By Jim Cirile
Stephany Folsom is on a roll. First came the incredible 2013 Black List success of her script 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY or: HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON, a brilliantly oddball buddy dramedy (in which one of the buddies was a wonderfully difficult Stanley Kubrick.) That script propelled her into orbit; recently it was announced that Folsom has been hired by Warner Bros. to adapt the Harlan Coben crime novel “Missing You.” Scott Sheckman from Kubrickian.org and I chatted with Ms. Folsom about what is was like trying to channel Kubrick, duping the American people en masse, and how it feels to be in the “Black.”
Jim and Scott: When did the screenwriting bug bite you, Stephany?
Stephany Folsom: I grew up in Colorado Springs. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I started writing as soon as I could learn how. As there wasn’t much to do in my hometown, I’d frequently visit the local movie theaters or DVD rental store, watching new and old movies as much as possible, studying the various crafts, genres and history. It’s my natural tendency to write movies, and I ended up going to film school because of that. My (high school) guidance counselor didn’t know what (screenwriting) was and suggested I go into the radio industry. I didn’t think that was very practical, so I came (to Los Angeles) and went to Loyola Marymount University. In their film school you got the opportunity to produce, direct and write screenplays and learned how to make a film from the inception, all of it. I considered that an invaluable education.
J + S: Well, never underestimate an exciting potential future in terrestrial radio. What did you do after film school?
SF: After graduating Loyola, I found work in Hollywood’s development trenches, writing script coverage and notes. It was beneficial industry experience, but I felt like I could not write for myself while working full-time in development. So I left LA to assist a friend shooting a film in India, and then found myself working for a foundation that required a lot of travel shooting documentaries on important topics such as human trafficking and AIDS. In my opinion, traveling is the best thing a young screenwriter can do for their career – meeting and talking with diverse individuals with fascinating stories. That experience really shaped me as a screenwriter and helped me to approach the industry when I returned. I wound up writing some TV as well as writing on the YouTube series “Ds2dio 360,” while still writing feature specs.
J + S: One would guess that you found a certain legendary director influential as well?
SF: I saw all of Kubrick’s films from “Paths of Glory” all the way up, everything he’d done. He was my favorite filmmaker. But “Dr. Strangelove” was my gateway drug. I saw it in high school, and I was like, oh, my God! Who is the man who made this crazy film? That led me down the rabbit hole of discovering all of Kubrick’s cinema. I have to say, I wasn’t a big “2001” fan until I saw it on the big screen. Once you have that imagery before you, and you’re surrounded by that soundtrack, it just has a completely different impact. It made me realize how ingenious that movie is, because it was created for that specific venue perfectly.
J + S: “1969: A Space Odyssey” presents a crazy-cool scenario – that the US government enlisted Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing as a back-up plan in case NASA couldn’t pull it off. The scenario seems outlandish and yet possible at the same time, given all the conspiracy theories that turned out to be true (like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, MK Ultra and Operation Northwoods, etc.) Kubrick himself fanned the flames of his involvement in oblique ways, such as the boy wearing an Apollo 11 sweater in “The Shining.” Do you think there’s any truth to any of it?
|Was Kubrick just messing with us?|
SF: The rumors that he faked the moon landing started right after it happened, but it’s gotten recent attention with that cool documentary “Room 237.” There’s a French mockumentary titled “Dark Side of the Moon” featuring some very important people including Rumsfeld, Kissinger, and Kubrick’s wife Christiane who suggests in a tongue-and-cheek way that Kubrick played a role in staging the landing footage and “Room 237” explores the possible hidden messages in Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining,” which some feel was Kubrick’s way of confessing his involvement with the landing via numerous cinematic clues. I kind of got the impression from all that that it was a running joke with Kubrick, “Oh yeah, I faked the moon landing.” He had kind of a messed-up sense of humor, from what I can gather. I wouldn’t be surprised if he layered stuff into his later films as a wink and a nod. I just thought that it would be a fun thing to write, something I cared about, and then (I’d write) something else to pay the bills.
J + S: Another interesting coinky-dink, Peter Hyams, the director of "2010", was also the director of the hit 1977 government-conspiracy thriller "Capricorn One", about the faking of a manned Mars landing sometime in near future. Hyams and Kubrick were reportedly friends, and Kubrick blessed Hyam's helming "2010" as a highly anticipated sequel to his iconic "2001" Another interesting thing I stumbled across was a recent account from a sound man who worked closely with Kubirck for almost 30 years. As the story goes, shortly before Apollo 14 was to take off from the Moon, Kubrick suggested they go watch TV together, adding a strange remark: “Let’s see if they got it right".
