Dr. Halsted between pleasure & pain

Feature Screenplay (119 pages)

Writer Jacobo Fe Gismera

Los Angeles, United States

INTERVIEW WITH JACOBO FE GISMERA:

CR: You wrote an autobiographical script about a famous 19th century American doctor who made a number of revolutionary discoveries. Why did you choose this biography and how long did it take you to research the material on Dr. William Halsted?

As a historical fiction writer, I’m always on the lookout for true stories that could be turned into a screenplay. My main goal is to give voice to stories that most people have never heard about but deserve to be told because of their social impact. Dr. Halsted’s era gathered all the elements to show a period in our history that was critical to the development of our society, and his legacy as a doctor is a key factor in today’s medicine. Not in vain he’s known as the Father of Modern Surgery. Halsted’s passion for helping others through one of the noblest professions made him a memorable and pioneering historical figure. With his “accidental” drug addiction, I relied on all the tools at my disposal to create a round and charismatic surgeon with hints of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

If you can find a way to tell history in an entertaining way, it is a great source of inspiration for storytelling. I’ve always believed that understanding our past can help us improve our future. As a result, I spent a significant amount of time researching to provide an accurate vision of the events I describe and then recreate in a dramatic, creative, and even comedic manner that is both amusing and informative. That’s not an easy task! My research can easily take six months or a year before I write the first script page.

CR:  What artistic inventions, characters did you add to the script and how do they reflect the strengthening of the dramaturgical line of the script?

Based on extensive research, this true story recreates Dr. Halsted’s life and work. I used Halsted’s various contributions to his field of study to gradually present a solid character who is likeable because of his wit and cunning. He is a visionary. A controversial man because he initially has no support from his contemporaries and must demonstrate his ability to break the dogma. All of his discoveries, as described in the script, provide us with this viewpoint.

Dr. Halsted, on the other hand, is far from perfect. His obsession with pushing the boundaries of what was known led him to experiment with the numbing effects of cocaine. He was looking for local anesthesia but ended up becoming addicted to it. His life turns upside down at the pinnacle of his career.

At his lowest point, Halsted finds redemption in one final job opportunity: becoming Surgeon-in-Chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the most modern medical center in the United States of America. He would not, however, have been able to control his drug addiction and straighten out his career without the help of his wife, nurse Caroline Hampton and a friend, Dr. Welch. Even geniuses require the support of their loved ones.

CR:  It would seem that writing autobiographical scripts is not difficult, but in order to transfer paper text to the screen, you need to have strong screenwriting skills. How long have you been writing the script? What was the creative process like? Was this script easy for you, or were there creative dead ends, torments?

Writing a story based on true events or a real character is a different process than making a documentary, but I still strive to be as credible and reliable as possible to honor the dead’s memories and legacies. The goal is to be respectful while also being genuine. To create an original story based on facts, your author’s voice must resonate more than what the audience could simply read in an article. This is a struggle because your creativity is being stifled in some way. In that vein, I believe that creating a good yarn with some “given” tools is far more difficult than using your vast and unfettered imagination.

Any source of information that I find interesting enough to spend time researching more about can be traced back to the germ of an idea for a historical script. Then I have to decide whether it essentially has the basic elements to be made into a movie or series. The drama. If that’s the case, I basically read and watch anything related to the story I want to recreate. To put it into perspective, I sometimes read over 100 articles in search of minor details that I can incorporate. Some are so minor that I don’t expect the reader or viewer to notice them, but I’m confident that they all contribute to the world-building.

Halsted’s screenplay was particularly difficult for two reasons. Consider the field of study and the age of the context first. I had never studied surgery before. But if I had a few more lives, one of them would be as a doctor. I enjoy anatomy and medicine, so I was motivated to put in long hours of study. My documentation was extensive to recreate the life of a doctor in the 19th century. I even used letters from Halsted to mimic how he used to speak… The second issue was the challenge of telling Halsted’s life in only 120 pages. Fitting so much information into the format of a feature screenplay while adhering to a structure,  theme and dramatic dynamics was extremely difficult.

CR:  How would you characterize Dr. Halsted?

Dr. Halsted was a misunderstood genius. Ironically, he first demonstrated his ability to save people from unknown illnesses, and then he needed that people save him from a disease that no one cared about in the 19th century.

On the other hand, he was a difficult person to work with. He used irony, dark humor, and cynicism to express his superiority and achieved success against the odds in unconventional medical procedures that challenged society’s ignorance. When the brilliant doctor became a miserable patient and overstepped his bounds, he had to set aside his ego to admit his own problem and allow others to help him. The fascinating complexity of his personality stems from the fact that he was both ahead of his time and a victim of his own early experimentation.

