A Hollywood screenwriter with several blockbusters on his resume returns to his Iowa alma mater Thursday to offer advice to up-and-coming student writers. John August is calling his lecture at Drake University in Des Moines "The Challenge of Writing in the Digital Age."
The 37-year-old Colorado native, who wrote movies like "Charlie’s Angels," "Big Fish," and "The Corpse Bride," says the high-speed allure of the Internet makes it easier for your hard work to be stolen.
In a telephone interview with Radio Iowa from his office in Los Angeles, August says: "You look at the question of authorship. How do you claim writing as your own and how do you defend it from other people who try to take if from you? There’ll be a lot of talk on plagiarism and copyright infringement but it really comes down to — how are you presenting your ideas as your own?" August, who got a journalism degree from Drake in 1992, says the immediacy of the Internet has led to a down-shift in the quality of some on-line publications with a wide audience.
It’s a big change since he was in college, a decade and a half ago. "Back in my days, when we published a twice-weekly newspaper, there was a lag time," August says, "that time between when stories came in to when the edition came out, there were a couple of hours there where you can focus and refine things. Now with the Internet, everything’s just so immediate there’s less of an urgency to get things right and sometimes more urgency to get things first."
August has written scripts for three movies for legendary director Tim Burton. He says the most recent of them was a remake of the 1971 fantasy "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which he’d never seen.
August says: "Tim Burton came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and I really want you to do the script for me.’ I said, ‘That’s great and I should probably see the Gene Wilder version,’ and he sort of jumped across the table and prevented me from seeing it. He really wanted me to come in and approach it just from Roald Dahl’s book and not try to incorporate other aspects of that original movie."
August has won accolades for his screenwriting for original movies like "Go" and "The Nines," and he’s also worked on a number of other remakes of movies or TV shows, including "Scooby Doo," "Tarzan," "Shazam!" and "Charlie’s Angels." He jokes his favorite genre of movies is — movies that get made. He maintains a screenwriting-oriented website at "www.johnaugust.com." August’s lecture is free and open to the public. It’ll start at 7 PM Thursday at Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium.