Tag Archives: Screenwriter

Varunn Pandya talks finding the right dream and pursuing it

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Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

When Varunn Pandya, 21, was growing up, he watched all kinds of movies and found himself enamored by the different journeys they took him on and the different perspectives he felt towards the world. Today, he can proudly say that love for film has only flourished and he has since established a reputation as a talented, unique screenwriter and director. He finds the concept of writing down his thoughts and ideas to be cathartic and he has spent years attempting to learn as much as possible about the arts in order to better himself for the benefit of his eventual audiences. For Pandya, the true luxury that his profession affords him is the luxury of getting to explore different characters and different worlds. Not only is this what attracted him to writing in the first place, but it is also what keeps him coming back for more time and time again.

Throughout his career, Pandya has allowed himself to pour his heart and soul into a number of phenomenal scripts. He is his own toughest critic and his own strongest motivator, pushing himself to ensure that he only brings high quality content before his viewer’s screens. For Pandya, there is no room for slacking in screenwriting and he feels as though giving 99 per cent just simply doesn’t do justice to the tales he aims to tell. He is well known for stories like Dilemma and Homeless and he has made a prominent name for himself in the industry. He has even earned a number of competitive awards, including Best Short Screenplay at Five Continents International Film Festival and at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival in 2018. What the talented young man lacks in years of experience, he makes up for in sheer talent and so long as he has a pen and paper, he hopes to continue creating compelling stories to share with the world.

Later on in September of this year, Pandya earned himself even more recognition when his script XYZ was chosen as an Official Selection at the Trujillo International Independent Film festival and also when he won the award for Best Sci-Fi Short Screenplay at the Hollywood Just4Shorts Film and Screenplay Competition. When he sets his sights on a script, there is very little he won’t do to make it a success and these awards are a testament to that commitment.

Alongside his friend and colleague, Bader AlShuaib, Pandya developed a concept for XYZ and carefully but considerately determined how best to showcase it before the eyes of thousands. XYZ is about the human tendency to be inherently racist and biased towards people with a certain body type or complexion. In an uncertain future, it centers around Martha, a newly-wed African-American woman who convinces her husband to make her dream of having Caucasian children come true. To achieve this dream of hers, they undergo a special experimental procedure so as to be able to select each and every trait of their future children. Slowly, Martha realizes that in the process of making her dream come true, she ends up destroying everyone around her.

When AlShuaib and Pandya began brainstorming for the script, they pulled inspiration from films and shows like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Black Mirror. As both works have successfully done, AlShuaib and Pandya wanted to delve into the scientific fiction genre and determine a way to challenge the minds of their audiences with a thriller-like, psychological spin. Ultimately, they wanted to explore a deeply human story against a futuristic setting. It was unlike anything Pandya had done in the past and he was awoken by the enjoyment it brought him.

“Unlike my previous work such as The House, a futuristic setting was something I hadn’t ever tackled before. The novelty of this itself made this script an interesting challenge. Even my co-writer, Bader, had not written anything like this before and, hence, was equally passionate about diving into a new world and figuring it out. The writing process was very different to my previous projects. This was the first time I was collaborating with someone and it was important to make sure that I wasn’t curbing his creativity. In my opinion, our writing relationship was very smooth. I would write a draft and send it over to him. After a week or two, he’d tweak it and send it to me. This back and forth eventually resulted in the final script – one that we’re both very proud of” shared Pandya.

Writing XYZ and having it achieve such success in its early days served as a reminder that Pandya has what it takes to pave a change in the film industry. He considers himself fortunate to have found what he truly loves to do so early on in his career. To others out there aspiring to follow their dreams and do so with success, Pandya had the following advice to offer:

“To anyone looking to pursue a career in this industry, I would advise them to be ready to have sleepless nights, go a few months without decent work or pay, and face rejection. If they can accept this, theirs is going to be a smooth ride. I would also ask them to only pick this industry if there’s nothing else they would do even if it paid better. This industry demands that kind of a passion.”

