Bobby Elliott: Hollywood Writer Living Dream That Started at NDA


Elizabeth Bolin, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

Thanks to the famous Tritons Around the World Facebook page, the current students of NDA are no strangers to the successes and accomplishments of their alumni. 

Very recently, 2009 graduate Bobby Elliott (former FanMan, Mr. NDA and Mr. Titletown) joined their ranks as his short film “UnHiNgEd” was featured in the recent Green Bay Film Festival.

The GBFF is a celebration of local filmmaking held at St. Norbert College every March. Before having a film in the event, Elliott had attended the celebration for years.

“When I first became interested in film, it was always so cool to come home to Green Bay and see people doing the things I only dreamed about at the time,” said Elliott. “I’d go and watch movies and attend panel discussions and get to meet people from all over the world who had their films playing there. It was totally inspiring.”

“UnHiNgEd” was the first film Elliott has submitted. “It’s not perfect by any means, but I think it’s a fun little film and I definitely learned a lot.”

Elliott made the film for a grad school class and was tasked with both screenwriting and filmmaking. Elliott returned and shot the film in the library of his alma mater, Marquette, where he spent much of his time as an undergrad. “It was a really good way to say goodbye and move into the next phase of my education.”

Elliott graduated from Marquette in 2013, received an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage at Northwestern University, and is now a screenwriter in LA.

Elliott’s dream is to write movies and direct them himself. “As soon as I became interested in film, I wanted to move to Los Angeles because that’s where the industry is based.”

Elliott’s parents did not allow him to transfer to UCLA Film School his sophomore year which, in hindsight, Elliot is thankful for.

“Everyone out here wants to be involved in film and TV — everyone. Real education is the one thing that sets people apart. Having the solidest possible foundation in literature and math and history and science and other ‘life stuff’ is important, rather than specializing in something too early on. The technical stuff — the rules of screenwriting, how to work a camera, editing — that’s all stuff you can learn later on.”

Elliott likes to think he followed Werner Herzog’s dictum: “Don’t learn how to make movies. Learn what to make movies about.”

Believe it or not, Elliott did not always want to make movies. He started Marquette majoring in Public Relations “mostly because it sounded mature and collegiate.” He switched his major to Writing-Intensive and after watching Avatar at the Bay Park Square Theater he decided to minor in Film Studies. “I walked out of the theater transformed.”

Elliott was accepted into an exclusive, 12-candidate MFA writing program for Screen and Stage at Northwestern and moved to California from there.

“I moved to California with the crazy thought that someone would hire me just because I had my Masters degree from a fancy university,” Elliott said, but confessed that he couldn’t have been more wrong. “I was a very small fish, in a very large pond.”

Eventually Elliott took an unpaid internship with a film production company which turned into a full- time job. “My first writing job, which I’m working on now, is a film about Robert F. Kennedy in 1966 by Oscar-nominated director Ian Gabriel.” In a year it will begin shooting in South Africa.

What of Elliott’s NDA experience? Perhaps one could root his love for performance in our very own Mr. NDA show.

Elliot says that Mr. NDA was the highlight of his high school experience, including being chosen as a freshman judge four years before he won the crown himself.

“The judges are kept secret to ward off any potential bribing from the guys in the show, so as all my friends are buying tickets to sit together, I have to keep coming up with excuses as to why I couldn’t make it,” he recalled.

Elliott described his first experience with the show as a freshman judge.  “From that moment on, I wanted nothing more in my life than to be crowned Mr. NDA.”

Elliott worked hard and succeeded in his goal. “And then when I won, I knew that I’d learned how to do something that would push me into the rest of my life — put simply, that hard work pays off and dreams come true and that for large parts of it you have to be your own biggest cheerleader. Just like when I was the freshman judge, my dream wasn’t something I talked about. No one knew how important it was to me. But I did.”

Elliott reflects back on the event. “It wasn’t really about having a crown on my head or a cape on my back. It was about my best friends perfecting silly dance routines with me in the hallway late at night and the relationships I formed with people like Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Campbell and Señora Dory. Then there was the amount of work people put into a show starring fifteen high school boys. It was about a community of students and teachers and parents coming together for a night of comedy and talent and silliness and imagination. Those things are the hardest to see in the moment. But they’re the things that matter.”

Elliott has come a long way since the night of his Mr. NDA show and wants to pass on what he’s learned. “Stay small. I thought NDA was too small, and then I thought Marquette was too small and then I thought Northwestern was too small. Then I got to LA and realized what ‘big’ actually means. But I also learned what “small” means. It means having people around who care.”

Elliott urges everybody to pursue their goals, but don’t be too quick to grow up. “We have the rest of our lives to make a name for ourselves in something somewhere big. What we don’t have are other people’s parents who treat you like family. What we don’t have are teachers who know that your success is their success, and who push you accordingly. What we don’t have is time to perfect silly dance routines in the hallway late at night with our very best friends.”

Link to Bobby’s movie