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From A Holland Hall School Dance To Becoming The Co-Writer Of An Oscar-Nominated Movie

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 22:41:19-05

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa Native Zach Lewis co-wrote the Netflix film, ‘Klaus’, which is now nominated for an Academy Award. This is the first Netflix film to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Feature Category.

The Academy Awards are scheduled to take place this Sunday in Los Angeles.

Lewis’ success did not take place over night, but his journey does read quite like a Hollywood movie script.

In 1995, Zach Lewis was a senior at Holland Hall. Lewis was very involved in his school’s theater department.

During his senior year Lewis also met a pretty freshman called Stephanie Jackson.

“We went to a winter dance together. But, we didn’t date. Except for going to that dance,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ dad is a lawyer based in Tulsa.

“My father is an attorney and he always loved it. I thought I would as well. I went through law school and was working at a law firm in San Francisco. [I] could very quickly tell it wasn’t quite for me. And so I gave it three years. I wanted to make sure that I gave it a shot, but that last year I felt that something was missing. I started taking acting classes secretly at night. [I] didn’t tell anyone and it was the most fun I had all week. Just after a year of doing that. I went ahead and quit the firm and came down to L.A., initially to pursue being an actor and obviously that has morphed into being a writer,” Lewis said.

Meanwhile, about fifteen years after that fated school dance, Stephanie Jackson was attending drama school in New York. A mutual friend of theirs reconnected the two.

“I’ve always said, it’s the cliché, it's all about the timing. We hit it off again and we started dating,” Lewis said.

The two eventually married and now they both reside in Los Angeles.

This weekend the Lewises plan to celebrate the ‘Klaus' nomination at a few Oscar parties.

The film ’Klaus’ was written and directed by Sergio Pablos. Pablos is known for being the creator of the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise.

“[Sergio] is such an amazing talent. He has worked with Disney as an animator. It was a lot of fun to get to work with him and learn from him through out that year plus we were on the project,” Lewis said.

Jim Mahoney and Lewis both co-wrote the ‘Klaus’ script.

“The movie was Sergio’s brainchild and he had been working on it for a few of years before we got involved. He brought us on after he tried to pitch it around to a few places, and decided he needed screen writers to do the script. He’s in Madrid, so we were Skyping a lot with him. We were working with about him once a week, as we were trying to turn it into a movie script outline. Once we were satisfied with that, after a few months, we went into the script itself. It was just Jim and myself working on that for several months and then [we] did a couple of drafts and went back and forth with Sergio,” Lewis said.

Lewis and Mahoney got the script to a place where Sergio continued to work on the script and produce the film with his team of animators, composers, and voiceover actors.

KJRH asked Lewis to describe the creative writing process for ‘Klaus.'"

“The way it worked for us, it was a little bit of a different process. Often, when you are hired to write an animated film they’ve already had a lot of art work done. You can be constrained by the art they have already been doing and the sky isn’t necessarily the limit in terms of story and scenes. With us they hadn’t done much or any art really. We could kind of go in any direction we wanted to. Like with Pixar, I hear you go in and write a scene or two scenes in a day and the very next day you’re looking at temp animation of that very scene. It wasn’t like at all. We wrote as if it was a regular live action movie. Without ever seeing any animation,” Lewis said.

KJRH asked Lewis why he believes the movie has resonated so well with its audience.

“I think that it’s a positive message and I think that’s what people search for. [The movie has] a message of kindness. [Artistically,] it’s a throwback with 2D animation, but modernized with lighting and shading, that Sergio has talked about in a lot of his interviews, that is gives it a new feel, [but] there’s a bit of nostalgia attached to it as well,” Lewis said.

KJRH asked Lewis about the moment he learned that the movie he had co-written was nominated for an Academy Award.

“I didn’t think it was happening at all. Never in a million years did I think we could be in a position where it could be nominated. And everything I had seen said it’s not going to happen,” Lewis said.

The Oscar nominations are usually announced around 5 a.m., Pacific Time.

“I woke up around 5:45, [in the morning]. And it got to my head and I thought I should just look. I looked at my phone and I had one text. It was from my mom. And it said, ‘OMG, I’m having an out of body experience’,” Lewis said.

Lewis was perplexed about what the text meant. After performing a Google search he learned that ‘Klaus’ had been nominated for ‘Best Animated Feature’.

“I’m lying in bed and I’m [wondering] is this really happening. And I turn to my wife and I told her and she screamed which scared me, and she’s [saying] ‘Oh, my god! Oh, my god!’ People overuse the word ‘surreal’, but it was surreal. Still even now, it’s just a crazy, but amazing feeling,” Lewis said.

KJRH reached out to Christy Utter, the Holland Hall Director of Alumni Relations for statement on Lewis’ success.

“Zach has worked hard to see this project come into fruition. We don’t always get to celebrate our alumni’s hard work with so many people. We are thrilled that Zach’s years of hard work have allowed him to enjoy this well-deserved recognition,” Utter said.

KJRH asked Lewis what advice he would give anyone with dreams or goals of pursuing a career in the entertainment field.

“Just knowing there’s many ups and downs and you’ll think I’m finally being successful and I’m finally having things happen and then nothing happens. So, it’s not linear. Just know, it’s a process. Give it time, work hard, find the things you are passionate about. Find people who are passionate to surround yourself with, and also people who are supportive. Luckily, I’ve been in a position to have both. My family has been excellent and my friends and especially wife Stephanie,” Lewis said.

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