With a promising start to her career, we are excited to interview writer Eva Gonzalez Szigriszt. After reading her material, she was signed quickly by a manager and the opportunities started to arise. Now she is working on projects for Facebook and Crypt TV, working with Hollywood producers and her screenplay Turn was recognized by the Tracking Board Hit List for 2019.
What was your first introduction to horror?
You mean beside high school? Hehe. Well, I think I was seven when my older sister and her friends (around eleven or twelve years old) organized a sleepover and one of them sneaked a copy of The Exorcist into my house. I hid behind a sofa and watched it while they were screaming and hiding their eyes behind their hands. I remember loving the film. Not just because of the horror or the eschatology involved (which I though were awesome, of course!) but the atmosphere and characters, especially the priest Damien Carras. He really spoke to me, even at that young age. It also sparked a curiosity for Archaeology and Ancient History because of that opening scene when they find the demonic statue.
That is hilarious. What does your older sister think now that you make scary movies? Does she like them or still hiding behind her hands?
I think she is happy that I have a job! Is she going to see them? That’s a whole different story. Maybe…? But definitely horror is not her go-to genre of choice, no. I am sure she prefers my sci-fi/ fantasy work over the creepy stuff.
How did you get started in the industry?
I came to Los Angeles from Spain, where I had worked in theater productions for a while. I studied filmmaking and I did a couple of internships in film development. It was reading scripts from professional screenwriters and writing coverage that made me fall in love with screenwriting. So, I decided to pursue it professionally. I focused on writing and rewriting my first TV pilot. I wrote a bible and then designed a beautiful pitch deck. When I showed the project to a manager, he signed me right away. That was the first project of mine that got optioned. This was almost five years ago. I mention how long ago this was because I think it is important for the reader. Those that aspire to be professional screenwriters need to know how much time it takes. It takes time to get from "someone actually noticing your work” to “I’m buying your work!” No one is an overnight success. No one.
That is great that you acquired your manager so quickly! How important do you feel it is for screenwriters to design pitch decks for their screenplays? Do you have advice for new screenwriters on designing their pitch decks?
For TV they are somewhat important. BUT! I have a degree in Fine Arts and I also studied animation. So, I have the experience to create a professional-looking deck. If you are going to design a deck, please, for the love of the old gods and the new ones, be aware of the quality you present. It is better to have no deck than an amateur-ish looking deck. My two cents. Also, try not to spend money on them. They are not THAT necessary. Your pilot script and your pitch/ series outline are what you really need.
What keeps you interested in the genre?
I love writing genre scripts (horror, thrillers, sci-fi) because they offer a way to talk about socio-political issues in a fun way, through metaphors and powerful visuals. The Others is one of my favorite movies because it is a great example of how genre can elevate story and character through metaphor and theme, when done well.
What is it about screenwriting that you enjoy?
I would say that what I enjoy about writing is that it works as a way to escape from reality. Also, through story and fiction I can sort out my own conflicted thoughts and emotions. It is almost therapeutic.
That is something we hear regularly about writers enjoying escaping from reality. It is cool to think that as a writer, you’re escaping from reality by creating a vision for a director who then will put your vision onto screen for others to escape. How does it feel to see your vision come to life on screen knowing it is helping people escape reality?
That is a great way of describing it. This is a collaborative environment. You have to trust that everyone is good enough in their job, so the result is even better than what you wrote. That is the ideal situation but that is not always the case. Sometimes your vision doesn’t end up on the screen! But, okay, let’s imagine that it does. I think that knowing that the audience was transported somewhere you imagined first in your head is a very wonderful thing. To think that it all started (in my case) when I was as a child, writing stories and drawing pictures just to entertain myself, to escape from my own reality and now I get to create different worlds for other people. The opportunity to connect with them somewhere outside our own bodies. It feels magical!
What does your writing process look like?
When an idea sparks in my head I would usually start with research. I am a research maniac. It is through the research process that I start building around that original idea. Character, theme, format. Then, I'll think about it for a while, playing it in my head like a movie, and when I can "see it" clearly from beginning to end, I write it. Of course, that changes when I am hired. When I write for others, I have to write an outline so the executives can give notes before I start writing the script. Once that is approved, it is time to write.
How do you handle a situation where you may not agree with an executive creatively?
First of all, they are ‘the boss’. So, you are already on the losing end of that relationship. Knowing that (and, please, know that), the way I handle it, (and so far, has worked very well), is to ask a lot of questions to the executive. I make them participant in finding the solution, together. Sometimes when they start trying to fix it with you, they realize on their own that the note was not that great or maybe not doable. That saves me (and them) a lot of time. But most importantly, not implementing a bad note saves you from other problems that may result from the bad note causing a domino effect down the line. Sometimes (rarely), it is the other way around and the executives convinces you! And that is great.
