A conversation with AFF

Brian Helgeland, writer and director of 42, on Mrs. Robinson and the creative process

Brian Helgeland, 42 writer & director, on Mrs. Robinson

After many years and a handful of producers, the legendary story of Jackie Robinson is being told once again — this time on the big screen. 42 hit theaters this weekend thanks to American screenwriter, producer and director Brian Helgeland known for L.A Confidential, A Knights Tale and Man on Fire.

On April 10, the Austin Film Festival hosted a Q & A with Mr. Helgeland followed by an advance screening of 42. Beforehand, CultureMap spoke candidly with Helgeland about the craft and the nuances of his creative process, where he revealed that he writes early in the day, plays music that inspires him, and writes in front of a 10-foot cork board filled with photographs for motivation and inspiration. 

CultureMap: Are there any elements of the craft that you still find particularly challenging?

Brian Helgeland: Regardless of having written 70-plus scripts, I still find every aspect of this craft challenging and I always think I don't know how to do it again. Which I think is right, because if you think you know what you're doing, you're probably in trouble.

CM: What are the kinds of stories that inspire you?

BH: There is some version of identity at the core of it: someone trying to get a way from who they are, or trying to figure out whom they are.  It varies, but can be an incident. When writing Conspiracy Theory, I wanted to write a story about two people who wanted to be together and for every reason should've been able to but couldn't, and I thought of a theory, "Well, what if one of them was insane," and it manifested itself as to what made him that way.

CM: What was the pivotal turning point where you said to yourself "I made it"?

BH: When I finally got paid to write, I knew then I was on the right track.

CM: How did you find a literary agent?

BH: I was lucky, I went to graduate school for film and entered a nationwide contest and I won second place for a script I wrote. They hosted a ceremony at the Writers Guild and a guy came up to me and asked if I needed an agent. I had the easiest time getting an agent.

CM: If you could look back now at yourself when you were first starting your career, what is one piece of advice you would tell yourself?

BH: Outline until you pass out!

CM: Why did you choose to make a film about Jackie Robinson?

BH: I was brought on because Mrs. Robinson was getting tired by previous producers and she wanted to get the movie made. He’s a great man, and I knew it was a lifetime chance to be involved with that and her.

See the full interview in the video above. On May 22, Austin Film Festival will be hosting “A Conversation with David Magee" and screening of Finding Neverland

Movie poster for 42, a film about Jackie Robinson