Brian Nelson finds inspiration on the open road. The screenwriter drives at night to spark his imagination, and with the screenplays “Hard Candy” and “Devil” under his belt, you have to wonder what other ideas come to him during drives in the dark. Nelson recently let us in on his current project (inspired by a drive at night, perhaps?), plus his thoughts on science advising for screenwriters and the common ground between science and entertainment.
Tell us about your background. What sparked your interest in screenwriting?
I have always been a writer, back to the days of creating little serialized stories in first grade about a team of adventurers and robots out to stop evil. I focused on theatre for many years and still work there occasionally, but doing an MFA in theatre at UCLA connected me with studios where I could also explore my love of film and television.
You have written plays, as well as screenplays. What are the inherent differences in writing for different mediums? Are some stories not meant to be told on stage versus the screen (and vice-versa)?
Certain stories thrive with elements that only the stage can provide – the intimacy of the audience’s breath, the edge of the performance frame, the risk of the actor’s heart and body in space.
What moment can you pinpoint as a turning point in your career?
There have been a lot of those: going to an ice cream parlor one day and seeing a bulletin board ad for a stage manager, picking up a biography of Kate Chopin or a Jules Verne novel, writing Hard Candy, maybe writing the piece I am working on this week. One great thing about being a writer is that tonight at 11:33 pm you could possibly write the thing that will change everything for you; you do not have to wait for anyone.
How did you become involved with The Science & Entertainment Exchange? What were your first thoughts on the program?
Mark Wind at Creative Artists Agency knew about my interest in certain science-based questions and invited me to a program you were holding. Research is one of a writer’s biggest challenges, even in the Internet age, and I was thrilled that The Exchange had as part of its very mission to share knowledge with storytellers like me.
What do you think about the science advising process? Has it been helpful? Would you recommend it to other screenwriters?
It has been extremely helpful. I have been working on a script about a man who becomes technologically enhanced, and speaking with scientists across the country who are working on these very issues has been a delight and an education. I recommend the process without reservation.
Do you think there is a common ground between science and entertainment?
Both are involved in reality testing – investigating the limits of what is possible, so we know our capabilities.
What scientist, dead or living, would you want to have over for dinner?
Richard Feynman comes to mind first, not only because there would be musical entertainment, but because his relationship with his first wife was so poignant. Among the living, I will eagerly chat up anyone involved in neurological research and the relationships between memory, biology, and identity.
Thinking of the next generation of filmmakers and scientists – what message would you like to share with them?
No pressure here, eh? Stay honest and unrelenting. Explore what scares you. Do the thing you think you cannot do.
What inspires you?
One thing that mysteriously inspires me is driving at night; there is almost no time that I feel more comfortable, and ideas can come to me while driving at night like pouring water.
Anything you can share about your next project?
Currently I am writing about a detective and a murderer who are old friends. I am having a lot of fun with it. I took a trip to St. Louis to do research for it, and fell in love with the city. A city official, who notably shares my love of Springsteen, Seeger, and Updike, told me over lunch, “St. Louis isn’t for everybody — because it is for everybody.” That is a great sentiment; I think it describes an essential quality of a lot of things I care about.
Read more Featured Entertainer interviews here.