Screenwriting for Neurotics
by Joshua Darrah
“You know, someday you could make a living at this.” Northwestern University student Scott Sublett found himself staring at this comment in Joseph Epstein’s undergraduate writing course. The theatre fanatic and future San José State screenwriting professor thought to himself: “Well, I don’t know how else to make a living, I guess I’ll be a writer.” Eventually, just as his renowned instructor predicted, Sublett would make a career out of writing. But, unbeknownst even to Scott Sublett himself, he’d also one day make a living out of teaching it.
When Sublett started school at Northwestern, he was a theatre major intent on becoming an actor. Feelings of inadequacy started when the Indiana native realized that his musical comedy approach to acting clashed with the method styles used by upperclassmen. Seeking a new, more practical direction, he ultimately (and admittedly ironically) joined the university’s Radio/Television/Film department. There he first discovered his passion for film and, specifically, for film history and criticism.
But it was not until years later when Sublett was working as a film critic for The Washington Times that his interest in screenwriting was sparked. The exuberant entertainment writer had grown tired of constantly criticizing work that he himself didn’t know how to do. Realizing that it was time for a change, Sublett enrolled in a screenwriting course to learn the craft that he so frequently critiqued. The impact of this course was life changing and provided him with a new mission: to become a screenwriter.
Soon after completing the class, Sublett quit his job at The Times and relocated to Los Angeles, where he was accepted into the prestigious UCLA graduate screenwriting program. After graduate school, the aspiring filmmaker worked as a script consultant in Los Angeles while attempting to sell his own spec scripts. After seven years laboring away in southern California, Sublett once again was prepared to do something new. He heard about a teaching position at San José State University, successfully interviewed for it, and thus began the current chapter in his varied career.
Much has changed in the eighteen years since Sublett started working in the Television, Radio, Film, and Theatre department. Regarding the screenwriting element of the department, Sublett says: “What was a quite undistinguished screenwriting program has evolved into, in many ways, a great one.” Perhaps nowhere else is the success of the program more evident than in the numerous awards that SJSU students have amassed over the years from various screenwriting competitions. Sublett attributes the ongoing success of San José State students to the teaching methods he and fellow screenwriting professors Barnaby Dallas and David Kahn utilize in the classroom, methods whose effectiveness have rendered the program one of the best in the country.
Sublett’s passion for teaching screenwriting goes beyond the classroom, and recently manifested itself in the form of a how-to manual fittingly titled Screenwriting for Neurotics. Published in 2014 by the University of Iowa Press, the book is a product of the author’s own discontent with the lack of decent screenwriting manuals available to students, some of which he labels as “downright dangerous.”
The success of the book has prompted talks with his publisher about writing another about comedy. But for now, Sublett is focusing on his own dramatic writing. And yet, regardless of what literary path he takes, teaching comes first to the committed professor. Surely Scott Sublett’s continuing devotion to the success of students will only further increase the visibility and respectability of San José State’s highly esteemed screenwriting program.