April 8, 2011
The Oscar Winner’s Speech
The Writing Division Hosts King’s Speech Writer
David Seidler arrived in Hollywood at the age of forty when, as he put it, “most sane people leave.” Thirty-three years later, he became the oldest person to be awarded the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech. He visited the School of Cinematic Arts on April 5th to speak to students about his process in writing the Oscar winning piece.
“I am very fortunate,” said Seidler. “I’m really happy [celebrity] happened to me later in life. I can see how it could mess someone younger up because you take it seriously. At my age, it’s very nice but it’s a victory lap. You can’t take it seriously.”
Seidler began the evening by telling the students the story of why the film took so long to make it to the screen. When Seidler began researching the film. Lionel Logue’s son Valentine told Seidler that he needed written permission from the Queen Mother to use his father’s notebooks, which he kept while treating King George, for research.
“I wrote to the Queen Mum,” said Seidler. “I eventually got a nice little envelope with the red stamp of Clarence House that said, ‘Please Mr. Seidler, not in my lifetime, the memory of these events is too painful.’ “ He decided to start work on the project, assuming the wait would be “a couple of years.” The Queen Mother passed away thirty-five years later. Seidler continued to work on the film and eventually it was produced.
Writing Division professor Nevin Schreiner, who has been friends with Seidler for many years, moderated the discussion. Seidler was candid with the group, telling them that the first drafts of the project were very unfocused. To focus on the key relationships in the story, he rewrote the screenplay as a stage play.
“The King’s Speech, after all, is basically two men in a room,” he continued. “If you get that right, you get that tent pole upright, you can hang everything else off of it like Christmas ornaments.”
The theme of the evening, as introduced by Writing Division professor Ted Braun was the relationship between fact and narrative storytelling. Seidler confessed to Schreiner that it’s much harder writing for people that the public is aware of.
“I am of the school that thinks ‘don’t let facts get in the way of a good story,’” said Seidler. “On the other hand, when you are writing about a recently ruling monarch of Great Britain and you are going to face the British critics, you best not get too far. It’s not just because you don’t want to get criticized. I think there is a moral obligation to memory.”
Seidler is currently working on The Lady Who Went Too Far about Lady Hester Stanhope who united the Bedouin tribes in the Middle East during the Napoleonic Wars. He described the project as “Laura of Arabia.”
Seidler’s conversation was the final event in the Writing Presents speaker series for the semester.