Skip Hollandsworth: UNT Press

Skip Hollandsworth: UNT Press

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference is held every summer and brings together thousands who are — or who aspire to be — writers.

The University of North Texas supported conference, which happened this past weekend, has earned much respect since its inception just a few years ago. Organizer University of North Texas’ George Getschow and his Mayborn Journalism School team have managed each new year to secure some top tier speakers and presenters from around the globe — the likes of Gene Weingarten (Fiddler in the Subway), Hampton Sides (Hellhound on his Trail), Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild, Into Thin Air), just to highlight a few of my faves.

This year, a couple of the big-buzz names only happened to be guys who hail from right here in Preston Hollow.

The first one I’ll cover was the conference’s keynote speaker — the witty, humble, charismatic and gifted Skip Hollandsworth, who wrote the screenplay for one of last year’s best movies (the best, according to some). If you think I sound crush-y, you should have heard me raving about Susan Orlean, who made a Friday evening appearance.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about a Preston Hollow resident Ben Fountain and his amazing, inspiring personal story. A former attorney, this guy’s career in writing, publishing and beyond is booming. So return and get your soul pumped full of inspiration.

Texas Monthly editor Skip Hollandsworth in 1997 sat perusing small-town papers’ crime briefs. That’s one of the ways he accrues story ideas, he says. That day a story about Bernhardt Tiede, a small-town funeral director accused of shooting and killing the town’s richest widow, hiding her body in a freezer box and living happily and generously off her money for some nine months before anyone really noticed.

Hollandsworth drove straight to Carthage, TX, scene of the crime, where he talked at length to folks who knew Tiede (below, he notes the importance, as a reporter, of not seeming judgmental, even when/if talking to a killer or just a very silly person. It was clear that, oh, 99 percent of the townsfolk loved Tiede and disliked, immensely, the victim. Only the district attorney Danny Buck Davidson (“you ain’t sh*t in East Texas if you don’t have two first names,” Hollandsworth notes) supported Tiede’s prosecution.

Of the Carthage interviews emerged a 1998 story, Midnight in the Garden of East Texas. It caught the attention of celebrated screenwriter-director Richard Linklater (the iconic high school 70s-era flick Dazed and Confused put Linklater on the mainstream-movie map). He asked Hollandsworth to help with the screenplay. Hollandsworth had fun, received a modest sum for optioning the rights (a percentage of which also went to his employer).

While playing catch in Linklater’s Austin loft, the guy who made cult classic, Slackers (Linklater), and the Preston Hollow-dwelling Texas Monthly feature reporter hashed-out the script for Bernie. Skip did the scene and dialogue writing and Linklater organized it into the requisite screenplay format. They submitted it. And, immediately … absolutely nothing happened.

“The thing sat on a shelf for 10 years,” Hollandsworth told a packed auditorium Sunday at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction competition. He moved on, churning out one remarkable story after another. Linklater made School of Rock, Fast Food Nation and A Scanner Darkly, to name a few. Both movies received mediocre reviews.

More than a decade after Bernie’s [SPOILER] incarceration and wrapping up the final screenplay draft, Linklater called Skip to say, Bernie’s a go. We’ve got Jack Black, Shirley McClain and Matthew Mcconaughey.


After that, things moved fairly quickly and the final product received crazy-positive reviews. Texans, especially, loved it. “I thought it might show at the Angelika for a week,” Hollandsworth says. The amount of success was a surprise, he says. “But something like one of every three dollars came from Texan moviegoers.”

Here is one of the flick funniest clips:

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