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Writer Sonia Gumuchian Crafts Enthralling Stories for Film and TV

Poster for the new film “Home Entertainment”
Poster for the new film “Home Entertainment”

Every fiction contains at least a kernel of truth, but a great writer knows when not to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Taking inspiration from the people and experiences in her own life, Canadian writer Sonia Gumuchian is in a class of her own. With boundless curiosity, keen instincts and extraordinary perception, Gumuchian constantly watches and listens to the world around her, filtering everything she observes through the prism of her rich imagination.

Her most recent project, the film “Home Entertainment,” which Gumuchian wrote, co-directed, produced and edited, reveals her uncanny ability to translate real life experiences into laugh out loud stories that resonate with audiences. Told in three parts, the film takes place in a house that is rented out to temporary residents each weekend by its owner, who has a voyeuristic streak.

“Every story in this anthology, believe it or not, was heavily inspired by true stories- whether they were based off of our personal experiences or ignited with the help of a fascinating person that, at some point, crossed our path,” explain Gumuchian and her co-director Katherine Eaton in a Director’s Statement.

From a couple’s floundering romantic getaway to an unconventional sex-driven memorial and more, “Home Entertainment” follows a different set of house guests each weekend, all watched by the homeowner’s group of rich oddball dinner party guests through livestream security camera footage.

Eaton says, “Working alongside Sonia, it is evident that she is nothing short of an amazing writer, whose vision and leadership stands out beyond the norm. Apart from her great work ethic, she has this incredible creative ability to tell great stories, which are not only outrageously funny but also grabs and tugs at the hearts and minds of her audience — essentially getting people to think. I believe these elements make her an incredible asset in any film environment.”

Sonia Gumuchian

Gumuchian’s talent for creating captivating stories based, at least in part, on truths from her own experiences, was apparent even in her earliest work, and it’s one of the reasons her writing is so magnetic. Her vivid imagination proved invaluable when, as a young girl, Gumuchian was rarely surrounded by kids her own age. Aside from her parents and grandparents, her closest companions were often books, movies and TV. By the time she was a teenager, Gumuchian had taken to creating her own stories. During her first year of high school she met a strange boy with a bizarre hobby, and he quickly became her first muse.

“His name was Liam, and he told me stories of how he loved spending hours stalking people he barely knew, gathering intel on their lives, and even going as far as breaking into his school’s office and reading up on everyone’s medical history. Suffice to say, Liam and his strange addiction fascinated me,” Gumuchian said. “So one day, I sat down and wrote an entire novel from his point of view. It was through that experience that I found how exciting it was to spend hours escaping into someone else’s point of view.”

It was soon abundantly clear that the young Gumuchian was a bona fide prodigy. As soon as the ink was dry in her novel about Liam she focused her full attention on training with LEAP, a prestigious academy for promising young playwrights in Vancouver. By the time she finished high school she had already distinguished herself as the writer of two one-act plays, both of which were chosen to be produced and performed by the community of professional stage actors and writers at the Vancouver Arts Club Theatre Company.

The young writer’s remarkable abilities and accomplishments earned Gumuchian acceptance into the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, which was once again ranked by the Hollywood Reporter as the #1 film school in the country — where she studied Writing for Film and Television. Gumuchian was quickly tapped by networks, producers and prominent figures spanning every corner of the industry to contribute her skills much earlier than most writers. Though still in school, she began taking her first steps as a writer by learning from the brightest executives who oversaw shows on FOX, HBO, ABC, and virtually every network and studio from across the industry’s proverbial alphabet soup, such as “Big Little Lies,” “Barry,” “Silicon Valley, “Game of Thrones,” “Family Guy,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Black-ish,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and more.

“After working at TV and cable networks, at studios, and on independent films, I fell in love with the process of bringing stories to life,” said Gumuchian, recalling her early experiences as a writer in the industry. “From script to screen, my exposure to the inner workings of content creation taught me a lot about the craft and… shaped the industry professional I am today.”

