By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local
What is it about a television series that captivates us and keeps us coming back for more?
The voice of the characters must ring true, according to screenwriter and dramatist Laura Eason.
Montclair Film and The Film Institute at Montclair State University presented a number of free sessions in “Behind the Screen” on Saturday, Feb. 9, including “Insights on Acting” with Joe Morton, “The Director and the Editor” with Maggie Greenwald and Keith Reamer, and “Video News in the Digital Age “with Tina Exarhos and Julie Winokur.
Susan Skoog, filmmaking professor and director of programming at The Film Institute at Montclair State University, discussed screenwriting, acting, television and film, and other things with Laura Eason at the Screenwriting session in “Behind the Screen.”
Eason, who grew up in Evanston, Ill., studied theater and performance at Northwestern before becoming a member of the Lookingglass Theater Company in Chicago. She’s had many roles in the ensemble over the years including writer, director, dramatist, actor, literary manager and artistic director.
She has written more than 20 plays and adaptations, and was handpicked by creator and showrunner Beau Willimon to be one of only four people in the second year writers’ room of his award-winning series, “House of Cards.” Eason continued with the show for four seasons.
“Beau Willimon read my play, ‘Sex with Strangers,’ and he set up a meeting. We clicked when we met over coffee in Brooklyn to talk about the series,” Eason said.
Eason recently completed “Here and Now,” a film she wrote starring Sarah Jessica Parker that was directed by Fabien Constant. For “House of Cards,” Eason said, she was sometimes the only woman in the writers’ room. She was able to use her experience and knowledge to write in a way that was true for the beautiful scheming character of Claire Underwood, played by Robin Wright.
“I didn’t focus on making Claire likeable,” Eason said. “I focused on making her actions and words authentic for her character, for who she is and everything that came before. I’ve written a lot of adaptations from classic texts. I learned how to make up dialogue. The voice of the writer must match to the voice and the tone of the character.”
When Skoog asked Eason if she ever felt possessive about her ideas, Eason explained that she learned all about collaboration at the Lookingglass Theater Company.
“In the writers’ room, a writer can pitch an idea that other writers move forward with their own additions and changes. It’s collaboration. The original idea morphs into something else. In television, you can’t be possessive of an idea. You have to be willing to watch it leap ahead and become something else.”
Eason’s session featured clips from “House of Cards” and her new film, “Here and Now” and time for questions and answers from the audience.
IDEAS FOR EVERYONE
Sue Hollenberg, Montclair Film Education Director, and Susan Skoog, director of programming for the Film Institute at Montclair State, organized the all-day “Behind the Screen” event.
Hollenberg began her work in 2012 at Montclair Film as a volunteer. She was named education director in 2015.
The best part of Behind the Screen?
“Exposing students to the wide range of possibilities for careers in the film industry and providing them with encouragement. We try to present everyone from set designers to public relations to actors to screenwriters,” Hollenberg said.
She believes that all work in film is creative, regardless of the role.
“It’s work. There are ups and downs. Listening to Joe Morton describe the challenges he’s faced… it puts things into perspective. People don’t burst on the scene over night. It can take years to get to a place in which you feel as though you’ve ‘made it.’ It’s a broad range of experience,” said Hollenberg.
And film students and others who are interested in the field should be aware that there are many ways to contribute and to be part of the film community.
Hollenberg, a longtime Montclair resident, described the participants in Behind the Screen as “generous.”
“The one thing that blows me away is the generosity of the talent on the stage. The level of talent and the level of generosity are inspiring. We know these folks are busy. Joe Morton is directing. Laura Eason is writing. They’re so gracious. They share their wealth experience and knowledge. We wouldn’t be here without them.”