Working with Waunakee graduates leads to a film option | Local


By the time Katelyn Peters enrolled on a University of Iowa English Honors course, she probably had no idea that she was going to be the co-author of a book with a movie option.

The 2018 Waunakee High School graduate was one of 19 students in Professor Harry Stecopoulos’ class who worked together under the professor’s guidance in the fall semester of 2020 to rewrite “The Great Gatsby”.

Conceived as the first writing workshop format of its kind, Stecopoulos and the students had no idea how the collaboration would work.

“My professor said there was a good chance this entire project could crash and burn,” said Peters.

But the students ended the project by first reading “The Great Gatsby” and talking about the period and the elements that would change them.

They told the story through a 21stst Century lens. Peters said a priority is to add a level of diversity that is not present in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. And the student version “Gilded in Ash” plays more with the stock market crash than with the roaring twenties. The Gatsby character is a black woman. The students recognized that there were people like their Gatsby in the real world.

But Peters emphasized that the book’s emphasis is not on the character as a marginalized figure.

“It is not my place to write a story about the suffering of blacks,” she said. “There were obviously black people in New York. This shows the success in their life. It’s just not about breaking down barriers. “

The book also sheds more light on the Gatsby character’s backstory.

“We wanted to work out a little more. In the process, and considering how Gatsby got her money, we looked at counterfeit art, ”said Peters.

They hammered out a vague outline and split up the script, Peters said.

The novel is divided into nine chapters, so teams of about two people would work on one chapter. Peters wrote part of the prologue and the first chapter.

The teams handed in their chapters on the Sunday evening before the Tuesday and Thursday classes. You then criticized it in a creative writing workshop structure. On Thursday, they focused on how the chapter connected and related the novel as a whole, and paid attention to the narrative.

“That was one of the hardest things about 19 people writing a book. We had to make sure our tone was consistent, that it wasn’t 19 different people, and that the book sounded like a single unit, ”said Peters.

The students also looked to the next chapter during the Thursday course. They spent the last two weeks working in groups, each focusing on a specific focus, such as the plot or tone, before putting the finishing touches on.

The project was especially welcome at a time when all remote learning and social interaction were limited.

“It was so nice to do when we did,” Peters said, noting that for most of the year there was virtual learning. “I know a lot of other people in this Great Gatsby class were in the same boat. So we had this really collaborative process where we had to meet each other every week and talk about it really deeply, and always this consistent time where we really all got together to work on a project that we would see the end goal of, and us got to see a finished manuscript, it was just very refreshing, “said Peter.

She called it a “really bright spot in my semester and year when a lot of things were kind of tough”.

Film producer Mikaela Beardsley (“Half the sky “) and Jamie Gordon (“Swimming fan “), together with Executive Producer Cary Woods (“children“,”Swingers“,”Scream”), read about the class project and contacted the professor to get a copy of the manuscript.

“We were all stunned,” said Peters.

When the class learned of the manufacturers’ interest, they formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to facilitate negotiations. Fortunately, one of the student’s parents is a lawyer, so he was able to advise. Stecopoulos had ties to an agent who is an alumni of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and Peters led the negotiations between the LLC and the producers.

“That’s when we met as a class and decided whether we want to sign,” says Peters about the option.

The class also retained the rights to publish as a book, and having a signed film option makes it more appealing to publishers, Peters said.

“Our original intention was to put the novel online after semester and after we’d done a little editing for people to read,” said Peters. “But when we started getting that producer interest, we obviously didn’t.”

Peters said they had no guarantee that the film would be produced. Two students are writing the script and a director is needed.

“But the fact that we signed [the option] makes it more likely that a movie could very well happen, ”added Peters.

Peters will graduate in December and plans to travel after that. She is scheduled to study abroad in Australia this summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted that plan. Instead, she hopes to backpack there after graduation.

She is also applying for a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Greece from September 2022 to July 2023.

A graduate school with a focus on library studies could also be in the future.

“I’m considering becoming a librarian, especially a school librarian, because I love working with children,” said Peters.


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