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Screenwriter, novelist Yglesias shares knowledge

Yglesias event

The 2014 Semel Screenwriting Chair, Rafael Yglesias (center), poses with Rob Sabal, interim chair of the School of the Arts, and Brooke Knight, interim chair of the Visual and Media Arts Department, before a discussion event April 17 at the Paramount Center. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

Accomplished screenwriter and novelist Rafael Yglesias, who is currently serving as Emerson’s Semel Screenwriting Chair, led a discussion in the Bright Family Screening Room on April 17 by sharing the failures and successes of his writing career.

Yglesias’s work includes the screenplays for Les Misérables, Fearless (starring Jeff Bridges), and From Hell (starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham).

“Five years after I quit writing for the second time, I was reborn as a writer on my own terms,” said Yglesias. “I found the only [advice] I have offered to writers is mainly to keep writing.”

Rob Sabal, interim dean of the School of the Arts, said Yglesias brought a refreshing presence and technique to his talk.

“We all got to sit and listen to somebody talk for an hour and a half with no clips and no visuals,” said Sabal. “It was arresting, it was compelling, it was engaging, it was emotional, it was moving, it was funny, and the power of the word was so present.”


Rafael Yglesias, the 2014 Semel Screenwriting Chair, speaks at the Bright Family Screening Room on April 17. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

Yglesias teaches an advanced feature screenwriting class this semester while he holds the title of Jane and Terry Semel Chair in Screenwriting. Previous Semel Chairs include screenwriters behind Academy Award–winning films, including Jim Taylor, screenwriter for Sideways; documentary screenwriter Sarah Kernochan; David Magee, screenwriter for Life of Pi; and Richard LaGravenese ’80, screenwriter for Behind the Candelabra.

“Rafael’s talk was amazingly inspiring for student writers,” said Sabal.

Matthew Thaler ’16, a student in Yglesias’s class, attended the talk and had words of praise for his instructor. 

“He’s a great guy; he takes the time to read everyone’s work thoroughly and gives really thoughtful detail to what he says,” Thaler said.


Rafael Yglesias at the Bright Family Screening Room on April 17. (Photo by Michelle Kwong '15)

Thaler was required to submit a portfolio of his work to be considered for the class. Throughout the semester, each student developed and strengthened a script idea. After pitching their ideas to the class, the students spent the term focusing on their scripts and writing first and subsequent drafts, all under Yglesias’s watchful eye and critiquing skills.

“Being around [Yglesias] and having him critique your stuff is invaluable,” Thaler said.

The April 17 event, From Book to Screen and Back, was sponsored by the Department of Visual and Media Arts.

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