Dark Passage (1947)
Creative Writing Prof. Peggy Thompson is funny that way too. Since childhood, she has been giving everything she's got to what excites her the most -- writing -- a passion that has, over the years, produced works as diverse as Canada's first improvised theatrical soap opera to award-winning films.
Thompson admits that her early attempts at storytelling usually put her audience to sleep.
"I began by making up bedtime stories about a ladybug for my younger sister," she recalls. "They were wildly popular."
So was Thompson's first movie which she wrote and co-produced a decade ago. Titled It's A Party!, the short comedy was nominated for a Genie Award (the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar) and took home more honours from the Pacific Northwest Film and Video Festival. In addition to screenings at film festivals around the world, It's A Party! has been broadcast on the A&E, PBS and CBC television networks.
A Vancouver native, Thompson was raised in a family that loves to read and holds books in high esteem. An aunt and uncle, both of whom were artists, also influenced her early years.
"They showed me that your life doesn't need to follow conventional paths, that there's room in life for a lot of different choices."
After graduating with a scholarship from Point Grey Secondary School in 1972, Thompson chose to study theatre and film at UBC.
By the mid-1970s, she was busy acting, stage managing and writing radio dramas and plays including The Bittersweet Kid, which toured in schools throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and Hong Kong. A stint as a television series writer for CBC's adventure show, The Beachcombers, followed in the early '80s.
Thompson has concentrated on writing primarily for and about film for the past six years, as well as co-producing many of the film projects she's involved with.
Her filmography is scattered with Genie Award winners including In Search of the Last Good Man, another short comedy Thompson wrote and co-produced, and The Lotus Eaters, her first feature film which captured three Genies in 1995, including one for best screenplay.
The Lotus Eaters also took three awards at the Atlantic Film Festival that year and was voted the most popular film at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival and the most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver Film Festival.
Like her film influences -- Scottish director Bill Forsythe (Local Hero, Gregory's Girl) and the late French film-maker François Truffaut (Day for Night, Small Change) -- Thompson gets most of her inspiration from friends and their life experiences.
"I think that gives the work a feeling of authenticity," she explains. "The art of storytelling is all about making it seem like the story really happened or is happening or could happen to you."
Actual settings, especially ones Thompson is intimate with, also play a major role in her creative process.
"Place seems to be where I start from, whether it's a Gulf Island (The Lotus Eaters), an apartment building (It's A Party!), a coffee bar, (In Search of the Last Good Man), or my new screenplay, Maggie and Lila, which is set around a bookstore. Once I know where the characters are, then I can build the story around the feeling of the place."
Thompson describes her own taste in film as "very catholic" -- evident in the projects she is currently developing including a romantic comedy, a historical biography and a police series.
Other works run the gamut from A Girl, Her Motorcycle and A Boy, a play for high school audiences about teenage alcoholism, to They Went Thataway, a book of quotations from Hollywood Westerns being co-authored with Saeko Usukawa and slated for publication in 1997/98.
Thompson's latest book is Hard-Boiled: Great Lines from Classic Noir Films, also written with Usukawa.
A collection of more than 300 lines from about 150 films, Hard-Boiled is described by Lee Server in her introduction to the book as "a glamorous and handy round-up of the unrestrained words of the drifters and dreamers, lovers and killers whose lives are the stuff of film noir."
It's a genre that has fascinated Thompson since watching her first film noir at about the same time she started telling bedtime stories. Coincidentally, the film was The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, but it wasn't the title of the movie alone that got her attention.
"I remember it very well. I was about 12, it was a Saturday afternoon, I was in the rec room.
"I think what drew me to the film was that everything about it felt dangerous: the sexiness of it, the mystery, the actors' personas, the world of the film, the presence of evil. It was a tremendous contrast to the safety of my 12-year-old world."
Thompson adds that it's the profoundly visual expression of film noir, the questions it raises about morality and its exploration of evil that continue to hold her fascination.
"It's the fact that morality and nobility, when they're found in these films, come from the most unlikely places -- the B-Girl played by Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat, the grifter played by Elisha Cook Jr. in Murder My Sweet. Although the films are black and white, they really explore the shades of good and evil."
Although she didn't plan a career in screenwriting, Thompson enjoys what she does and considers herself lucky to be able to do it.
"It is competitive, difficult, heartbreaking and very exciting."
That's the mantra she repeats to students when they ask her advice about a career in writing.
Thompson strives to give students in her screenwriting course at UBC the courage of their convictions which, she says, is necessary to pursue writing professionally. She also attempts to invoke in them a feeling for who their audience might be and how to reach them.
"I try to do that by supporting students in their creative work, developing their vision as far as they can take it, and assisting them in getting their work out into the community."
One of Thompson's students recently received a commission from the CBC based on a screenplay she developed in class. Another student was honoured with a 1996 National Screen Institute Drama Prize to produce a short film derived from a script which also started as a class project.
When Thompson isn't in a classroom teaching, she's in one learning and collaborating with peers, something she did recently at the Canadian Film Centre based in Toronto.
While attending a workshop at the centre this spring, she had the opportunity to develop her police series with British producer Paul Marcus of Prime Suspect fame and with Jeff King, the writer and producer of Due South.
In between writing, producing, teaching and professional development, Thompson has found time to make her directing debut with Broken Images, an art documentary about conceptual photographer Michelle Normoyle. The film has been selected for screening at this year's Vancouver Film Festival taking place Oct. 4-20.
The pace she sets for herself is dizzying, something that makes it easy for Thompson to lose track of time. She woke up one day last February and thought it was May. She laughs at the recollection.
"Having a sense of humour is the only way to survive in this industry."