Category Archives: Special Programs

Steve Bloom Talks Hollywood, Drama in Third Writers’ Workshop Presentation

Screenwriter-turned-novelist Steve Bloom discusses films and dramatic structure.
Screenwriter-turned-novelist Steve Bloom discusses films and dramatic structure.

Steve Bloom, screenwriter-turned-novelist, talked about his days writing for Hollywood studios, fighting to get credit for a film (“You live and die by your credits.”), working with actors (“They’re all maniacs! They want to be in every scene.”) and his transition to writing his first novel, the young adult book, The Stand-In. He was the third of four presenters in the 2016-17 Writers’ Workshop Series.

Bloom said he got the idea for The Stand-In 10 years ago at a soccer game, when the father of one of his daughters’ friends lamented that the girl was stood up for a prom date after she had already bought her fancy dress.

Bloom worked the idea into a script about a cash-strapped high school senior who needs money for tutoring to raise his SAT scores so he can get into the college of his dreams, Columbia University. The character ends up hiring himself out to wealthy parents whose daughters need dates for social events.

After shopping the script around to studios and getting no nibbles, Bloom decided to turn the screenplay into a book. Ironically, once he found a publisher, a studio came knocking, and he was hired to transform his novel into a screenplay. He found that, in the act of writing the novel, he got to know his characters more deeply, making for a more robust screenplay than he had at the outset.

Students in Lori Pelliccia’s honors-level Writers’ Workshop class and in Andrew Shelffo’s English class attended the public forum, and asked questions about Bloom’s writing process and his stint in film school at the University of Southern California. He quit law school to follow his dream, but never saw it as an artistic imperative, he said, more like a way to make a living. “I hated law school. And I knew the vocabulary of film,” he said, describing a particular love for classic movies of the 1930s. This was the 1970s, after all, when films like The Godfather, Star Wars, and Five Easy Pieces were just starting to turn filmmakers into household names.

Bloom’s first hit was 1985’s The Sure Thing, a “John-Hughes-esque” road movie about a young man, played by John Cusack, who travels across the country for a romantic hook up, only to be trapped with a former crush that he eventually falls for. Bloom said the set up provided a “unity of opposites,” an ideal environment for drama, which is composed of conflict, to thrive. He went on to write scripts for Tall Tales, Jack Frost, and James and The Giant Peach.

He told students today’s opportunities for screenwriters are in television, where fully developed characters and story arcs outclass the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters coming out of major studios.

Bloom followed the presentation with a master class for students in the Writers’ Workshop class. The final Writers’ Workshop presenter will be Random House editor Andy Ward, whose booklist includes the bestsellers When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl.

 

Writers’ Workshop: Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom
Steve Bloom

Screenwriter Steve Bloom will be on campus on Monday, Nov. 7, as our third presenter in the Writers’ Workshop Series. Bloom’s screen credits include James and the Giant Peach, Tall Tale, and The Sure Thing. His first book, the young adult novel The Stand-In, was published in October. The public is welcome to attend and there is no admission fee. The talk begins at 7 p.m. and takes place at Plimpton Hall, behind 19 Payson Ave.

In The Stand-In, Bloom heads back to high school, where his main character, working-class Brooks Rattigan, ends up hiring himself out as a date for wealthy classmates to earn money for a tutor so he can get into the college of his choice. Brooks navigates relationships—and the ethics of what he’s doing.

Reviewers have praised the author’s unconventional choice of using a male lead in a YA romance novel, as well as Brooks’ realistic characterization, calling the book funny and endearing.

Bloom attended Brown University and the graduate film production program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, Jennifer, and their French bulldog Ricky.

A Long Look at a Shocking Crime

Laura Tillman in the Dodge Room as part of the Writers' Workshop Series
Laura Tillman in the Dodge Room as part of the Writers’ Workshop Series

Laura Tillman was a recent college graduate when she took a reporting job at a newspaper in Brownsville, Texas, five years after a shocking triple murder there received international media attention. In a talk during the second installation of the Writers’ Workshop Series, Tillman spoke to the Williston community and members of the public about the book, The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, that emerged from her spending six years reporting on the tragedy.

Tillman said Brownsville is known for its poverty—it’s one of the poorest cities in the country—and for its proximity to Mexico. However its residents feel there is more to the place than these statistics would lead you to believe. As she investigated the crime, and the circumstances that led to it, she talked to numerous people in the neighborhood. She corresponded with one of the perpetrators of the crime. She also poured over court documents and crime scene photos. She would visit the building where the murders happened and let the details steep into her consciousness. The more she investigated the crime, she told the audience, the more nuanced her views became.

Students in the audience asked her a variety of questions—Did she think the murderers were a product of their environment or somehow innately evil? Did her own religious beliefs factor into her thoughts about the question of morality? And what did she learn from writing this book?

To that last question, she paused and then answered, “To trust my instincts. Sometimes you just have to follow an idea you find interesting, even if it’s not clear where it’s headed. You have to be patient and let it unfold.”

Student Life Speaker: Trust the Mind to Self-Correct

Garret Kramer in front of a white board with illustrations of two states of mind
Garret Kramer in front of a white board with illustrations of two states of mind

Williston’s first student life speaker to discuss this year’s theme of Emotional Fitness, Garret Kramer, addressed an assembly in the Phillips Stevens Chapel on September 30. Kramer, founder of Inner Sports, has coached athletes and corporate clients, and is the author of two books, Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, and The Path of No Resistance: Why Overcoming is Simpler than You Think.

His basic thesis is that our minds are sometimes cluttered with thoughts. That’s when we feel insecure and disconnected. At other times, our minds are clear. That’s when we feel confident and can connect with our passions. Both these states are normal, and we move back and forth from what he called state A (the cluttered mind) to state B (the clear mind). Difficulty arises, he posited, when we resist the up and down nature of this cycle, and when we don’t realize that external circumstances don’t cause the back-and-forth. “We work in-to-out, not out-to-in, even though it’s quite normal to think the opposite is true,” he said.

Kramer called this natural ability to self-correct our “psychological immune system.” To illustrate, he described a toddler having a tantrum. This toddler will eventually calm down and move into a clear state of mind. The toddler didn’t “think” his way to this new state of mind. It just happened, and he or she let it happen. “A toddler doesn’t obstruct the psychological immune system.”

Student approached Kramer after the speech to further the discussion.

Kramer’s talk spurred many questions, and some push-back, from students. One questioned how external circumstances, such as a death in the family, could not affect one’s state of mind. Kramer said there is a correlation between the sadness we feel at someone’s death or any tragedy, but the circumstance doesn’t cause the feeling. Another student asked what Kramer his source for his information. “Truth,” he answered, citing leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela who have spoken about this phenomenon.

Student Harrison Winrow ’18 appreciated both the talk, and the robust give-and-take between Kramer and the audience. “I was inspired to see how passionate members of the student body and faculty were today, inciting lengthy dialogue and insightful debate all around campus for the hours following assembly,” he said.

Students and faculty will have more opportunities to discuss and think about the theme of Emotional Fitness at upcoming advisory meetings and class assemblies this term.

Writers’ Workshop: Laura Tillman

Laura Tillman
Laura Tillman

Laura Tillman joins us on Oct. 10 in the Dodge Room of Reed Campus Center. Tillman is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Nation, and Pacific Standard, among other publications. Originally from Maplewood, N.J., she began her career at The Brownsville Herald in South Texas.

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, an investigation into the murders of three children by their parents in Brownsville—and a meditation on the human forces that drove them—is her first book.

Tillman holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and a BA in international studies from Vassar College.