The Learning Curve: Director Phil McCarty talks David Sedaris and Matthew Gray Gubler



Last week, the college sponsored the first Monadnock International Film Festival, hosted in Keene, N.H. MONiff created opportunities for Keene State College film students to experience the professional filmmaking world. Whether it was showing their trailers on the big screen or discussing script writing with directors, the KSC film crew enjoyed three days of being submerged in the career of their dreams. However, in the short film “The Learning Curve,” education students were the ones who received tribute on the silver screen.





“The Learning Curve” won the award for Audience’s Favorite Short out of the seven short films screened during the festival. The film, directed by Phil McCarty, features actor Matthew Gray Gubler in the story of Mr. Sedaris, a fresh-out-of-college professor who starts teaching a creative writing class. Inexperienced and young, Mr. Sedaris’s expectations of success on his first day of class crash when he encounters a group of college students who are not very excited to see him, and moreover, don’t really seem to have any interest in writing whatsoever.

Throughout the film, the audience sees Mr. Sedaris struggle and eventually succeed in finding a method to connect with his students and motivate them to be writers. “If the students and the teachers are roughly the same age, it is harder for him to establish control of the classroom. That draws more tension in the story,” McCarty said.

KSC education major and senior Devlyn Bent, who currently student-teaches at Conant High School in Jaffrey, N.H., said, “You always have all these expectations before you teach; sometimes things don’t go as you planned.” Bent attended the screening of “The Learning Curve” in The Colonial Theatre. For her, “the movie was very interesting and made me feel identified. In some case you can see that even though he struggles to control his class, the students feel more comfortable because he is young, so it easier for them to share things and kind of talk about anything with him.” The story presents a humorous approach to Mr. Sedaris’s unconventional teaching methods. However, it reflects upon the idea that education is not limited to a certain degree of seriousness, and that college professors and students can actually joke around and still complete a learning process. Also, it presents a good example of the transition education majors will experience once they step out of Keene State College and walk into a different classroom, now distributing name tags (homemade in Mr. Sedaris’s case) instead of wearing them.

“I am the only one that gets paid to be in this room. You are paying to be here,” Mr. Sedaris said almost by the end of the film. For him, the statement might not have a good outcome (when a students asks how much he gets paid, the magic is gone). However, isn’t the paycheck the least important thing when you truly feel passion for what you do?



Adaptation of an essay by David Sedaris

The short film “The Learning Curve” is an adaptation of an essay by writer and professor David Sedaris. According to McCarty, when Sedaris received a proposal to adapt his text for the screen, he didn’t seem very convinced “He said that he really didn’t like people modifying his work and that he was not very sure about it,” McCarty said. However, after some time time, Sedaris showed enthusiasm towards the project. “He said he really like the way we illustrated the idea. He was very excited about it,” McCarty said.

McCarty read all of David Sedaris’s books in order to be able present the character on the screen in a fair way. “You get a pretty strong feeling of what he is about, what he likes and dislikes, and you can infuse that into the character.”



Casting: ‘Matthew sounds smart’

Certainly one of the features that could hook a big audience with “The Learning Curve” is its leading actor. Matthew Gray Gubler, well-known by suspense fans for his role as Dr. Spencer Reid on the show “Criminal Minds,” is a face many would not miss the opportunity to look at.


Anyone who has seen Dr. Reid knows that his brains are way above the average. And this is one of those cases that in order to look smart, one must be smart. Dr. Reid is a psychologist and criminal profiler who works for the Behavioral Analysis Unit in the FBI. In addition to being one of the main characters on “Criminal Minds,” Gubler has taken the director’s seat on several occasions, directing episodes 16 in season five, 18 in season six and 19 in season seven.

Regarding Gubler’s performance as Mr. Sedaris, Philip McCarty said, “[Gubler’s] natural persona is kind of very similar to Sedaris.” Producer Phree Swearingen said, “Matthew was just right for the role, he was our first choice, he found himself in the character quickly.” Philips referred to the importance of a well-done casting process. “If you cast correctly, you almost don’t have to do any work. Matthew sounds smarts and that makes everything a lot easier.”

After seeing Gubler in the “The Learning Curve,” and comparing that to his role in “Criminal Minds,” one can say, like most of Hollywood’s greatest actors, he leaves his personal sign in the characters he plays. So far, that particular print seems to be a combination of intelligence and charm.



Visual effects: The Chalkboard

When asked about animation used in the film, McCarty said he believed “it was one of the best ideas we came up with. At the beginning we used it less, but the one of the producers said we should take more advantage of it, and we did.” Through the short, the chalkboard in Mr. Sedaris’ class almost plays a main character. Words and drawings that appear in the board at different points illustrate some of Mr. Sedaris’s feelings and describe his behavior.

The actor’s performance combined with the narration and the animation tell the viewers how the character deals with the emotions his job is creating and struggles with a situation that is rather new to him. More than a happy coincidence, the fact that “The Learning Curve” approached the topic of education can be seen almost as a reward for KSC’s involvement in the MONiff.

The college was one of the biggest sponsors of the event and contributed not only by funding the festival and facilitating the Putman Theatre for screening films but provided enthusiastic hands that made the weekend very successful. “The Learning Curve,” the unintended gift from MONiff to KSC, is a piece teachers and soon-to-be teachers could enjoy and should watch in order to perceive a different perspective and approach on youth socialization and education.



Source: Keene-Equinox