Years working in creative development at many of the biggest networks in the world gave Gumuchian a staggering wealth of experience. XS Media Director of Development Julie Zhang, who worked alongside Gumuchian at HBO, says, “Sonia brings a contagious energy to the table that hooks you from minute one. Apart from amazing taste and her eye for good stories, she is a go-getter, and very determined to achieve the goals she sets for herself. In this business it’s sometimes more important to be perseverant than talented, so it’s good that she is both.”

As she grew in experience, so too did she grow in her determination to write and share with the world a story entirely of her own. With her 2017 script for the ambitious fantasy-comedy series “Loyal Royals” — which she created as well as wrote — that Gumuchian revealed once again that she is an imaginative and engaging writer in the modern era of television. The story is at once a whimsical and refreshing comedy, a farcical fantasy set in a world of knights and dragons and magic.

“Set in a medieval town, the recently divorced King Robert is forced to move into his daughter’s castle across the lands and aims to regain the little dignity he has left,” she explained. “Princess Lilian and Robert, her conservative dad, are at odds when he disapproves of her engagement to a frog, pisses off a local population of culturally sensitive unicorns, and continues causing ruckus in her kingdom.”

 

Her original pilot for “Loyal Royals” was exceptionally well received by critics and festival judges. Spotlighting Gumuchian’s talent on an international level, “Loyal Royals” earned First Place at the Hollywood Hills Screenplay Competition, Fifth Place at the London Film Awards, the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival’s Honorable Mention Award, the Jack Oakie Doubletake Award for Exceptional Achievement in Comedy, as well the award for Best Unproduced Script at the London Filmmaker Festival. “Loyal Royals” was also chosen an Official Finalist of the World Series of Screenwriting, a Semi-Finalist at the Screenplay Festival, as well an Official Selection of the Atlanta Comedy Film Festival. The success of the script proved once again that she is on par with the best writers in the industry, and it opened the door for her next project, the film “Home Entertainment.”

Ambitious and original, “Home Entertainment,” which Gumuchian marks as her biggest project to-date, stars Brock Ciarlelli (ABC’s “The Middle”) and features a soundtrack composed by guitarist Benjamin Sturley, known for his work with Noah Cyrus and Grammy-winner Selena Gomez. Hilarious and thoroughly unexpected, the film recently had its Los Angeles screening and is preparing to begin its festival run.

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Actor Brock Ciarlelli & Gumuchian on set of “Home Entertainment” (Photo by Penelope Eaton)

Perhaps Gumuchian’s greatest asset as a storyteller is an uncanny talent for identifying and appreciating the huge reserves of untapped narrative potential hidden in the most unexpected, overlooked and eschewed recesses of everyday life. Borne of her innate perception and indefatigable imagination, an endless stream of stories pour from Gumuchian’s mind — their impact compounded exponentially by the years she’s devoted to honing her already razor-sharp writing skills. Curiosity, imagination and an unrivaled mastery over the written word enabled Sonia Gumuchian to deftly ascend the ranks of cinematic academia, and she’s fully on her way to becoming one of the most sought-after writers in this burgeoning new golden age for film and television.

Shaan Memon writes of the harms of bullying in new film

Article05-pdsdocu02Shaan Memon believes a film is made three times. At first, it is the writers; they are responsible for visualizing the tale in their mind and creating the characters, personalities and setting. Then comes the actual filming process, which is at the hands of the directors; they see the script and turn words into worlds that will transport audiences from their seats to another reality. Finally, the editors have the responsibility to turn shots into a story; they put everything together in a way that flatters the actors, compliments the set, and captivates audiences. As a true film lover, when Shaan was choosing which path to take in filmmaking, these roles all spoke to him, and he decided to pursue all three. As a celebrated writer, director, and editor, Shaan is showing not just his home country of India, but also the rest of the world, what he is capable of.

