As a Main Character in a Hollywood Script!!
A Conversation with Screenwriter STEPHANY FOLSOM
By Scott Sheckman (kubrickian.org) with contribution from Jim Cirile (coverageink.com)
During the height of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Kubrickian.org was delighted to connect via telephone with Stephany Folsom, the solo screenwriter behind the hot feature-length spec script: “1969: A Space Odyssey or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon”.
The alt-history story focuses on iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick getting uncomfortably recruited by the US Government to help NASA stage the Apollo 11 Moon Shot as a public relations failsafe in a critical period of Superpower Cold War history. Folsom’s script garnered significant attention in Hollywood, placing it on the prestigious 2013 Black List by a league of seasoned entertainment industry executives - a nice compliment in the 21st Century compared to the notorious McCarthy-era blacklists, which doomed many honored and talented artists of the mid-20th Century.
Folsom’s achievement attracted the earnest interest of world-famous film producers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, who have the track record and clout to develop the “1969” script into a major cinematic release at a quick pace. In what could be considered as a serious rehearsal, Folsom is directing a live reading of her script with top performers at the 2014 LA Film Festival. Moreover, Folsom recently made news in the Hollywood Reporter by landing a special Warner Brothers script assignment to adapt Harlan Coben’s best selling novel “Missing You” for the screen. In many respects, Stephany Folsom is the definition of a classic young and talented Hollywood writer in demand, who will no doubt make more important news during her fruitful career.
Also on the call was LA-based writer/producer Jim Cirile of Coverageink.com. When Jim isn’t working on his own exciting material, he helps writers to succeed via his company’s screenplay development services. The goal of the call was to cover as much ground as possible from the perspective of both the spec screenplay writer and broad-spectrum Kubrick aficionado. Kubrickian and Coverageink are happy to note that Stephany Folsom did a great job bringing the late 60’s and Kubrick to life on the pages, including his passion for perfection, and Chess.
Scott and/or Jim (K/C): Please tell us how you got started as a writer, and what brought you to LA.
Stephany Folsom (SF): I grew up in Colorado Springs. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and starting 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. I became an instant Kubrick fan after being shown “Dr. Strangelove” in a high school class, which inspired a personal quest to learn more about Kubrick and his other works. When it was time to head to college, I decided to attend film school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, which provides the wonderful opportunity to participate in all processes of filmmaking – writing, producing, directing, editing. It was an invaluable education.
K/C: How did you break into working in the Hollywood system?
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.
K/C: How did you come to write the “1969” script on spec? Was it on your mind for a while as a Kubrick fan, or did something inspire you? I read that you attended the Kubrick Exhibit at LACMA when it finally came to the USA for the first time in late 2012, did that experience have any influence?
SF: I was thrilled to have the chance to attend the opening of the Kubrick exhibit at LACMA in November 2012. I took my time to take it all in and read everything presented - they literally had to kick me out at the end of the day! I felt the exhibit really gave a sense of who Kubrick was as a human being as well as an artist…he became tangible to me there. While I was exploring the Exhibit, I recalled the crazy moon landing conspiracy that had been floating around for decades suggesting Kubrick helped the US government fake the landing for TV in 1969. I thought to myself that it would make a great story and made a mental note to check my personal conspiracy files and the internet when I got home. The visit to the Kubrick Exhibit at LACMA certainly catalyzed the concept.
K/C: Sounds like a great experience at the Kubrick Exhibit, which I can personally say is a very impressive & influential experience. So, Are you one of those conspiracy theory freaks I keep getting warned about?
SF (amused): No, I’m not a conspiracy theory freak, but I guess you can say I’m obsessed with conspiracy theories – I don’t actually believe in them, but I’m fascinated that people come up with these fantastic ideas to help explain how and why strange things happen. Sure enough, I found a lot of information about the Kubrick-faked-the-moon-landing theory, and found myself working on a script in earnest by January 2013.
