Study Guide

Out of Africa Screenwriter

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Kurt Luedtke

Some screenwriters spend their whole life writing screenplays for dozens of movies. Then there are screenwriters who store it all up and wait for the right project before hiting us with their mojo.

Kurt Luedtke is the second kind.

Luedtke grew up in Michigan and got his first job working for the Detroit Free Press after graduating from the nearby University of Michigan. It was good work, but he wanted to do more, and with director Sydney Pollack, he got his chance. Pollack tapped him to write the screenplay for a movie called Absence of Malice, about a lawyer who leaks a phony story to a newspaper reporter. As a newspaper reporter himself, Luedtke was hip to the vibes that Pollack wanted.

The movie was a hit, and Pollack wasn't about to let Luedtke just walk away after that. Not that the screenwriter wanted to. Out of Africa was on tap, and he was ready to channel the spirit of Karen Blixen straight onto the screen. He did good; at least the Academy thought so. They rewarded him with a screenwriting Oscar for tackling the project, and after that…well, it's kind of tough to top an Academy Award with only your second try.

That may be why he only did one more movie script (one guess who the director was). Sadly, it didn't turn out quite so well. It was called Random Hearts (1999), and despite Pollack's direction and a big star in Harrison Ford, critics thought it was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Luedtke can be consoled by the fact that he knocked one out of the park with Out of Africa. His journalist's instincts came in pretty handy when it came to delivering Blixen's voice and making sure that the details of the story were as accurate as possible. It wasn't his voice so much as hers, and by conveying it so well, he gave Pollack the engine required to drive this film home.

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