No matter the medium or genre, Shaan’s understanding of filmmaking is outstanding. Whether making a commercial, like the ones he recently did for Dickens Fair, a documentary, such as Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area, or films like his new drama Fitting In and the acclaimed The Unreal, Shaan’s talents are on full display. He is a consummate professional, consistently impressing audiences and peers.

“Unlike so many, Shaan knows what is important to the production of film. He listens to advice, eagerly pursues the best, and delivers. He’s quite professional. He’s definitely a man of his word. When he says he will get the job done, he gets it done,” said Doug Campbell, Director.

Article02-bullied02Last year, Campbell consulted Shaan while writing his film Bullied, a story of a gay teenage boy who is being bullied by a gang of older boys in his high-school and living with his single mother. He decides to take revenge by killing the leader of the gang. On the verge of executing his plan, he remembers his mother’s words of wisdom.

“Many that have been bullied commit suicide or go through a lot of mental stress and it affects their health and career hugely. This story teaches not to take revenge. It takes a lot of courage and many times we have to face huge losses. This movie teaches the path to redemption with being responsible, smart and courageous. I think this story is very important in today’s world,” said Shaan.

Shaan was inspired to write a story about bullying after experiencing it first hand in his first semester of University in India. He was brutally bullied by senior students who were politically very powerful. Under such circumstances, he had no one to turn to, as everyone was intimidated by such influential people. He struggled a lot, and experienced anxiety from the events for three more years. However, he did not let the experience break him, and he decided to write this script to encourage a positive outlook for victims, showing the value of life beyond bullying.

“It was a great experience sharing each other’s experiences and learning from this. I found out that the problem of bullying is much larger than we think, and a lot of people need help with this. Helping people and making positive changes in someone’s life gives me satisfaction, and that is what I liked about working on this project,” he said.

While writing the script, Shaan researched online, in books, and travelled to many schools to talk to students who had been bullied about their experiences. He also talked to teachers and staff to see what the repercussions and protocol were in such situations. He found that an overwhelming number of students in the LGBT community experienced bullying every day, and therefore wanted his protagonist to be homosexual to show the reality of what these students face. He wanted their stories to be heard and displayed as authentically as possible, so he rewrote his script dozens of times while consulting with various filmmakers and victims until it was perfect.

Article02-Bullied03“I wanted to convey my thoughts and tell these stories to the viewers as truthfully as possible, as I had imagined them in my mind. I never start a project until and unless I want to convey something through that. This script is near to my heart as I had struggled a lot for several years. I had a lot to show and say about my experience. I did a lot of research, writing and rewriting to create a powerful script with a good message. And I hope once this film is made, it will help a lot of people,” said Shaan.

Currently, Bullied is still just a script, but Shaan is looking at making it into a film in the near future. Despite this, however, the film has already received attention from many film festivals based on the story. It was an Official Selection at Oaxaca International Film Festival, Mexico, where it was nominated for Best Emerging Writers Award and Best Overall Script, an Official Selection at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival, Atlanta, where it was nominated for Best Short Script Award, and a Semi-Finalist at the Oxford Film Festival where it has been nominated for Best Short Screenplay.

“It is incredibly satisfying that the script alone is receiving so much attention, because this is not just a film; it is my small effort to spread positivity in this world. I hope that once it is made, the film gets selected to more and more festivals and a huge number of people watch it, because my main goal in making it is to spread awareness. The medium of filmmaking itself is very powerful and it has magic to move people’s heart. If used properly, it can create wonders, and that is exactly what I am trying to do here,” he concluded.

Lili Huang casts an honest lens on the life of “Xixi” in award-winning documentary

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “To make a great film, you need three things: a great script, a great script, and a great script.” For award-winning screenwriter and producer, Lili Huang, these words resonate deeply. If her career has taught her anything, in fact, it is that a well-written script is absolutely essential to the success of a film. For this reason, Huang pours her heart and soul into ensuring that when she writes a script, she fine-tunes each and every detail to perfection, regardless of its size. This dedication to scriptwriting, coupled with her business acumen and knowledge of film production, make her a rarity in the entertainment business and an asset to any project she works on.

