Photo by Tim Kay
Photo by Tim Kay
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Ratzenberger visited Regent University's School of Communication & the Arts and talked to students about show business, Hollywood and faith.
"Hollywood sets the beat for culture and customs," he explained. "And Washington marches to that beat. People who give millions to politicians should be giving it to production companies in Hollywood, because that's where the messaging comes from."
Ratzenberger has been named the sixth most successful actor of all time based on his box office sales. His advice was taken to heart by student actors, writers, directors and producers—Ratzenberger has done it all. He started the improvisational comedy group, "Sal's Meat Market," in Bridgeport, Conn., while a student at Sacred Heart University, and made his way to the Golden Coast by the late 70s. He recognized the value of making relationships in the early days.
"The most important thing you're doing here is building a network," he said. "Because the people you're training with are coming up with you. Dig into each other's projects. Don't think you're going to start the hard work later after graduation. It's now."
For the actors in particular, he gave sound advice for being a person that people want to work with. "When you're in it for the long haul, you're not thinking about resumes," he explained. "You're thinking about whether you want to spend every single day with that person for months. Is this somebody I want to spend time with? That's the question everybody's asking."
Equally important for everyone was Ratzenberger's advice about set and meeting etiquette: "Never show up on time. If you're on time, you're late. I can't stress that enough. Show up at least 20 minutes early—everywhere. Nobody wants to hear your excuses."
Ratzenberger wore his Cliff Clavin-esque humor on his sleeve, entertaining a full Studio Theatre with stories from different sets, making up the character of Cliff in the audition room, and even defending his Christian faith to those who don't share it.
"I come at it from a history perspective," he explained. "I kindly remind people that Christians are responsible for the university system and most of Western civilization. That usually shuts 'em up."
Tempering the light-hearted with the heart-felt, Ratzenberger reminded students of what's really important. "You can only be a celebrity for your generation," he said. "If you put your whole heart and soul into this business, it's not going to love you back. Show business does not love you back.
"Your agent won't be next to you when you're breathing your last. It'll be your family, the people who love you. All the fun stuff eventually runs out, but family's what matters."
He took questions from students and faculty, with a brief discussion on faith-based film.
"There's not a lot of money involved in faith-based films and that's a problem, " he said. "Before the 60s, all films were faith-based. Good always won. Then drugs and Easy Rider came along and people found it made money. That's how we got where we are today. We're confused, and we need a clear view of the stories we're telling and the influence they have on us."
With that, he challenged students to make the jump. "We need more Christians in Hollywood. In New York. Chicago," he said. "This business needs you."
As a former ship deckhand and carpenter, Ratzenberger is also a spokesperson for the American manufacturing crisis. His new series, American Made is an offshoot of the Made in America TV documentary series he produced and hosted for the Travel Channel in 2004. It debuts in September.