- I spent two Years learning Italian to watch the Godfather without subtitles. I then found out they spoke mostly in Sicilian dialect and I still couldn’t understand fuck-all. Un proprio stupido Io sono.
- I have a scar in my left eyebrow. It’s from being hit by a bowling ball… by my grandma. 3. When I was little, I dreamed of being an NBA Player. In fact, I still do. It just ain’t happening, though. Shame.
Q: What is your favorite screenplay you’ve written? Or what are a few of your favorites? And why?
A: It’s one called “Tubo Expresso” (Express Tube). It’s my first feature length script. I’m quite proud of the achievement. It’s written in Portuguese (oh yeah, I’m Brazilian by the way) so I haven’t shared it with the community. But I’ve been getting positive vibes from people around here. Even if it never gets made, I’ll be left with a sense of job accomplished. I had so much fun writing and in every re-read I crack up with the jokes as if they were actually written by somebody else and I had never heard them before. Totally mental. In a sense, the movie already exists for me.
From my SWILA exercises, there are many that I hold very dear in my heart. “The Runner” is a very special one amongst the bunch. It was my first-time writing fiction in English. My first screenplay in English. My first SWILA entry. My first SWILA win. Really got my confidence up in order to start my path on pursuing screenwriting in the USA. Plus, not to brag, I think the story came out dope as fuck.
Q: Are there any characters that you developed in exercises that you have continued to write in other screenplays/personal projects?
A: Yes, there is one. It’s a recurring character in my SWILA exercises. A dude called Lionel. He’s a smooth-talking gangster in the molds of Jules from Pulp Fiction. On the exercises, he has pooped up in at least “Apple Slice” and “Weird Piece of News” (but might be in a couple others, I honestly can’t remember).
Anyhow, although he shares this similarity with Jules, he is actually bases upon a non-gangster friend of mine called Leonel. And his fictional persona, that debuted on SWILA, was in fact used as the backbones for one of the main characters of my feature.
Q: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
A: Have you ever been so sure of something from the get go that you never deviate from the path? Do you have such passion for a subject that you never considered doing anything else? If so, lucky you. It was not at all my case. I always loved writing. However, I never even considered pursuing it as a career. When it came time to choose what to do in college, I went with Mechanical Engineering. I also love mathematics, I was quite good at it and it seemed like a safe choice. I soon learned that loving Math didn’t necessarily translate to a passion for Engineering. For most of the 6 and a half years of my degree, I was completely miserable.
After graduating I worked as head of a department in a Startup and later as a business consultant. Honestly, I actually liked what I did. But I didn’t love it. When I took a deeper look at what things I appreciated the most in all these weird situations, I found one common denominator: in college I dug writing technical articles; in the startup, I loved to write a blog on LinkedIn on the topic I worked with; as a consultant, I embraced the storytelling aspect of presenting a narrative to the customers. In other words, writing and telling stories. At this point I started looking for workshops on creative writing. The final drop came when an uncle of mine, who was the closest thing I ever had to a father figure, died of cancer late 2019. I was asked to write his obituary to let people know it happened. At his service, a guy approached me. He said: “I wanted to talk to you. I asked to speak with whomever wrote the obituary. I wanted to say it was beautiful. I live in another city. But, as soon as I finished reading it, I felt compelled to get in the car and come here to pay my respects. I drove 100 miles.” I never knew this guy’s name. Right then and there I understood the power I had in my hands. I think it would be a shame to let it go to waste. In early 2020 I quitted my well-paying job and started pursuing writing full time.
Q: What is your earliest memory of writing being a means of expression for you?
A: Growing up I was much more interested in sports. As a kid, I was always at a football pitch or a basketball court. I didn’t even want to learn how to read or write, as a matter of fact. Drove my mom nuts. Especially since she was a big-time journalist. Well, eventually, in the first year of High School, I had a really awesome Portuguese teacher that taught us different literary styles. The first that really piqued my interest were articles – opinion pieces. I really enjoyed writing them. One day, for an assignment, I wrote an article on the importance of curse words and why we should swear as much as we could. I reluctantly gave it to my teacher. I taught for sure I would get spelled from school. To my surprise, he absolutely loved it. He ended up making me read it for the entire class. The class went wild. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Q: What novel’s/novelists have inspired your writing throughout your life?
A: Like I mentioned, I was not much of a reader in my young days. So, let’s break this answer down:
- First book I loved was the Portrait of Dorian Grey. Ever since, Oscar Wilde has been a huge influence.
- The most important books in my life were the Hunger Games Trilogy. Not because I think they are works of art. But because that’s what got me going as a reader at the age of 16. Ever since, I’ve been reading at least 30 books a year. Which is the most important habit I suggest for a writer. There’s no better way of understanding how to tell a good story than by reading like a maniac. Especially the great works of fiction. Forget about workshops and screenwriting guides or gurus. In the paper lies the path.
- Since I picked up this habit there have been so many relevant influences. Here an incomplete list of my favorites:
Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in The Times of Colera), Mario Vargas Llosa (La tia Julia y el escribor), Machado de Assis (The Posthumous
Memoirs of Brás Cubas), Nelson Rodrigues (his memoirs), Wu Cheng'en (Journey to The West), Albert Camus (The Fall, The Myth of Sisyphus), Jean Paul Sartre (The Words), Seneca (On The Tranquility of Mind), Earnest Hemingway (The Old Man and The Sea), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Paul Auster (The Red Book), Liev Tolstoi (The Death of Ivan Ilitch), Pablo Neruda (How I Lived), Jorge Luis Borges (The Aleph, Fictions).
