Glickman Lectureship speaker, screenwriter talks about power of human experience in stories

Lauren Goodman

A screenwriter and journalist spoke about his inspirations for screenplays during his keynote speech for the 2020 Julius and Suzan Glickman Centennial Lectureship, an annual Plan II event with significant speakers, at Blanton Auditorium Wednesday. 

William Broyles Jr., founding editor of Texas Monthly Magazine and screenwriter for “Apollo 13,” “Cast Away” and “China Beach,” spoke about the universal power of cinema and its connection to the human experience. Growing up during the Cold War and Vietnam War, his address to faculty and students conveyed that all storytelling is grounded in humanity.

“Since primitive humans gathered (in) caves around the fire, we’ve told stories,” Broyles said. “They take us out of our daily lives, and at their best, they touch the mysteries of life and death.”

Drawing on themes of human suffering and redemption, Broyles said a lot of his work came from his time fighting in Vietnam.

“With our weapons and helmets and body armor and hundred-pound packs, we patrolled through ancient villages like aliens,” Broyles said. “We knew less about where we were than the astronauts high above us taking the first steps on the surface of the moon.”

Broyles said the influence for one of his first works, an ABC television drama about American nurses in Vietnam called “China Beach,” came from a nurse who helped him in Vietnam after he fainted from seeing the wounded at a military hospital.

“My lowest moment, my deepest despair, my aching sense of failure, at the moment that all seemed lost, out of that darkness came the inspirations for the next part of my story,” said Broyles. 

Although Divine Nwokoye, a radio-television-film freshman, has never seen any of Broyles’s works, she said that Broyles’s stories resonated with her.

“I feel like we’ve all felt the feeling of hopelessness. … We’ve all been in a place where we’re like, ‘This is not exactly where I want it to be,’” Nwokoye said. “Especially being in college, it’s definitely a feeling I’ve had.”

Plan II senior Margaret Siu said she first heard Broyles speak at an earlier seminar and managed to exchange contact information with him then. 

“Just listening to him and all the stories that he had, and he’s such a good writer. … I’m just blown away,” Siu said.

Drawing on the message of “Apollo 13,” which shows what people can accomplish when they work together, Broyles said perhaps people can work to make others’ lives better.

“We can save not just three men in a spaceship the size of a tin can, but the Earth itself,” Broyles said. “And that’s a story I’d love to see.”