Graduate shines in screenwriting, develops film talent

From watching films like "Platoon" with his father to acting in his classmate's own features, Stephen Peltier developed a fascination with screenwriting that has him on his way to creating stories with the best in the industry at UCLA Film School.

Catherine Fontenot, Matthew Landrieu Peltier wrote, filmed and acted in student films while studying abroad through LSU's French New Wave Film Project. Peltier plays a recently-graduated expatriate living in Paris, France, in an untitled coming-of-age film.

"Working with the immense talent we have at LSU really helped me realize my own strengths when it came to screenwriting," Peltier said. "Faculty members like [Rick] Blackwood and Mari [Kornhauser] put filmmaking in perspective for me."

While attending Millsaps College, a liberal arts college in Jackson, Miss., for a semester, Peltier enrolled in Classical Civilization courses where he learned about the Iliad, Aeneid and other mythological stories that are frequently the basis of most modern film. After realizing that Millsaps was not the best fit for him, Peltier transferred to LSU to get an experience that did not feel "like high school all over again."

Through the years, the LSU film program has really come into its own, but it has a ways to go before it's perfect, Peltier said.

"I remember thinking three years ago, ‘Louisiana is third in production of film and its flagship institution does not have a legitimate film program,'" Peltier said. "But with the new Film & Media Arts major at LSU, things are starting to pick up."

LSU and screenwriting

Once Peltier got involved in the Honors College and English department, he enrolled in the Sex and Violence in Cinema class taught by Blackwood, which forever changed his future.

"The writing route was the right direction for me because I knew I liked writing papers. I always tended to get a little more creative with it," Peltier said. "When I started doing screenwriting and film, it all got collapsed together and I found out that I could be creative in the writing process but I'd be writing for the movies, which is something I love."

Through his interest in film and taking that first class, Peltier embarked on his film journey, writing what he called "a terrible screenplay."

"I showed Rick the first 10 pages of a movie idea I had at the end of the semester," Peltier said. "He said this is real sweet but you have no idea what you're getting yourself into."

Blackwood taught him about the business aspects of screenwriting, including that each page is money. Through this mentorship, Peltier eventually enrolled in graduate level screenwriting seminars with both Blackwood and Kornhauser, where he got to understand first-hand the writing process surrounding script writing.

"I had no idea what went into making a film, most people can't even begin to comprehend the process," Peltier said. "It's scary, it's hard work and it's all about collaboration."

Writing, critical, technical aspects of film

From his initial exploration of film writing, Peltier also took classes highlighting the critical aspects of film, including the "John Wayne's America" and "American Crime Film" classes offered through the Honors College. He wished that he had taken more technical courses on how to make film, Peltier said.

"I thought I could write a movie and someone will buy it and everything will be peachy. It's not quite that simple."

"I feel now that I have the tools to talk about film, to write film but I want to learn how to run a sound booth, how to record dialogue correctly," Peltier said. "I didn't take the right opportunities to work with film crews in Baton Rouge like a lot of my peers have done. I went the very academic route."

Working with Kornhauser, who recently finished working on HBO's "Treme," has been rewarding for Peltier.

"Mari's course focused on rewriting scripts because of the many rewrites and re-edits most scripts go through after being ‘finished,'" Peltier said. "Until this point, I had never taken a class where I approached a screenplay from the rewriting perspective."

Between Kornhauser and Blackwood, Peltier got a better understanding of how professional screenwriting works.

"The Hollywood route is unstable, but it's a lot of fun – if you meet the right producer, meet the right people and you some skill, you can make a lot of money," Peltier said. "With the independent route, you're broke, but at least you're doing what you love."

Peltier said that students should definitely take advantage of classes such as the French New Wave film project, taught by Patricia Suchy of the communication studies department and Kevin Bongiorni of the French studies department, because they will help the student understand the film process and appreciate the independent aspects of film production.

"Taking these classes at LSU and working on my own projects has really helped me appreciate the independent process," Peltier said. "I don't know if I'd be able to branch from that for an extended period of time."

While people may view film as an easy career, Peltier said there is much more that goes into it than just popcorn and explosions.

There's a part of the population who go to the movies who leave them analyzing and thinking about it critically, and I knew that I was like that from a young age," Peltier said. "People who do this should just take a class at LSU to explore that side of yourself to and expand that creativity. If you don't, you'll never know."

In terms of breaking into the business, Peltier said all of his mentors harp on the same thing: networking and being in the right place at the right time.

"I could not have told you five semesters ago that I'd be going to film school and doing this as a career."

"It's not about writing your opus or showing off," Peltier said. "It's about knowing who's in the room and having the appropriate manners."

When it comes to writing that opus, though, make sure that everyone on set can understand it, Peltier said.

"Actual filming makes me appreciate the writing process a little more," Peltier said. "Every person on set gets the script, so if someone does not understand what the script means, the whole project is derailed."

Applying for film schools was a different process than most graduate programs because many never asked for GRE scores, Peltier said. Proper submission and formatting definitely puts you above the curve, Peltier said.

Keeping one's mind open to exploring unknown parts of oneself really helps Peltier when developing his scripts.

"Always think about how you can write about the experiences you're undertaking," Peltier said. "You're working your brain to catch things that you wouldn't necessarily think about."

While he will be a Bruin this upcoming fall semester, Peltier said he will never forget his roots.

"I'm always going to be a huge LSU fan," Peltier said. "I owe everything to my professors who helped guide me through my undergraduate career."