Do you have any advice/suggestions for up and coming or hopeful screenwriters?
I don't think it is about the amount of scripts you have but the quality of those scripts. Focus on making them spark. It is not enough to write well, you have to own a distinctive voice and style and, that, will separate you from the pack. Read and work on all your scripts constantly. Don't leave behind that one script you are not proud of just yet. Come back to it. Keep reworking it until it makes sense. Also, read scripts. As many as you can. There is no better school than that.
We’ve heard that after writing a first draft you should put the screenplay aside for a month before coming back to it. What do you think the timeline should be before doing a rewrite?
When you are hired you don't have that luxury. When you work on your own scripts, there is also no right answer. One month sounds about right. But if you need more, that is fine too. Let's just hope it is not years, though! But, yeah...every writer has their own process as we all work in many different ways. What I do is very drastic. I write that first draft, read it a couple of times and then I destroy it. How much time is that? It varies. But, yeah, that’s what I do and it works for me. I destroy it and write the first draft again. What happens is that brains are magical organs. When I write the script again, I only remember the better parts, and the bad scenes or unnecessary stuff is mostly gone. Mostly. The best part is that my brain has filled the in-betweens with better stuff than what I had before. Again, this is what has worked for me. We are all different animals. No one but me really ever sees my first draft, so, that second one is officially my 'first draft.' Between that first draft (however you got there) and the next one you can’t really put a timeframe. It is good to have some time in between to think, yes. So, I usually work on a different project for a bit. Let it brew. Then, I tackle that new draft. When is that one ready to send out? If you have a manager or an agent, trust them on that. If you don't have reps yet, look for people you trust. If their feedback is good you can try and submit to that competition or query that producer or manager!
Can you tell us more about your projects?
I am currently writing all the episodes of a new horror TV series for Crypt TV and Facebook Watch. I can't give up the name of the project as it has been kept under wraps, but it has been such an amazing experience so far. Can't wait to see how it is received! I also have a science fiction TV series I created for 3Pas Studios, that Lionsgate TV just bought. The creators and executive producers of Netflix's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance are executive producing (Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Will Matthews and Jeff Addiss). I am really excited about this project as it is a big sci-fi with a Latina protagonist and a very diverse cast. I also have another project, an original sci-fi TV series, Kings of the Sun. Lloyd Levin, producer of the Hellboy franchise, Watchmen, Lara Croft, etc. has come on board as the producer. I could not be happier to be working with so many incredible people. I feel blessed.
Congratulations on the success you have had so far! Would you be interested in writing feature films or are you only interested and focused on television?
Oh, I write features too! But that business has become too complicated. Opportunities are so sparse. Also, right now, TV exudes a quality we don’t see in films anymore. So, I am more excited about TV than film at this moment. Anyway, my features have served me well as writing samples. And, even though I haven’t been as lucky with them, last year I was the only writer nominated by the industry with two scripts for the Tracking Board Hit List. One of them, my psychological thriller TURN made it onto the list as one of the best scripts to hit the market on 2019. This gave me some momentum and helped me getting noticed.
What would you say to people who have been screenwriting for a while but haven’t had a break yet?
Okay. I'm gonna try my best here. They say that breaking in takes from 5 to 15 years. So, know those numbers and really think about where you are in that time-frame. If you’ve passed the mark (whatever you think that mark is for you; 3 years? 5 years? 10 years?) with absolutely no track record, but you still want to ‘make it happen’ then I’d suggest you maybe dig deeper. At every level. Most likely you are a decent writer but maybe not a stand-out one. Take a deeper look into your writing. Is it at par with what is out there at this very moment? Maybe read every script you can get that won an Oscar, Golden Globe. Look at the ones that made it onto the Tracking Board Hit List, Blacklist, or the ones that won the Nicholl or Austin screenwriting competitions, etc in the past 5 years. Check the format and styles. They keep adapting and so should you. Are your stories digging deep enough? What’s your point of view? Your voice, is it identifiable, does it separate you from the pack? Do you have something to say? Your personal story...are you able to tell it in a way that is engaging, interesting, and shows you are indeed a storyteller? Your attitude...can they work with you potentially for the next 1 to 5 years (if it’s a film), or 1 to 15 years (if it's a TV show)? How well can you take notes? Do you have your ego in check? Can you write a solid first draft in 8 to 12 weeks? That is more or less the time you have to write the first draft of a feature film or 6 to 10 weeks if it's a pilot of a TV series. You get less time for rewrites and polishes are even less. So, if you can’t, then, it is going to be hard to work. Hollywood is a very competitive environment where good writing is just a given. I would say to focus, not just in the writing but on everything else that completes you as a writer, that makes you unique. So, don’t neglect all those other, very important things. While, of course, you keep writing, writing and rewriting!
