Looking for great new screenwriters

2014 Finalist Interview – Aldo Paternostro

Aldo Paternostro[Interview by Sally Brockway]

How many scripts have you written?

This was my third. I finished a couple of short films that I wrote myself and directed. And then I thought now is time to sit down and tackle a full feature.

How long did it take you? The idea to the moment you sent it in.

About 8 months, but I was working a fulltime day job and literally writing at night, and then I would take one day of a weekend and write. That would be a Saturday or a Sunday depending. So it was basically for 8 months no social life, very upset girlfriend, and just trying to get a draft finished.

It was your first feature film. Were there any things you found really difficult?

Coming to terms with structure, as always. I think anybody will tell you that. Anybody tackling a first feature you have to concentrate on the structure and try to make the structure seamless, that’s the trick isn’t it? That was the hardest part. The hardest part was knowing when you’re changing your gears, knowing when your turning point is, because I wasn’t used to writing that way and. Once you’ve written a big amount of it and you know your ending and you know your characters very well and you know what their arcs are then it kind of moves on and you feel a lot better. At least I started feeling a lot better about it after page 60 or 50.

Did you use books? How did you learn about structure or did you just teach yourself?

That was really reading a lot of screenplays and reading books about writing screenplays, really, and just watching a lot of films because that’s pretty much what I do. If you’re going to write anything then you have to read as many screenplays and watch as many films as possible. And if you can detect the structure in any film whatever it is, whatever the genre, then you know what structure is. I got some really good screenplays and reading them over and over again and understanding where all those beats were happening. That was the thing, watching films and seeing it and then comparing it to the screenplay. So I was doing a lot of that, reading a lot of material.

Did you plan it before you started writing?

I did, yeah. I did the kind of rules 101. I started fleshing out the characters at first before I wrote anything, some bios of the characters. And then I started doing scene structure and beats before I wrote the scenes, and building different lists and diagrams of it. That was the part that was very difficult. Once I started writing out the scenes then you get into dialogue so that’s different.

Did you send it out for any feedback? Did you get anyone to look at it for you?

Yeah, I did. I had it out to people that I trusted and the feedback was positive mostly. But then at that point I thought, they’re positive because I didn’t come out with some drivel and they’re like “it’s readable!” Because most people really expect the worst when anybody says, “Can you read my script?” – you’re thinking, “oh really no do I have to do this; I don’t want to read your crappy script”. So I think they were just relieved that it wasn’t a crappy script and I kind of believe that. And then I did get it read by professionals, by people in the industry who do this for a living and the feedback was very positive, more than I expected. So that’s when I thought, there is something here.

Where did you get the idea?

First of all I tried to work out what kind of films I like to watch and what my influences are. I went down the route of looking at the films that have influenced me, from things like Night and the City and Taxi Driver and stuff like Jacques Audiard films, those are the things I really like. And then just I just worked out something that could be that, but with a personal involvement for me.

What was that personal involvement?

What’s it like to be somebody looking for home for a place to live and for an identity. I’ve moved places a lot through my life so I wanted to explore that with a character that, although completely different, had some similar circumstances that I could understand. So there’s a personal element in it – but obviously it’s a piece of fiction and that was it really. So it was of the genre that I like, influenced by films that I’ve always liked, and with a personal touch of the story of somebody that had left their home country many years ago.

What’s your nationality?

I was born in Columbia and I left when I was 18 years old. And I was there during the really bad part of it, so I was there when Colombia was probably the most dangerous place you could go in the world. It was in the middle of the worst part of the civil war and it was the longest civil war in modern times (60 years old). You had two guerrilla movements, you had paramilitary movements, you had two drug cartels, and you had an incredibly corrupt government; everybody going at each other. So it was a nasty business, it was really difficult to live in and in those days not a particularly nice place. So there was a huge exodus and I was just part of that generation that left. If you could you would leave so I left. And then you’re left with the duality of home being somewhere else, yet you know that you started somewhere different. This creates that sense that you really won’t go back there again because it’s marked you. This mark can be positive, but for me was negative. So it was that, bringing all those elements for the search for identity and put it in a thriller. And in a thriller that also could also touch on topics that I think are relevant right now, particularly here, are incredibly relevant.

What do you hope to get out of the competition now?

Contacts. Placing like this in this competition means that there were a lot of people on the panel that liked it so being able to talk to them and finding out how the script could be moved to something other than a script I can send to people, to a different thing. And yes, being able to do this professionally, properly, and getting paid for it. That would be fantastic, that would be really good as well. I think there’s all those things but mostly I would like to move the project forward. And with that, if an agent says, I really like you’re writing, I really like your work…even better!

What’s your day job?

I edit documentaries. Right now I’m doing a few pieces for Vice. And I do other work for other clients, but mostly documentaries like CNN and stuff like that.

A documentary is a story. Does that help your writing?

I think all these things help you understand storytelling in different ways. Though there are things that are similar in fiction and documentary I think they’re also very different. At least editing keeps me close to film, and close to visual narrative, and it keeps me close to creating a structure for film – which is what essentially you’re doing where you’re cutting a piece in documentary because you’re really creating the story in the edit room. I think that all helps. But at the same time, when it comes to structure for a script and putting it on paper I definitely take my editor hat off and put on a completely different hat. There is definitely a line that you do cross and they don’t meet.

How long have you been writing?

I would say 4 years. I just don’t count the short films I made for some reason. I think the short films are really great training ground, but for being on the set and understanding the shooting and what you need to have, the involvement of different departments and working with different people and all that stuff. When you jump from a short film to a feature it’s almost a completely different universe.

Your script does take you into another world.

Thank you very much. That means a lot. It is such a lonely, lonely experience and existence writing a screenplay. It’s so tough. And also it’s a spec script which means that you might as well buy a lottery ticket. A spec script in this day and age is forgotten and dead and buried before it’s even been read. If it was the 90’s or early noughties you probably have a better chance but it’s so hard to get a spec script read, especially for a film of a particular budget.

But that’s why competitions like this are so good because key people in the industry are reading your script.

Well absolutely. And that’s the only reason I did it. You have one chance in a few thousand that someone is going to read it and if it goes well, great.

If you don’t send it you’ve got no chance of winning.

Exactly. Also the funny thing is there are a lot of these things in the US, tons of these competitions in the US but there’s not that many in the UK. Also of those in the US, a lot of them they don’t seem that credible. There are fewer in the UK but they seem credible. Like Phil has managed to get really interesting people in the judging panel. It’s a UK competition and look at the people that’s going to be reading it if you get to that stage and for that on its own it is worth it.

Have you placed in any other contests?

Not this high up. The script was a semi-finalist in the Final Draft Competition. I sent it to the Writers Room and it was very close, I think it was in the final 1% but it didn’t get selected to the top 5 or top 10 that get selected.

What’s in the future?

Ideally it’s trying to make this happen and if there’s interest and I find that I can write for a living, well then fantastic. I’ll keep you posted.

Brilliant. And thank you so much for chatting.

Thanks Sally.

Get social

Find us on Facebook and Twitter

Learn how to pitch

Read The Fearless Pitcher and learn how to handle a pitch meeting.

Read the blog

Search articles for screenwriting tips, techniques, and interviews with winners

Look at our line-up

See our panel of judges, all acclaimed industry experts