Despite his lifelong cocaine addiction, which he developed while researching local anesthesia, Dr. Halsted has left the greatest legacy to human health of any surgeon. An inspiration to anyone who wishes to devote their life to saving others. We feel admiration and empathy for him because of his intelligence in service of humanity as well as his vulnerability as a human being.

CR:  What actor do you see for the role of Dr. Halsted?

This is a difficult question to answer because this story spans Halsted’s entire life, and he is not an easy man. However, I’d like to see Robert Downey Jr. play this part. He has experience playing characters that reflect a mad genius, such as Sherlock Holmes, and knows how to present an antihero with quackery, quick answers, and wit, as seen in his most famous role as Iron Man. In addition, Robert has dealt with serious issues in his life, such as social criticism and drug addiction, and he has made a remarkable comeback as an actor. His own experience may aid him in becoming Dr. Halsted.

Almost everything I’ve said so far applies to one of my favorite actors, Johnny Deep. After going through a difficult divorce, I believe this film will help him rise again as a phoenix. His charisma, wit, and frenetic personality may aid in the portrayal of Dr. Halsted’s voice. I want to see the sparrow shine once more.

CR: Despite your young age, you masterfully master the artistic language. Do you yourself think that this is the influence of your extensive education in the field of audiovisual means or your well-read?

I believe that my inner curiosity, combined with the external education I was fortunate enough to receive, has led me to the writer and man I am today. I truly value every lesson I learned at home, with my family, at school, and at work, from both mentors and colleagues. A suitable environment allows an individual to develop and mature his skills while also fostering self-esteem and self-love. That’s how I discovered my life’s purpose and goal: to become an Oscar-winning writer.

To be a storyteller, you must, in my opinion, live a life worth telling. My varied studies in fields such as law, business administration, and film have undoubtedly contributed to the development of my personality and career. Non-formal education, such as my many trips and experiences abroad, is also critical to a person’s development. Everywhere I went, I made new friends… And for that, I am eternally grateful. Love allows me to progress.

Sincerely, I’ve never needed anyone to force me to study because I’ve always enjoyed learning and exploring. Oh, and I never found a reason to give up because, ironically, I never learned to surrender. I missed that lesson!

CR: Autobiographical films always arouse the interest of the audience. Did you offer this script to the producers?

I’ve received a few option agreements and job offers, but they weren’t adequate for my needs and objectives. If my work is going to be made, I want to make sure it’s done in the best possible way to respect the life and events we’re attempting to depict on screen. I’d love to meet with serious producers and investors who believe enough in this story to make it and will allow me to be a part of its creation.

I want everyone to know how seriously I take my job and how much I understand that an audiovisual project must be both entertaining, didactic, and profitable. Filmmaking is an industry that can make money and also spread culture and knowledge.

CR: How many scripts have you written? Apart from festival successes, what are the successes in their promotion? What scenarios are the films based on? How is the process of promoting your scripts going? Do you have an agent?

I’ve written eight scripts so far. Four feature screenplays and four TV pilots. History is always present as the backdrop to the action. A frame that adds value to the work I do. However, some are historical adventure scripts and others are biopics. I always mix drama and comedy because I believe history is easier to digest with a levity and jokes. The characters in my stories face significant challenges before achieving a goal that has a direct or indirect social impact. The settings and eras are diverse, ranging from Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars to Atlantic City during the 80’s.

My work has received over 100 festival awards and fellowships, which has recently increased my visibility. I’m very thankful for all the support I have received. My scripts, however, have yet to be produced. It’s a time-consuming and difficult procedure. A long road… I’m a young Spanish writer based in L.A. Just a foreigner with a small network of film creatives to rely on. Anyway, I’m aware that this is a marathon, so I’ll keep running toward my boyhood dream. I can already see the top of the Oscar’s head in the horizon!

Having an agent or manager would undoubtedly aid in my promotion and marketing. Previous interactions with some representatives were not ideal, but hopefully 2023 will bring me a trustworthy and well-connected agent or manager willing to invest their time in my work to reach a common goal. I’d love to connect and feel that fire and synergy.

Jacobo Fe Gismera / photo by Ted Sun

CR:  What script are you currently working on or planning to work on?

I have a few ideas in my head that I hope to put down on paper this year. I also intend to make my first short film, but only if I am completely satisfied with the script I write.

To be honest, I’d like to concentrate my efforts on expanding my networking and showing the samples I’ve already written because I believe they’re solid and ready to be made. My top priority is to meet with producers, agents, and managers, but… I can’t stop myself from writing. It’s my true love. My passion!

CR:  Thanks for the interview. We wish you the achievement of all your goals and great success in realizing your creative potential.

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