In this video from Script to Screen, Pollock Theatre director Matt Ryan interviews writer, actor and producer Noah Harpster who answers questions about his film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ starring Tom Hanks.
Harpster recounts his deep personal connection to the story and most importantly the ways he managed to capture the essence of the late Mr Rogers; most known for his TV show where he encouraged children to speak about their feelings in a healthy way.
For writers struggling with a new set of notes or facing a re write, the timescale of this project may bring a reassuring reality to what it takes to write something of substance.
Harpster worked with his writing partner Mike on this heartfelt project for almost ten years, the collaborative approach being essential to its success.
The idea for the script came at Harpsters own dark time, trying to balance family life. Harpster was dealing with a toddler and new-born at the time and was inspired when Mr Rogers show captured the attention of his child. Who was this wizard really? Harpster called Mike stating ‘We must write about him’.
Turns out Fred Rogers didn’t make for a great protagonist for a traditional bio pic. Did he have a dark side? Nope. He was unwaveringly awesome his whole life. But Noah and Mike continued to work on a script they had no right to write and faced much scepticism about it seeing daylight. Their agent said it was cheesy. The writers were mad as hell but then realised he was right. The writing duo explored people whose life had been changed by knowing Fred Rogers. They found many, including two journalists who had interviewed the TV star and published works based on their experience. A modern protagonist as cynical as both writer and viewer was born.
Following a cynical Lloyd creates compelling conflict. The secret ingredient we all strive for. Will Fred remain consistent? How will Lloyd cope in this much kindness? We are fully invested, experiencing Mr Rogers through troubled Lloyd.
Harpster discusses his favourite emotional beats of the story, the choice to go dark, how those springboard moments need to be earned and finally the need to seriously break script rules to further infuse Mr Rogers essence. Food for thought and worth the watch.
Hanna Hall // Screenwriter