Every year, swarms of talented singers, dancers and aspiring filmmakers move to Los Angeles looking for a chance at stardom.
A meager few actually do it, seeming to instantly top the charts and clog the tabloids. Many more fail, finding the road to celebrity too difficult.
Then there are the patient ones, like former UMBC tennis standout Josef Novotny ’04. Using his skills on the courts to network and secure odd jobs on the sets of movies like Eli Roth’s “Hostel: Part II,” he has begun the long climb to fulfilling his dream of becoming a filmmaker.
“When I moved to LA, I found out (again) that playing tennis was one of the best things to ever happen to me in regards of selling my resume in an extremely competitive field, looking for a job, paying rent, and networking,” said Novotny, a native of Sokolov in the Czech Republic, who believes the pressures of the sport prepared him well for the stress of working in the film industry.
“Competitive sports make you a thick-skinned fighter,” he said. “Viva student athletes!”
Everything In One Place
So how did Novotny make the big leap from the Czech Republic to UMBC? Just like in Hollywood, where buzz can make or break a film, word of mouth led Novotny to Catonsville.
“I wanted to make movies, study, play tennis and travel,” he said. After talking to a friend who already attended UMBC, Novotny realized he could do it all in one place.
“I applied to UMBC and submitted a film portfolio to the film department and was admitted,” he said. “Meanwhile, I was offered a tennis scholarship without which I could not afford to attend UMBC, and that was it. I was in.”
While a student, Novotny more than earned his scholarship. He ranked number one among his teammates in men’s singles tennis, becoming a champion at the Cornell Invitational twice over and winning the Matt Skalsky Outstanding Scholar Athlete Award, having climbed to #4 overall in the Northeast regional rankings his senior year.
The Real World
Following graduation, Novotny made a leap yet again, this time moving to Los Angeles. Instead of landing his dream job right away, though, he took advantage of his expertise in tennis as a means of networking.
“I started looking for jobs within the film industry, of course, but that didn’t happen right away,” he said. “I got myself an afternoon job at one of the many country clubs as a tennis pro. [It was] a very good place to meet the right people.”
Soon after, Novotny landed a job in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, a talent and literary agency. He then moved up the ladder a bit to the agency’s independent film department, where he was able to read submitted scripts and help out with the buying, selling and packaging of films.
In February 2006, Novotny’s student visa expired. Thanks to friends he made on the tennis courts, however, Novotny secured a new job with International Production Company back home in Prague. With IPC, he worked on several commercials before getting the assignment to work on the horror sequel “Hostel: Part II,” for which he shot a behind the scenes feature to be included on the DVD.
“(Director) Eli Roth and his brother Gabe offered for me to do ‘behind the scenes.’ Of course, I took it,” he said. “It allowed me to be everywhere – on set, behind the scenes in the offices of the producers, location scouts (trips to determine shooting locations).”
Once he receives a new working visa, Novotny plans to return to the States early this year and continue working with the William Morris Agency. He’s also working on writing a few scripts, which he hopes to start submitting in the near future. Though he is flexible in terms of movie genre, Novotny’s storytelling goals are clear.
“I love mythology, its stories and archetypes. But I also love movies with a feel so raw and real that pulls you into the scene and wakes something up in you you forgot you had,” he said. “I would like to make films that tell stories of ordinary people who become the ‘heroes,’ not for what they were born as, but for what actions they take. I would like them to be not only a spectacle to watch, but a stinger that gets under your skin and stays.”
Although his young career has taken some twists and turns, Novotny considers himself to be on his way to attaining his dream job as a filmmaker.
“I learned so much,” he said. “Just being on the set every day is such a great experience. I recommend it to everyone who wants to do films. Save up some cash and do it even for free if there is no other way.”
– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted January 2007