FSU film school professor plays key role in ‘Their eyes were watching God’

Florida State University Filmmaker-in-Residence Valerie Scoon has added another line to the long list of industry accolades for FSU’s School of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts, better known as The Film School.

Scoon, who teaches story development in The Film School’s graduate program, has earned an associate producer credit for ABC’s television film "Oprah Winfrey presents: Their Eyes Were Watching God" — premiering Sunday, March 6 at 9 p.m. EST. She worked seven years to help take the best-known Zora Neale Hurston novel by the same name from page to screen, in a major teleplay starring Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry.

Sunday’s premiere, produced by Winfrey’s Harpo Films and co-starring Michael Ealy, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Ruby Dee, is set in Eatonville, Fla. — the first American city to be incorporated by African-Americans. The story follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a 1930s African-American Floridian who marries three men and is tried for the murder of one of them.

"This kind of opportunity just doesn’t come along every day," said Scoon. "Zora Neale Hurston’s work is a particular interest of mine as I look to develop projects that reflect the richness of American culture, both regionally in Florida as well as nationally. Although Janie Crawford’s story is set in Florida, it has universal appeal."

Scoon, a Harvard graduate who studied American history and literature, worked as a features executive at Warner Brothers, then a story analyst at Creative Artists Agency in Beverly Hills, before joining Harpo Films as director of development for feature films — with a hand in television production as well. She received an associate producer credit for the mini-series "The Wedding," also starring Halle Berry, and worked on the development of the highly acclaimed motion picture "Beloved." In 2003, Scoon left Harpo Films to create True Visions Inc., a development company that produces fiction and non-fiction films. She has continued her leadership there while teaching writing and producing at FSU.

"Valerie brings a great deal of industry experience to our program, not to mention remarkable story chops," said FSU Film School Dean Frank Patterson. "She has a keen sense for how effective story development happens in the industry, and this informs her teaching in a marvelous way."

The School of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts comprises one of the largest and best-equipped facilities devoted wholly to film education, while its undergraduate and master of fine arts programs rank among the most highly regarded in the world.