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LSU Alumnus Hosts Hollywood Workshop for Aspiring Actors and Moviemakers

LSU alumnus Michael Papajohn discusses his Action Actor Academy and shows clips from his movies.
Video courtesy Michael Papajohn

Hollywood is where dreams become reality. It’s where a pen salesman can go on to rule the seas as Captain Jack Sparrow, where a carpenter can become the pilot of the Millennium Falcon, and where a bartender can get voted “Miss Congeniality.”

The rags-to-riches “Hollywood Dream” draws people to Los Angeles from all over the world; people with stars in their eyes who dream of one day being the next Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, or Sandra Bullock.

But becoming an actor isn’t as easy as stepping off a bus on Sunset Boulevard and waiting for a talent scout to discover you. Los Angeles is filled with ex-actors and actresses who found out the hard way that the path to the silver screen isn’t as straightforward as following a yellow brick road.

To make it in Hollywood, you need help.

And that’s where LSU alumnus and Hollywood veteran Michael Papajohn comes in.

When Papajohn’s LSU baseball career ended in 1988, he took a job on a whim serving as Dennis Quaid’s stunt double in Everybody’s All-American. Before he knew it, Papajohn was among the top stunt men in Hollywood, doing everything from sliding off the deck of the RMS Titanic in James Cameron’s Oscar-winning epic to tackling people as Adam Sandler’s personal stunt double in The Waterboy.

Speaking roles soon followed, and Papajohn has done everything from killing Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Spider-Man, to tussling with Moon Bloodgood’s Blair Williams in Terminator: Salvation, to repairing motorcycles as Megan Fox’s recently incarcerated ex-con father Cal in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Now a 23-year veteran of the film industry, Papajohn is preparing to open the doors to Hollywood for anyone interested in making it big on the big screen by hosting the inaugural Action Actor Academy in New Orleans on June 4-5.

“People were contacting me on Twitter and Facebook wanting me to meet with their son or their daughter,” said Papajohn of the Academy’s origin. “They were saying, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you in this movie, how are you doing it?’ Getting so many of those messages, it came to me. I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do an event. I’m going to do this, but I’m going to bring in people, contacts that I know, and put together an event.’”

Michael Papajohn works with director Michael Bay on the set of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."
Photo courtesy Michael Papajohn

The panel Papajohn put together for the Action Actor Academy is a veteran one, with years of experience in a variety of fields. Among the speakers will be photographer Peter Hurley, who has worked with everyone from LOST’s Evangeline Lilly to model and actress Beau Garrett; Cheryl Wheeler-Duncan, a stuntwoman whose credits include Friday the 13th, Charlie’s Angels, The Thomas Crown Affair and Die Hard 2; Bo Eason, a former safety for the Houston Oilers who has acted alongside Tommy Lee Jones, Edward Norton Jr. and Colin Farrell; Johnny Martin, who went from sliding off the deck of the Titanic alongside Papajohn to producing movies staring Cuba Gooding Jr., Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, James Woods, and Burt Reynold; and, as they say on television, some “very special guest stars.”

The two-day-long Action Actor Academy is designed to give anyone interested in a movie career—whether they want to be in front of the camera or behind it—the tools they will need to make it in an industry that can be rough on the unprepared.

“What I see them learning is a plan to guide them and give them direction to do the same thing I did,” said Papajohn. “They’ll leave there with a structured plan of how to do it. I’ve done some good things, I got some things right.

“I knew I was really excited about it when I said to myself, ‘I wish I had this to go to when I was coming up.’ This event would’ve saved me 10-15 years of struggling and making bad decisions, where I thought I had a plan but did things that cost me years.”

Academy participants will work alongside industry veterans throughout the event, giving them experience that will be invaluable as they pursue their own dreams of fame and fortune.

“It’ll be an intimate space where we can work hand in hand with people, guiding them, showing them,” said Papajohn. “They’ll be able to work with a panel who’s been in the industry 20-25 years.”

Hosting the academy in New Orleans is more than just a nod to the Alabama-born actor’s Southern roots. It’s a clear acknowledgement that Louisiana is increasingly becoming a major force in the movie industry.

The film industry in the Pelican State has come a long way since Papajohn filmed Everybody’s All-American in Tiger Stadium more than 20 years ago. In 2010 alone, more than 80 movies were filmed in Louisiana, including blockbusters The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and Green Lantern. A tax incentive program implemented in 2002 is drawing more and more filmmakers to Louisiana, where the more than 360 movies made in the last nine years have generated more than $3 billion for the local economy and have turned the state into the “Hollywood of the South.”

Former LSU baseball player Michael Papajohn talks to director Sam Raimi about a scene in "For the Love of the Game."
Photo courtesy Michael Papajohn

But former Tiger Papajohn, who knows the inner-workings of the movie industry as well as anyone, knows that New Orleans, and indeed the rest of Louisiana, also offer more than just tax breaks and a scenic setting for movies like Interview With the Vampire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Runaway Jury.

“It’s Southern hospitality,” said Papajohn. “They take care of crews and production teams, so when a movie with a $100 million budget comes to town they call another production team [who has filmed here] and ask, ‘How was it in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Shreveport?’ They’d say, ‘It was great.’ That word of mouth about the Southern hospitality cornered the market.

“I was in a hotel lobby and saw some crew members that I knew, and when I went to the French Quarter I saw some stunt guys that I knew. Wherever I went I was seeing someone I knew, but they were all working on different movies. That’s when I thought, ‘I feel like I’m in Hollywood right now, but I’m actually in New Orleans.’”

For more information about the Action Actor Academy, including registration and accommodation, visit www.michaelpapajohn.com. Also, “Like” LSU on Facebook to find out how you can win a scholarship to attend the Action Actor Academy for free.

Banner photo Eddy Perez/University Relations.