Screenwriter Ivan Rome looks towards the house

Ivan Rome (Tia Carr)

It’s hard to get into film school. But it’s easy to see why Ivan Rome made the cut.

Rome, who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, is in her third year at Columbia’s School of the Arts. He is easygoing, open and observant. Sitting in front of the Hungarian patisserie on a balmy day, he observes the flow of people and the traffic, admitting everything into the workshop of his imagination. “Stories are everywhere,” he says, looking around. “It’s a city full of inspiration.” But Rome, who is studying screenwriting, isn’t there to capture New York, despite her love for Spike Lee. West Georgia is its flavor. Home stuff. “I love going back to Georgia, because that’s the voice I write with,” he says. “There is something about being at home. There is a different level of love in everything: in food, in music. He just feels good.

Last May, Rome became the first recipient of a crowdfunded scholarship launched by SOA alumni in honor of Bobby Kashif Cox ’12SOA, a gifted storyteller who died of colon cancer in 2017 at the thirty-three years old. Humble, human and funny, Cox was loved and admired by his classmates, fourteen of whom make up the scholarship committee. Among them, director Olivia Newman ’12SOA, whose film Where the Crawdads sing came out last summer; Shukree Tilghman ’12SOA, a writer-producer on It’s us and Animal Kingdom; and Gina Atwater ’11SOA, a writer on Westworld.

“After graduation, we found out that Bobby had been diagnosed with stage 4,” says Alexandra Jamison ’13SOA, committee member and author. “We were devastated. We thought he could beat him. Unfortunately, he became increasingly ill. We raised funds and brought it to LA for the first time. His favorite thing was the Griffith Observatory.

Bobby Kashif Cox
Bobby Kashif Cox (Courtesy of Bobby Kashif Cox Memorial Scholarship)

After Cox’s death, Jamison began making calls to set up a scholarship through Columbia. “We raised seed money, reached out to classmates, and showed Columbia that we were serious about it,” says Jamison. To date, the committee has raised some $300,000 for a scholarship for an SOA screenwriting student who embodies Cox’s talent and spirit.

The road from Rome to Colombia was improbable. In high school, he played soccer, ran track, and wrestled, but a fractured fibula suffered during soccer practice ended his athletic ambitions. He studied journalism at the University of Kentucky with the goal of becoming a sportscaster. Then, in high school, a writing teacher steered him towards cinema as a way of telling stories. With minimal equipment and funding, Rome made a short comic about a confrontation between friends over the last slice of pizza.

That summer, he worked cleaning an apartment complex during the day and made food deliveries at night to pay for his film school tuition. Having never written a screenplay, he quickly learned the basic format to be able to send writing samples. He entered Colombia and entered during the pandemic, which gave him plenty of time to watch the classic films of the program. “I forced my family to watch old black and white movies,” he laughs.

Rome is working on a slew of script ideas — a buddy comedy, a murder mystery — and recently traveled to Los Angeles to meet with members of the scholarship committee and celebrate. Jack Lechner, chairman of the film department, also came out and they all had lunch on the roof of a hotel with a panoramic view of Hollywood. The next evening the committee took Rome to dinner. “They are all so welcoming,” says Rome. “It’s like a family.”

Rome is already preparing her thesis script for next year – a coming-of-age story set in her hometown. “When you come home, you have an irreplaceable feeling,” he says. “That Southern feeling. It’s the thing I can’t escape.

This article appears in the Fall 2022 print edition of Magazine Colombia with the title “Georgia on His Mind”.