A Screenwriter’s Perspective: How I Developed My Own Process for Creating Compelling Characters

Are you wondering how to become a screenwriter? Read the Insightful interview with Lara Celenza

BIO 
Lara Celenza grew up in Vasto, a small town in Abruzzo, Italy. She holds a BA in Modern Languages from the University of Bologna and an MPhil in Russian Studies from the University of Cambridge, where she specialized in Russian and Soviet film. In 2008, she completed her professional training in film directing at the Raindance Film School in London. In 2010, she founded indie film company Kalifilm Productions and, since then, she has written and directed many award-winning short films, documentaries and music videos all over Europe. Her documentary on falconry and wild animal training “Falcong” won the DokuFilmPreis at Filmzeit Kaufbeuren 2018 and is currently available on Amazon Prime US and Amazon Prime UK. Lara Celenza lives in Berlin and is about to release her first feature film “Lost in the City”, a drama on homelessness and social injustice. In the meantime, she is developing her second feature film “The Dope Show”, a road movie/drama about the dark side of the music business. 

Writing for the screen is one of the most popular and fascinating expressions of the art of storytelling. The script format can appear intimidating and even restrictive to some aspiring  writers, however it is the perfect medium for you if you have a cinematic imagination, because its conciseness – compared to a novel, for example – creates the space not only for you, but also for many other creatives to make magic happen. As a screenwriter, you are offering a blueprint for the actors, the art department, the score composer, the camera and post-production teams to synch into a unified vision under the guidance of the director. It’s like creating a language and enjoying watching people speak it and make it come alive. In this article, I’m going to share how I practice and express this beautiful language, in the hope that I can encourage you to do the same – your way. 

My Experience and My Workflow as a Screenwriter

In addition to having written a few dozen scripts and concepts for short films, music videos and photographic series, I am the author of two feature-length screenplays, “Lost in the City” and “The Dope Show”. “Lost in the City” is a drama about a deranged homeless man who wages a furious personal vendetta against the banking system. The film has already been produced by us with Alex van Ric in the lead role and myself as the director. It is currently in the final stage of post-production (sound design) and it will be released in 2021. “The Dope Show” is a road movie about a jaded singer-songwriter who embarks on a journey across four countries to reconnect with his loved ones and find his heart again. The project is currently in the development stage. Both screenplays are character-driven and centered around a male character – in the future, I would like to create more female characters and possibly more “decentralized” plots with parallel storylines. My process is disarmingly simple. I meditate a lot. This helps me quieten the useless mind chatter and focus single-handedly on what I want: creating a meaningful story. Once I get a feel for the kind of film I want to write, I start visualizing a few scenes in random chronological order, mostly with the help of music, which is my primary inspiration at this point.

Moodboards and visual references come later, as I begin to collect pictures and watch relevant movies or look at paintings to get a feel for the colors and the pictorial atmosphere of the story. Once I feel ready – and intuitively guided to – I write the following pieces in this precise order: first a logline, then a synopsis, then a treatment, and finally the first draft of the screenplay. It is only when I have a finished draft that I start collecting feedback and polishing the structure and the dialogues with the help of a story analyst or dramaturg. Normally the writing happens effortlessly as a natural flow, because I have already taken plenty of time to daydream and build the film in my head. I simply refuse to write if it comes as a chore and I don’t feel ready. Once I am ready, everything is easy and fast. Of course, this is just meant to provide you with a workflow example and should not be regarded as an absolute. My advice to aspiring screenwriters would be: play around with different processes and develop your own. Don’t procrastinate, but don’t rush into things either, and make sure you know exactly what it is about the story that speaks to you. First go deep within yourself, and then lose yourself completely and become malleable, in order to give voice to the characters. It will take time, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Reading List

Here are a few books I’d recommend to anyone who wishes to become a screenwriter: (spoiler alert: they might not be at all what you would expect!)

1 – If you want a creative career, unless you are fortunate enough to come from a rich family (I didn’t), you must become financially savvy. I cannot stress this enough! “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki is a fantastic guide to personal finance that has made my life easier, allowing me more time and energy to devote to my creative work.  

2 – If you want to contact the Muse, you must learn to connect to your inner creator in whatever aspect or form resonates with you: the universe, the divine, your intuition, your right brain, your imagination… My personal top pick would be the Upanishads, an ancient Vedic text, but it might be a bit challenging for most people. Alternatively, pick up a few reads by the so-called “New Thought” authors, for instance Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Joe Dispenza, Neale Donald Walsch, Neville Goddard, Louise Hay etc..

3 – If you want to create some truly memorable characters, you should learn about archetypes and the collective unconscious. Look up Joseph Campbell (“The Hero with a Thousand Faces”) and the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. 

4 – There’s a plethora of books devoted specifically to screenwriting and you will surely find one that meets your needs and creative process. The one that helped me the most is “Raindance Writer’s Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay” by Elliot Grove, because it also includes tips on pitching and marketing your script. 

5 – Procrastination and mental clutter are the writer’s deadliest enemies. I recommend reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo, because it teaches you to clean up and organize your living space. I found that, surprisingly, this practice also helped me with writing! 

Conclusion

Some people question the role of storytellers – and their marketability – in the difficult times we’re currently facing, but I don’t. One thing humanity has always been a sucker for is a good story well told. It was already so in our distant past, when the whole tribe would gather around the fire to listen to the legends of our ancestors and the forces that created the universe, and it will always be this way. So it might just be the perfect time for you to enroll on that creative writing course you’ve been wanting to try for so long! If you wish to find out more about me and the work that I do, you are welcome to visit my personal website https://www.laracelenza.com and my company website https://www.kalifilmproductions.com. I wish you the very best on your creative journey. 

Also read How I Got a Full Time Writing Job Without Sacrificing my Creative Vision

A Screenwriter’s Perspective: How I Developed My Own Process for Creating Compelling Characters

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