Alum discusses finalist script

Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Editor Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Editor

“ ‘Jane Austen meets Raging Bull ’ or ‘Regency Rocky.’ ” This is how Kelleigh Greenberg describes her screenplay, titled Blood Bound, a script that won her a spot as a finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

Greenberg, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1995 with a degree in directing, was one of 10 screenwriters chosen out of a record 6,730 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a finalist for the fellowship this year. Every year, the Academy awards up to five Nicholl Fellowships of $30,000 to screenwriters for unproduced scripts.

“It’s really the closest one can come to winning an Oscar with an unproduced script,” Greenberg said.

Set during the Regency era in Britain, Blood Bound is a mentor and mentee story of an African-American slave-turned-fighter who must confront his past when he agrees to train a fighter with a similar background. “His sense of self develops as he’s remembering bits of who he once was and reevaluating these new values that he’s taken on,” Greenberg said. “If you took the tradition of the classic sports film and smashed it together with a period drama or social comedy of manners, [_Blood Bound_ is] what you’d get.”

Period pieces have fascinated Greenberg since she was a child, when she would watch classic films on loop and read historical fiction novels. “I just was born in the wrong era, and my way of going in search of where I should have been is to just lose myself in history books and historical fiction and classic literature,” she said. “It’s been my intended career path and mission statement to make the past relevant, whether it’s an adaptation of a Tolstoy novel or Chekhov play or whatever it is, to find what is relevant and contemporary feeling in those works.”

Greenberg has modeled her career after English theater directors who later went on to direct films. Describing her decision to study directing at Carnegie Mellon, Greenberg said, “There I was, an 18-year-old girl from Texas, and I thought, ‘How do I be more like my heroes, who are middle-aged English men who have come from a theatrical background?’”

Since graduating, she has been applying her knowledge of cinematic tradition to write screenplays and explore the human condition through period films. According to Greenberg, “I like to look back and see where we’ve come from and see that, really, the human condition doesn’t change. And perhaps if we look to these historical and fictional characters in the past, we can learn a lot about who we are.”

Greenberg currently lives and works in Los Angeles and has spent the last week with members of the Academy and fellow writers. “It’s been a bit of an idealistic week, but it’s great. You need that out here, when so often it’s not about that,” Greenberg said. “Even if the work is great, it’s usually about what is commercial or what can sell, and this was just pure idealism. It was a table full of emerging writers, who had worked very, very hard to be at this point, and Academy members, who have made some of the greatest films of all time, really just discussing the importance of cinematic art. None of the things that naturally get in the way of that in the business end of it came into play, and it was extraordinary. It really reminded us why we all do this.”