Brazil may have the most developed film industry in Latin America, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make it as a screenwriter. But don’t take our word for it. São Paulo native Marcelo Müller has spent the better part of twelve years making inroads into his country’s rapidly-growing industry, but ironically it was an Argentine feature co-written with director Benjamín Ávila that made him one of the hottest up-and-coming screenwriters in South America.
Entitled Infancia clandestina, the 2011 feature premiered at the Cannes Festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight competition before going on to pick up prizes at Havana, San Sebastián, and Guadalajara, and ultimately sweeping the Argentine Academy Awards with a whopping total of 10 accolades.
Since then, Müller has kept busy with a number of writing projects, and finally got around to directing his first feature Eu te levo, which is currently in post-production and awaiting a release date. In addition to his film work, Müller has written for Brazilian television, taught filmmaking at a number of universities, and pursued academic studies related to communications. We recently sat down to chat with him about the emotional toll of screenwriting, the future of the Brazilian film industry, and the positive side of creative limitations.
As a writer, what first attracted you to screenwriting?
The films I most admire are essentially narrative, so it was fundamental for me to study dramatic writing. I made my way to screenwriting through directing, and I think it’s unlocked my writer’s side, the pleasure of writing and constructing stories with words. These days I also write academic texts and I want to jump into short story writing and novels, but I have more interest than time.
For you, what would be the ideal dynamic between a director and a screenwriter?
The collaboration is what’s most important. When I work with a director, I tell him that I’m lending my authorship, since I have no way of being a mere technician or separating myself from those personal things that one always brings into a work. In that way, if the director wants to work with me, he knows more or less what type of contribution I will be making, beyond the technical or structural knowledge that is required to write a screenplay. As a director, when I work with a screenwriter I have the same disposition, but the other way around. It has to be a process of intense collaboration and complicity.
How do you see the professional landscape for screenwriters in your country? Are there many opportunities?
Brazil is going through a very interesting moment. Production has gone up quite a bit in the last few years, in film as well as in television. For that reason there is obviously more demand for screenwriters, but on the other hand, there is an enormous concentration in a dozen or so names, who can’t keep up with the demand and end up focusing on the more worthwhile projects. In that way, there’s an enormous demand but that demand doesn’t necessarily translate into real opportunities for the majority of screenwriters, primarily the younger ones. But I think that’s circumstantial and if the industry continues to grow, it should balance out much more in the next few years.
Which screenplay has been the most difficult for you to write and why?
Every screenplay comes at a high cost, be it time, emotion, or structure. But I think that the project that exhausted me most was Infancia clandestina, precisely for the emotional cost of being immersed in a universe of very complex characters, with very urgent questions. These days I avoid watching the film because it still moves me very deeply. If I go to a conference or panel about Infancia, I try only to enter the room when the final credits go up.
If you didn’t have to think about budgets, producers, or other limiting factors, what screenplay would you like to write?
Probably nothing. For me, limitations are stimuli that give shape to the process, even to the point of establishing rules for the world of the film before you begin writing. If one doesn’t have the range of possibilities limited from the start, everything becomes very difficult, there are too many options. That’s why I think it’s good to think that some possible solutions won’t work, because they don’t fit in the budget or in your own self-established rules.
With time, these rules become automatic and serve to guide the process. I think it would be much harder to think in expensive solutions and pyrotechnics than in the simple solutions that we’re trained to come up with on account of the typical limitations of making films in Latin America.