Screenwriter brings experience to classroom

As a writer and director, Film Professor Mark Steensland disagrees with the quote “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” He said he believes those who can teach, should.

This semester, Steensland’s personal screenwriting experience will help provide students with the skill set to create “in this very unique form of writing,” he said.

Native to California, Steensland earned a Masters in Fine Arts in screenwriting from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and while this is his first semester teaching the class at Cosumnes River College, he taught it at Penn State University in Pennsylvania and Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“If you’re serious about pursuing this as a business, you really need to have the criteria to back it up,” Steensland said.  “Art is very subjective, and you come to understand many things when you work in the field.”

Steensland has directed many of his own short films and documentaries, most of which he also wrote the screenplays for.  

The lecture approach for his Tuesday night class is clear and detailed while fast-paced. He is interactive with his students, engaging them in stimulating conversation.

Steensland explains everything really well,” said 19-year-old film studies major Brandon Valenciano. “The only downside is there is a lot of work, but we learn the most important things about the subject.”

After having him for three semesters now, Benjamin Felix, a 20-year-old cinema major, said Steensland’s first-hand experience is a real benefit compared to learning out of a textbook.

“I never paid attention to how things were done before, but I can appreciate the people who work behind the scenes a lot more,” Felix said.

In October, Steensland said he and co-author James Newman released “The Special,” a harrowing novella about the repercussions of addiction, and how the main character reaps those consequences to the detriment of everything else.

“The most rewarding thing that has happened with the book is the people that have come forward telling us that we nailed it,” Steensland said. “You become what you’re dedicated to, whether that’s good or bad.”         

At first glance, Newman said “The Special” seems to be a “gross-as-hell erotic story.”

Not all horror, however, is about “zombies munching on brains,” Newman said.

“The best horror is about real-world problems, the kind we see everyday…now add a dash of monsters and mayhem to make things fun,” Newman said.

A movie for the novella, which was originally written as a screenplay, started shooting in mid-January with Harrison Smith (“Death House”) as director.

When not teaching, Steensland is writing. A collection of stories called “Autumn Prose, Winter Verse” will be released later in month, and another novel titled “Jimmy the Freak” will be released in March, Steensland said.

“He’s the most welcoming and caring professor I’ve had on campus,” said Valenciano. “Steensland is my favorite so far.”