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Week of 13 February 1998

Vol. I, No. 20

Feature Article

Third Person singular

Sophomore script soars into finals

Jocelyn Glei

Much of Jocelyn Glei's prizewinning screenplay, Third Person, is set in the Boston Public Library. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

by Eric McHenry

Jocelyn Glei gained admission to Stephen Geller's graduate course in screenwriting when she was only a sophomore. Then, fulfilling one of the class's requirements, she wrote a script so good that Geller, a College of Communication associate professor of film, selected it for submission to the annual Scenario/Writers Guild of America, East Foundation Student Screenplay Competition. Then she was named one of five finalists in the contest, which receives entries from every major undergraduate and graduate writing program in the United States. Somebody needs to teach this young woman some manners.

Actually, the UNI junior is quite unassuming for a wunderkind.

"It was totally unexpected. I couldn't believe it," Glei says of the honor. "This is the only screenplay I've ever written, and I'm satisfied with it, but it feels very much like a first piece of writing. I can't imagine it actually becoming a movie."

While there's no guarantee that it will, the first domino has clearly fallen. On February 22, Glei will attend the 50th Annual Writers Guild Awards Dinner at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, where the competition's winner will be announced. Afterward, she and the other finalists will meet with agents from International Creative Management as well as representatives of the Gold/Miller Company. Glei's name will appear in both Scenario magazine and the Writers Guild newsletter.

The contest, which Geller calls the country's most prestigious, is now three years old. BU is the only school to have fielded a finalist in each of those years. Kona Khasu (COM'96), who placed in the competition two years ago, recently completed a screenplay for the Will Smith Company. According to Geller, that group is also talking with Khasu about optioning Terminal Island, the script for which he was honored in the Scenario/ Writers Guild contest.

Geller says he has no difficulty envisioning similar success for Glei, who this year is enrolled in his graduate screen adaptation course.

"She is a prodigy," he says. "I've been teaching screenwriting for 10 years now -- at Arizona State, at Dartmouth, and at BU -- and the language in Jocelyn's screenplay is more exciting than in any student screenplay I've ever read. I say that unequivocally."

Entitled Third Person, Glei's script has a firm literary underpinning. Glei is a devoted reader of fiction, and so is her protagonist. Rader, named for one of Glei's high school teachers, spends most of his time in the Boston Public Library. Extended fantasy sequences punctuate the story, as Rader projects himself and two other characters, Thomas and Aviva, into the metanarratives of the novels and plays he reads: Great Expectations, Heart of Darkness, Crime and Punishment, The Misanthrope, and Hamlet.

"One of the things I really hoped the movie would do is make an audience want to read these books that Rader falls into," says Glei. "These are all books that I myself have been fascinated with, so I have a very close relationship to the main character."

Glei also has a long-standing interest in what she considers reading's obverse potentials: to be an anodyne for social exhaustion on the one hand, and a catalyst for complete social withdrawal on the other. "Indirectly, the movie addresses academia," she says. "It can make you completely asocial if you're not careful."

Not surprisingly, Glei does not plan on committing her life, or even her immediate future, to academe. Graduate school is an eventual possibility, she says, but film school is unlikely.

"I absolutely don't want to go to film school. For one thing, I've basically followed the two-year graduate program here. I'm in the second year with the same students," she says.

"I'm interested in finding material to write about. That could mean studying something other than film at the graduate level, or it could mean living out in the real world with some sort of job that brings me into contact with interesting people."

Such remarks are consistent with an approach to screenwriting that has, unquestionably, worked thus far. Despite Third Person's fantastic subject matter, Glei says, all its characters and events are, in one way or another, teased out of her own experiences.

"It was my English classes that gave me the meat of this screenplay," says Glei, "and the characters are all facets of me. None of them, of course, is me, but they've all come from my life. The conversations are very much conversations that I've had with my friends. One of the characters, Thomas, is more a compilation of people I've encountered than a reflection of me, but there are bits and pieces of my life in every scene."

Geller attributes the screenplay's success to the sensitivity and vividness with which Glei has rendered the story. Although the dialogue is rich and the thematic concerns are literary, Glei's writing is very much invested in the medium's visual aspect.

"It's a very cinematic screenplay," he says. "You can see it in your mind's eye as you read the text. She has moved the story forward, as any good dramatist would, but she's also found the cinematic equivalent of exposition. She understands film very, very well."