K/C: How did you first hear about the rumors of a fake moon landing and Kubrick’s alleged involvement? For serious Kubrick scholars, it’s almost impossible not to trip upon the decades of rumors and derivative works suggesting his involvement with what audiences saw with their own eyes in 1969.
SF: I believe the rumors started soon after the moon landing in 1969, and like a lot of urban legends of the era, it took a life of its own. 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 seem to suggest in a tongue and cheek way that Kubrick played a role in staging the landing footage…and the recent documentary “Room 237” explores the possible hidden messages in Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining” book, which some feel was Kubrick’s way of confessing his involvement with the landing via numerous cinematic clues.
K/C: As industry participants, we can appreciate the practical spirit of the old showbiz proverb “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. While many consider Kubrick a rare cinematic genius, he also had to play the classic showman in order to survive in this tough business and stay relevant as an independent producer/director over the decades. That said, do you think there’s any truth in the rumors, or Kubrick simply went along for the ride?
SF: While my script explores the concept of Kubrick getting recruited to help produce the spectacle of 1969, it seems very plausible that Kubrick winked at the urban legends as they didn’t damage his brand, and perhaps spoke to his wicked sense of humor! But the rumors certainly took a unique life of their own over the years, and he didn’t actively try to deny them. Only the Government and Kubrick know for sure.
K/C: I’ve read a number of Black List scripts over the years, and I consider yours one of the best I’ve read in a while from a craft perspective – a solid example of professional-level writing with an exciting period piece story that speaks to my inner conspiracy theorist! But considering your script was written on spec and you’re still relatively young in the industry, how did the “1969” script get lifted from obscurity?
SF: I wrote the script quickly in early 2013, basically as a love letter to Kubrick from a fan, thinking it was a fun, quirky script written from the heart that I could possibly produce independently one day on a low budget. While I was talking with my managers about a TV pilot, I mentioned the “1969” script and they took immediate interest. I think my reps were smart about how went about the process by first giving the script to notable Hollywood tastemakers. After that, it seem to spread like wildfire and take 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!
K/C: I think it’s very brave of you to take on Kubrick as a main on-screen character. From what I understand, your script is the first to do so, with the only produced example being Stanley Tucci’s relative small role playing an early 1960’s Kubrick in “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”, and Kubrick mentioned only by name in “Color Me Kubrick” inspired by real life stories from the 1990’s. It seems you had to walk a fine line in respect of honoring and respecting what people know about the Kubrick while making him as engaging as possible, and roll all that together into this interesting and heady mélange. That said, please tell us how you approached Kubrick as a character for your script.
SF: As a fan and big admirer of everything Kubrick did, I didn’t want to undermine his image in any way. He’s an icon and his work is amazing - I wanted to honor and enhance the legacy, but also wanted to make him human – after all, he wasn’t perfect. So I immersed myself in everything I could find out about him via a number of resources…my goal was to get a fully fleshed-out perspective of Kubrick as an artist, icon, and a human being. I listened to Kubrick’s limited audio interviews non-stop to get a cadence of his strong accent and how he phrased things, so I could picture him while I was writing his dialogue. I guess you could say I was stalking him online!
K/C: Please tell us more about your research of the period, as you’re only 30 years old and born well after the height of the Space Race. I’m impressed by the Barbara character who does most of the talking with Kubrick on behalf of the US Government, and the audience.
SF: My parents were products of the 1960’s, so that was a great help, and my mother was very actively involved with the women rights movement that characterized the era. So I felt like I grew up with a good understanding of the times. I created the Barbara character as a foil for Kubrick. Barbara is a composite of several strong women that I discovered were involved with the Nixon administration in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, as well as other interesting women filling shoes in government for the first time who came from the private sector, typically over-qualified for the jobs available.
