Over 15 years, Gustavo Moheno has made an enviable career for himself as both a screenwriter and director within the Mexican film industry. Working closely with writing partner Ángel Pulido, Moheno has been able to carve out his professional niche churning out screenplays for established directors like Julio Cesar Estrada and Rafael Montero, while his two features as director have showcased heavyweight actors like Damián Alcázar (The Perfect Dictatorship) and Martha Higareda (McFarland, USA), and have been featured in competition at Mexico’s premiere film event, the Morelia International Film Festival.
As part of our ongoing 5 Questions series, we took the opportunity to talk to Gustavo about what it takes to be a professional writer, struggling through a project, and dreaming of writing the next James Bond.
As a writer, what first attracted you to screenwriting?
I first came to screenwriting with the idea of being a director. In Mexico many directors write our own projects, so screenwriting came about as sort of a necessity. As I began to develop my career as a director I managed to sell a few screenplays along the way (which, by the way, were never filmed), and I ended up establishing myself as a director who also works as a screenwriter or co-writer on other projects. I currently move between both worlds, but for me what’s most important is directing.
For you, what would be the ideal dynamic between a director and a screenwriter?
The truth is, when a screenplay has the good fortune of going into production, in a way it turns into the director’s property. It will be the director who enriches or impoverishes the screenwriter’s vision in accordance with his artistic or monetary capabilities. As a director and co-writer of my own projects, I work at length with my writing partner, Ángel Pulido, but I doubt most screenwriters have the luxury or misfortune of working with the director from the get-go. The ideal dynamic would be that both parties want to make the same film, that they share a common vision. But it’s not always that simple. Writing and directing are two very different things. Even myself, when I’m directing, I read my own screenplays and think: “And now how am I supposed to film this? What the hell was the screenwriter thinking!”
How do you see the professional landscape for screenwriters in your country? Are there many opportunities?
In Mexico we need to professionalize film writing. In some ways, it’s a problem across the world. Nobody thinks they’re capable of directing, shooting, acting or building a set, but everyone thinks they can write, so nobody sees the necessity of hiring a professional screenwriter to turn their story into a polished script. Writing is a vocation that is just as professional as that of director or cinematographer or production designer. You need professionals to carry out these tasks. And if you want to have a good screenplay, you need a professional screenwriter. Now, as with any writer, that’s not to say that a good screenwriter necessarily comes out of a school. I am of the belief that you can’t teach someone to write. You either have it or you don’t.
Which screenplay has been the most difficult for you to write and why?
The most difficult has been a project that hasn’t been filmed yet, my “pet project” as they would say in Hollywood. It’s entitled “Edgar Niño” and it’s undergone a number of transformations over the course of the almost two decades that it’s been in the incubator. It’s a love story between a Mexican boy and an Argentine girl that takes place in the 1980s. It sounds simple, but in truth it’s a very ambitious project… On the other hand, the screenplay for my most recent feature–a comedy starring Damián Alcázar titled Eddie Reynolds y Los Ángeles de Acero – also cost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for myself and my co-writer, Ángel Pulido. It’s based on an original story by another screenwriter, Carlos Enderle, and it took a lot of work to find the proper tone and rhythm. Comedy is a genre that one must take on with a lot of care and respect. I really think comedy and horror are the most difficult genres.
If you didn’t have to think about budgets, producers or other limiting factors, what screenplay would you like to write?
I would love to write the story of Uruguayan writer Horacia Quiroga, but not like a classic biopic, but rather a sort of combination of his life – tragic in many respects – with some of his stories of horror and madness. Quiroga had a truly tragic and fascinating life. I imagine it as a great Latin American super-production… Admittedly, I’ve also always secretly dreamed of writing and directing a James Bond flick!