Screenwriter Eduardo Albuquerque on Finding Your Own Themes (Interview)
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Screenwriting is no easy task, and anyone hoping to get into this competitive field is likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of screenwriting advice you can find online these days.
But our interview with professional screenwriter Eduardo Albuquerque highlighted how each screenwriter has to undertake their own journey to arrive at a style and set of themes that work for them.
That style, those themes, it all might change later on, but knowing what you want to accomplish in the here and now can make achieving goals that much easier.
Albuquerque has taken this approach throughout his career, from his earliest days as a famous child actor to his work on Hope Dies Last, one of the highest-grossing Brazilian movies of 2015, to contributions to Porta Dos Fundos, Brazil's biggest comedy YouTube channel (recently sold to Viacom for a whopping $11 million), to his notable short film, Freedom, which was a critical darling at multiple festivals.
Albuquerque has been living in the United States since 2016, where he has continued to find success as a screenwriter and storyteller.
The themes of his work orbit conceptions of the real, often serving as a catalyst for critical thought among viewers.
This interview holds some great tips and insights for aspiring screenwriters who may still be trying to find their voice. Take a look.
Idea Trader (IT): What have been some of the most common themes in your writing?
Eduardo Albuquerque (EA): I'm usually attracted to crafting some sort of manipulation of what's real. There's always a tweak into something that throws the perception of reality upside down.
Freedom presents a car commercial only to make a small change and put the premise on its back. Hope Dies Last is the story of a reporter tweaking reality so she can get more screen time.
Even Polling Life, an experimental Instagram art project where I spent the first one hundred days of 2019 having all my life decisions made by my followers via Instagram's poll tool would twist the notion of who's being controlled.
I like to deny or misrepresent what is taken as a given, I'd say, making people uncomfortably question what they once considered a no-brainer.
IT: Have you developed these themes over time, or have some of them become more integral to your work in recent years?
EA: I've only recently realized that because I wasn't actively saying "Ok, this is my thing," but it has always been there regardless. My first short film, way back in 2006, Pseudociese, was about a husband (Marcelo Adnet) going along with his wife's (Liliana Castro) false pregnancy up until a point-of-no-return where she delivers, "a portion of air she calls baby," like he says in the movie. That's the ultimate reality tweak, right?
IT: Have your goals as a screenwriter changed at all since you began?
EA: I guess. My goals used to be milestones like "write a movie," "write a series," "write a book," but I've done all that, and every time I got there I was like, "Is this how it's going to be? I'll chase something and once I make it it will feel empty and I'll have to find yet another high to chase?"
I think I've matured into having goals that are more internal than external. My goal now as a screenwriter is to tell an engaging story, in an empathetic way that hopefully will touch the audience. The great thing about it is that it's a repeatable goal. Every time you work on something new, you try that again. So you're able to feel satisfied without losing the hunger, if that makes sense.
IT: How often do you look at the work of other screenwriters for research or for influence?
EA: I try to find balance. Here's the thing: you have to be mindful of what people are doing because your work is not suspended in ether, right? It's part of a culture made of shared stories, and imageries.
But you have to do that passively, you know? Otherwise, you're just repeating tropes. To be honest, whenever I'm writing something, I actively block anything that might be a little bit up the same alley so I don't get influenced.
Because even though we have this shared universe of signs and meanings, I still want to do my own thing and tell the story in a way that only I can. There's no sense in trying to be like someone else. So what I do is try to research and get influenced by other mediums, music and art mostly.
Michael Stipe and Nas are two great, and very different, storytellers that I always refer to because it makes sense for my brain. They activate hidden stuff kept deep within my aesthetic vault. And lately, I've been very into Jillian Mayer. Her work is amazing and presses some very nice buttons in my creativity.
IT: Are there any upcoming screenwriting projects that you can tell us about?
EA: I've been approached by a production company in LA to adapt Hairs in the Drain to the screen. It's a short story I wrote on Wattpad under Athens Wrigley, my pen name for eerie horror stories, about a 14-year-old boy and his first-ever job: unclogging the never-ending hairs in the drains of a public pool.
At first, I wasn't that excited, but I've recently been to a water park and it got me so inspired, I've decided to actually turn it into a TV series. Those places have the perfect sweet spot between the ludic and the sinister, and that's where Athens Wrigley's stories usually live.
IT: What is the single most demanding part of your screenwriting work?
EA: Once you understand and fall in love with the narrative form, you start to see everything through this lens. And that means you are always working. Until you finish a script, you will always be having these internal dialogues about it.
Creatively debating yourself and comparing the real world to the world you're creating inside your head. It can become a quick step to complete dissociation of your psyche's conscious, and that's dangerous.
IT: Do you have any advice for aspiring screenwriters? How can they practice their craft and improve to a professional level?
EA: Quality comes in quantity, so my advice is to write all the way to the end without editing yourself. Just get through the finish line. Know that it's going to suck but that's fine because quality comes in quantity, so the more you rewrite, the better it will get.
You need to have a foundation from which to build from, so just write it, rinse, and repeat and you'll get to that tall penthouse where you'll be able to find more land to build on and do it all over again.