An interview with Ralph Stalter, Jr. and writer Atreides about his new film
Paul Atreides is a writer with a prolific pen not only as a leading theatre critic for Eat More Art Vegas but as a published author and produced playwright. Our own Ralph Stalter caught up with Paul after shooting wrapped for his new 9/11 inspired screenplay, FUSION, now in post-production.
Your website identifies you as an “AUTHOR, PLAYWRIGHT, THEATER CRITIC, COLUMNIST”, all of which put you on the “writer’s side” of the creative process. Is that where you’ve spent most of your career?
Not initially. I spent about 34 years in theatre; acting, producing, directing – both as a vocation and an avocation.. A lot of that was spent “doing floors and windows” as we used to say at the Omaha Playhouse: That entailed doing whatever was necessary to get the show opened on time.
In general, why do you write?
It’s soothing. And frustrating. LOL. At first it was to occupy time after losing my job in 2011 during the economic downturn. I take on subjects that matter to me and it’s a way to get my thoughts and opinions out into the world.
Where, and when, did you come up with the initial story idea for FUSION?
It started as a writing exercise in 2012.
Can you share with us your personal process and timeline for FUSION’S story development as a written piece, prior to involving others in its publication and/or production?
I wanted to try my hand at the infamous passage in A Tale of Two Cities, and thought two victims of the attack would serve that well. Once I had the basics down, I sent it to Maralys Wills (A Circus Without Elephants) to see what she thought. Her response was, “This is a disaster. It’s confusing.” I rewrote it again and again. As I struggled with the initial prose, the proverbial light bulb went on: This is a stage play.
Many studies suggest that we are more likely to remember negative experiences over positive experiences. What are your expectations for a film that focuses on the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, attack on the United States?
The attack was the first against the U.S. on our soil since Peral Harbor but 90 different countries are represented in the list of victims. Well, I would hope it touches an emotional nerve with people. I mean, that’s what art is supposed to do, right? For good or bad.
How did FUSION progress from a stage play into a short film, and was this your first experience in film production?
I read a press release about the Museum looking for exhibits for the opening. I submitted the script as a performance piece – something that could be done either inside or out near the reflecting pools. They liked the idea, but said live performances were not in the plans. They suggested I get it filmed. The hunt was on and I had no idea what filming entailed.
What would you say are the challenges of involving others in publication and/or production of your work?
It’s different for prose than it is film or stage. With fiction and nonfiction, you work with an editor to revise and tighten a piece but, in the end, it’s still yours. With film or stage, once you send it out into the world, it no loner really belongs to you. You have to be able to let someone’s interpretation of your words come to life – and that may not reflect the original intent.
If you weren’t working in the arts, what other job do you think you would be doing?
That’s a tough one. But, I suppose Civil Engineering – it’s what paid the bills until 2011. It’s still creative in a way.
How did you end up in Las Vegas, and has that community impacted your writing career in any way?
Uncle Sam dropped me here with my stint in the Air Force. The only impact Las Vegas has had on my writing career would be as a critic and columnist. It began with a column for Las Vegas Night Beat, a monthly magazine. When Anthony DelValle, the theatre critic and columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal passed away, I tossed my hat in the ring by sending sample critiques. I worked for the RJ until Adelson purchased the paper and cut all the arts coverage. Shortly after that, Sarah launched EatMoreArtVegas to fill the gap and invited me on board.
Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?
I have two projects in the works. One is adapting my World of Deadheads trilogy into a cable television series. That’s been on the back burner since Ian Drazen, then development director for Pretty Pictures, the company behind Nurse Betty and Rain Man, asked if the film rights were available. Obviously, they didn’t take an option. Now, I hope to get Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, and Ian Brennan (American Horror Story, The Politician) interested.
The other is a stage play about the hiding of abusive priests by the Catholic Church. It’s just gone through a critique by Davenport Theatrical in New York (Kinky Boots, Spring Awakening) and they gave it glowing remarks. I’d like to find a company to usher it to production in New York.
Of your many “roles” -- AUTHOR, PLAYWRIGHT, THEATER CRITIC, COLUMNIST – is there one that you prefer over the others?
It depends on my mood! LOL. But, probably author – I’ve certainly written more fiction than anything else.
How did you, or your collaborators, make the connection to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and come up with the idea of donating the film for exhibit purposes?
Donating the film was always my plan since they were the ones to originally suggest filming. I can’t count the number of film production companies that told me, “That’s old news – who cares?” It took years to find a team that thought it would be worth it. This came about on a fluke, during a conversation with Tim (Timothy Chizmar Productions). He asked to see the script. Three days later he called to say he had an entire team ready to take it on. Did the donation angle for the 20th Anniversary make the difference? I think so, maybe.