Portrait of the Academic as a Student: John Finnegan
John Finnegan, Lecturer in Screenwriting, reveals his own experiences of Higher Education
What did you study at university, and why did you choose that subject?
Initially, I had no interest in going to university. I knew that I wanted a career in the film industry and so I went to a local college that offered a three-year film course. The course was very practical and gave students access to the industry. I’ve been fortunate because I was able to get an education and kick-start my career all at the same time. After a few years working in the industry, I realised that what I really wanted to do was write. I applied for an MA in screenwriting at Bournemouth University and a few years later I started my PhD at Bangor University. My PhD looks at the unseen contributions of screenwriters in a production. I still write for various productions now and again but I try to incorporate my industry work into my research where possible (and vice versa).
Which book changed the way you viewed the world or yourself?
I’m going to give an example from cinema instead. Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008) hit me like a tonne of bricks when it came out. I was fortunate to see it in 35mm in my local art house cinema. This was before it had gained Oscar attention. It’s a raw film, much like the main protagonist, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. I was obsessed with professional wrestling when I was a teenager; I still have the scars from when my friends and I used to imitate what we saw on television. Thankfully, I was bitten by the film bug instead as I don’t think I was cut out for that life. Watching The Wrestler years later in that dingy cinema was very cathartic for me and it completely changed the way I approached screenwriting from that point onwards. I stopped writing what I thought other people wanted to see and I focused on stories that meant something to me instead. I find it a very hard film to watch and it’s been a while since I’ve watched it, but I always have a copy of the film lying around somewhere safe at home.
If you could give your eighteen-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t settle. Thankfully, I didn’t.
What was the hardest thing to learn?
You can’t go it alone. Creative writers, particularly screenwriters, can very easily become isolated and alone. We tend to write by ourselves and so it becomes easy for people to get comfortable writing in isolation. Screenwriting is a collaborative craft. You might write that first draft by yourself but you will always end up working with others at some point. No one ever made a good movie by themselves.
What was the soundtrack of your undergraduate years?
Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and anything by Johnny Cash. He died right as I discovered his music so it was a strange experience. After the news of Chester Bennington’s death I went back to my old Linkin Park albums and they still get me. Brings me right back to my college days.
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John Finnegan has a professional background in film and media production, while his research focuses mainly on film production and its relationship to screenwriting practices. John is module leader for the MA Writing for Script and Screen. Outside of academia, he works as a screenwriter and is currently developing an Irish language horror film and has been commissioned to write a science fiction film. You can follow him @johnfinnegan247