France to invade USF Library

St. Petersburg resident and screenwriter Michael France accomplished his lifelong dream by writing a James Bond film. It was when France saw Goldfinger, his favorite movie, for the first time that he decided to become a screenwriter.

“I used to love (Goldfinger) when I was a kid and literally when I saw it on TV I was like, ‘Wow, I want to write movies.'”

France, credited with writing the major motion pictures Cliffhanger, GoldenEye, The Hulk, The Punisher, and The Fantastic Four, visited USF’s Tampa campus Wednesday to meet with representatives and discuss donating his personal manuscripts and papers to the Tampa Library Special Collection.

“At a certain level I feel that it is proof of the end of civilization that my papers for these movies will be going in,” France said.

“But on another level, as a pulp culture geek, I get very interested in all the little details that go behind the science-fiction and the horror movies that are 50 years old and I’m sure that there are other people out there that would be interested in the little tiny minutiae that I can offer.”

While on campus, France held question-and-answer sessions in professor Rick Wilber’s Beginning Reporting and Mass Communication and Society classes.

When asked if he had ever seen a film and wished he had the idea first, France replied, “Not really. I’m sure that it probably happens on a monthly basis. I’ll say, ‘Damn, why didn’t I think of Snakes on a Plane?'”

So how did France go about turning comic books with storied histories into 90-minute feature films?

“With comic books, you are looking at over 40 years of material. A large part of what I have to do when writing the first draft of a comic book movie … is figure out which of the villains would be best for a movie – which one wouldn’t be hokey, or would work well for a movie.

“There are different interpretations of the characters; the Punisher is a perfect example. He started off as a comic book villain for Spider-Man. He ran around with white gloves and white go-go boots. He’d been killed then brought back from the dead. One time, he went insane and started shooting jaywalkers. You just have to pick which ones go well in a movie.”

The ability to view this evolution of story will prove particularly useful to researchers.

“It will be a very valuable resource for students and especially for researchers,” said Wilber, who is also a writer in residence for Special Collections. “Maybe 50 years from now, a researcher is doing a dissertation on Stallone. USF will be where that researcher comes to find out how Cliffhanger came to be. That is – to those of us who care about the preservation of these things – a very exciting prospect.”

According to Wilber, the library is in the process of acquiring a compilation of personal papers and manuscripts of multiple science fiction and fantasy writers. Authors such as Mike Resnick, Harry Harrison, Joe Haldeman and Piers Anthony have already donated, while critic John Clute has agreed to a legacy donation of his entire library.

Clute’s library will be transferred to USF upon his death and includes 12,000 to 15,000 volumes worth around $1 million.

“He has agreed that we will acquire those books after he goes on to his ‘critic’s reward,’ whatever that might be,” Wilbur said. “Let’s hope it’s a long time down the road.”

France had words of encouragement for any potential writers.

“I tell anyone who is really interested in screenwriting that you have to move to Los Angeles,” he said. “Even if you are working waiting tables and writing a screenplay in your off hours, you will meet the people that will get to an agent or someone that will get it to a producer.

“Even though I felt like I was wasting years of my life as a scriptwriter, I made the connections I needed. So, when I finally had a screenplay worth showing someone, I had someone to show it to,” France said.

The donation of his personal notes was Wilber’s idea, France said. They live in the same neighborhood and often run into each other. It was during one of these chance encounters that Wilber proposed the idea.

“Today we had the conversation of intent, which will lead to the letter of intent,” France said.

According to France, the final letter will probably be signed within the next several weeks. The agreement is definite, but there are a few small steps before the deal is complete.