“For me, screenwriting is about using my writing skills to take a simple idea and turn it into a gripping story for an audience. I enjoy the entire creative process of writing, from developing each character, to building the structure, planting every small or large detail, and ultimately, of course, presenting a final story that people will eventually fall in love with,” told Huang.

When Huang looks back on her career, however, she recognizes that originally, her passion for screenwriting and producing were not as clear cut as most. On the contrary, they have slowly and progressively built over the course of the last decade and as she continues to explore the film industry, her love for the two professions only grows stronger. To date, Huang has written upward of thirty film and web series scripts and makes no plans to stop any time soon. In addition, she has received a number of prestigious awards for her unique set of skills and techniques. For instance, in 2011, Huang tested her abilities as a screenwriter, director, producer, and editor when she created her film, The Flower of the Future, and earned herself a nomination for Best Screenplay at the Golden Panda Awards in China. For another of her films, Mei Mei, Huang won Best Film at the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, earned herself an Official Selection at the IndieFest USA International Film Festival, and more.

To little surprise, Huang is used to receiving a substantial amount of praise for her work from her peers and fellow film-lovers. For instance, well-known Chinese director, Xuehua Hu, acted as both a mentor and colleague to Huang over the years, considers her to be an asset in the industry. When asked about what makes Huang so good at her job, Hu had the following to say:

“Lili Huang has a rare professional dedication and passion for filmmaking. Throughout her career, she has gained a comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking industry, especially as it pertains to the differences between filmmaking in China and in other parts of the world. I can say confidently that she is an invaluable, professional filmmaker.”

After years of developing her skills in the genre of drama, Huang felt that she was ready to branch out of her comfort zone and explore the realm of creating a documentary-style film. Given that documentaries interest her greatly, Huang was confident that this was an area of filmmaking through which her talents could prosper. In 2012, she felt compelled to tell the story of Xixi, a girl who was born in China, immigrated to the United States as a child, and moved back to Shanghai, China, as a young adult. Huang spent the next eight months gathering raw footage of Xixi’s daily life, endeavoring to capture every moment of happiness, hardships, romance, friendship, and more. Ultimately, Huang wanted to shed a light on the Xixi’s unique life circumstances and allow audiences to draw their own conclusions about the intricacies of Xixi’s cultural transitions.

“I wanted to show my audience what her daily life is really like. For her, having had just moved back from the United States to China, she was definitely experiencing life in a very different way than local Chinese people were. I wanted to share her point of view on her new life in Shanghai, on how she was adopting new customs, etc. I also wanted to audience to draw their own conclusions after watching the film,” she said.

Once she had concluded her filming process, Huang edited her footage and eventually, in 2013, Xixi premiered at the Golden Panda Film Festival in China. Later, at that same festival, she received a nomination for Best Director of a Documentary Film, and was overwhelmed with pride. Director Haiying Wu, who acted as an advisor for the project, offered a great deal of praise for Huang and had only positive things to say about the film. Xixi, in conjunction with Huang’s other achievements in her field, have proven that there are very few limits to what she can achieve when she sets her mind to it and fortunately, she intends to continue dedicating her efforts to telling meaningful stories and continuing to help contribute the art of film for years to come.

Writer Wendy Bain shows comedic flair in upcoming play ‘Old Frenemies’

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Wendy Bain

When Wendy Bain was just a school girl, her favorite subjects were English and Literature. From a young age, she was immersed in reading, growing her vocabulary and discovering the most eloquent way to portray her feelings. As a child, this meant writing short stories and joining the drama club to delve into the arts. Now, however, she has emerged as a leading script writer, and her love of words is the foundation of her passion for what she does.

Despite working on many successful projects in many genres, Bain is known for her talents as a comedic writer. She perfectly captures the situational humor in real-life scenarios, and connects with her audience. Stephanie Laing, an eight-time Emmy nominated and two-time Emmy award winning producer/director known for her work on HBO’s Veep, Vice Principals, Eastbound & Down, and Divorce, says Bain’s work is crucial to the work she does with her production company, PYPO Inc. The two are currently working on the first of many projects together called Clean.

