As an editor for the YTV desk and the vice president of the Yale Film Society, I’d like to extend an invitation to what will surely be one of most electrifying events for Yale’s film and music culture. On Friday evening, 185 lucky members of the greater Yale community will have the rare opportunity to watch one of the most celebrated films of the century with its renowned screenwriter in attendance. “Maestro,” the Leonard Bernstein biopic nominated for seven Academy Awards, will grace the screen of Yale’s Humanities Quadrangle movie theater, followed by a Q&A with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Josh Singer ’94. If you’re anything like me, you’ll leave the theater with a deeper admiration for Singer’s deft screenwriting and a newfound appreciation for Bernstein’s music.  

“Maestro” showcases slices of the great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s illustrious career and private life, set against a brilliant score composed of Bernstein’s own works. It explores a complex tension, as the American Film Institute notes, between “the role of ‘performance’ in both art and life” and the pressures this generates for Bernstein’s relationships. 

Singer and “Maestro” director and star, Bradley Cooper, dig deep in their screenplay to reveal a complex love story, one that begins between a man and his music and becomes infinitely complicated by his love for people. “I love people so much,” Bernstein’s character says in the film, “that it’s hard for me to be alone. Which is part of my struggle as a composer.” Cooper brilliantly captures the intensity of Bernstein’s passion with a performance that leaves viewers captivated.     

While Bernstein’s professional life flourishes in black and white, his personal life bleeds into color as he struggles to understand himself, leading him to a darker place where his wife Felicia, played by Carey Mulligan, criticizes him: “Your truth makes you brave and strong and saps the rest of us of any kind of bravery or strength.” 

Cooper and Mulligan certainly don’t shy away from their exploration of love and hate. They chase it at every possible opportunity and ensnare us for the entirety of the film’s two hours and nine minutes. 

The version of “Maestro” you see on screen is undoubtedly a work of art many of you may soon experience in Singer’s presence, but how many of you will read the architectural treasure that facilitated the story’s magic  — the screenplay? I’d like to direct our attention to the script because there is so much to learn from Singer’s and Cooper’s tight, potent writing. As a screenwriter, I want to highlight the importance of the art form that precedes every single gesture, articulation and orchestral note in the film.  

Singer and Cooper construct the story first through music, as we “HEAR the piano beginnings of the Postlude Place …” on line one. Bernstein’s masterful compositions are not only written into many of the scenes; they drive them. When Singer first became involved in the project 10 years ago, he pitched the story to its first director, Martin Scorscese, with a playlist of Bernstein’s music. His interest in framing the story musically didn’t stop there — Singer made dozens of playlists, which he then delicately weaved throughout the script to generate the film’s authenticity and set its tone. These playlists then became the film’s album, making Singer more than a screenwriter; he is the film’s musical director, too.    

 The Academy Award-nominated “Maestro” script begins with a Bernstein quote that the screenplay revolves around: “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.” The screenplay brilliantly provokes an exploration of Bernstein’s life and its themes of love and sexuality, facilitated by Singer’s extensive research on his characters. Singer and Cooper met with Bernstein’s children and listened to their stories, traveled to the Library of Congress and read some of Bernstein’s letters which revealed more of Bernstein’s sexuality. They also read John Gruen’s book “The Private World of Leonard Bernstein” and listened to Bernstein’s and Felicia’s voices on Gruen’s tapes, which drove Singer and Cooper to dig into Bernstein’s and Felicia’s marriage. 

Despite some of the film’s historically familiar content, Singer’s extensive research enables him to uncover the intimate, often untold stories behind these well-known figures. As Brian Price, a screenwriter and lecturer in the Film Studies department, wrote to me, Singer’s films “may be filled with facts, but Josh never lets those facts get in the way of telling the truths, something only great artists can do.”

I know that I will certainly be singing praises for the “Maestro” screenplay and film long after Friday’s screening. With so many well-crafted films under Singer’s belt — including “Spotlight,” “The Post” and “First Man,” not to mention collaborations with Steven Spielberg — I firmly agree with Dudley Andrews, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Film Studies: “Josh Singer simply never misfires.”

Friday’s screening of “Maestro” and discussion with Josh Singer are hosted by the Yale Film Society and sponsored by the Traphagen Alumni Speakers Series, Yale College Office of Student Affairs and the Yale University Department of Music. It will be a full house, so be sure to reserve a ticket on Yale Connect while seats are still available. 

OLIVIA CEVASCO is a sophomore in Grace Hopper and an editor for the News’ YTV desk. Originally from Bronxville, NY, she is double majoring in English and Film & Media Studies. Contact her at