Film and TV

Have Script Will Travel: West Texas Hosts Reading of Award-Winning Screenplay

If it were any other one-stoplight, west-Texas town we'd be surprised.

But when we heard the little Goode-Crowley Theater in the fine-art mecca of Marfa will be hosting a staged reading of a Nicholl Fellowship-winning screenplay, and that the writer and a former president of theatrical worldwide production at Warner Brothers would be in attendance, we didn't so much as twitch.

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting are presented every year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Yes, that Academy. UT graduate screenwriting student Andrew Lanham was one of five fellowship winners last year. His script The Jumper of Maine is only his second screenplay.

On March 26, he'll get to see a live interpretation of his work, presented by a Dallas-based director and actors--just another step on the way to a full-blown production of his film. And the local community is invited to observe and comment.

"I think it has a few drafts before it's a fully realized film," says Lanham, a Bangor, Maine native currently living in Austin. "I think it works as a draft for right now, so I think it will be very interesting to see it onstage and read."

Lanham's script was selected to be the first subject in the Ballroom Marfa-presented series "The Reading," which will honor one Nicholl Fellowship script annually for a presentation in Marfa.

"I've never been to Marfa before," Lanham says, "but I'm told that the Marfa community tends to go to everything. Like, if you live in Marfa or around Marfa, you go to these things. I feel like every year it's becoming more and more this famous place for artists."

Since winning the fellowship, The Jumper of Maine now has a producer; Lanham has an agent; and he's been flying back and forth to Los Angeles for meetings. "The Reading" will offer Lanham a director's take on his words and help him through the next couple drafts. "If the movie were to ever get made, I'm just the writer," says the humble Lanham, "so I'm just kind of in the background getting the chance to see it."

The young writer's favorite directors are auteur types; writer-directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson. "I tend to not outline what I write," he says, "and I've read that that's a more writer/director-driven way to approach what you're writing, but I don't really have any desire (any time soon) to direct." But Lanham also admires filmmakers that stick to working behind the camera. "There are also some really great directors out there who go back and forth. Like, Jason Reitman wrote Up In the Air with someone, but he didn't write Juno. Phil Morrison, who I really like, did a movie called Junebug, but he didn't write that. [My] script goes toward the more auteur/writer-director types of movies, probably because it's one of those cathartic, really personal dramas."

And Lanham took The Jumper of Maine very personally. "I grew up in Maine, and I have Tourette's Syndrome. It's a lot less, now that I'm older than the character in the script."

Jumper centers on a paramedic in his early 20s, with Tourette's, who still lives with his parents. His mother has Alzheimer's, and he takes care of her with his father. "He's been working for a few years as a paramedic," says Lanham, "and whenever the ambulance sirens are on, or he's in a medical emergency, his Tourette's kind of vanishes. He really relies on it to keep himself calm, as an outlet to cope with his life." Lanham's paramedic falls in love with a single mother he knew when he was younger, and as Lanham describes it, "Falling in love kind of throws his equilibrium, which he already has to fight really hard to maintain, out of balance. And he has to come to terms with his condition and his life and his family in a way that he never had to before. It's a drama with comedic elements."

Jumper being such a personal project, Art Attack wondered if Lanham is the kind of screenwriter that meticulously crafts imagery, mapping out the film descriptively for potential directors. "I try to stay away from camera directions or anything of that nature," he says. "When I'm writing I don't tend to see anything; it's almost like I'm writing fiction or something, where I don't really see a picture. If I feel it; if it seems right as I'm writing it...hopefully there's a balance of the two."

Lanham wants potential directors to bring their own vision to the script. "A script's really more of a blueprint than anything else. So with any script, the goal would be that 100 different people would read it and take 100 different...would understand where my inspiration was coming from, but then could take something of their own...because you're asking all of those people to get together and create so many different aspects that would come from that groundwork. So you try to be specific without being specific, in a way."

It sounds like Lanham will either love what he sees on March 26, or he'll be scrambling afterwards to change everything. We have a feeling the writer may be a little more hands-on than he comes across.

"That would be one of the most exciting things to see: something realized in a way that you never could've imagined it...but, in a way, exactly how you imagined it," he says.

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Troy Schulze
Contact: Troy Schulze