Former 'SNL' Writer Tom Schiller on His TV Roots

'Nothing Lasts Forever' director recalls his favorite sketches

John Belushi as Samurai Futaba
John Belushi as Samurai Futaba

In this week's Chronicle, we talk with former Saturday Night Live writer Tom Schiller about his 1984 film, Nothing Lasts Forever, which was never released despite appearances by SNL stars Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

Though his father, Bob Schiller, wrote for I Love Lucy and All in the Family, early on Schiller wanted a different path. “At the age of 15, when I saw the films of Truffaut, Bergman, and Fellini, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker,” says Schiller. “In some sort of pre-adolescent rejection of the father figure, I never wanted to write for television sitcoms. Now I see that as silly snobbery. TV can be excellent at times, but there is still nothing more satisfying for me than to watch a grainy, black-and-white movie from the Thirties or Forties.”

It may not have been where he planned to start, but Schiller has plenty of favorite sketches from his time with SNL. “I’m fond of 'Samurai Hotel,'” says Schiller, “because that was a sketch I wrote using a character that [John] Belushi auditioned with. He was marvelous as the Japanese speaking Samurai Futaba, a character incidentally based on Kurosawa’s movies. The Samurai became sort of a trademark icon of the 1970s show.”

He also wrote “Schiller’s Reels,” a series of short films starring original SNL cast members. One, “La Dolce Gilda,” stars Gilda Radner as a tormented Fellini-esque character. (Schiller got to screen that for Federico Fellini.) Schiller also worked closely with Aykroyd and Murray on SNL, both of whom would end up in his black-and-white, Manhattan-centered film Nothing Lasts Forever, which enjoys a rare screening at the Alamo Ritz this weekend. “[Murray] is a superb actor and comedian and continues to surprise with his shenanigans,” says Schiller. “I was fortunate to hang out and work with him during his transition from obscurity to stardom, which we dubbed ‘the final days of anonymity.’”

A 35mm print of Nothing Lasts Forever will screen at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 7pm. Writer/director Tom Schiller will be in attendance, and prior to the feature, a rare reel of Schiller's short films will be shown.

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Tom Schiller, Saturday Night Live, SNL, Samurai Hotel, La Dolce Gilda, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Schiller's Reels, Bob Schiller, Nothing Lasts Forever

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