How do you gauge one’s success as a screenwriter? Some may say it’s the size of the paychecks, the frequency of work, or the stars attached to your projects. But when two of your films pick up awards at Cannes, it’s probably fair to say that you’re doing something right. That’s exactly the situation that Mexican screenwriter and director Lucía Carreras finds herself in at present.
2013’s La jaula de oro (The Golden Dream), co-written with director Diego Quemada-Diez and Gibrán Portela, was nothing short of an international phenomenon, while 2010’s Año bisiesto (Leap Year) has emerged as a touchstone of contemporary Mexican cinema after making the rounds through some of the world’s most prestigious festivals. To boot, she has directed or co-directed two features with an enviable pedigree that have taken her to festivals like Berlin and Karlovy Vary. As part of our ongoing 5 Questions series, we took the opportunity to talk with Carreras about creative tensions, underpaid screenwriters, and the challenges of constantly creating.
“In Mexico, there are currently more opportunities for screenwriters than before…”
As a writer, what first attracted you to screenwriting?
Since I was a child I’ve always loved creating worlds, inventing stories. Both my parents are very much cinephiles and they introduced me to film from a very early age, so I think it was natural that I ended up discovering cinema as a form of expression.
For you, what would be the ideal dynamic between a director and a screenwriter?
I don’t think there’s an ideal dynamic, it seems that each project and writing duo creates its own praxis. In my experience it has generally been very pleasant, intense and stimulating. To date I’ve worked with four directors, and in each case I’ve worked on the screenplay as a co-writer. My stance has always been that of contributing to their work in any way I can, with the understanding that the need to tell this story comes from something within them. I won’t deny that in each case there have been tense moments of creative disagreement, but that’s what enriches the process.
Now, when the texts I’ve written are for me to direct, the situation becomes even more interesting, as I find that it’s a rather schizophrenic relationship. Given that the process is entirely internal, I have to constantly remember the “I, director” who had very clear reasons for wanting to write the story in this or that way.
“That’s where action really needs to be taken: create a fair pay scale that allows a screenwriter to live off her work.”
How do you see the professional landscape for screenwriters in your country? Are there many opportunities?
In Mexico, there are currently more opportunities for screenwriters than before, given that there are more public funds available, and as a result, more spaces. Although I’m still not sure I would call it a good situation. I think there are still a lot of good screenplays that end up on the shelf because the producers aren’t convinced, because the system has created a situation in which big companies determine a large part of the content, or simply because they don’t enter into the framework of what is currently considered “produceable.” But the landscape is encouraging; I think little by little there are more spaces and formulas opening up.
I think the most serious problem for screenwriters in this country is more the salaries. There still isn’t always a fair valuation of the screenplay, and film writers can’t live off their work since in many cases the pay tends to be very low. I think that’s where action really needs to be taken: create a fair pay scale that allows a screenwriter to live off her work. In the end, the screenplay is the film, it’s the story, and without it nothing else could happen.
Which screenplay has been the most difficult for you to write and why?
Híjole, well, all of them and none at all. I think each screenplay has its complicated moments during the process, sometimes for the situation the project is in at a given moment, sometimes for your own state of mind as a creator, or others because you’ve put yourself in a sort of straightjacket with the story and it’s hard to find your way out of certain narrative threads. But however complicated it can become, it’s always enjoyable, stimulating, and an important part of the writing process.
If you didn’t have to think about budgets, producers, or other limiting factors what screenplay would you like to write?
I think I write the stories that I want to tell. I’ve never felt any sort of limitations. Obviously this has a lot to do with the type of stories and explorations that intrigue me, but I can say that right now I don’t think there are any stories that have been left in the inkwell because of material limitations.
I could say that there are so many stories I want to tell that the challenge is prioritizing which one to take on in a given moment, and allowing the others to wait their turn. But that’s more something personal that has to do with constantly creating, and the time required to write each story.