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JD Zeik ’82

J.D. Zeik ’82 has taught screenwriting in the Purchase College Film and Playwriting/Screenwriting programs since January of 2000; the year prior, in 1999, he had a full circle moment when he returned to campus as a guest speaker.

“For the last thirty years I’ve been working as a screenwriter. In 1998 my script for the film Ronin, starring Robert DeNiro, released by United Artists in 1998, was a hit on both screens and on DVD, and is now considered a cult classic,” Zeik says. “In 1999 I came back to speak to the first class of Dramatic Writers – the program that eventually became Playwriting/ Screenwriting. This led to an offer to teach screenwriting at Purchase.”

Zeik also wrote and executive produced the TNT film production of Witchblade; this production served as the basis for the subsequent Witchblade TV series on which he also served as a writing-producer. His many film projects also include work with Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians, Memoirs of a Geisha) on The Touch, and with director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) on The Contract, starring Morgan Freeman and John Cusack, and the Steven Seagal film, Pistol Whipped. Recently, Zeik wrote the next installment of The Mechanic franchise for actor Jason Statham and Millennium Films, and he is currently writing an untitled project for Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment.

When looking back at his experience as a student at Purchase, Zeik says, “The most important things I took away from Purchase are: 1) Learning to collaborate with others; 2) Learning that failure can be a huge part of both the learning and artistic process; and 3) Learning to take risks. I think all of these things were nurtured by the smaller size of the college—we were given a lot of freedom that I don’t think the students today have as much of.

“On the other hand, the students at Purchase today have an entire major devoted to Playwriting/ Screenwriting that didn’t exist, so some of the freedom we experienced is balanced out by a program that’s much more in-depth than anything we had. I’ve had the benefit of being both student and teacher on this campus and seeing this situation from both sides.”

Perseverance in the film industry is key to success, and in Zeik’s case, continued success. Zeik adds: “For the last three years I’ve been working on a project entitled The Analyst with producer Barbara De Fina (Casino, You Can Count On Me) and during this time we have partnered with Studio Canal and then BBC Worldwide in our (as of yet unsuccessful) attempts to bring it to fruition. We haven’t quit yet.”

—Written by Susan Kouguell, Lecturer in Screenwriting