Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Chat with "Girl in Progress" Screenwriter: Hiram Martinez
by Janet Lawler
May 22, 2012

1. Hi Hiram, thanks for stopping by The NY Screenwriting Blog and congratulations on "Girl in Progress". What inspired you to write this coming-of-age script?
Thanks for the congratulations, Janet. Greatly appreciated! I wish I had a sexier answer for what inspired the script, but the truth is the idea of a kid coming of age while orchestrating her own coming-of-age story was just really funny to me. Plus it felt like a fresh way to approach a very familiar genre. But the thing that finally got me to sit down and write the script (which I find is often separate from the inspiration) was the opportunity to explore the notion of “slowing down” when you’re a kid; when I was little all I wanted to do was grow up, but now that I’m (somewhat) grown up, I would kill to have those sunny days back, when the only thing on my agenda was running around the backyard without a care in the world. My Dad always told me to treasure those early years more and I wish I’d had the smarts at the time to listen.

2. In 2009 you were a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship for your script "Ansiedad", is that the script that evolved into "Girl in Progress"? How many drafts did you do and what changed overall?
“Ansiedad” is in fact the script that became “Girl In Progress” (now in theaters!). The biggest overall change is that the script went from being an “R” rated story about a kid for adults, to a “PG13” story about a teen for teens, so a lot of darker elements had to go to accommodate that. There were several small rewrites along the way, and then one major one right before production with me in a hotel room for a week turning the script into what the director wanted/needed it to be.

Eva Mendes and Cierra Ramirez
 A Teen Blooms
3. You have other writing credits - for the feature Four Dead Batteries, CBS's "Life with Girls" and working on a script for Jon Hamm & Jennifer Westfeldt's production company. What were those experiences like?
“Four Dead Batteries” I wrote and directed years ago so I could experience what it’s like to make a feature. It was made for very little money on DV, but it showed me what the process of translating words into images was like. The things I learned still help my writing today. One example? Don’t be precious -- the edit room is brutal and you can save yourself a great deal of pain if you drop an unnecessary scene or two at the script stage rather than during the shoot or in post. Better still, don’t write unnecessary scenes!
The CBS project never got past the studio level, unfortunately, but it was my first experience pitching to a roomful of executives (slight exaggeration, there were two, and they were lovely). For Jon and Jennifer I did my first adaptation work, turning Cusi Cram’s play “Dusty and the Big Bad World” into a screenplay. It was also my first time working for someone other than myself at the writing stage, but Jennifer and Jon are just about the loveliest people you could hope to collaborate with. And they’re both decent looking.

4. How excited were you to hear Eva Mendes would be cast as the co-lead in your script? What was the table read like on the first day?
Put it this way, I was so excited when I heard Eva was onboard I literally can’t remember what I did or where I was when I got the news. Total blank! It’s possible I was at work at MSNBC at the time and if I was I probably ran down the hall hyperventilating on the phone or hid in a bathroom stall silently screaming. Alas, I was not at the first table read as I felt that’s the director’s time to make the movie his or her own and I didn’t want to be “in the way” in any way.

Screenwriter Hiram Martinez
5. How would you describe your writing process?
Five pages a day. That’s what I aim for. Sometimes that’ll happen in one sitting, sometimes multiple short sittings throughout the day broken up by errands. Either way, my target is five pages minimum when I’m writing a first draft, with weekends off. The time off is actually incredibly important, as I find it keeps me from getting myopic! I keep a calendar nearby and check off “5” every day I’ve made my page count; if by some miracle I’ve done more than 5, then I happily note that as well. Small triumphs are integral! If I haven’t made my pages ... well, part of being a professional is you always make your pages, so even if I’m up late into the night, gotta reach “5”. Then between scripts I’m incredibly lazy until the next idea hits.

6. Do you plan to direct your screenplays? Which is more your primary passion, writing or directing?
I got into writing so I could one day direct. Which takes time. People are paying me to write and that’s an incredible thing I wanna appreciate, but when the climate’s right, making another feature, with a real budget this time, is my ultimate goal.

7. Do you recommend screenwriters enter contests? It obviously worked out well for you.
I can’t speak to contests, plural, because I only entered one -- the Nicholl Fellowship. It’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and it’s incredibly well organized. I was a finalist in 2009; they put me on a plane, got me a wonderful hotel room, handed me a cash envelope (no lie), and booked panel after panel of amazing industry insiders, from high-powered agents to producers to working screenwriters. But more importantly, Nicholls is THE contest Hollywood monitors. If your name is announced among the 10 finalists, expect calls or emails from most agencies, many managers, and a train-load of producers. Being on that list puts your name in front of the people you want your name in front of.

8. You've seen your script develop through many stages, make it into production and finally premiere. What is that experience like -- seeing your work on the big screen?
Hard to believe. As I write this, I can walk by a theater where a movie I wrote is playing! How crazy is that! It’s a happy feeling I try to hang on to for when the going gets rough (and it does, often). But nothing beats seeing the movie with an audience and hearing them respond. The reason we do this crystallizes in that moment, and all the hard work and stress takes a backseat to a kind of paternal pride. Or maternal, as it were.

9. What filmmakers inspire you to create?
Kubrick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher; Alexander Payne, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson -- Vince Gilligan, Soderbergh, Spielberg, Matthew Weiner, and JFK-era Oliver Stone. And David Cronenberg when he’s super economic.

10. Any tips for screenwriters looking to get that first script sold?
Move on if it doesn’t sell. Reworking that one script is the quickest way to limit your chances. Work on finding an original voice across a number of scripts rather than putting all your eggs in one place that holds eggs. If you wrote something wonderful once chances are you can do it again, and hopefully again and again and again, which, if things work out, will actually BE your job -- to do something great on cue, again and again and again. Also, get comfortable with rejection; it’ll be the most common thing you experience early on. But all it takes is one “yes” to make everything worth it.
A million thanks, Janet, for your taking the time to talk to me! Greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Hiram, and much success with Girl in Progress.  It's playing in theaters now.  Here is the trailer link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCqzkNl2gXIYou can also follow Girl in Progress on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GIRLINPROGRESSmovie

Until next time.


Anonymous said...

Great interview. I was so interested in the changed you talked about in making the film PG. I just finished my film and submitted it to Sundance, Nicholls and Austin. Same kind of deal. Central character is an 8-year-old girl but themes most likely will get the film an R rating. Would love you to check out my blog. Just beginning. Film listed on inktip too. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

Oops....forgot to include my blog. See, you can tell I am SO new at this! fierceblather.wordpress.com
So great to know there are other women out there doing this thing!

Janet Lawler said...

Great! Thanks, Kelley, keep reading and writing. I'll check out your blog. Good luck with Sundance too. Have a great summer,