Arts & Culture

Exclusive: Q&A with ‘Black Swan’ screenwriter Mark Heyman ’02

Contributing Writer
Monday, April 15, 2013

The Herald: When was the last time you were back at Brown? What were you here for?

Heyman: It’s been about five years, I guess. I went to my five-year reunion, and then … the next year, my wife had a play … a workshop kind of thing. She had one for plays here, so I came up here.


Cool, so she does acting?

No, she’s a writer.


A writer too? How does that work? Do you get competitive at all, or do you help each other?

It’s pretty fine actually. The nice thing about it is … when you’re writing something, it’s hard to … talk about anything else, and someone who wasn’t a writer would be … ‘shut up,’ but because I have to listen to her, she has to listen to me.


You didn’t meet her at Brown, did you?

I didn’t, although she did go to Brown. She was two years younger than me, and she also went to (New York University) grad school, but I didn’t meet her there either. We got set up by friends. … I was like, you look really familiar.


So how was your Brown experience? Did you like it?

I did! Yeah, I had a really nice time here. I was (a modern culture and media) major, which was definitely kind of interesting.


I’ve heard mixed things about MCM majors.

I enjoyed it a lot, so. In a lot of ways it was super helpful, like I said in the (question and answer session), which it really is. It’s really like breaking things down to their functional (parts).


Does that feel like the most prepared you were from Brown? Is that the aspect that really helped you?

Yeah, that critical thinking, and then just writing in general. I hadn’t done much of any type of writing before coming here.


You said you took a lot of fiction classes, right?

I took a lot of fiction classes, but even the critical writing, I think, having to break your ideas down and make … an argument is actually similar to what you do in a screenplay. Each scene is sort of like, “What is this paragraph trying to prove?” … You have to think through the structure.


And you could find that in academic essays, even.

I mean, it’s hard, because so much of what you read isn’t even written that well. People at a certain point get so smart that they don’t even have to write clearly anymore, but when you’re a student, you do. It’s good practice.


It seems like you made that jump from fiction to screenwriting pretty easily.

Yeah, it was much more a natural fit. I feel like with fiction I was always … hitting my head against a wall and feeling like I was pushing myself to be super descriptive and find really myriad ways of describing stuff, and I just don’t have the talent for that. So I prefer something where I can just say, ‘If it looks like a duck, it’s a duck.’ Then I don’t have to think of some new way to describe what this duck looks like.


Are you still in touch with Brown friends? Did you have a good group here?

Yeah, some. I stayed close with most. Most of the people who were around me as a (first-year student) were the same people I moved into a house with. A lot of them are in New York now. We’ve been close for many years.


What were your memorable classes, professors in particular?

Yeah, I don’t know who’s still here. (Former Professor of English) Nancy Armstrong was fantastic. I don’t know if she’s still around. … She was MCM and English. She was great. … And then Michael Silverman, I don’t know if he’s still around. … Also MCM. He was my thesis adviser. I think those are the two that come to mind.

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