Tony Kushner Visits Lubbock

The moment he sat down in front of the audience until he left the stage, there was something about his speech that appeared to resonate with the audience.

Last week, Tony Kushner visited Texas Tech University to speak to students and faculty about screenwriting, plays, directing and the background behind how he wrote “Lincoln.” Kushner has credentials a mile long. Not only is he considered a great American playwright and screenwriter, he has also received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” He co-authored with Eric Roth the screenplay for the film “Munich,” and he wrote the screenplay for the film “Lincoln.” Most recently he received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

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Meet Tony Kushner. Playwright and screenwriter who visited Tech last week.

After reading all of Kushner’s accomplishments, it is hard to imagine that Kushner thought he would never become a successful writer.

“Originally, I thought having a career as a writer was too improbable,” he said. “When I got to Columbia, and as I got more interested into theater in New York, it became clear. When I was a freshman in Columbia I wrote in my journal that if I came up with 12 ideas for plays in an hour maybe I could be a playwright someday. I ended up coming up with all 12.”

Kushner said he always had an idea of what he wanted to do. After he graduated from Columbia he went to New York University and studied directing. He said he thought directing would be easier than writing. But in his opinion, he said, that was not the case. Kushner said he knew writing was his strong suit.

Robert Peaslee, Ph.D., a assistant professor of electronic media in the College of Media and Communication, said he was curious if Kushner had a normal routine for writing plays and turning it into content.

Kushner said he does not have a normal routine for writing. He said he can’t just look at a computer screen and suddenly become inspired. Kushner said ideas or titles will randomly come to his mind, and once this occurs he has somewhat of a process.

He  said he keeps a daily notebook or journal to make notes in. Kushner said if the idea continues to reoccur, eventually he comes up with a plan and each plan has it’s own notebook. He said if the idea continues to grow he’ll start writing. Ironically, Kushner said, his first task is to do anything that avoids writing. He said instead he does research on his idea for about six months (at most) because then his idea typically starts to take the form of dialogue. He said that is when he decides to write out scenes.

“I write screenplays on my laptop and plays longhand with a fountain pen,” said Kushner. “Eighteen by 14-inch legal paper in dialogue form, when you type it up will make a page usually. A page of typed paper in dialogue form and for theater is about a minute of stage or on screen. That’s how you can kind of keep track of how much trouble you’re in.”

Kushner said the reason he writes longhand is that he likes the ability to take risks, especially if no one has the ability to see it, or read it based on his handwriting. He said the minute he starts typing it up, the script goes into the hands of actors and his idea is not private anymore. He said once the final draft is read in the studio, he starts to to get an engine of terror inside him and he gets anxious.

Kushner is known for many works, but most recently the film “Lincoln” has caught the attention of many and won two Oscars this year. He said when he was done with the screenplay it was originally 500-something pages. Kushner said it took him five and a half years to write. He said his favorite part of the screenplay was the first 150 pages because it went into detail about a topic not many know about.

He said over that period of time he got very close to “Lincoln” director, Steven Spielberg. Kushner said when he sent the screenplay to Spielberg he told him about the first 150 pages and how he would really like to film it.

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“He shocked me by saying that he wanted to film it,” said Kushner. “This is the first studio movie about Lincoln besides the vampire one that has been produced in a long time. What it gave us was the space to really focus on Lincoln in a certain amount of time.”
Texas Tech alumnus Taylor Shofner wanted to hear what Kushner’s best advice would be for aspiring screenwriters.
“I’m sort of new to this,” Kushner replied. “If it was about being a playwright I would feel differently. I typically watch a lot of movies. Watch a lot of movies? I don’t know what else you would do. In terms of career, go to a good film school and then meet famous people who will hire you. I think screenwriting is a really weird thing.”
About Lauren Estlinbaum

Entertainment Director    —    Journalism major, Class of 2014
Lauren Estlinbaum grew up in Pearland, Texas, south of Houston (go Texans). She is a journalism major with a minor in apparel design. Lauren would like to work for either a fashion or lifestyle publication post-graduation. As she likes to say, she considers fashion magazines survival guides.

Comments

  1. Rob Peaslee says:

    Great piece, Lauren!

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