“Wendy is essential to this project as she created this television series. I’ve known Wendy for over a year now. She has a distinct voice that taps into the zeitgeist of American comedy,” said Laing.

Despite such success and accolades, Bain considers the highlight of her career as writing the play Charlotte Davies Is to Blame for Everything. The play was selected for a new playing writing festival at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, London in 2012.

“Charlotte Davis is to blame for everything came from a very bad, wet week away in the midst of the Welsh countryside in the United Kingdom. My husband, Sam, had seen an article in the Telegraph newspaper about these luxury cottages in Wales and, knowing how much I love Wales and luxury, thought I’d like to stay there,” said Bain.

Similar to Bain’s experience, when her character Charlotte decides to go away with her husband, it does not go as planned. Charlotte’s wildlife documentary maker husband, Duncan takes Charlotte on a job with him to film the red squirrels in Wales. The cottage that is hired for them by the BBC is in the middle of nowhere, and unbeknownst to Charlotte, it is owned by her old nemesis, Lesley Irwin.

Things go from bad to worse when Charlotte sees that Lesley has married her ex-boyfriend Dewey. Meanwhile Lesley wants to sell the land the red squirrels live on to build more holiday cottages. Charlotte’s sure that Duncan’s still cheating on her. Dewey can’t believe the love of his life, Charlotte Davies, has returned after thirty years.

Severe flooding prevents Charlotte from leaving. The couples become trapped in the cottage together and all the truth comes out.

“It is a comedy based on my experience. I was horrified to find out the owner of the farm cottage we were staying in was my old frenemy from my teenage years that took my boyfriend off me,” Bain joked. “We just pretended not to know each other but the memories about her stealing my boyfriend, and how a close female friendship can flip into a vicious rivalry, came flooding back. I couldn’t wait to get out of cottage and back to London.”

Bain ended up injuring her knee, and like Charlotte, was trapped at the cottage and left to think about her old friend and the unresolved issues. The weekend, although displeasing at the time, provided Bain with the perfect inspiration for her play.

“When we got back to London I told my husband the real reason, as I had exaggerated my injury for us to leave sooner. He still finds it amusing. I found a great premise for a play and a way to process those old feelings,” she recalled.

The play was shown at The Rosemary Branch, Islington and Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden in London. Upon its premiere, Bain was hailed as a ‘promising new playwright at a time when comedy wasn’t as popular as social issue lead drama in London.’ As Bain also has experience in acting, she played the lead of Charlotte Davies and the laughter from the play could be heard from corner of Shaftesbury Ave. Film critic Catherine Bray a follower of Wendy’s talent said on Twitter it had some of ‘the best one liners she heard in a while’.

“The script is laugh out loud funny and hits hard nail of truth with an anvil. Charlotte’s vain and witty has married the wrong man and that man has married the wrong sex. It’s a naturalistic comedy that leans towards farce at the end,” Bain described.

Bain is now bringing the acclaimed play to America. The name of play has changed to Old Frenemies, and will be put on at the Hollywood Fringe Festival next year. Although it is based in the countryside of Wales, Bain says it is more about an old friendship gone wrong. There’s also the added romance line of Charlotte and Geffen, who were childhood sweethearts and split apart by Lesley’s lies. Thirty years later they see the result of their choices from those teenage years. Charlotte also is dealing with the affairs of her closeted gay husband, portraying common marital and friendship issues on the stage.

“When Geffen says the sad line ‘The thing I loved the most about her was she reminded me of you’. It rings the end of a hollow marriage between him and thoroughly dislikeable Lesley,” Bain said.

In Old Frenemies, old and new secrets unravel about who did what to whom? Ending with some hilarious revelations and proving the old adage ‘it’s never too late’. Make sure to check it out at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2018, and keep an eye out for more of Wendy Bain’s upcoming work.