John R. Saylor is the author of the short story “Reagan in Kabul” and winner of the South Carolina Arts Commission Fiction Prize for 2011
Expecting Goodness asks him how his experience with the Expecting Goodness Short Film Festival has developed and what defines the interaction with Dr. Julie Sexeny, the filmmaker turning his short story into a film.
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What were your hopes for you and your story when you submitted it to Expecting Goodness?
Well, of course my main hope was for big money. Money and groupies. The money part never panned out, but it’s great having groupies. Seriously, I was just happy to see my story get more exposure and to have the opportunity to see what it was like to see a story turned into a film. Julie Sexeny is a very insightful director, and having the opportunity to work with her has been just great, so I feel very fortunate.
How did you envision your short story as a short film? Was there a persistent image or a persistent set of scenes? Was there a particular actor or actress that appeared for one of your characters?
When I wrote the story, I always had an image of the main character(the father) as being sort of an angry, jowley unshaven guy. Portlyand not very good looking. Someone like Ian Holm or Ned Beatty who is unattractive and capable of conveying a certain sense of menace. Julie cast Dan Day who can really convey a kind of glaring sense of fury, which is great. Unfortunately he is also a pretty good0looking guy, but I guess you can’t have everything.
What was your visit to Julie’s set like?
Visiting the set was great. When Julie sent me the script a few weeks prior, I just didn’t see how this was all going to work. I’d never read a script before, and all I kept thinking was that there just wasn’t enough on the pages to get the story across. At the set, I spent some time peering over the shoulder of the DP as he was framing one of the shots. Looking through the view finder with him was when it suddenly all made sense — I got it. I suddenly realized that those things that take me half a page to convey in a story, can be communicated almost instantly with a properly framed shot. It was a wonderful eye-opening moment.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the story you and Julie are creating?
Any story teller wants to reveal some aspect of the human condition in a new way. This story is about loss, something we all have experienced although perhaps not in the form of the death of a son in war (the subject of “Reagan in Kabul”). My hope is that the audience will think “I know what that guy is going through,” even if they haven’t had the same experience depicted in the film.