Foreign ingredient clarifies the writing recipe

Had a great meeting with film director Dani Menkin last week. Dani is based in Los Angeles but born and raised in Israel so he has a great perspective on Tel Aviv in the early ’90’s, the setting for my love story screenplay Seeing Maya. We’d spoken before, but this was the first time we met in person, and the conversation really flowed. I had to run him to the airport or we could have easily kept going.

I find when I’m writing there is this wonderful point where something seemingly foreign enters the recipe, whether originating from myself or someone else, that causes me to step back, gain some distance, and bang, the clarity comes.

I commented to Dani that my protagonist, Danny, like most Americans I know who moved to Israel, were escaping something here, as well as being drawn to something there. In other words, the personal is at least as important as the ideological. Usually more so.

Dani accepted this and innocently suggested that Danny should have a very literal reason for escaping the US to Israel, which led to some really funny brainstorming on the spot, which led to an overall reconsideration of humor for Seeing Maya. There were already funny moments, but more humor helps take it further away from the predictable “heavy” of the setting.

It was a great turn in the road, and I am looking forward to implementing into the  screenplay.

We also talked about some of the mechanics of moving this project forward, and I like the path that I see emerging.

 

To the Sundance Screenwriters Lab selection committee

To the Selection Committee,

It’s easy to get opinions on a screenplay; it’s tough to get meaningful engagement. I’ve resisted the contests, because they seem so purely hit-and-miss. I realize I’m really not after being discovered – I’ve discovered myself – but enhancing my craft and drawing together a team around Seeing Maya that will bring this film to fruition. I’m a good writer, good enough to know I’m not a director or a producer (yet). For me, the Lab is an opportunity to learn, and to organically grow this community, while of course, preparing the story more completely for its telling.

I spent twenty years prevaricating over whether or not I’m an artist. I always thought some external event, some form of recognition, would settle it for me. Now, I know this is an internal experiencing, and that chapter of my life is blessedly closed. I’m not trying to validate those years of struggle, or show the doubters they’re wrong, or reach some personal goal. I am precisely the artist I feel myself to be. The only question is what move to make next and whom to move with?

Which brings me to Sundance and this application. The fact is that Seeing Maya is exactly the kind of work I want to do, and that the type of people who draw to Sundance, if I may generalize, seem to be just the kind of people I want to learn from and work with. So I’m excited about the opportunity.

Opening scene of SEEING MAYA

INT. JERUSALEM RESTAURANT – AFTERNOON

Danny rushes in. Spotting Maya within the bustling lunch crowd, he’s stopped in his tracks.

DANNY VO

I saw her before she saw me, and something made me stop and just watch, how people, especially women, looked at her, not with envy, but with the spontaneity of discovery. And I knew exactly why, even if they didn’t. The pure aliveness that poured through her, like some kind of body-generated light, was plainly visible to me, the way some people see auras. I knew then I had a gift for seeing Maya, which changed both of us, because we both became clear in this seeing, as if without it — though we’d lived that way all our lives until now — we were always somehow blurred. I realized I had something serious to lose in her, and it scared me, and I knew at that moment I needed to either love her from then on, or turn around and leave, and not see her anymore. But before I had time to consider this, she saw me and waved me over.