It’s a safe bet that Chad Klitzman will be the only new associate to arrive at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in September with a Hollywood screenwriting credit on his resume.
Klitzman, who graduated from Columbia Law School last week, penned the new Netflix film “Candy Jar,” which follows two rival high school debaters driven to get into their dream Ivy League colleges.
The movie stars Klitzman’s sister Sami Gayle (“Blue Bloods”) and Jacob Latimore (“The Maze Runner”) alongside Helen Hunt, Christina Hendricks and Uzo Aduba in supporting roles. (Hunt’s high school guidance counselor keeps the titular candy jar on her desk.) Klitzman wrote the screenplay as an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, drawing on his experience as a high school debater. He worked on the filming as a law student while juggling a long-term internship in JetBlue Airways’ legal department. (Klitzman counts aviation among his many passions.)
Law.com caught up with Klitzman to talk about how he got into screenwriting, what his classmates thought of his movie side hustle, and whether he’s tempted to ditch Big Law for Hollywood. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
You just graduated last week. How does it feel to be done with school?
It feels pretty incredible. I went nonstop from college to law school. I feel like I’ve been a student my whole life. It’s also a little daunting, this transition period from student to adulthood. Any period of transition, you’re going to have those feelings. It’s fascinating to have the movie happening at this time because it also deals with a time of transition and trying to get comfortable with embracing the unknown.
How did you get into screenwriting?
I started writing the summer after 11th grade. Like the characters you see in the movie, I was very driven and very competitive and concerned about racking up leadership positions and getting the highest grades. All that is great, but it wasn’t necessarily fulfilling. For me, writing has always been a way to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening in my life and in the world. I had been reading scripts for a while because my younger sister Sami, who’s the star of the movie, has been acting since I was 13 and she was 11. I felt like film was the medium where I could get all my frustrations with the world out and put them on the page.
I wrote about seven or eight scripts before I got to a script that Sami’s agent thought was really good. The only problem was that the script would have cost about $20 million to make. They said, “Write something that we could use as a vehicle for Sami, but that we could surround her with a cast that could green light the movie.” That’s kind of how “Candy Jar” came into existence.
Tell me more about how that idea come together.
I was interning [as an undergraduate] at the Federal Aviation Administration. I had the idea at my desk, and I had some down time in the internship. I just started typing. It was done two and a half weeks later, and we sent it over to CAA [Creative Artists Agency], which is where my sister is represented.
I found out that [producer Judy Cairo] loved the script as I was walking out of the LSAT. And the movie came out, literally, on the day I finished law school. I went full circle, in many respects, on the project.
How did it feel when you heard that some big names, including Helen Hunt, were going to be in your movie?
I don’t think it became real for me until a couple of weeks ago when I was home watching “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” and Ryan Seacrest came out and started talking about “Candy Jar” with Helen Hunt. That’s when it hit me that this really happened.
When Helen Hunt showed up on set, it felt like she had sent a double. It was like there was no possible way this was real. I’m just a law student. I’m an intern at JetBlue. But then I’d be having a conversation with Helen Hunt about the words she’d be saying in her next movie. It was mind-blowing. I’d be in a classroom during corporations or whatever and I’d get an email saying, “Helen Hunt’s going to be in the movie.” Then you just move on and listen to the lecture.
The movie filmed while you were in law school, right? How did you balance all those demands?
I was in law school and I was also working at JetBlue. It was a lot of things to juggle, but we made it work. We were shooting on a Wednesday to Sunday schedule so Sami could shoot “Blue Bloods” in New York on Monday and Tuesday. There were some days when I would have a combination of JetBlue and school during the day, and I’d fly down to Georgia where we’d be shooting at night. And I‘d go back at 6 a.m. and do it all over again. We shot the movie in 23 days. I think I maybe only missed one or two classes.
What did your Columbia Law classmates think of your Hollywood side gig?
I told very few people, except those who are in my inner circle. It’s a strange thing to talk about. Once I started telling people about it and my friends started telling other people, I couldn’t believe how many people came to me and said they had some type of creative ambition that they felt being in law school precluded them from pursuing.
If I could go back and change the way I handled this, I’d probably be more open about the creative stuff I’ve been doing along the way. I think there’s an appetite for that, especially in an environment like law school that’s competitive. In terms of law school culture, we should do a much better job of encouraging people to explore all of their interests and recognize that one career path doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a musical ambition or writing ambition. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
You’ve been an intern for JetBlue’s general counsel for two years now. What have you been doing there?
In many respects, I feel like I got half of my legal education here. It’s an opportunity I was connected to because of Columbia. I’ve been doing a little bit of everything but mainly IP transactional work. I’ve also helped out on some contract review projects.
Any intern at JetBlue gets flight privileges, so for the past two years I’ve been able to bop around the JetBlue route map, to my hearts desire.
What’s the coolest place you went on a free flight?
We have a product called Mint, which is our take on first class. When I was studying for exams in my second year, I was tired of the library. So I went to JFK on a Saturday and flew Mint down to Aruba. I studied on the beach for about five hours then came back. That’s how I studied for my corporations final.
That is cool. How did you do on the exam?
All I’ll say is that I do have a job at Paul Weiss [in] the fall, so I couldn’t have done that poorly.
What got you interested in pursuing law?
I come from a family of lawyers, so that helps. But when I was in ninth grade, I interned on Capitol Hill. I remember going into some committee hearings and I watched members of Congress write the Affordable Care Act. That was an impactful experience for me because I recognized just how powerful the law could be as a tool for social change. I have an interest in going into politics and being part of that process. If you’re going to write the laws, you probably should have a decent understanding of how they work. Law school always felt like a natural next step.
Have you ever thought about putting law aside and making a go of it in Hollywood?
Absolutely. That’s something I struggled with as I was going from undergrad to law school, because “Candy Jar” started happening when I was in my last year at Penn. I thought, ‘Maybe I should take a break, go out to Hollywood, and see if I can make a name for myself as a screenwriter.’ Looking back, I definitely think I made the right decision. I really learned a lot in law school. I firmly believe the skills you learn in law school can be applied outside of the law in so many differ respects.
What will you be doing at Paul Weiss, and will you continue to write scripts?
I’m going to be working in the corporate department. That’s mainly the stuff I’ve been doing at JetBlue so I know I like that type of work. Going to a place like Paul Weiss doesn’t mean you have to stop doing what you love. I’ve always managed to find a way to work in 30 minutes a day of writing. For me, I’ll finish a screenplay in a month or two if I can get my 30 minutes a day. Just because I’m gong to Paul Weiss doesn’t mean I have to stop writing.