Emma Stencil | Staff Writer
Film producer Todd Komarnicki ’87 began his writing career in an advanced poetry writing course with professor Jill Baumgaertner of the Wheaton College English department. According to Baumgaertner, who is now the dean of humanities and theological studies, Komarnicki was the grinning baseball player who sat in an overstuffed chair in the corner of her classroom and possessed, despite all appearances, an “innate talent” for writing. Baumgaertner recalls handing back a stack of his poems after class and telling him, “If you want to, you can be good at this.”
The Record had the opportunity to interview Komarnicki following his chapel address on Friday, Oct. 5. The filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist shared stories from his past, insights on the writing process and advice to current Wheaton students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Record: What was your experience like as an undergraduate at Wheaton?
I was a communications major. By far my favorite communications classes were taught by Dr. Myrna Grant and Dr. Jim Young. Dr. Grant had a really deep and wide understanding of how the world works and how vital communication is, not just as a topic, but also as a human endeavor.
And, of course, Dr. Young was a legend; taking directing and acting classes with him was like having a door not just opened but ripped off its hinges, and then the whole house fell down. He had a way of seeing and teaching that was centered in love but demanded excellence and concentration. For a student to spend any time with Jimma was to be snapped to attention and to want to find something better and more beautiful within yourself.
I also took advantage of the extraordinary staff in the literature department, and as I shouted from every rooftop for the last 20 years, Dr. Jill Baumgaertner was the one who lit my fuse of curiosity and set me on the road to writerhood. Dr. Baumgaertner was also my liaison into Kodon, which was a distinct honor for a baseball player with a rookie pen.
How would you describe your writing process?
Before I became a producer, my writing routine was set in stone. I treated writing like a total work-a-day job, and was at my desk from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, whether the words were flowing or not. The job of producer comes with so many fundamental distractions, I’ve had to learn to write during the occasional pauses. So now if there’s one routine, it would be, after putting 3-year-old Remy to sleep for the night and tucking in my wife, you’ll find me at Walker’s Pub, writing till 1 or 2 a.m., stealing sentences from the night.
As far as inspiration, I think stories are everywhere. It’s more about deciding which one to try to execute. Sometimes the story begins with a character. Sometimes with a scene. Sometimes with just a single phrase. And like all seeds, each one bears a different fruit. And this planting produces fruits of varying sizes, tastes and textures. Hopefully, by the time it’s fully grown it’s a fruit that no one in the world has seen before.
What projects are you currently working on?
My latest screenplay was for the Miracle on the Hudson Project telling the Sully Sullenberger story, which is currently titled “Above and Beyond.” In television, I’ve teamed up with producer Michael London (“Sideways,” “The Visitor”) for an original pilot of mine called “Orphans.” I’ve also outlined and hope to begin in the new year my fourth novel.
What has been your most rewarding project?
On a personal level, my most rewarding project would be my novel “Famine.” It’s the closest I ever got to telling the truth I was pursuing within a particular fictional world. It also has resonated with the widest group of readers of my three books, and still floats into my mind from time to time. On the movie side, there’s no question that “Elf” has been the most rewarding. There’s simply no way to top getting the Christmas cards I receive each year from 8-year-olds across the land asking me what my favorite color is.
What advice would you pass along to current Wheaton students?
Live your story. Tell your story. For some it will mean singing it. For others, broadcasting it on the radio. For others it’s a café in Istanbul that awaits their laptop and their literary dreams. But because we are created beings, I firmly believe that we were all meant to be creative in our relationships, in our aspirations, and most importantly in our faith. No one’s imagination has ever come within hailing distance of the awesome fecundity of God’s imagination. So let’s dream as big as our Lord, and let the world shine brighter.
Finally, in reference to the opportunities that are specific to Wheaton College students, I focus on two things: One, get to Chicago as often as possible. The opera, the theater, the museums, the cinemas, the architecture, are all extraordinary. Don’t hide in the suburbs and miss all that urban magic.
And two, build community right where you are. The people sitting across from you in the dining hall, the quiet floor mate down the hall, the person three rows behind you in chapel, are all amazing, and all yearning, and all probably feeling a little bit alone. Love your neighbor, and it will change your life.
Photo Courtesy of AllMoviePhotos.com
Printed in the October 12, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.