K/C: Considering this may be the first feature-length film to be released featuring Kubrick as a main on-screen character, what are your thoughts on the success of your script starting a flood of material showcasing Kubrick as a driving character? What would you say to writers who want to include Kubrick as a character in their scripts? Now that you’ve made the break-through, do you see yourself writing another script featuring Kubrick?
SF: I hope we do see more movies featuring Kubrick as a main character, leading newer generations to his genius and work. I would advise writers taking on Kubrick to do the same amount of homework that one would do for any real-life character. Come from a place of respect, love and humanity, and you can’t go wrong. I think this script was my personal homage Kubrick, therefore I’m not planning any additional scripts about him at the moment. However, I would like to do other work that honors Kubrick and what he taught me about storytelling and filmmaking. I feel like Kubrick’s cinematic influence will be present in everything I do.
K/C: 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.
K/C: We couldn’t agree with you more about that! Thank you for taking the time to talk with Kubrickian.org and Coverageink.com, and best of success with the production process – we can’t wait to see the release! For the record, what’s your favorite Kubrick film?
SF: I love and appreciate all of his films, but my favorite is still my first experience - “Dr. Strangelove”!
Stephany Folsom’s “1969” Script centers about the WHAT IF of that fateful summer, and we’ll just have wait for the finished product to see where Stephany, the Producers, and the participating artists ultimately take the concept. Folsom’s representation of Kubrick and the era may not satisfy every avid Kubrick fan, or patiently waiting conspiracy theory enthusiasts, but there’s no doubt that she gave the subject matter fervent thought and energy that should appeal to Kubrickians old and young, as well as a wide variety of moviegoers. “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,” Stephany cheerfully concludes.
More About Stephany Folsom: Personal Website & Blog @Twitter
POSTSCRIPT - JUNE 2014
Op/Ed by Scott Sheckman, Kubrickian.org
Although I’ve been tripping on Kubrick as a personal study project for about 5 years (Kubrickian.org was launched in 2013 after my visit to the LACMA Kubrick Exhibit) I’ve rarely had the chance to talk with fans/scholars as knowledgeable and friendly as Stephany Folsom. I’m hoping this is the first of many amicable encounters with smart folk who have seriously studied the bounty Kubrick left behind, and quality moments with those lucky enough to have worked closely with the master filmmaker before his untimely passing in 1999.
With millions of followers on social media, myriads of independent books & analysis, and a dedicated Exhibit touring art museums around the globe, there’s no doubt that Kubrick is considered a very important filmmaker by the experts, despite the relatively low output of 12 feature-length films. In fact, the Vatican honored Kubrick and his family by placing a restored copy of “2001: A Space Odyssey” in its exclusive library. So it seems safe to say that even the Pope digs Kubrick!
As the reader may know, Kubrick had three daughters – two of blood and one adopted, the child of his third and final wife of over 40 years, German-born Christiane Kubrick. Christiane continues her own artistic passions at their Childwickbury Manor Estate (St. Albans outside London), where Kubrick is buried under his favorite outdoor sitting spot. Perhaps being surrounded by women for most of his life led Kubrick to understand them well, and vice-versa. So it should come as no surprise that a young woman is first to market with a viable story about Kubrick fictionally involved in Big US/World History. Moreover, Stephany’s script effectively trips to a retired era that wrapped well before she was born, where flying men rode shotgun to the heavens on blatant phallic symbols when they weren’t driving red Corvettes along the FL Space Coast. She also brings to the table a strong G-Woman who could be working with the NYC Madmen if it wasn’t for a higher calling. Combined with the fine period details, “1969: A Space Odyssey or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon” should be an awesome film, starting with a unique live reading at the 2014 LA Film Festival.
