Hollywood History: A visit to the American Film Institute

We took a trip into the Hollywood Hills to find a rare copy of the original screenplay for A Few Good Men. A favorite film of ours written by the legendary Aaron Sorkin. Rumor has it that the American Film Institute (AFI) has over 5,000 scripts in physical form and not available online.

Our directions took us in the wrong direction and we ended up among the mansions of the Hills overlooking the Institute. As we backtracked down the steep winding roads Amy kept saying “that looks familiar…who do you think lives here?”.

A quick turn down Los Feliz Blvd and we were in, staring at the old Warner Bros. Building and a beautiful campus of trees, walkways, and high-tech equipment.

Old Warner Bros Building

You see the AFI is in part a learning institution offering a 2-year Master of Fine Arts in all the vital filmmaking disciplines: directing, screenwriting, producing, editing, cinematography, and production design.

At the top of the campus sits the Louis B. Mayer Library with a collection 10,000 books, 1,600 transcripts, the previously mentioned scripts, and, my favorite, the 30+ industry periodicals like THR and Variety.

In the library, Amy nestled into an armchair after securing the Sorkin screenplay and I browsed around. It was like Hollywood heaven or more exactly the “Movie” section at Barnes and Noble, but with exotic and rare books, display cases, and that old dustiness of books.

Eventually I got that feeling like I was in the center of the movie business and settled down to catch up on my daily Variety gossip and weekly THR news.

The AFI is one of those rare institutions created by an act of Congress in 1967 and receiving its initial funding, $1.3 million, from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In that capacity its first role was to serve up films for preservation to the Library of Congress, which it has done with over 20,000 titles covering 1893 to the present day.

The second was to bring “together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th century art form as their life’s work,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the legislation that created AFI.

Since then the Institute has grown dramatically with an annual budget of $24 million and assets over $30 million. It has established well-known programs such as the AFI 100 Years series where they document the best of 100 years in movies. Covering topics like the 100 best movie quotes, 100 best villains, and the 100 best movie songs.

Then there are the two film festivals, the AFI Fest in Los Angeles and SilverDocs hosted in the AFI Silver Theater in Washington DC.

AFI's Silver Theater in DC

As we were leaving, feeling giddy with all this Hollywood romance, we noticed the wide variety of people hanging out around the campus. The diversity was incredible and probably due in part to two of AFI’s best programs the Catalyst Workshop, designed to bring experts in Science and Engineering into screenwriting, and the Directing Workshop for Women, both desperately needed in the industry.

It was a great experience for us and we definitely recommend it the next time you are in Los Angeles. Oh, and make sure to cap off the trip by visiting one of the local restaurants because you will certainly be dining with filmmakers.

[photos: randomduck-silver, Marcus Vegas-hollywood sign]

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