Monday, April 15, 2024

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

photo of will schwarz

Today we are talking with Will Schwarz, a filmmaker and writer working in Iowa City, Iowa. Will's work includes Equinox, a film about ghosts, and Spring Awakes, a short documentary showcasing Iowa's transition from winter to spring. Will is currently co-directing a feature film with accomplished filmmaker James Altschul titled How To Make Money.


1. Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to the University of Iowa? 

I visited a few college campuses, but I had no real plan or goal for university. I was never one of those kids who knew the answer to "where will you be in 10 years," I just knew I wanted to do something with film. When I toured Iowa, I'd already known it had a cinema program, but I hadn't known about the then brand-new Screenwriting major. Luckily, I somehow ended up in department director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's office and she told me about the wonderful Cinema-Screenwriting double major track. She described some of the screenwriting courses and showed me the 3 sound-stage studios across the sky-walk in the adjacent building. It was clear that the university took writing and filmmaking very seriously; I decided immediately that I'd come to UIowa and become a screenwriter.

2. What is the inspiration for your work right now?

I've been co-writing a comedy film with my amazing collaborator James Altschul for the last few months. Initially, we were very inspired by films like Clerks and the recent (and completely fantastic) Bottoms. We ran into a bit of a struggle coming to a single vision for our character's motivations a few weeks ago. James suggested we switch tracks and base our protagonist's arc off of Macbeth, of all things, and it has been working really well!

My solo project is a sci-fi film about someone who's empathically connected to those around her. It's been difficult to accomplish using screenwriting conventions, which encourage the author to write "filmable" description. Instead of writing what a character is thinking or feeling, you're supposed to write only what they do because the audience can't see inside their head. There's this film called the Double Life of Veronique by Krzysztof Kieslowski which has been a huge influence on my project. In the film, the protagonist has a doppelganger that she's psychical linked to, though she never knows it. The way it shows her emotions without ever having to tell them to us has helped me to better understand how to write my telepathic character.

3. Do you have a daily writing routine?

I wish! I write when I can, usually late at night, and then I'm late to my morning classes because I can't wake up. A daily routine is obviously incredibly important, so making one for myself is a priority. We'll see if it works.

Something I've found to be very important for creating good writing habits has been to put my phone somewhere where I can't reach it, like far across the room or in a drawer, and set it to silent or do not disturb. I know I'm from a generation whose brains have been re-wired by Tik-Tok and other social medias. For a long time during the pandemic I couldn't concentrate for more than a few minutes because these apps destroyed my attention span. I deleted them a year ago now and I'm starting to feel like my old self again.

4. What are you reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure? 

Most of my reading is for classes, I wish I could read more for fun. I've been reading a lot of academic film theory, which is surprisingly dense and hard to get through. These texts can give you wonderful perspective and insight into many artistic disciplines, in addition to film. Today I printed off an essay by Virginia Woolf titled "Movies and Reality," from 1926. It feels very contemporary in its description of film as a fluid and amorphous artform, rather than a story-telling device. Linda Williams, Paul Schrader, and Roland Barthes have also been recent inspirations.

5. Tell us about where you are from - what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

My hometown is Decorah, Iowa. Decorah is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. They call it the "city of springs;" there's thousands of freshwater springs all across the city. My favorite place on earth is a public park about a 10-minute walk from the downtown district called Dunning's Spring. From the road, you walk down a narrow path until you reach a creek. If you stop to put your hands in the crystal-clear water, you'll find that it's ice-cold year-round. As you continue, the harmonies of water crashing over ancient limestone fill the misty air until you turn the bend and you're met with an astonishing sight for Iowa: a gushing waterfall spilling out of a giant crack in a 300-foot-tall sheer-rock cliff face. In the summertime, the overwhelming green-ness of the park can take you off your feet, it's a unique beauty. At the very top of the waterfall, should you choose to climb up, you'll find the source of the spring. It flows from a cave 100 feet in the air. You can take off your socks and shoes and wade into the freezing shallow-pool at the waterhead and walk into the earth until it's pitch-dark.

Decorah is part of the geological region called the "driftless-zone." It's special because the last set of glaciers never scraped the ground flat during the most recent ice age. Instead of Iowa planes, we have hills and valleys and rivers and springs. There's a special kind of limestone deposits which create "algific talus slopes." The valleys all contain cave structures which fill with ice in the winter. In the spring and summer, air filters down from the top of the hills and flows through the caves and back out again through cracks in the side of the hills and cliff-faces, blowing cold air across the entire region. This creates a completely unique ecosystem which supports life adapted to cool temperatures and exists nowhere else. You can imagine how scary global-warming is to our ecologically-minded residents.

On top of all this, Decorah is built in the middle of an impact crater which was formed by a meteorite 400 million years ago. It's one of only 190 confirmed impact craters on the planet. Inside this crater, 40 feet underground, the clay deposits of an ancient ocean sit undisturbed. The only remnants of the geological period just after the meteorite's impact are found in Decorah and nowhere else; the shell of an 8 foot long sea-scorpion called Pentecopterus Decorahensis was recovered in 2010, one of the biggest known arthropods to ever live. Decorah is a very strange and special place, to say the least.




Thank you for talking with us today, Will!