Photography By Max Gibson
Situated in the comfort of Washington Square Park, surrounded by painters, musicians, and children, it’s easy to fall into conversations about the arts. Borrowing a moment out of his day to touch on his experiences as a writer, I recently chatted with screenwriter and NYU film student Steve DiUbaldo, who has already amassed an eclectic portfolio of written works. Writing, directing and acting in the Los Angeles production of coming-of-age play All My Friends in 2011, in addition to forays in screenwriting, poetry and short stories, Steve’s work conveys a unique passion for relating the human experience. With one year to go in his studies, and a number of creative projects in the works, I caught up with Steve to pick his brain about the art of storytelling.
What do you think is the difference between a good story and a great story?
I think it starts with character. I think at the beginning of the process of building a world for a script, that the richest stories always start with character, because the story can only be as interesting as the people the story is about. So it’s always derived from that. I think it’s important to tell stories that maybe aren’t about the times we live in but do pertain to the feelings that we’re going through as a culture right now. That’s what I’m drawn to.
So how do you do that?
There’s a lot of different ways. You can write about the things that are happening now or you can disguise it and place it in a different time period. To me, the sixties have a lot of parallels to society today, especially amongst youth culture. Especially between hip-hop and beat poetry. Specifically, I see connections between folk music and beat poetry of that time, to hip-hop and spoken word today. I feel like there’s a lot of crossover between what the folk community of the sixties were trying to do and what the hip-hop community is trying to do today.
For example, a protest back then, you’d see people with guitars, singing their folk songs about the times, whereas when I went down to the Occupy Wall Street movement, all I saw were freestylers and people with drums with hip-hop artists kind of providing a voice for the people.
Interesting. Do you see any other similarities?
Also just in the state of the country. We’re coming out of a war, two wars. And back then they had Vietnam. Luckily we don’t have the draft now, but there are similar feelings…I mean wouldn’t that be crazy? Think about that. If someone told you you had to go to war, next week…
So they are definitely specific times, but I think as a country, both eras were dealing with a lot of change. Back then it was coming out of the fifties, and that white picket fence lifestyle, with the younger generation looking for a greater sense of individuality, and today I think technology has created its own revolution. Everybody has a voice if they want it. But I think you can tell a story about any time, and if it’s based in character and truth and real human emotions then it can be relevant to what people are going through now. That’s kind of a universal thing you know?
Yeah, that makes sense. I’m interested to know how you initially got into writing?
Well the first time I thought I was actually going to be a writer was in high school. I was in my third year when one of my best friends got into an accident on a four-wheeler. She was on the back and fell off and hit her head on a bunch of rocks and went into a coma for three weeks. So that night when the accident happened, we got a phone call. We were at a friends house playing Madden or something and we rushed to the hospital. It was the longest car ride of my life.
We got there and we found out she had a five percent chance to live. So we’re in the hospital, waiting for more news, and my friends and I walked outside to see 200 hundred people from our town, in a circle, praying around a flag pole.
For this girl?
For this one girl, from our town.
At the time I was in English class. I was in the hospital for a couple days straight, then our parents told us to go back to class. I was in English class one day with my head down on my desk, partially because I was really sad, but also because I didn’t want to do any assignments. I was going to see if I could get out of them. So my teacher assigned this paper, where we were supposed to write about an event that changed our life. It was a two page assignment, and because I had my head down, at the end of class she came up and said, “Look Steve, I know you were really close with Sarah, you don’t have to write this paper if you don’t want to.” And so I went home that night kinda relieved that I didn’t have to write that paper, but I also couldn’t sleep. So I said, “Fuck it, I’m gonna get up and try to write this paper.” So I sat at the computer and started writing.
It was about three weeks after the accident and Sarah was coming out of her coma and was doing better. I sat down and started writing about the experience of it all, from the day I heard the news to where we were now, and we knew she was gonna live. So I wrote this paper and turned it in, and it ended up being 17 pages long.
My English teacher said “This is really honest and heartfelt. I think you should print off a bunch of copies of this and give them to the people that were involved and close to Sarah.” So I did that, and it was the first time I’d ever written something that I shared with a lot of people, and I remember in the grief of it all– people coming up to me and giving me hugs and saying thank you for writing that. And it was really powerful. And I remember thinking at that moment how powerful writing could be and that maybe I wanted to do that.
What do you think are some of the powers that writing provides?
A lot of things. Nostalgia. If I feel nostalgic for something in my life I think that’s always powerful. If the words are something you’ve been feeling but haven’t been able to express… And you read that thing, it’s like, “That’s how I’m feeling!” Writing and then reading, all of it can be a series of epiphanies.
Yeah, those paradigm shifting moments…
And with comedy too I think catharsis for something-
What do you mean?
Laughing in the face of something that’s terrifying or hard to deal with. I think the best comedy comes out of truth; especially now. If you can write something that’s pointing a finger at the darkness of life, or something hard to deal with, you’re creating comedy and making people laugh. I think that’s as powerful as any piece of writing in general if you can make people laugh in the face of what terrifies them.
That’s a hard task.
Yeah, it’s hard.
Who do you think does it well?
Well I think Louis C.K. does a great job. But what separates him is that he’s talking about real shit. He’s talking about real shit that’s layered in his self-deprecating humor. He’s talking about himself, being fat, being white, being offensive, saying things that he doesn’t mean to say. He’s talking about all these personal things, but I think it represents these things that everyone sort of feels at one time or another about themselves or other people. He’s talking about society at large, divorce, and raising children…But he puts it in his kind of crude, hard-hitting comedy style. I consider him a really important comedian right now.
It seems like authenticity is sort of paramount when it comes to writing. For the longest time I was conditioned to write for a word count or write with all of these exterior motives guiding the work so that I wasn’t really writing honestly until I was a few months removed from school.
What do you think about the challenge of authenticity and integrity in writing in regards to establishing one’s voice?
I wish there were more assignments in school that just taught you to write from a place of honesty and not about whether you sound smart or not. Where it’s not about being right or wrong or whether you get an A, B or C, but I wish there were exercises where they teach you to write from an honest place. Because when you get older and you’re a writer, you can tell when you’re reading something authentic or not. And if the writer is passionate about the work or not. I think to have authenticity in writing you have to write about things that are important to you. You can’t try to write something for any other reason, other than because it’s important to you, something you know, or are really curious about.
Yeah, curiosity is powerful.
Yeah, definitely curiosity…it’s just about putting yourself out there and putting yourself into something. I think anyone can be authentic in their writing if they want to. The hardest thing is just being honest.