Ivy Leaf - Spring 2009

Ten Minutes with David-Matthew Barnes

Penn State Altoona Emerging Writer in Residence David-Matthew Barnes talks with Ivy Leaf about his career as an instructor, playwright, and filmmaker.

IL: How long have you been writing?

D-MB: I wrote my first story when I was in second grade. It was called The Blue Witch, and it was about a witch who was sad and didn’t want to be a witch anymore, so I was already creating these sorts of dysfunctional characters at a young age. I published my first short story in high school and have just gone from there.

IL: Where have some of your writings gone?

D-MB: Frozen Stars started out as a stage play that I wrote living in Chicago. I met with Miramax films about a film adaptation for it, but I ended up turning them down because I felt that the creative direction they wanted to take it in wasn’t true to the story. So, we ended up producing the film independently with some financing from overseas. The film received world-wide distribution from Liberty International Entertainment. We screened it at the Director’s Guild of America in Los Angeles and had a great turn-out. The film got theatrical release in Latin American countries where it did very well. In the United States, it was released on DVD.

My second film is actually a documentary called Why So Fly about a white female hip-hop group from Long Island. It will be out in mid to late summer.

IL: And you’re working on a third film right here at Penn State Altoona?

D-MB: Yes. I recently started production on Threnody, which is adapted from one of my more critically acclaimed short stage plays. I wasn’t planning on shooting a film here in Altoona, but as I’ve been teaching and writing at the college, I realized that the cast and the interest are here. Students occupy all but about three positions in the cast and crew, so it was an opportunity for me and for them to hopefully launch their careers as actors, directors, photographers, editors, the whole bit.

IL: What’s the timeline for the film?

D-MB: I’m excited about the talent and work ethic of these students. We are using a lot of Penn State Altoona and Altoona locations, so I’m hoping to screen it here before the end of spring semester. I already have DVD, Pay Per View and cable distribution lined up, and I’m hoping for small theatrical release as well.

IL: What has been your inspiration for your writings?

D-MB: I’m very committed to writing for and about women. I was raised mostly by a single mom, and so I think that made me very aware at an early age about women’s issues and the importance of them. Women are just these fascinating people; their relationships between themselves or their significant others, and the progress of them in a very male-dominated country lends itself to incredible stories that need to be told. I’m also drawn to multi-cultural literature. I really feel there are a lot of voices that want to be heard, and other cultures are so fascinating.

IL: Which do you like more, writing or filmmaking?

D-MB: Both are such different, creative processes. What draws me to filmmaking is sort of the team collaboration. Writing is so solitary; it’s just usually you and the computer. Writing is definitely my first love, but I think that filmmaking has the strength in it to reach a lot of people. It’s so business-oriented, and doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things, but the end result can be incredible.

IL: What would be the ultimate accomplishment in your career?

D-MB: I’m a huge fan of and deeply admire and respect Jessica Lang. I actually wrote a poem about her. As an artist and as someone who is so dedicated to her craft, I am deeply, deeply impressed with her, and I’d really love the opportunity to work with her. That would be my ultimate project—to direct her.

IL: What’s next for you?

D-MB: I finished my first novel called The Common Bond, which is at a publishing company on the west coast right now. I’ve also finished my first full-length collection of poetry called Roadside Attractions, so between those two and Threnody, I’m just waiting to see what, if anything, happens. I’m going to continue writing. And I’d like to continue writing films; as long as there’s a place in the literary community for my voice, I’ll continue to create material. I still have so many stories to tell and there are so many stories that need to be told, so that will keep me going. I’m starting to explore opportunities in television as well, writing and producing. I think it’s an exciting time for television, and I think it’s going to keep getting better so I’d like to be a part of it.

Editor’s note: The Emerging Writer in Residence is an annual program through the Division of Arts and Humanities. An emerging author is invited to the college to share new energy and ideas with faculty and the writing community. Previous Writers in Residence include Lee Peterson, Seth Sawyers, and Deborah Bernhardt.