McG from the OC

One measure of a university’s quality is the quality of its graduates and their ability to impact the world around them in a unique way. By this measure, UC Irvine is a university on the rise, as more and more graduates make notable contributions to their chosen fields. But how many UCI students are aware that a relatively recent UCI grad directed the movie with the highest opening weekend ever for a first-time director? Well, McG is that director and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ is that movie.
Last Thursday evening UCI hosted an evening with McG (born Joseph McGinty Nichol), director of numerous well-known commercials and music videos as well as both ‘Charlie’s Angels’ movies, and executive producer of ‘The O.C.’ He discussed movies, television, school and life in general to an audience of eager Anteaters.
McG graduated from UCI in 1990 with a degree in psychology. He originally intended to be a psychiatrist, but his passions intervened and steered him inexorably into the entertainment industry.
Success wasn’t immediate for McG. ‘I was basically a truck driver. I would deliver T-shirts for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” McG said regarding his start in showbiz.
He was determined, though, and before long he was producing records and shooting music videos for his friend and fellow Orange County native Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray. The videos led to a record deal for Sugar Ray, which in turn led to more opportunities for McG to shoot videos for other bands such as Korn and Cypress Hill.
Along with music videos, McG also started shooting commercials such as the well-known Gap ads featuring happy and well-dressed people dancing against white backgrounds.
Before long he met Drew Barrymore, which led to an opportunity to direct ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Of their initial relationship, McG said, ‘She put her arm around me and sort of helped me negotiate that tricky labyrinth of Hollywood. The studio didn’t want me to make the picture, and she sort of said, ‘Either he makes it or I don’t,’ and that was that.’
As previously stated, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ had the highest opening weekend take ever for a first-time feature-film director and firmly established McG as part of the Hollywood scene. He then went on to direct the sequel, which did not meet with the same level of critical praise as the original.
Talking about the ups and downs of Hollywood, McG had this to say: ‘If you’re going to take the good, you’ve got to take the bad … The first ‘Charlie’s Angels’ was a very, very well-received picture. Everyone thought it was going to be terrible, and it kicked a lot of ass. Everybody thought the second picture was going to be the biggest thing of all time. It was … OK.’
But McG tries not to let criticism of his work, especially the online variety, get to him. He said that sometimes ‘you see someone write a very cavalier article where you can tell they didn’t even pay that much attention [and they] say how bad [your work] was. If someone can articulate exactly why they think it’s bad you say, ‘You’re entitled to your opinion.”
Online criticism of McG hit its zenith with the announcement that he would direct the new ‘Superman’ movie, and that he would develop it with J.J. Abrams. Fanboys railed against Warner Bros.’ decision and often leveled personal attacks at McG, calling him a ‘hack,’ and several things far worse. The deal ultimately fell through, allowing both him and Abrams to work on other projects.
For McG that other project was ‘The O.C.,’ for Abrams it was ‘Lost,’ and both have become popular and critical successes. Predictably, the online community is much more tolerant of McG now.
A fair amount of the evening was spent discussing ‘The O.C.,’ which was the likely reason that much of the audience was in attendance. When McG asked how many people in the room would be heading home at 8:00 p.m. that night to watch it, he seemed pleasantly surprised by the number of hands that went up in the room.
He related how his inspiration for the show came out of his own experiences in high school. ‘Everybody at Corona del Mar High School was like this Adonis, water-polo playing, good-looking, strapping dude,’ McG said. ‘I was somehow skinny and fat. It was not good. I was on the outside looking in.’
From this idea McG and Josh Schwarz developed the show into its current state. He was concerned about more than the show’s success, however, and also made a point of discussing its merit in a broader sense.
‘[People call it] a horrible sociological statement about the state of youth culture,’ McG said. ‘If you pay attention to ‘The O.C.,’ it’s operating on many levels. There’s a sophistication and an elegant sort of subversion.’
In speaking about the future, McG was very straightforward about his aims.
‘I want to improve as a director,’ McG said. ‘Just to be a better storyteller.’
His plans extend beyond his own career, however.
‘[Abrams] and I are trying to figure out a different way where we can become more proprietary of our content and give opportunities to young people who have good ideas,’ McG said.
His promises to UCI were of a more concrete variety. ‘We’re gonna do a scene at UCI,’ he said to much applause. ‘I’m really proud of UCI. I think it’s very cool what this school has put together [overall].’
UCI should be proud of McG as well, as we should be of all of our successful graduates.
In case you’ve never seen an episode of ‘The O.C.’ before, the show airs at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights on the FOX network. For summaries of the previous episodes check out the Web site at