Editor's Note: This article was first published in the Fall 2017 issue of UAlbany Magazine in a collection of stories about alumni of WCDB (90.9 FM) – and its AM predecessor, WSUA – UAlbany’s radio station. Glen Trotiner passed away on June 16, 2022 at the age of 65.
Glen Trotiner, B.A.’78, M.S.’79 first experienced the power of motion pictures as a child. “Family outings to movies always felt like very big adventures as we journeyed from The Bronx down to Radio City Music Hall. There, on the big screen, we experienced such future classics as ‘The Music Man,’ ‘The Sound of Music,’ and ‘Mary Poppins,’” he recalls.
Even as a youngster, Trotiner realized that great films like those not only personally engaged individual viewers, but also connected members of the audience to each other. Now a producer, director, and assistant director on feature films, including “The Promise,” “What Happens in Vegas,” “Last Holiday,” “Big Daddy,” and “Independence Day,” Trotiner tries to recreate that same experience for other filmgoers.
Connections are likewise forged at the creative stage, he notes. “Collaboration is so integral to the success of each project. As part of the filmmaking team, you create your own personal contribution, but your particular piece also has to fit seamlessly with everyone else’s in order to create a satisfying, finished piece of art. Everyone, from the writer, director, cinematographer, assistant director, editor – all the way to the fifth grip, the production assistant dealing with the extras in the holding area, the assistant editor logging the previous day’s footage – contributes their own particular brand of sorcery.
“In the end, the entire group endeavor brings a unique story to life, transforming what was once just an idea into the best possible version of itself,” Trotiner observes.
To create movie magic, a filmmaker’s knowledge must be versatile, and at UAlbany, Trotiner sought academic choices that would prepare him for “a variety of fields and career options.” Teaching “was one of those options – and it may still be. Even though I didn’t pursue a traditional career in teaching, it’s never been far from my heart. I could easily see working as a teacher/professor, either part time or full time, later in life. So many great teachers are amazing storytellers.”
One such storyteller, Catharine Newbold, taught United States history and “had a profound influence on me,” remembers Trotiner. She spun tales of bygone days in a unique, interesting, magical way. Professor Newbold also taught me about the power of myth, the understanding of which, I feel, is essential to being a great storyteller. Myths [help to] bind us together culturally. They also lie at the root of some of the best stories and some of the true classic films, like ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘Star Wars,’ and ‘Lord of the Rings.’”
At UAlbany, “radio was “a parallel interest of mine,” Trotiner says, and he found “a tremendously creative outlet” at the campus radio station, WSUA, when he took over “The Saturday Night of Gold” sophomore year. “I played the same Top-40 songs that I listened to growing up, trying to recreate that same entertaining experience for my own audience. My show was built around taking on-air requests and dedications, so I got to play everything from The Beatles to Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, and I often personalized requests for callers.”
In the 1970s, WSUA “was on AM 64, and it was ‘carrier current,’ meaning you had to plug the radio into an electrical outlet in order to hear the station. The signal also had a buzz, which was a target of ridicule on campus.”
Working the 11 p.m.-to-4 a.m. shift, Trotiner was on the air “until long after the towers in the quads went dark. Often, the lines for requests and dedications were painfully quiet, and I’d wonder if anyone was listening. None of that ever got me down. As an artist, you have to please yourself first and foremost and not worry about the audience, because no one might be listening – or, in my case, these days – the movie might never get released.”
Trotiner earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in reading, then attended Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law “to further broaden my skill set and give me time to figure out how to synthesize my interests and abilities into a totality that made sense.” Shortly after receiving his J.D. in 1984, he “randomly” learned about a two-year apprenticeship with The Directors Guild of America (DGA) Training Program, which “prepares participants for the job of second assistant director.“ That “bottom-of-the-rung” position is below those of “first assistant director, production manager, producer, and director,” explains Trotiner.
“Like many things in my life, being in the right place at the right time, and capitalizing on the situation, yielded huge results,” he adds. Trotiner submitted an application and letters of recommendation, then attended an orientation. With about 300 other applicants, he took a test posing “a mixture of math, verbal, spatial-relations, and personality questions” that winnowed out about three-quarters of the group. Trotiner made the cut.
The next step of the application process included role-playing exercises, “including one that asked, ‘What if there are eight of you on a cruise ship that’s sinking, and only five can fit in the lifeboat? Who gets to go?’ There really was no good answer, and, in reality, I probably would have been eaten by sharks.” Instead, Trotiner and about a dozen others were chosen “to move on to the final, critical phase”: individual half-hour interviews with the training program’s board of trustees. “About a week later, I got a letter that said I was one of the half-dozen people selected for a two-year, on-the-job, paid apprenticeship in the motion-picture business,” he notes.
Trotiner was granted DGA membership two years later. And more than three decades after completing his apprenticeship, he maintains his connection with the training program. “In the mid-1990s, I was appointed to the board of trustees,” says Trotiner, whose tenure now exceeds that of any other trustee who has ever served. “Each year, I sit at that conference table as the final candidates come in one by one for their interviews. About six of them have their lives instantly changed, just as I once did.”
The veteran filmmaker enjoys “working with the very people who inspired me to begin with, and hearing their stories and experiencing their craftsmanship up close.” Three “larger-than-life household names” have “brought out my inner fan-boy,” he admits. On the final day of filming “Power,” the first movie on which he worked as a DGA trainee, Trotiner told Gene Hackman of his longtime admiration for the actor’s work in “The Poseidon Adventure,” a film that was a major factor” in Trotiner’s career aspirations. Trotiner spent one Thanksgiving with Harrison Ford; his then-wife, Melissa Mathison; and their family during the making of “Regarding Henry.” And “fellow nerd and chronic storyteller” Richard Dreyfuss, with whom Trotiner worked on the television series “The Education of Max Bickford,” gave Trotiner an autographed first edition of his alternate-history novel The Two Georges after they discussed the actor-author’s book during a break on the set. “What a great Christmas present that was,” Trotiner remembers.