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Nick Hornby Kicks Off BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series With Honest Discussion About His Place in Hollywood

Nick Hornby Kicks Off BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters' Lecture Series With Honest Discussion About His Place in Hollywood

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Screenwriting: ‘If You Can’t Fail, You Can’t Do This Job

For the sixth year running, the BAFTA and
BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series launched last night with Academy Award
winning screenwriter, Nick Hornby, as its kickoff speaker. Hornby will be
followed by screenwriters Andrew Bovell, Nancy Meyers, Jimmy McGovern and Beau
Willimon.

This year’s season is programmed by
BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jeremy Brock and BAFTA-winning producer Andrea
Calderwood. Jeremy Brock, who created the series, said, “each year, the Screenwriters’ Lecture Series
brings the importance of the screenwriters’ role into sharp focus. Through
their original ideas and adaptations, this season’s esteemed speakers have
helped bring to the screen stories that have touched our hearts, cheered our
souls, and made us think.”

Speaking candidly about the loneliness of
writing, Hornby frequently touched on the hardships of writing novels versus
screenplays. While he may have struggled to pen cult classics like “High
Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch,” both later adapted into hit films starring John
Cusack and Colin Firth (Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore in the Americanized version of “Fever Pitch”)
respectively, Hornby discussed the enormous rewards of working on screenplays.
Hornby admitted that he is unable to take
pride in his novels. In fact, he joked that he will always “quit anything given
half the chance.” But not when it comes to his screenplays.

The sole reason for
this discrepancy is because “writing is lonely, but film is companionable.” Ironically, Hornby added, “I can’t back my novels, but I can
back my films,” because of the collaborative effort that happens there. When it
comes to screenplays, “you finally feel like you’ve proved something to
yourself” because of the validation you get from others.

The process of writing is a deeply internal
one for Hornby, so the jump from internalizing a character to externalizing one
onto screen is a difficult exercise. Yet, the transition that a screenwriter
must make between what is happening within a character’s mind and what is
portrayed on screen is entirely worth it for the finished product for Hornby: “It’s so important to see what others can bring to your work.”

This autumn will mark his 25th year of writing “alone in a room” and Hornby imagines he’ll do just
about what he always does to celebrate, by “doing the crosswords and maybe
having a cup of tea.” Even though Hornby jested at his so-called lonely life,
he wouldn’t have it any other way; when asked if he ever went on set of the
films he wrote the screenplays for, in a comical and very candid moment, Hornby
said, “I usually don’t go to set because people are usually very disappointed
to see you, so I politely maybe go once. I’d rather a fourteen hour writing day [than] watch people fiddling and moving lights around!” 

Hornby said that he respects the
craftsmanship of every role that makes films, especially in regards to the
directors. He surmised that there are two types of directors in the industry: There is the kind of director who is essentially an editor who wants to “bring
the script to screen” and if there’s an obscurity than he will try to suggest a
better way. Then there is the kind of director who is an auteur, “who says, ‘this isn’t the kind of scene I want in my film’ or ‘this scene is going to go
completely’ and that’s when it gets hard for a screenwriter because I feel as
though they’re books and they’re ready to go.”

In a respectful but frank tone, Hornby said
that the process of filming the Oscar nominated film “Wild” was the hardest
because Jean-Marc Valleé “was an auteur more than anyone” he had ever worked
with before. Though he admires the performance that Valleé was able to pull out
of Reese Witherspoon, joking, “I’m not a woman and I’ve never been on a hike!” he does not appreciate that “directors these days are the ‘auteur’ despite not
authoring anything at all! I’m just mystified as anything,” said Hornby with a laugh.

Not getting the kind of recognition he
seemingly is owed for the lovable films he has helped put on screen such as “About
A Boy” and “An Education” is commonplace to Hornby. Even after winning an
Oscar for his work on “An Education,” Hornby admits that he rarely gets
acknowledged by strangers. When asked how his life has changed since winning an
Academy Award, Hornby said, “I suppose the better the work you’ve
done, the better the job you’ll be offered… but a lot of it’s just rubbish. Like really bad. Really bad.”

When asked why
so many of his films center on female characters, Hornby said, “I find myself
curiously drawn to beautiful actresses! I fear other people will realize what a
good time I’m having one day and steal my thunder!”

Hornby concluded the evening offering
aspiring screenwriters a few tips. He said that whenever he hits a wall, he is
able to overcome writer’s block by simply experiencing life for a week. “Consuming” the world for just a week, including people,
places and history “pays back in spades.”

On top of giving himself time away from
writing alone to help his works along, Hornby said that finding joy in the minor characters is one of his favorite
parts of writing. For Hornby, it’s in the characters surrounding the
protagonist that he feels like he can often express his own opinions, the
opinions of the audience and pull whatever characterization out of his lead
that he needs for the story to work.

His last bit of advice for screenwriters
was to love your work, but to not take yourself so seriously. Hornby said, “I
once had an argument with a woman in a plane about whether or not I wrote ‘High
Fidelity.’ She just fell
into a rather grumpy silence… No
one knows who I am!” It seems that that’s okay for Hornby, as long as he still
gets to tell human stories that go against “the groove.”

Hornby’s latest screenplay, “Brooklyn,” is
set to screen at the BFI London Film Festival October 12. 

READ MORE: Sundance Review: Nick
Hornby-Scripted ‘Brooklyn’ is Beautiful But Unfulfilling

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