into the Spider-Verse”; Brian Currie ’83 accepted two awards for “Green Book”, best original screenplay and best picture.

For Rothman, the Oscars ceremony was a culmination of three years working on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, and 25 years working in the industry. The animated film, which focuses on a teenager named Miles Morales who becomes the new Spider-Man, was produced by Sony Pictures Animation, and is the first non-Disney or Pixar film to win in eight years. The award was surreal for Rothman, who was unable to wrap his mind around the achievement on the night of the Oscars.

“It really wasn’t until the next morning in some ways that I could even begin to get my head around the fact that something I’d been working really hard toward for a long time had happened,” he said. “Something that I never really expect was going to happen for me.”

Rothman described the process of creating “Spider-Verse” and of tackling an ambitious project outside of the comfort zones of its creators.

“We weren’t working for Pixar or Disney, we were just making a movie that we thought was really cool and that we were psyched about, and we were trying to do things in a movie that we had never done before,” Rothman explained.

However, that ambition paid off, and “Spider-Verse”, as Rothman put it, “took on a life of its own.” Through the support and enthusiasm of fans, the film saw massive success; it’s quality was noted by Middlebury professor of Film Jason Mittell.

“Spider-Verse was certainly the best animated film I’ve seen in years, and arguably the most effective superhero film — including live-action — ever made in capturing the essence of the comics genre,” praised Mittel. “The animation style was groundbreaking in a way that supported its storytelling and tone, using visuals to make a very complex story both comprehensible and emotionally engaging.”

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After “Spider-Verse” landed well with audiences, it was only a matter of time before Rothman confronted the possibility of winning an Academy Award. “At a certain point we realized we had a shot at winning an Oscar. It was a shock, but it was also plainly happening in front of us,” he explained.

Rothman credits the foundations of his career in TV and film to his time in the Otter Nonsense Players improv group while at Middlebury. The school community was incredibly supportive of the Otters, treating performers to crowded audiences at every performance, and the environment allowed the group, and Rothman, to develop new forms of comedy that merged with storytelling — a space that he “likes to play in as a writer and filmmaker today.”

He also noted that the culture at Middlebury was ideal for growing as a performer and writer: “People appreciated what I was doing and that pushed me to try new things. Ideas I had at Middlebury are concepts that I’ve continued to develop for years, and decades.”

Otters have gone on to see great success in Hollywood — Jason Mantzoukas, with whom Rothman lead the improv group 25 years ago, is a successful comedic actor, as is Jessica St. Clair, who was also a part of the Players. “We all see each other all the time,” Rothman noted, and then joked, “There must be something going on in the fruit punch in Proctor.”

Rothman was also a columnist and editor with The Campus, and wrote several Saturday Night Live jokes used on air during Weekend Update, as well as his application for The Late Show with David Letterman (a position he was hired for) from our Hepburn basement offices.

Brian Currie ’83 received his Oscars this Sunday after several awards for “Green Book” accumulated over the last several months. The film, which tells the story of a black pianist, his white driver, and a friendship they developed on a tour through the South in 1962, has faced criticism for promoting the “white savior” concept. Additionally, it faced backlash after the surviving family of Donald Shirley, on whom the main character is based, accused the filmmakers of historical inaccuracy and exaggerating the friendship between the two men.  

Film professor Jason Mittell compared the two films that won awards for Middlebury alumni and their various successes, and addressed the controversies of “Greenbook”: “The character of Miles Morales created a sophisticated mixed-race protagonist in ways that many have said is more grounded and impactful than almost all live-action films. Certainly it’s notable that an animated film seemed to represent a more nuanced and realistic relationship between black and white characters than the official Best Picture did.”

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About the Writer
RILEY BOARD, Arts and Academics Editor

Riley Grey Board '22 is an Arts & Academics Editor from Sarasota, Fla.

She previously served as a staff writer and Community Council correspondent.

Board...

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Middlebury Alumni Win Big at Oscars