Visiting Professor Peter Lauer Shares Real-World TV Experience with Students
Peter Lauer’s 40-year career as a director of television and streaming video began unexpectedly with his first job working for MTV in the 1980s.
“I didn’t know what a director did, and I had no one to show me,” he says. “If you had an idea, they would send you off into the streets of New York to go shoot stuff.”
The position soon segued into an opportunity to direct a pilot for HBO even though [he] "didn’t go to film school and didn’t really have the skills necessary,” Lauer says. The experience launched a lifelong quest to learn more about his craft and develop and refine a method that works.
Lauer is currently serving as the first-ever “Wolzien Visiting Professor of the Practice,” teaching as a member of the Media, Film & Journalism Studies (MFJS) faculty for both winter and spring quarters.
Lauer’s position as Wolzien Visiting Professor of the Practice was funded by a generous $500,000 gift from DU Alumni Tom and Valerie Wolzien. The gift will also allow the department to bring on a different visiting professor each year for the next four years.
“DU was instrumental in our futures a half century ago, and now we want to do what we can to be instrumental for DU’s next half century,” Tom Wolzien said.
Lauer counts episodes of “Emily in Paris,” “Uncoupled,” “Arrested Development,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Pushing Daises,” “Chuck,” “The Gilmore Girls” and “Awkward,” among the TV shows he's worked on. Lauer previously taught at the University of Arizona and UCLA Extension.
Lauer is teaching “Directing Film and Television” this quarter, and will take on “Story and Visual Design” and “Satire and Politics in Television and Film” in the spring. His current class provides students with an overview of what a director does with a focus on three crucial elements—story, performance and design.
"The most important skill a director must have is script development,” he says. “We’re spending lots of time nailing down what that means because script development informs every creative conversation a director has all the way through postproduction and promoting a film.”
Students will also look at the crucial role of casting and character descriptions in addition to what actually ends up on screen. Lauer describes the process succinctly: "What you shoot and how you shoot it, or what we’re showing and how we show it."
Lauer says he hopes that students from his winter class will continue on with one of his spring courses—particularly, "Story and Visual Design."
"[It] breaks down the process of what goes on the screen and makes the material tangible through students teaming up to direct and film a project,” he says.
In his other spring class, "Satire and Politics in Television and Film," Lauer will address important issues like race through a satirical lens.
“I’m excited about that,” he says. “In fraught, contentious times like the ones we’re living in, satire can play a very important role.”
Lauer says he hopes to demystify the directorial methods he's developed and "...provide a clear pathway for how to do it that builds confidence and engages people’s unique creativity."
Lauer adds that he considers himself lucky to have built strong relationships through his work, recalling that he “...worked with fabulous cinematographers and wonderful writers, comedians and actors."
"I want students to come out of these classes chomping at the bit to go shoot their next thing," he says.
Lauer will speak at two Wolzien lectures, the first of which will be held Feb. 8 from 5:30-8 p.m. in Margery Reed Hall, Room 113, Reiman Theater. The panel will be moderated by MFJS Chair and Associate Professor Derigan Silver and will include Department of Theatre Professor Anne Penner and MFJS Associate Professor Lauren DeCarvalho.