The omissions in this brief list will certainly hunt me at night. That’s a start, though. If anyone wants some more suggestions, feel free to reach out.
Q: What films/filmmakers have inspired your writing throughout your life?
A: That’s a straightforward one.
Some Filmmakers: Tarantino, Taika Waititi, Martin McDonagh, Aaron Sorkin, Giuseppe Tornatore, Akira Kurosawa, Fernando Meirelles, Billy Wilder, Francis Ford Coppola, Monty Python, Elia Suleiman, Ricardo Darín.
Some Films: The Godfather (1 and 2), The Lion King, Star Wars’s - Original Trilogy, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie, The Life of Brian, Oldboy, The Silence in Their Eyes, City of God, Sunset Boulevard, Dersu Uzala, In Bruges, Boy, Moneyball, It Must Be Heaven.
Q: What are your personal writing goals?
A: Well, I would very much like to win an Oscar and the Nobel Prize of Literature. What? You’re the one who asked. In all seriousness, though. If I can see my screenplays being made, my books being published and I earn enough to support myself and finance my not-at-all fancy habits (mostly traveling and endurance triathlon competitions), I’ll be golden.
Q: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
A: I would do exactly what I’ve been doing. But I would sleep way better at night, that’s for sure.
Q: What would you do if you knew you would fail? And what is worth it to you anyways?
A: I would do exactly what I’ve been doing. And, funny enough, I would probably sleep way better at night as well. See, if I fail, I’ll lose absolutely nothing. Although I want to do great things, I’m already quite happy as a nobody. As long as I have a book to read, the outdoors to go for a run and a pen and a piece of paper, I’ll consider myself the most privileged man on Earth.
Q: What is your idea generating process? Do you like to have designated time to generate ideas or do you go about your life and have moments of transcendent inspiration, ideas for stories you HAVE to write?
A: A bit of both. I have a very imaginative mind. So, I’m almost always thinking about dumb shit. It’s just a matter of putting it to paper. However, there are moments of complete blankness. In those instances, I usually go out for a run or pick up a book. It eases the mind and lowers the pressure of the all so feared “writers block”. Eventually, I’ll come across something that sparks my imagination back up. However, coming up with the idea is usually the easy part. Once you have it, you have to do something with it. Or what’s the point? For this second part I do have a much more rigorous process of research -> reference’s breakdown -> outlining -> going to the page.
Q: Do you outline before you write? If so, do you use treatment style, screenplay format, longhand, something else entirely?
A: It depends. For short scripts, like the SWILA exercises, I seldom do any previous preparation. Straight to the page, baby! For longer stories (feature, tv pilot’s, romances…) I usually do very solid work beforehand. Which goes something like this:
For a feature:
Logline (story in 35 words) -> Storyline (story in 10 lines) -> Synopsis (story in one page) -> Treatment (story in 8-10 pages) -> Beat sheet (note cards with one line describing each scene) -> Outline (note cards breaking down the entire scene, characters involved and the main conflict) -> First Draft.
For a TV Script:
Brainstorming Ideas -> Fixing the core idea for each Plot (A, B, C…) -> Building a map of the story for each Plot (depends of the project, but it can be done by using Harmon’s Story Circle, a Simple 4 or 5 act Structure and so on) -> Outlining each Plot -> Organizing the Outline for the Episode -> First Draft.
Naturally, it may vary from project to project. But that’s about it.
Q: What is your dream environment for writing (disregarding cost or any other prohibitors)?
A: Any silent place that I’m not interrupted meets my criteria of perfection. To be honest, when I get in the zone, I completely forget where I am. Sometimes I even forget to eat. Now, if we’re getting crazy, I would like to have a cabin in the woods somewhere in Europe. Either one of the following countries: France, Italy, UK or Ireland.
Q: How do you feel you have grown as a writer since your first exercise submission?
A: Are you kidding? There’s no comparison. It’s a whole new level. Believe it or not, now I actually know what I’m doing. Isn’t that magical?
Q: In what ways do you want to continue to improve as a writer?
A: One of my dreams is to write a solid work in each of the main genres. My natural habitat is comedy. So, my wish is to improve my writing skills to a level in which I can seamlessly switch across drama, thriller, horror, fantasy…
Q: What are you proudest of in your writing achievements?
A: I do a very fine job with Dialogue from what I’m told. However, personally, I’m proudest of a habit I managed to keep from my engineering days: solid structure and economy. Due to this very analytical mindset I was taught in school, I believe I’m capable of building very cohesive stories from beginning to end with little fat to trim off in revision.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your writing?
A: Life is fucking nuts. It’s the least structured story you’ll ever experience. Finding your path in this mess is a daunting task. Which is why it feels so good when you do so. Embrace the chaos. Rejoice in the unknown. And, of course, always be writing.
Follow Hannah on Instagram: @hannahwagner3932
Always be writing.
Tell better stories.
Never give up.