A Screenwriter Is Always Developing Their Characters by Constanza Romero on August Wilson’s FENCES

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Constanza Romero: I’m Constanza Romero and I’m here representing my late husband August Wilson. He did the film adaptation for FENCES and he also wrote the original play which played on Broadway in 1984, 1985 and in 2010 with Denzel Washington.

Film Courage: Tell us about what you saw in his (August’s) work ethic and how he would dive into a story. How did he create a world on the page?

Constanza Romero: Well his work ethic was this: to live was to work. And to work was to live. He was always working. He was always developing his characters. If we say down to eat he, was talking about his work and his characters were like almost real, you know? He would tell me what a character was doing and I was like “Oh, my God. He robbed a bank?”So how he developed it, he wrote in long hand and then he transferred it to the computer and then he would always talk in his rhythm. Until it sounded good in his ear he wouldn’t finalize it yet because he was all about…his poetry was his music and if it didn’t sound right to his ear, he rewrote it and rewrote it. And that is where you can see where he was a poet first.

Film Courage: What can you share with our viewers about being so close to someone that is so involved in the creative process and in some sense you are sharing your life with another entity and that is their work?

Constanza Romero: Well, I’m a costume designer so we collaborated on a lot of projects. I would be sort of his visual dramaturge so to speak because I would find different photos that were inspirational to him while they were inspirational to me too because I was doing the costumes and he would also say the lines out loud and I would read his first scripts and I would say “Well, what about this character? Could she be this or could she be that?” And so the collaboration process was really incredible. But sometimes it was a little too much. As I said, we would be downstairs eating and he would go on, and on, and on, and on, about the play and I would just say “Oh! I’ve got to go to work.” And he’d follow me up the stairs and eat a sandwich right by my drawing table….but it’s all just good memories.

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Film Courage: Any of the characters or one specific character that was most like him in some sense?

Constanza Romero: Oh….you know…I have to say that all of the characters are like him and although the character of Rose is definitely inspired by his mother. But I think that this is the amazing breadth of his work is that all his characters had little part of himself but they were also so imaginatively created. So I can’t say that there is one person. For example when he was young, he was the older son whose art nobody understood, you know? Because he was writing poetry on napkins and menus. So the older son Lyons [in FENCES] he was sort of like him carrying around his pen and paper like he carries around his instrument and playing at night but nobody in his family understanding why the heck they don’t get a job. Right! Yes!

Film Courage: And lastly, what can you tell others about what it’s like to share your life with someone who at some points maybe they are critical of their own work? And watching them go through days that maybe they didn’t feel good about their projects even though others related to them but it was such a tough process because they were so close to the material and couldn’t see it for what it was?

Constanza Romero: Yeah…August hated to cut. If somebody said the play is longer than three hours, what are we going to do? So I think that he would be so stubborn, nobody could make him cut something. And then finally one of the producers set me aside and said “Can you tell him that Seven Guitars is a little too long.” And actually I sat down and I could really see where it could be snipped here and there and I was able to help him do that. But I believe I was one of the only people he really trusted to tell him the truth as you’re saying. And not every day was inspired, not every day was a joy. Creating something is not always a joyful process. It has a lot of raw emotions and you are practically weaving gold. But the raw material is not always the gold that it becomes later.

Film Courage: Beautiful! Thank you!

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