TV and film writer David Sheffield visited his alma mater when he spoke to Chris Campbell’s, Ph.D., Media Management and Economics class on Thursday, Sept. 13.
Having found that many alumni such as Sheffield are happy to return to campus and share their experience, Campbell believes that students need to see what is possible after they graduate from Southern Miss.
“David is extraordinarily successful and is very knowledgeable about the industry,” Campbell said. “Plus he’s somebody who is very talented and worked very hard to earn that success.”
Sheffield wrote for Saturday Night Live from 1980-1983. Sheffield’s film credits include “The Nutty Professor,” “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,”“Boomerang,” and “Coming to America.”
His work caused him to be inducted into the Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 and win the NCAAP Image Award for “Coming to America.”
While he attended Southern Miss, Sheffield worked as a reporter for WDAM. When he graduated in 1972, Sheffield worked for an ad agency in Downtown Biloxi.
While in Biloxi, Sheffield received a call from his old friend Patrick Weathers, a men’s restaurant attendant at Studio 54, who was auditioning for Saturday Night Live and wanted Sheffield to write some material for him.
Sheffield was asked by producer Alan Stern to write three or four sketches, which led him to be the last writer hired that year by Saturday Night Live. Sheffield stayed in Ocean Springs for six weeks writing sketches before moving to New York.
Sheffield had an eight week contract in New York and was faced with adapting to city life. He sold his car, and his son enrolled in public school.
“There’s an awful lot of rejection in this business, you have to grow thick skin,” Sheffield said.
He worked Friday nights before the show aired short films like commercial parodies. Sheffield moved to Los Angeles and started his movie career. The first movie he wrote was “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment,” which put him on the map to write screenplays.
Fortunately for Sheffield, Eddie Murphy started at Saturday Night Live around the same time. His breakthrough was when Eddie Murphy came up with the idea for “Coming to America.” Notable sketches he wrote for Eddie Murphy are “Buckwheat,” “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” and “Gumby and James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub.”
More than 10 years ago, Sheffield returned to his wife’s home in Ovett, Mississippi, thinking he was retiring from his career.
He has been called to write three screenplays since he moved back to Mississippi. Last summer Sheffield wrote the sequel to “Coming to America,” and he wrote and directed the play “The Heartbreak Henry” at The Center Stage Theatre in Biloxi.
Junior advertising major Jennah Eddins said she thoroughly enjoyed having Sheffield speak to her class.
“I thought Mr. Sheffield’s story of his journey to Saturday Night Live was so interesting and he continues to inspire others by continuing his career writing plays,” Eddins said. “I wish I could have seen his play Heartbreak Henry.”
Opportunities for college students to make a breakthrough in media are greater with the advancement of technology. Sheffield believes this is an exciting time in the media world with the introduction of services like Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo that offer artistic freedom.
“If you want to make it you need to be really lucky,” Sheffield said, citing personal experience.
Sheffield said the comedy business wants new, young comedians who do not focus too much on their rough drafts and, instead, let their thoughts flow onto the paper.