Interview with Screenwriter/Novelist Bill Steigerwald (30 Days a Black Man)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Bill Steigerwald: The true but forgotten story of a daring, pioneering and historic undercover journalism mission into the Jim Crow South of 1948 by two brilliant, accomplished, older men — one a star white newspaperman from Pittsburgh pretending to be black and the other a black political and social leader from Atlanta. Their unique collaboration created a nationally syndicated newspaper series that shocked the white North, pissed off the white South, pleased millions of blacks and started the first national debate in the media (print and radio) over ending Jim Crow legal segregation.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Nonfiction docudrama buddy movie.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

It’s a great story about America — white and black — set in 1948 in the Jim Crow South, Pittsburgh and New York City. Often shocking and crammed with historic characters like Eleanor Roosevelt, NAACP leader Walter White and young Martin Luther King Jr., ’30 Days a Black Man’ is also loaded with powerful dramatic events like bloody race riots and the country’s last mass lynching. It’s a timely and important subject, co-stars two brilliant, mature characters (think Jeff Bridges and Samuel L. Jackson), and deserves to be made into a sophisticated six- or seven-part Netflix-like series.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Shocking history.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Tie: “1984” and “Brazil”

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

Six months (it’s adapted from my own nonfiction book, ’30 Days a Black Man.’

7. How many stories have you written?

Thousands of newspaper articles, feature stories and op-ed columns over 35-plus years as a newspaper and magazine journalist. Two nonfiction books — ‘Dogging Steinbeck’ and ’30 Days a Black Man.’ Several attempts at screenplays.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

I’m old. Too many great ones to choose — anything by Hendrix, Pretenders, Tom Petty, Billie Holiday, Count Basie et al.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

Not finished. I wrote three episodes of a series, written to show potential of the story and the rich historical setting.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Jazz. Journalism.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

In 1948 a daring white newspaperman from Pittsburgh disguises himself as a black man and goes undercover for a month in the Jim Crow South. What he sees makes him ashamed to be an American. What he writes wakes up the whole country. What he and the brilliant black leader who protected him from the KKK did strikes an important early blow against America’s apartheid. A true story.

Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Dobbs: Hartley O. Gyamfi
Sprigle: Joseph Ferrari
Dr. Vaughn: Sean Balantyne
Willie Kirkland: Sheldon Graham

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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