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
I enjoy everything I work on to the fullest. I could not pick a favorite project. I only work on things that I really feel passionate about, and with people that make the process enjoyable. It is already tough job by default, so I gravitate toward projects and people that make it all worth the ride.
That is fair. Some people look for people with similar personalities or different types of people to find another voice. What do you look for in your executives that makes you want to work with that company or team?
First of all, I look for their trust in my vision. That they ‘get it’ so they can be the guardians of that vision if it needs to be. As writers we sometimes try different things, we take sideways and get lost a little in the process. I appreciate a development team that can reel you back in if required. A team whose notes are thoughtful and for the film or TV show you are writing, not the one they wish they had written. I love a team that asks a million questions, that has a collaborative spirit. Silence is bad...hehe I want them to be invested, not insecure. If there is silence and lack of communication, insecurity grows and that is never good.
What is your favorite classic horror movie?
The Changeling by Peter Medak. It is the precursor of movies like The Ring or What Lies Beneath, or TV series such as The Haunting of Hill House. It is absolutely character driven, even though it is a horror, and it established much of the cinematic language that is used today in that type of haunted house/ ghost stories movies. It is a must watch, in my opinion.
Those are all great horror films you mentioned. The Changeling is a classic and just reached its 40-year anniversary. What current horror film have you really connected with?
Midsommar. I consider it a horror movie. The idea of isolation resulting in a society that views life and death in such ways is what my nightmares are made of! It is such a deep study on the most bizarre parts of human social construct. And how betrayal, heartbreak, the feeling of not belonging can be a clear path to falling victim of a cult, and, eventually, you lose yourself forever. That is one of my nightmares, and it is in most of my work. To lose your personality. What makes you, you. And this movie does it for me. In so many levels!
What movies & filmmakers give you the most inspiration?
Alien and Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. The Others by Alejandro Amenabar. The Ring (the original and the Gore Verbinski's adaptation). Thrillers like Silence of the Lambs or the TV series like The Fall or The Killing. I get very inspired by Asian directors like Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood For Love) or Chan-wook Park (The Handmaiden and Oldboy) and Bong Joon Ho (The Host and Parasite).
That is a great variety of filmmakers to look up to. Now, you can only choose one. Who do you meet if you had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with only one filmmaker, past or present, that inspires you?
I would love to sit down with Wong Kar Wai. In the Mood for Love must be one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever experienced. The style is everything. The poetry in its silence. The longing on each shot. Color palette. MUSIC. I mean...I could go on and on! I NEED to talk to this man. Such a talent. I know he is not a master of horror, but trust me, he can build tension like the best of horror directors, but with drama. I’d have tea with him.
What is something in everyday life that scares you?
Humans are the scariest creature. I find serial killers scarier than anything paranormal!
Oh, that is a good one. I’m pretty fascinated with the human mind and why humans do some of the things they do. I don’t know why but true crime is a favorite of mine. What is a real-life situation that scares the daylights out of you, and do you have any projects in the works that highlight real life horror?
Yeah...serial killers. I am fascinated by psychopaths. Also, I am interested in cult leaders and master manipulators. And yes, my psycho thriller TURN is all about that. Not exactly a cult leader, but a serial killer that seduces a man into believing he is the man behind all his killings. A very self-contained film, almost claustrophobic, set during hurricane María in Puerto Rico.
What is your dream project?
I have a lot. One would have been to adapt Battle Angel Alita, but James Cameron/ Robert Rodriguez got their hands on that already! I would still love to take a swing at that one day. I would make it a TV series. But, in the meantime...I'd love to adapt the manga/ anime Evangelion into a live action TV series! I have a very cool idea for the adaptation that will explore the thriller and horror aspects of such iconic sci-fi franchise, as well as the love triangle between the main characters.
Any last thoughts?
To anyone that is an aspiring screenwriter. Please, do not give up. Keep working on your craft. Perseverance and resilience are key. If this is your calling you will eventually claim a place in this industry. Yeah, It is not an easy path. Not at all. Lots of highs and lows. But if despite knowing that you still want to continue on trying to catch those evasive dreams, then go for it! Please, feel free to tweet any questions. If I can be of any help I will try my best! Find me on twitter @EvaSzigriszt.
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