‘And the Oscar goes to …’
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. February 21, 2019
UD alum Will Fetters up for an Academy Award for ‘A Star is Born’ screenplay
Will Fetters probably won’t be watching the Academy Awards on his TV this weekend. After all, if things go right, this stardust-speckled Blue Hen will get a far more intimate perspective — from the award stage itself, waving his new Oscar to the crowd.
The 2003 graduate of the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and two of his fellow screenwriters are up for an Academy Award for their work on A Star is Born, the most recent remake of the repeatedly remade Hollywood classic, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. While Fetters can certainly be considered a Hollywood veteran by now — his screenwriting credits include five movies over the past nine years — this moment in the spotlight seems destined to lift his star even higher.
“I watched the Oscars every year growing up in Delaware, but I didn’t realize until the morning they made the announcement how much I actually wanted this nomination for myself,” he said in a recent interview with UD Magazine.
Fetters — who first headed to Hollywood with a script in hand after his post-college plans to be a lawyer were upended — says his career as a screenwriter got a huge nudge from one of his favorite political science professors, James Magee, now the Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor Emeritus.
“He was as important a person in my life as any of my friends,” Fetters said. “He was the one who saw my potential to write. It changed the direction of my life.”
During Fetters’ question-and-answer session with UD Magazine, he offered a deeper peek into his Oscar dreams and his now-soaring Hollywood career:
Q: When you heard about your nomination, what were you doing and what was your reaction?
Fetters: I was in my house with my 6-month-old baby, up at 5:30 in the morning. We were having a rough night. I ended up walking out into the living room to check the Academy Award nominations, but when I saw three of the five slots went to other movies, I thought we weren’t going to get it. I really didn’t. I was ready for the gut punch, and we were the last one that was announced. I did my little Phil Mickelson hop, but unathletic and not very graceful. I never thought it was a sure thing. It’s exceptionally good for my career, but in that moment when I thought it wasn’t going to happen, I was devastated.
Q: A Star is Born has been remade three times now. Did that fact present unique challenges to you as a screenwriter?
Fetters: I started on that script nine years ago — it was the second thing I ever did for Warner Bros. They actually started to remake it when I was in ninth grade. It was one of those things where I didn’t really know too much about the earlier movies. And the draft I saw had been rewritten by like nine other writers. In every other version the second-act tension is her success and his failure. It gets really bitter, heavy, sad. So my first instinct was to make her journey more about what does the machinery of Hollywood do to artists, and how does she not lose herself. Everyone has that moment when they say, ‘I just gotta trust my instinct.’ It was great to see Bradley [Cooper] land on that as the narrative backbone.
Q: Take us through your writing process — how you nudge your creativity, how you like to work?
Fetters: For me it’s been an ongoing process. I was very much the kind of student who would stay up late the night before an exam. I basically never stopped being in that place you are the night before your final exam. But now I do a lot more to make the process less tiresome. I dictate things, I try to make myself work consistently, do a little every day, go for three hours of good writing. We converted our garage in the back of our house into a little office. It’s been a game-changer because my son is 5 1/2. Sometimes they don’t pick the best moments to interrupt you.
Q: Tell us about your most notable brush with a real Hollywood celebrity.
Fetters: When I was writing A Star is Born with Bradley in London I came to his hotel one night and Dave Chappelle was there, and Kanye West. It was surreal. I was not used to that at that point. So I got to hang out with Dave for the night. I am a superfan. That was incredibly surreal. He’s kind of exactly what you’d think and hope he would be. He’s incredibly nice, a warm spirit and as sharp as a razor. He can talk about anything. Dave exceeded my expectations.
Q: How does screenwriting differ from other types of writing that you’ve done?
Fetters: Screenwriting is like you’re drawing up blueprints on some level. It’s like a house. You’re laying out the architecture for the story. You put an incredible amount of energy getting every detail right, down to what doorknob do they use. When you’re done it’s like you have to hand those plans over to a contractor. A lot of people are going to go to work based on what you write, and you have to make sure the shooting script has everything dialed in to a T, because they’re going to be building sets and finding costumes. And ultimately, it’s the director who has to build the house. You’re still ultimately a storyteller, though. It has to read like a story. You have to make sure you’re putting every word there for a reason, and you have to think about how it will look like on the screen.
Q: What stories interest you most?
Fetters: I gravitate toward true stories. This movie is an exception. But I’m open for anything. I’ve written a lot of drama and I’m working on movies now from a lot of different genres. I really don’t know what’s going to capture my attention and be an itch I have to scratch.
Q: What’s next for Will Fetters?
Fetters: There’s a couple things. I’m finishing the rewrite of this script called Crazy for the Storm. It’s a memoir based on a true survival story of an air crash victim. I love it. I got the rights to adapt the book at the same time I got A Star is Born. We’ve come so close to getting it made. Long story short, ever since my son was born, I’ve been focusing on that.
For more with Fetters, check out the next issue of UD Magazine, in mailboxes in April 2019.