College of Liberal Arts

- University of Mississippi

Screenwriting guru Offutt calls Oxford home

by Michael Prestwich

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Author Denis Johnson (left) with UM professor and screenwriter Chris Offutt

Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian

Are you a fan of HBO’s hit show “True Blood,” with its sex-fueled vampires and gritty vampire on human violence? What about Showtime’s “Weeds,” which features widowed house wife Nancy Botwin, who finds herself ensnared in the dangerous world of drug trafficking?

Both of these shows are critically acclaimed and are loved by fans and critics alike.

Senior psychology major Tate Collums said, “‘True Blood’ has been one of my favorite shows for years; the first few seasons were great, but it kind of fell off later on.”

Then you might be surprised to hear that a man who has contributed to both of these award-winning shows is housed in The University of Mississippi’s MFA department. Chris Offutt, a professor in the English department, worked on the first season of “True Blood” and wrote one episode for season five of “Weeds.”

“I worked on the first season of ‘True Blood,’” Offutt said. “We wrote and shot every episode before it aired, which gave us a kind of freedom, although nobody was sure if the show would be popular. The hours were very difficult because half the show was shot at night due to vampires.”

Offutt is a novelist, screenwriter and professor and has taken on other creative roles as well, including work on comic books and graphic novels. He has been published in works ranging from The New York Times, Men’s Journal and Oxford American to Playboy magazine and readings on National Public Radio.

When asked about his favorite medium to work in, Chris said, “I love short fiction and essays. There’s a lot of freedom in the forms. Graphic novels are great fun, but pay very little. I’d like to get back to them as soon as my sons are out of college and I buy a house.”

Offutt’s creative endeavors haven’t gone unnoticed. His accolades include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts and the Whiting Foundation.

Three years ago, Offutt found himself in Oxford after his oldest son left for college.

“I could either move to L.A. and embrace screenwriting or find a university and continue teaching,” he said. “After a lot of thought, I realized I preferred to teach.”

Luckily for the university, Offutt chose the latter and became a professor of screenwriting, film studies and fiction in the MFA program at Ole Miss.

Offutt isn’t taking any time off, however, with several large projects coming down the pipeline.

“I’m working on a book about my father, who published 140 books under many pseudonyms,” he said. “I also have a column in Oxford American magazine, continue to publish short stories, including one in Playboy in the winter. Since being at Ole Miss, I wrote pilots for CBS and FOX and a freelance script for ‘Treme.’”

In the past year alone, Offutt has turned down three screenwriting jobs.

He also has a couple of projects about which he cannot speak.

“I have another project in the early stages, but it’s too soon to discuss,” Offutt said. “Plus the studios make you sign confidentiality clauses.”

Offutt clearly has a variety of work coming up, so keep an eye out for his name.