Talking to John quickly reveals his energy, creativity, and empathy, the font of his many successes in screenwriting, directing and film production. An educator, he has founded several university film programs. For the broader public, he hosts the popular PBS program The Artist Toolbox, talking to a pantheon of other master artists on their creative process in the worlds of fashion, film, theater, architecture, design, ballet and more. “What they all have in common,” says John, “is their obsession to perfect their work,” by endless practicing--as he does from 6 to 9 a.m. every day.
John will bring to WICE his own artist’s tools, breaking down the essentials of character, dialogue, theme, and most of all structure. He says, “When projects fail, be they screenplays, books, or plays, 90 percent of the time it’s because of the structure. I could take you through 500 good films and show you they all share the same structure, even Grimm’s Fairy Tales. An example of a film where it works is Shakespeare in Love, you could watch it over and over again.”
Another vital element to a good screenplay is story. “Story is the is the currency of all human exchange. Through putting a character under duress, we see their choices. When they are vulnerable, without their suit of armor, it reveals who they really are and if we see ourselves in them. An authentic story is what we crave so badly.”
John grew up in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., trained in Hollywood and later moved to Seattle to raise his family outside the excesses of the industry. Like most artists, he had to persist. He wrote seven screenplays before selling his first one. But he says you don’t have to be a pro to have your work see the light of day either: I’ve seen success come out of nowhere!”
“For a screenplay, you have to be able to write visually. The screenplay is the blueprint for the story. Every part of it should move the story on. Sometimes this is without dialogue, or with descriptions of places that reflect a mood but don’t give too much detail.”
Good work comes out of Hollywood, he says, but when it becomes formulaic it loses the authenticity that constitutes art. “Some of the best writers sell their work to Hollywood and the film that comes out is junk! The target audience seems to be teenage boys. The minute you start writing or producing just for money the art is over.”
He maintains his dedication to real art, having just completed a series on the remarkable life of Harriet Tubman, relating the many heroic adventures she had in the Underground Railroad, women’s suffrage and the Civil War. This represented an enormous amount of historical research but for John it is a passion to bring this story to the screen. “I like both producing this kind of creative work and helping people. That is why I teach.”
http://www.johnejacobsen.com/ Posted by Elizabeth Bouché
Event sponsored by WICE and the Paris Writers Workshop
Register to the course now with WICE:4 - days Paris Screenwriting Workshop
2 to 7 July, 9a.m. to 1 p.m.
WICE, 10 rue Tiphaine, 75015 Paris: métro La Motte Piquet Grenelle