We Are Upstate NY With Screenwriter & Producer Ron Nyswaner
Inside+Out is delighted to present an exclusive interview with screenwriter and producer Ron Nyswaner. A part-time resident of Hurley, NY, Nyswaner is noted for his groundbreaking portrayals of LGBTQ themes in award-winning film and television dramas like Philadelphia, Soldier’s Girl and My Policeman, the much-buzzed-about feature starring Harry Styles, which will screen at this year’s Woodstock Film Festival. In this interview, Nyswaner digs deep into his work in prestige film and television projects like The Painted Veil, Ray Donovan, Homeland and Murder on Middle Beach and his forthcoming Showtime miniseries, Fellow Travelers. He also chronicles his long-running commitment to the Woodstock Film Festival as a board member, advisor and exhibitor.
INSIDE+OUT: What inspired you to choose a career in the film and what was your journey like?
Ron Nyswaner: I fell in love with film and went to film school in the late ‘70s when it wasn’t trendy. I loved writing since I was a kid and before I got out of graduate school Jonathan Demme optioned my first script, my master’s thesis. My entrance into the film business was kind of a miracle so I can’t really give anyone advice on how to break in. Jonathan optioned three scripts over time. My third, Swing Shift, got made into a film starring Goldie Hawn. It wasn’t a hit so we kind of lost touch for a little while. In 1988, Jonathan called me to say his best friend died of AIDS and would I be interested in writing a movie about AIDS for him to direct. My nephew had been diagnosed at the same time so I agreed. It took us four years to get it made, the movie Philadelphia, which took home several Academy Awards, including a nomination for Best Screenplay which really ignited my career.
Your latest feature, My Policeman, is showing at this year’s Woodstock Film Festival. Tell us about it.
First off, I’ve been deeply involved with the Festival since the beginning in 2000, as a member of the board, an advisor, a workshop leader and an exhibitor. I have had a home in Hurley since 1989 and the Woodstock Film Festival, and the wonderful people who run and are involved in it, have been a huge part of my life. I was happy to hear that the Mayor and the Festival convinced Amazon to allow us to screen My Policeman here, as I have my other films.
Five years ago, the producers, Greg Berlanti and his partner/husband Robbie Rogers asked me to read the novel and see if I would want to adapt it to the screen. Like all good literature, the book is eternal with themes that have a current appeal. We found a way to dramatize this story of a policeman who marries a woman schoolteacher but has a longtime relationship with a male museum curator in a very compelling way. Like some of my favorite work, it moves through time. We see the three main characters in the late 50s and 1999. The film has received a lot of attention due to Harry Styles playing the lead. But we cast him because he was the right guy, the right actor for the part.
What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?
What I’m doing right now for Showtime, Fellow Travelers. It’s an eight-episode historical miniseries following the life and turbulent relationship of two gay men over three decades, from their meeting during the McCarthy era to the AIDS crisis in San Francisco circa 1986, with various stops in between. It stars two iconic gay actors, Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey of American Horror Story and Bridgerton fame respectively, as this mismatched couple that just can’t stay away from each other. I first optioned the novel when I came out to LA to work in TV 10 years ago, so I’m delighted it is coming out soon.
What do you prefer – screenwriting, producing or directing?
I am not a good director and won’t be doing it again (laughs)! I love writing and producing equally and have had recent successes doing both. One of my proudest was Murder on Middle Beach, a four-episode miniseries that aired on HBO in 2020. The most fulfilling thing to me is to be both the writer and producer, which I something I get to do more in television. I don’t want to put a script in the mail and then see a film of it two years later, something which I had nothing to do with finally shaping. When I came out to Los Angeles 10 years ago, it was to dive more deeply into television as a writer/producer. My goal then was to get Fellow Travelers made. But I got delightfully sidetracked when Ann Biderman, a true genius, asked me to come in on the pilot for Ray Donovan. I did that for a time then moved on to writer/producer for Homeland. Both those shows and working for Showtime are a family experience to me, which is why I am happy to be back at the network finally getting Fellow Travelers made.
You have been a part of some seminal creative projects about the LGBTQ lifestyle. What are some of your proudest moments?
If someone wants to label me a chronicler of gay history, I would be honored to be called that. I am really proud, of course, of Philadelphia and also Soldier’s Girl. That was a 2003 Showtime film about a trans woman, Calpernia Adams, and her relationship with a soldier Barry Winchell, who ends up being murdered by his fellow soldiers at Ft. Campbell. It was very tabloid, called “the don’t ask, don’t tell murders.” Calpernia is still a friend, a true trans pioneer whose story was important to tell.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
That I sit and am inspired by a muse and that what pours out of me is thoroughly inspired and should not be touched. Your first draft is not precious. If you think it is, you’re either an idiot or a genius and there are very few of the latter around. For me, the thrill of filmmaking is its collaborative nature. Every one of the 100 or so people on the set is essential, from the guy driving me to the caterers. It wouldn’t happen without any of them. Only they don’t get trophies.
What is your current state of mind?
I’m tired, hungry and cranky and I have 12 hours of work ahead of me on the set of Fellow Travelers (laughs)! That, my friend, is the glamour of film and television in a nutshell.
Writer: Sal Cataldi is a musician, writer and publicist living in the Hudson Valley.
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About Screenwriter & Producer Ron Nyswaner
Ronald L. Nyswaner is an American screenwriter and film director. He has been nominated for numerous awards including an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award. He is known for his screenplays Smithereens (1982), Philadelphia (1993), The Painted Veil (2006), Freeheld (2015), and My Policeman (2022),. He is also known as a writer and producer of the Showtime series Ray Donovan (2013-2015), Homeland (2017-2018), and the upcoming series Fellow Travelers. Follow Ron Nyswaner on IMDb
The 23rd Annual Woodstock Film Festival
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About the Woodstock Film Festival
Founded in 2000, the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that nurtures and supports emerging and established filmmakers, sharing their creative voices through an annual festival and year-round programming to promote culture, diversity, community, educational opportunities and economic growth. WFF provides innovative mentoring and inspired educational programs benefitting filmmakers, students and diverse audiences while serving as a powerful cultural and economic engine for New York’s Hudson Valley and beyond. Such efforts have consistently resulted in the festival being hailed as one of the top regional film festivals worldwide. The Woodstock Film Festival is an Oscar®-qualifying festival in the short film categories – Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film, and Documentary Short Film.