April 24, 2014
Skip Hollandsworth knew he hit gold when he came across the story of Bernie Tiede while skimming through The Dallas Morning News in 1997, but even the veteran journalist never imagined he’d strike Hollywood gold off a three-paragraph newspaper brief.
The 25-year “Texas Monthly” veteran saw his story on Tiede, an associate funeral director turned murderer from Carthage, Texas, turn into a Hollywood film in 2011.
Hollandsworth was on Blinn College’s Brenham campus on Tuesday and will be at the CPC Building on its Bryan campus (map) at 6 p.m. today to explain how his brief story became an unlikely big-screen attraction.
“I get up in the mornings and get on my computer and go through the websites of all the newspapers in Texas,” Hollandsworth said. “I look through dozens of articles for something that will surprise you.”
Hollandsworth’s story was published in “Texas Monthly” in January 1998 and described how Tiede, a respected member of the Carthage community, killed the town’s most wealthy citizen, Majorie Nugent.
Following the story’s publication, Hollywood Director Richard Linklater, who directed films such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Slackers,” approached Hollandsworth about turning his latest piece to the big screen.
Despite a long career as a journalist who had previous experience in documentary film-making, Hollandsworth had never written a screenplay and insisted the Hollywood director approach a writer with more screenwriting experience. But Linklater was adamant that Hollandsworth assist in the writing process to ensure the movie was as accurate as possible.
“I don’t know anything about screenwriting—I don’t even have screenwriting software on my computer,” Hollandsworth said. “I write trashy, true crime stories.”
Like Hollandsworth predicted, the script failed to reach the big screen. Initially, at least.
“The classic response from the studios was, ‘Couldn’t you write something a little realistic?’”
Hollandsworth said. “Every studio summarily rejected the script.”
The film became an afterthought for Hollandsworth, who returned to writing “trashy crime stories,” he said with a laugh.
But in 2010 he received a call from Linklater, who said the script had been given the green light for production. The cast would include Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacClain and Jack Black.
The film was shot in four months on a $5 million budget. It went on to make $9.2 million in the box office following its release at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June 2011. In 2013, Black was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as Bernie.
“I thought this was going to be a movie that was going to go to one of those independent art houses in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for maybe a week,” Hollandsworth said. “It was a great experience.”