Screenplay Reading: “Drumadoon” by Mark Zakalik
Tuesday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, The Gallery in Room 100

Marc Zakalik thought he was going to be a pre-med gunner his freshman year. But instead of toiling away in the chemistry lab spending his nights writing formulas, he created something he always wanted to do instead: a screenplay.

“I was like, OK, that’s got to mean something,” Zakalik said. “I took that as a sign, switched paths and haven’t looked back.”

Zakalik, who graduated from the Screen Arts and Cultures program last year, emerged from the demanding screenwriting program with two full-length screenplays. One of these scripts will be read aloud by students Tuesday at a reading hosted by the University of Michigan Libraries.

Set in a small seaside village in Scotland, “Drumadoon” centers on 21-year-old Dave “Disco” Drummond, a single father and football player who aspires to play once more for the Celtic Football Club in Glasgow. The winner of a Hopwood award, “Drumadoon” is loosely inspired by Zalikak’s own experience on the Isle of Arran in Scotland.

“As a writer, I’ve sort of discovered what my preference is to write about, and I like writing about normal people who do normal things,” Zakalik said. “I’m nervous for it, actually. It’s the first time I’m showing my work to the general public, so it’ll be interesting to see what people say.”

The screenplay readings provide student writers with opportunities to hear their work read in front of an audience. Discussions following the readings will bring the general public into the creative process and provide young screenwriters with feedback from fresh eyes and ears.

“The Writer’s Guild has these all the time in New York and L.A,” said Jim Burnstein, an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter who heads the Screenwriting Program,. “Established writers would come in and have a new script read, bring in actors and do a table read, get a reaction from people and get feedback.”

These events are key opportunities for interested students to get a first taste of the program. They give people who aren’t in the department a chance to see what these students can do.

The screenwriters of the Screen Arts and Cultures program are the cream of the crop: entrance into the program is merit-based and highly selective. Last year, four students won Hopwood awards, eliciting Hopwood judge and U-M alumnus Elwood Reid to proclaim the scripts “incredibly competent, ambitious and polished.” Alumna Beth Schwartz wrote last week’s episode of “Brothers & Sisters.” Zakalik himself secured a great job upon graduation, working as the assistant to the director for the film “Youth in Revolt.”

“The feedback I got and the attention I got in the screenwriting program was fantastic, something that really helped me grow as a writer,” Zakalik said.

The program is unique in that students can come out of it with several full-length screenplays. Many other schools might prompt students to write only a first act, but Michigan’s program focuses on making the experience as professional as possible.

“If a studio asks you to write a first draft of a screenplay, you would have 10 weeks. That’s about a term here,” Screen Arts and Cultures Program Coordinator Mary Lou Chlipala said. “This program is based on the working professional, and what’s demanded of the working professional, so the students here are really acquiring these skills right from the start.”

While today’s event is akin to a conventional table reading, the program used to hold unconventional, staged readings of screenplays. Students, faculty and local actors would work together to animate the words on the page, melding theater and film into a groundbreaking new medium.

“You never saw anything like it,” Burnstein said. “You didn’t know if you were watching a play or a movie. It was kind of like a hybrid where you’re acting out the screenplay, you’re putting it on its feet, so it looks sort of like a theatrical production but it so approximates the movie in the speed in which it moves. I mean, audiences just loved it.”

Burnstein and Chlipala hope to bring back these screening series again soon, but until then, these screenplay readings serve as an acceptable stand-in to showcase student talent. With salty Scottish brogues and a good deal of cursing, students will bring Zakalik’s weighty tale to life. It’s a chance to be a part of a screenplay revision, learn about the program, and see a script come alive.

Today, the audience might not actually see all the flashy visual effects that inhabit the film medium, but student voices will still galvanize the sights and sounds of dreary Scotland in Zakalik’s script.

“It’s all on the page,” Burnstein said. “You’ll see it completely.”

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