April 26, 2012

From Holland to Cornell

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“Sometimes I just daydream and I come up with story concepts. I have no idea how but at some point I just woke up, I was thinking and it just popped into my head. This idea about a white girl falling in love with a black man, a relationship with all the racial turmoil and strain that goes on with that. I worked it out and this is what came afterwards,” Wybren (Ian) de Vries told The Sun, regarding his inspiration behind his award-winning screenplay Colors.

Colors follows Elisabeth Vandersteen in late 19th century America as she struggles coming to grips with her racially charged environment. In this post-Civil War southern town, the KKK still strongly lurks among the people, including her own family. When the father discovers Elisabeth’s friendship with an African-American, Thomas B. Adams, he furiously sends her away. When she returns eight years later, however, her family’s tightly held prejudice remains in equal, if not larger, measure as before. The forbidden friendship is rekindled, now with a romantic undertone. This twist unlocks a cataclysm of disastrous events.

The story can appear common to someone hearing it for the first time. If someone else tried to pen this idea into a screenplay, it would have probably resulted in a terrible cliché. White girl meets black boy. Children grow up and fall in love. Family opposes. Who hasn’t heard a version of this tale before? Nevertheless, Ian manages to spin a potentially mediocre plot into a truly captivating story by developing character threads with rich backstories and concluding with a truly spectacular and unexpected ending. The finale leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth; to me, this taste resembles life. The ending speaks volumes about the screenplay as a whole — a script anchored in realism. There is no sugarcoated moral story to be told here. I won’t give away too much in fear of spoiling a potential movie’s ending.

“Writing the first draft took eight weeks in total,” Ian said as he described the process required in writing a screenplay. “The actual words, meaning the actual 120 pages, I wrote in three nights and three days. All of the seven weeks and five days before that was preparation work. Writing screenplays is very different from writing books since screenplays have to conform to a very strict structure for it to be interesting as a film. A lot of it is coming up with the concept, writing background stories for your characters and their quirks, thinking about how they relate to other characters … Most if it is the preparation; as soon as that prep work is done you can turn in into an actual screenplay.”

Naturally, I had to ask what actors he envisioned playing the characters of his screenplay. “I’ve thought about Daniel Day Lewis as the father … that would make the movie of course. The rest [of the characters] are much younger, so obviously different people but I can’t really think of any really big names,” ponders Ian.

Ian is quite possibly one of the most interesting and multifaceted people I have encountered. After leaving his homeland Holland to finish school in England, Ian took a gap year before coming to Cornell. During this time, he attended the New York Film Academy for five months where he wrote Colors. After this, he travelled to Ghana, serving as a soccer coach and, later, a soccer analyst for the local TV station. Ian remarks, “I was the only white person on television at the time, so everybody would recognize me on the streets. They would come up to me … and ask me to comment on the Ghanaian soccer team.”

When asked about his submission to the Ivy League Film Festival, “I found out through a friend who told me about [the Ivy League Film Festival]. I just decided to submit and that’s how I got there,” Ian said. “There” being a finalist in the Ivy League Film Festival’s category of Feature-Length Screenplay, the world’s largest student-run film festival. This year it was held at Brown University from April 9-15.

And oh yeah, he won first place.

Original Author: Eleni Konstantopoulos