Sundance Film Festival

AN EDUCATION in Screenwriting

Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby and David Bezmozgis

Writers—of fiction especially—are a notoriously independent lot, for obvious reasons. They’re their own bosses, and the only (living) person they have to consult with, artistically speaking, is their editor. So what happens when a novelist crosses over into an intensely collaborative medium like film?

Cede control over hiring, for starters.

“The idea that a novelist can control a film is crazy—totally crazy,” Nick Hornby, who adapted a Granta essay into the screenplay for AN EDUCATION, said during a Cinema Café conversation this morning (this series may be the festival’s best off-screen programming). “What do I know about editing or cinematography? A bad editor could mess your movie about.”

Nor would Hornby want to, say, direct a film. “It’s crushingly boring,” he said. “They’re talking about where to put a light. ‘I could have written a book today.’”

David Bezmozgis, who has been published in The New Yorker and Harper’s, and who wrote the screenplay for VICTORIA DAY, was equally dumbfounded by the glacial pace of film projects in Hollywood. While Hornby has been at work on AN EDUCATION since 2003, Bezmozgis wrote his screenplay back in 2001 after graduating from film school at USC (but then moved to Toronto when he realized it was “unlikely that a film like this would get made in L.A.”).

Wearing a gray hoodie, corduroy slacks and black sneaker, Hornby said he’s been pleased with the adaptations of his novels, which include Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity, though he was quick to argue that they aren’t adaptations per se. “It’s wrong,” he said with a wry smile. “Books aren’t turned into movies. They’re still sitting there on bookshelves.” Overall, his experiences in filmmaking have been positive, he said, with one exception: his adaptation of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius remains, sadly, in development hell.

Hornby said he found adapting a 10-page essay liberating because, whereas adapting a novel is all about what you leave out (people are always telling him that their favorite scenes didn’t make it into the movie), this project allowed him to expand the material. David Bezmozgis, meanwhile, said screenwriting comes easier to him than writing fiction because he struggles most with describing emotion—which isn’t required of a screenplay.

“You can write ‘he’s sad’ fifty times,” he said. “Nobody cares.”

But his reasons for working in film are practical as well.

“Film work pays considerably better than book work,” he said. “Even at this independent level, it was something that made sense to do.” Now, though, “I’m very ready to be by myself again and not see other people.”