Take Five with Ben Philippe ’11

Ben Photo_cropped.jpg

Ben Photo_cropped

Photo by Ashlie Busone

Ben Philippe ’11 is a screenwriter and an author of young adult novels. He lives in Harlem and is a professor of film and screenwriting at Barnard.


What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Will my roommates suck? Was my admission a fluke? Will everyone be cartoonishly rich? Did everyone here already read The Iliad in high school? Should I get an internship right away? What does “making connections” even mean? What in the heck is a Learned Foote? (Hi, Learned.) Can I pull off a triple major in economics, creative writing and sociology? (No.) What is “Four Loko?” Is that James Franco? Will you please get this Four Loko away from me before I vomit at the memory? Wait, what do you mean graduation is in three days? Why are all these blue-haired fiction majors now comparing Wall Street incentive packages or heading to Harvard Law? What’s a life plan? Where can I get this wrinkled graduation gown pressed in two hours? What is this salty water in my eyeballs? What’s supposed to happen next? ... Mom?

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I spent nine days with a roommate who was very nice but played a lot of early-morning tennis which is, y’know ... certainly a lifestyle choice. I mostly remember half-asleep glimpses of him spreading out his wet towel to dry at 5:30 a.m., after a post-run shower. He was the only human being I ever saw chug a solid banana.

I think we were expected to be friends because we were both international students, but we truly had nothing in common. Opposites don’t always attract or repulse: Sometimes they just smile and nod a lot.

I wanted a single and ended up doing a room swap two weeks in with someone who desperately wanted a roommate for the full college experience. The single was very nice but also started to feel a bit like a self-assigned time-out from socializing that I eventually had to force myself out of to meet people. Learning curves, etc.

What Core class or experience do you most remember and why?

I’m going to sound like a brochure right now, but the stuff that reoccurs the most in my life is probably from Music Humanities, of all things. I did not see that coming. I put it off until the spring semester of my senior year and it ended up being a delight thanks to my professor, Alex Mincek GSAS’12.

Frontiers of Science and I haven’t stayed in touch. Lots of tension, lingering resentment. But I certainly wish it the best in all its endeavors, away from me.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Butler Library. These days, it makes me feel old to be the creepy professor hanging out there when I have an office across the street; but I used to love that entire ecosystem. Hunting for seats, cursing at printers, that ceiling. I had friends who worked at the Reserves desk and procrastinated there a lot. I’m even a little nostalgic for how it gets warm with body heat and questionable hygiene around finals.

And, hey, inside scoop 10 years later: Butler has a ridiculous collection of comic books now. It used to only be a couple of shelves, and now there’s an entire row of hardcovers in the stacks.

(For one semester, it wasn’t … terribly hard to get onto the roof of a certain library with a couple of folks who were nimble and brave. Heck of a view. I hear. Allegedly. I’m a fiction writer, remember?)

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I just laughed at my computer screen. It was the era of dramatic breakups in East Campus elevators.

Actually, I applied for a bunch of extracurriculars during my first year that I did not get into. Chowdah sketch comedy was one, the Varsity Show was another. I think at that point I started to pout the extracurricular side of the campus life a little bit? I never tried again. The ego of a writer, I guess. I did comedy stuff at the Peoples Improv Theatre, ended up in writing clubs with fellow interns who went to NYU and opened a comic book imprint with a friend who went to The Cooper Union. In hindsight, I think I could have leaned into campus life a bit more, a bit sooner. Oh, well!

There’s probably an alternate universe where Ben Philippe is a tennis enthusiast who works at Credit Suisse. But I believe in the Butterfly Effect, so I’m going to leave it all unchanged.