Assistant Professor William Mesce Discusses Pedagogy and Screenwriting

Assistant Professor William Mesce Discusses Pedagogy and Screenwriting

By Nathan McIvor Contributing Writer

Assistant Professor of Creative Writing William Mesce is the author of two dozen screenplays and a former corporate writer at HBO. His industry experienc

Mesce wrote the screenplay for Road Ends, a 1997 crime film starring Denis Hopper. (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

e serves him well in teaching a craft that, for better or worse, exists as an industrial product in mainstream Hollywood.

   In conveying the difficulties of the profession to students, Mesce describes the screenplay as “a tool for somebody else, not an end … it’s a document to be used by one-hundred fifty other people.”

   Tinseltown can be a tough on aspiring screenwriters, something Mesce learned as young man when he submitted a screenplay to a contest held by Brian De Palma, director of Scarface and The Untouchables. The rules promised that the winner’s work would be used for De Palma’s next feature film. Mesce received a meager check for winning and no further response.

   When De Palma’s next film Blow Out was released years later, Mesce noticed two lines of dialogue he had written in the film. Mesce had been duped into doing uncredited work on a film “Written and Directed by Brian De Palma.”

   Despite this rude awakening to the screenwriter’s trade, Mesce dedicated himself to the craft.  Mesce likes to impart resilience to his students because they deserve to know the reality of the trade before moving to Los Angeles. The 1997 film Road Ends, a crime thriller starring Dennis Hopper and Mariel Hemingway, remains Mesce’s best known work.

   After leaving HBO in 2009, Mesce found his love for teaching when a friend from graduate school asked him to teach a class at a local New Jersey college. Mesce says there is “no greater buzz than being in a classroom when it’s clicking.”

   A metropolitan man, teaching at a campus like UMF was uncharted territory for him when he joined UMF in Sept. 2017. “This one is the smallest schools I have taught at,” Mesce said. “It gives you the opportunity to have the same student several times.  A professor can watch them grow over the years and develop a bond. That could never happen in any of the other places I’ve taught at. I had the same number of students in my high school class as the entire student body here!”

   Mesce also noted the easy going demeanor typical of a small Maine town, saying “people are nicer and I find that the students have a different frame of reference from what I am used to. So far, I’ve never had a writing student who couldn’t write.”  

   Mesce found his love for movies growing up in Newark, New Jersey, where he spent his summer afternoons at the local movie theaters. Mesce credits Chinatown as his generation’s genre film, and prefers films that have “a sense of place” and lists Sam Peckinpah and Sidney Lumet as his favorite directors.

   Mesce most recent book, The Rules of Screenwriting and Why You Should Break Them was published by McFarland in 2017.