By Emma Livingston, Co-editor
Although Don Bapst has only been working at Thunderbird for two and a half years, he is a T-Bird through and through. Born in Chicago, he has lived in five cites across the United States and in five other cities in four different countries: London, United Kingdom; Paris, France; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Montreal and Toronto, Canada. He speaks fluent French and English and is a dual United States/Canadian citizen. He is a teacher, writing center director, screenwriter, filmmaker, and published author. I sat down for an extended interview with him in his headquarters at the Writing Center behind the Bloomberg Room in IBIC. Here are some of the highlights from that interview:
You have taught Business English Communication program at Thunderbird. What do you like about this class?
I love meeting people from all parts of the world, so working with people from different cultures is always a thrill. Aside from the diversity of the BEC class, I like the intensity of the BEC program. There’s so much work that’s required. Students come out of it having done a full ten-page business report and they present it as a PowerPoint as well. So you really see people growing in a short period of time and turning into confident writers, presenters, and speakers.
What is your advice for non-native speakers looking to improve their English?
Read for pleasure, not just for assignments. I lived in France for almost three years and when I was learning French, it was the reading of French novels that helped me become fluent in the language. You get to see how the words flow and understand the music of the language. If you read business writing all the time, some of that writing isn’t necessarily written the way we speak. It’s limited to a specific industry, a specific jargon. When you’re reading a novel, you get a sense of the flow of the language and you hear the music of it.
Another thing I recommend is to watch English language films with the subtitles turned on. If you don’t understand the grammar of the sentence, stop the film and read the subtitle. You begin again to understand the musicality of the language.
Tell me about your work. What have you written?
I’ve written a psychological thriller about Tarot cards called The Hanged Man. I’ve also written a modern retelling of Dangerous Liaisons called firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s set in the fashion industry in the 20th century with an all male cast. Most recently, I’ve optioned a screenplay, which is a horror/thriller called Calculating Euphoria. (To learn more about Don Bapst’s creative works, visit his website at http://donbapst.com)
Tell me about screenwriting. What are the challenges of this type of writing?
Screenwriting is the hardest type of writing there is. The reason is: you’re not writing it to be a final product. A play, for example, doesn’t change once it’s published. The actual text of a play is locked in at a certain point. A screenplay is only a blueprint for what’s going to be the final product. A good screenplay gives more direction to what’s going to appear on the screen than what the characters say. Your writing has to be clear to actors, directors, cinematographers, wardrobe designers…every single person associated with the project. They’re all going to have their opinions, their changes, their inputs.
Really bad screenwriting is where all the action is described in dialog. In really good screenwriting, almost none of the action is told in dialog. Action is told in images and dialog advances the character.
What is an example of a really good screenplay?
Chinatown. It’s generally considered one of the best screenplays ever written. It’s a great example of a screenplay where most things are told through visuals. And the dialog reveals so much of the character.
Another really great example of a screenplay is Whiplash. I read the screenplay before watching the film and it was a page-turner. A very good example of very fast paced and compelling writing.
My final question: What makes a good teacher?
For me, the best teachers that I’ve had are the ones that are most passionate about their subjects. Their passion for the subject comes through, which for me, and most of my students, is the most inspiring quality there is.