In addition to Folsom’s account of 1969, which could make it to screens before the 50th anniversary of the US Moon Landing, Kubrick is scheduled to appear in spirit this decade via his painstaking preparations for “Napoleon”, recently crowned “The Greatest Movie Never Made” by Taschen Books. Kubrick started development on “Napoleon” in the late 1960’s, spending considerable funds and man-hours researching every moment of Bonaparte’s life, even the dull days when the highlight was merely the soup du jour. Perhaps no historian understood Napoleon better than Kubrick, and no doubt, it would have made a great 20th Century film if he could have secured the backing in the early 1970’s - an interesting WHAT IF showbiz story unto itself. According to reports, Steven Spielberg is currently developing Kubrick’s “Napoleon” for a potential HBO miniseries. Spielberg last partnered with Kubrick’s ghost on the critically acclaimed “AI: Artificial Intelligence” released in 2001, after many years of now-legendary lengthy conversations via dedicated phone and fax lines.
It seems that no other historical military/political figure has been written and discussed about as much as Napoleon Bonaparte, and the way it’s looking circa 2014, Kubrick may hold a similar title as a historical filmmaker. In addition to his completed works and deep research on uncompleted projects, it feels as if there are more third-party Kubrick-themed books, essays, and multimedia than one can easily find and properly digest in a lifetime. And who knows what’s lurking on highbrow subscription websites and the paper files of universities?
Surely, many Kubrick and/or Space 1969 fans are still interested in the facts and legends nearly 50 years later. Stephany Folsom is living proof that a new young generation is not only fascinated by the 1960’s, but can recognize Kubrick’s genius via viewing his cinematic works and conducting some scholarly study. A 1964 B&W Kubrick satirical film about a highly-radioactive WWIII touched Stephany in high school. An opening visit to the Kubrick Exhibit at LACMA in late 2012 influenced her again. The Internet proved an invaluable research tool, and now she’s the first serious writer to make Kubrick a main on-screen character in a Hollywood script featuring real famous names and locations from an era slipping into Americana History, despite the echo of the Cold War being heard in recent years. Perhaps Kubrick was partly responsible for cooling the height of the 1960’s Cold War with showbiz-risky releases like “Dr. Strangelove” & “2001”.
So, perhaps all this rambling begs a question: is Kubrick an American Hero similar to the rugged 1960’s Astronauts showcased in books and movies like “The Right Stuff”? As a semi-pro Kubrick and 20th Century scholar, I can’t imagine a filmmaker/storyteller better qualified to be labeled an American Hero, at very least for what we KNOW Kubrick accomplished in 50 years - namely the remarkable photos and deep/thick films that help define the mid-to-late 20th century and beyond, all while raising a career and family in two continents. Kubrick elegantly explored the follies of modern society and dark side of human nature in ways many cinema artists wouldn’t dare or know how to try. He traveled so far and climbed so high, he’s now widely considered a World Artist, hence the globe-trotting Kubrick Exhibit that only recently landed on North American shores.
At the very least, Kubrick’s 12 feature films influenced the many professional storytellers who seriously studied them. If Kubrick academically increased and enhanced the vocabulary and narrative forms available to modern filmmakers, that’s reason enough to be celebrated for decades to come, as those triumphs are similar to adding linguistics to the popular vernacular, or even inventing color film. Kubrick was notoriously tight-lipped about his own critical contributions, but if Stephany’s love letter script is any indication, there are leagues of cinema artists ready to let the world know that Kubrick, may have been indeed, the first human to land on the Moon!
NOTE: The filmstrip outlines for this Kubrickian story are actual frames of Kubrick’s personal 70mm print of “2001” (center frame) included in limited first editions of “The Stanley Kubrick Archives” published in 2005 by Taschen Books. Right Frame: Kubrickian.org founder Scott Sheckman enjoying his day at LACMA’s Kubrick Exhibit , Spring 2013.
© 2014 Scott Sheckman and Kubrickian.org. All rights reserved. No reprinting without permission.
Most images by Scott Sheckman. Special thanks to the Kubrick Exhibit for allowing photography. Third party images courtesy of the Internet under Fair Use principals. Thank you rights holders.
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