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Writing about the Movies by Wayne Byrne

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Wayne Byrne

I am rarely comfortable offering literary advice. I am not someone who was an insatiable reader, nor had I harboured a rage to write. How I have come to be delivering this very piece is because there was gap on my shelf for a book that didn’t exist, so I wrote that book to fill the gap. Indeed, I was rather enamoured with the work of filmmaker Tom DiCillo and I yearned for a tome which would tell all I needed to know about him and his films. Every time I visited the Irish Film Institute I would scan the shelves hoping to find it. I would ask the assistant behind the desk, ‘any sign of a DiCillo book coming out?’ ‘Nothing!’

Rather than be discouraged, I defiantly thought, ‘I’ll write it myself!’ I didn’t know how to write a book, but I knew Film and I had opinions, so that was my arsenal. It was the perfect time for me to not give a damn about any rules and protocols of the literary world. I was already aggrieved at having been turned down from every college I applied to for studying Film or Literature. For years, ever since I finished school, I was told “no” by these institutions; I was not “a suitable candidate” they said. But I resolved to not let bourgeois gatekeepers dictate what I could do with my life, so I reached out to my film hero and prospective subject, Tom DiCillo, and pitched my idea for a book on his career and asked if I could interview him for it; he was most receptive to my plan and to my passion. Thus began a five-year journey.

All throughout the process I knew exactly which publisher would be ideal for this book: Columbia University Press. I had been collecting their series of “Directors’ Cuts” books for some time, they were the gold standard: dense, detailed, and critically sound; they also looked beautiful and distinctive with their formalised typeface and design. To have a title published in their catalogue would be a dream come true. But the prestige of the publisher and the highly-accredited, vastly accomplished authors behind these books didn’t exactly give me confidence of being considered. I had zero credentials: no college, no experience, nothing. Naysayers whispered that I was wasting my time, I would never be published, and there would be no interest in my project. As always, I didn’t listen, I endeavoured on and submitted the book to a random “info@” email address I found on the publisher’s website. I had no idea what I was doing, I assumed my manuscript would end up in the Junk folder of some office assistant. And then about six weeks later I received a letter from a commissioning editor at CUP imprint Wallflower who said they loved the manuscript and thought a book on Tom DiCillo would be ideal for their “Directors’ Cuts” series. My first thought was “is this for real?!” and then: the fear. Surely after they have at this thing I would receive lengthy editorial notes on how to really write it. But they didn’t change a word, saying it was perfect as is, only suggesting that I add an additional introduction to put DiCillo and his films in an academic context. Done! The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out was released by Columbia University Press as part of their “Director’s Cuts” series in September 2018.

When the book came out I felt that expected sense of elation, but also an emptiness. I wasn’t writing. I discovered that I wanted, nay needed, to be writing again. I had found what I was meant to do with my life, but the question was what my next book would be. My debut was born of pure passion for my favourite filmmaker and I knew I could thrive on that same energy, so I decided I would write about my favourite movie star: Burt Reynolds. And that is my approach to every book ever since, the foundation has be that level of enthusiasm and love for the subject. If that exists then the book writes itself. The difference going forward would be the fact that I would be approaching publishers with a proposal rather than a finished manuscript, and I would be under a deadline. As per my CUP contract, I had to offer them my next project, but they weren’t interested in Burt Reynolds and I knew they wouldn’t be, but it was a formality that I had to honour. I knew exactly where I wanted to go with it: McFarland Publishing. Their catalogue of film titles is superb, so I suspected that may be a most suitable home for the project. And it was. I have been with McFarland ever since, and am currently working on my fifth book while anticipating the release of my fourth.

The act of writing that first book changed everything, opening doors that were closed to me and which would have remained closed had I considered myself an “unsuitable candidate” forever. Nobody needs a degree or anybody’s approval to write; what you need are words, and thankfully that is something we all have and which no college administrator can deny us with the stroke of their pen. Having a computer also helps, I guess. But because of that first book and my successive work, I’ve become an educator in Film. It has been a thrill and an honour to be a recurring guest lecturer at Dublin Business School, teaching students things that I was denied being taught. I have given masterclasses in colleges I couldn’t study at, and have brought major Hollywood veterans to classrooms and theatre stages around the country, sharing my passion with the next generation of Irish film writers and filmmakers. And I wouldn’t have done any of this without the drive to fill that gap on my shelf with the book that I wanted to read but couldn’t buy. So I wrote it myself.

(c) Wayne Byrne

About Welcome to Elm Street:

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most inventive American films of the 1980s. Its sleeper success bred a series of film sequels and a syndicated television program while its villain, Freddy Krueger, became a Hollywood horror icon for the ages. In the four decades since its release, Craven’s creation and the subsequent franchise that it launched has become firmly established as a pop culture institution and a celebrated symbol of American cinema.

This book takes readers on an engrossing journey through the history, production, and themes of the Nightmare on Elm Street film series and its spin-off TV show, Freddy’s Nightmares. It reveals new stories about the franchise’s history and dives into some of the themes and ideas that tend to be overlooked. It contains a foreword by production designer Mick Strawn and includes exclusive interviews with cast and crew, including legendary Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund; directors Jack Sholder, Chuck Russell, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, Lisa Gottlieb, and William Malone; cinematographers Jacques Haitkin, Roy H. Wagner, and Steven Fierberg; and many more.

Pre-order your copy online here.

About the author

Wayne Byrne is an author and film educator, he has written four books including The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out (2018), Burt Reynolds on Screen (2019), Nick McLean Behind The Camera: The Life and Works of a Hollywood Cinematographer (2020), Welcome to Elm Street: Inside the Film and Television Nightmares (2021). He is currently working on his next book, which celebrates the career of director Walter Hill and will be published by McFarland & Co. in 2022. Wayne is a recurring guest lecturer at Dublin Business School, where he teaches various aspects of Cinema Studies and has hosted discussions with veteran Hollywood professionals.

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