Professor Charles Evered: An underdog of the arts

Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER
Cameron Yong/HIGHLANDER

To Charles Evered, the story of the typical war veteran — and how veterans in general are treated once they return home — makes for something worth telling. “There’s always this stereotype of the war veteran with the 1,000-yard stare and the huge chip on his shoulder,” Evered said. “Like any stereotype, this dehumanizes what it actually means to be a veteran.”

Evered is a professor of screenwriting here at UC Riverside, and is also the art director for the theater department. He plans to shoot his latest film, “Back,” in the fall of 2015, about a soldier returning home after a tour of duty in the Middle East who finds love with a female celebrity from Los Angeles. Evered made sure to write an apolitical script — a purely political movie just isn’t for him. “I have my political opinions, and you have yours,” he said. “With ‘Back,’ what I’m really aiming for is emotional truth.” Preaching to the choir doesn’t tell a compelling story, much less tell a good story, and Evered understands this.

How do you exactly move on from watching the deaths of others, sometimes by your hand? If war tastes like blood, then what is the aftertaste of war? These are the types of questions that Evered hopes to address. “Movies like ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Platoon’ describe the hell of war; ‘Back’ is about the hell over what comes next,” Evered said.

Evered began his career as a student at Rutgers-Newark University, where he received his undergraduate degree in playwriting, followed by an MFA at Yale. While enjoying the academic atmosphere of the campus, Evered felt as though many students closed themselves off from real-world experiences. “There’s this clear difference between what you learn sitting down in a classroom, and what you learn taking a walk through a city,” he noted. “Oftentimes students and faculty will feel satisfied with what they’re taught in a classroom.” Evered understands that the best way to learn in the world isn’t just with a textbook. “Go and volunteer at your local food shelter, or be like me and join the Navy,” he said. We agreed that you can read as much as you want, but physical experiences can be the best professors.

Evered also mentioned the time he met (and eventually collaborated with) one of the film industry’s biggest heavyweights, Steven Spielberg. For him, meeting Spielberg was one of the biggest honors anyone could have. Evered and Spielberg had a single collaboration together for an unproduced script titled “Carrier,” which was inspired by his service in the Navy. Evered recalls the first time he met Spielberg at a panel, where the famous director was speaking.

He revealed how Spielberg came to be one of his biggest influences (alongside Clint Eastwood) with his advice. “He told everyone there to simply write their stories from the heart, based on what matters to you,” Evered stated. This might sound like any generic piece of advice, but this is coming from the director behind “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” As somebody with that much directorial weight in the industry telling listeners to follow their dreams, it’s easy to see how Evered admires Spielberg.

He took that advice to heart, as his second feature “A Thousand Cuts” was nominated for a Saturn Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. A psychological thriller, the movie stars Academy Award nominee Michael O’ Keefe and cost about $200,000 to make. Evered pushed hard to promote his movie, and was incredibly happy that it was nominated. “I just think of all that was put into the film,” he said. “Principal shooting only took a few days, but for post-production my brother and I essentially just drove up into the wilderness and locked ourselves in a cabin for weeks on end, editing the sucker.” Standing on a red carpet alongside figures like Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron for an awards ceremony was an amazing experience for him. He’s grateful that “A Thousand Cuts” had the honor to be noticed with films whose budget sizes dwarfed his.

He hopes to emulate the same amount of success with “Back.”

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