SF: There’s actually a line like that in the script, where Kubrick is watching the actual moon landing at the end and says something to the effect of, “It’s not going to look as good as mine.”
J + S: Was it a daunting task, trying to capture a legendary director so fresh in our minds?
SF: Kubrick was such an exceptional talent; I wanted to enhance that, and I also wanted to make him human. I immersed myself in everything I could find out about him, every piece of film footage I could find and read and watched all the interviews, not just what Kubrick said about himself but others who had their own personal stories about him. This helped me understand him as a fleshed-out being, honoring him but making him relatable. I listened to his audio interviews non-stop so I could get a cadence of his voice and how he phrased things; I tried to be truthful of that and honor who he was, nail down his mannerisms… I was kind of stalking him (laughs).
J + S: And well done. You found that delicate balance that made Kubrick work. It would be easy to just caricature him. Pairing him with a sharp foil in Barbara, the operative sent to keep him on the rails, was also a smart move, as she becomes the voice of reason/audience surrogate.
SF: Thank you so much. I created the character of Barbara because I felt like it was too big of a risk to put the whole story on Kubrick’s shoulders, and also it would kind of take away some of his mystique as well. I needed a character for him to play off. And I also thought it would dishonor the moon landing, which I think is one of the greatest accomplishments we’ve done as a country if I put a real character against Kubrick. So I created Barbara as a composite of several women who were in the Nixon task force on women’s rights. It’s kind of sad – they were actually in high-powered positions in other jobs, but they wanted to become the first women with White House jobs. So they took positions as assistants and things like that, even though they were overqualified. To create the most conflict and obstacles in the story, I wanted to put him against a character who was the polar opposite of who he was. And the greatest opposition for Kubrick and the hardest for him to understand would be a woman, and not only a woman, but a woman who is really perky, outspoken and happy.
J + S: So tell us about whole Black List experience.
SF: Because it’s a quirky script, my reps (Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment) went to a very select group of notable Hollywood tastemakers first. After that, it seemed to spread like wildfire and take on a life of its own. People I met for the first time at a cocktail party said they read my script, which was a bit new and bizarre to me! I was superstitious and don’t believe all the rumors and talk about it, but didn’t believe it until the day of the actual announcement that it was going to (make the Black List.).
Once it hit The Black List, I felt like I was suddenly on a list for high-profile assignments. It does give you a stamp of approval. There’s so much material out there, and people are so strapped for time. So anything to move you to the top of the stack is a great thing. I’m very thankful. It gives you a sense of approval, and anything that can put you at the top of the stack of material, like winning contests or making the Black List, really helps.
SF: I’m a big believer of free-form visual medium, but I also feel you have to be structured and organized with an outline. It’s a bit of a math equation, in that if something on a page feels wrong, you have to be obsessed with the structure and the timing and then you can play with the characters and dialogue. If it isn’t plotted out, then it doesn’t work as a movie, something that at the end of the day you can watch on the screen, which is of course the point. I feel like sometimes people forget that equation.
J + S: The Coben book has a strong female protagonist, so “1969” must have been the perfect writing sample. So congrats on that.
J + S: Besides all the wonderful and wacky stuff we’re talking about in regards to the premise of your script, what do you think are Kubrick’s significant and signature contributions to the art of cinema and the industry?
SF: Kubrick was one of the first artists to work independent of the studio system and inspired many to follow in his vanguard footsteps. On the artistic side, he was one of the few filmmakers to advance the visual language and vocabulary of cinema. Like Orson Welles and Hitchcock before him, Kubrick provided other filmmakers new ways to tell stories without spoken or written words. What he could visually tell you with one frame of film was astounding. Similarly, with an actor’s look and the music. We take it for granted that what we see today is the language of cinema, but Kubrick had a strong hand in creating the contemporary language. He should be honored as one of the forefathers of cinema.
J + S: You wrote a great script that honors Kubrick and delivers a great read, too. Obviously your story will motivate writers – any advice?
SF: Thank you! “I hope it brings people together who love Kubrick so we can talk about and celebrate his films – that’s the place I was coming from in writing the script - as a Kubrick fan. As for the Black List, I would never delve into writing a script with the specific goal of making it on the Black List. It’s a superficial goal. It may take three months, six months, a year. To invest that kind of time in it. You’ve got to care what you’re writing about and what you’re saying. The whole point of story is to make sense of our world and so that we can communicate with each other. So what’s the best, most exciting story that you care about, that has something to say, that is important? Because you’re going to have to fight for it, put time into it, sacrifice for it – so it better be something that you care about and that you think is important. Lists are wonderful. Contests are wonderful. But that is out of your control. What you can control is what you’re saying and what your story is about and how invested you are in it.