Screenwriter Stewart Stern has popped up on this blog before because he was educated at the University of Iowa and he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause. Yesterday, I discovered an interview with him, Stewart Stern; Out of the Soul, Interview by Margy Rochin, which is part of the UC Press E-Books Collection online.
Anytime you can read about someone who has worked Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper and Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray, and has been nominated for two Oscars (Teresa and Rachel, Rachel), I think you might be able to learn something. I always like hearing how an idea was formed so I enjoyed the reading Stern’s description of the ground work and inspiration behind Rebel Without a Cause;
“Nick told me about all of the research that he had done: about middle-class young people. He wanted it to be specifically about them because he said that there was a big misconception that so-called juvenile delinquency was a product of economic deprivation. He felt that it was emotional deprivation…That’s when, at my request, he called his contacts at Juvenile Hall, and I went down and began researching it. I spent ten days and ten nights there, or two weeks, posing as a social worker, talking to the kids or just being there when they were processed. Then they opened up all of the psychological workups that they had done down at Juvenile Hall on the kids they brought in. Family backgrounds, records of their behavior. Whatever they had, they opened up to me. So, I was able to dig as far as it was possible to dig, in order to understand who these kids were and to create a prototype.
I couldn’t figure out what to write until I went to see On the Waterfront  and got all charged up and came home and just began writing.”
Towards the end of the interview Rochin asked a question about why Stern believed Rebel Without a Cause speaks to every generation of youth.
“I think one of the things that it talked about was love, a real need for connection. And for the recognition that everything that people condemn in us as some kind of nefarious behavior—experimental behavior, dangerous behavior—is absolutely pure, sweet, incorrect reaching-out. Living on the assumption that people are trustworthy. On the assumption that, as Marlon said, we all come out of the same crucible of pain. That we are all human and that nothing stands in the way of that.”
Isn’t that the kind of guy you’d like to sit under and glean a little writing wisdom? Well, you actually can. In 2004, Stern was one of the founders of The Film School in Seattle, and also teaches through the University of Washington’s Extension Program, and does a writing workshop every summer at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab.