Alexandra Leopold is a talented Ontario-based writer, and the winner of Season 6 of Filmmatic's Short Script Awards for her dark and witty short “Blue World”. Her script features a frantic weekend between two children and their reckless father, in the aftermath of an acrimonious divorce. Alexandra has been kind enough to explain the origins of Blue World, as well as her plans for the days ahead.
1) How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I dabbled in screenwriting, mostly just for fun. As I got older, it became a part of me. I wrote scripts to direct or even just for myself while juggling other jobs in the film industry. I have been writing seriously for about ten years now, and have made it my intention to turn this into a career within the last three.
2) What screenwriting training have you received?
I started off as a child actor and I realize now that I was unwittingly training as a writer for a good portion of my life—reading, performing and studying scripts for acting classes from an early age. I spent my teens focused on the craft of screenplays, breaking down story and subtext in order to understand the screenwriter’s vision and to dive into my characters. I later studied film at Columbia College Chicago, with a focus on directing and screenwriting. The rest of my training has come from reading books on the craft, reading screenplays, and putting in lots of practice.
3) Do you only write shorts, or do you have features/pilots in your wheelhouse?
I have written plays, shorts and features. I am currently focused on writing feature films and have a few in the works. That being said, I have some ideas for a pilot and mini-series and plan to explore both film and television formats in the future.
4) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions?
Routine is the name of the game for me. I try to write everyday to keep the muscles sharp. Even if I don’t have a script in mind, I still get up and write early in the morning, before I speak to anyone or even brush my teeth sometimes.
I start by writing down ideas and random scenes by hand as they come to me. In the early stages I usually free-write to loosen up before cracking into a new scene and write in short bursts. Once I have a solid concept, binge writing in long shifts is all I can do, because the story takes over and I have no choice.
5) Our judges loved "Blue World", how would you describe the project to our readers?
Blue World is a dark psychological drama, a character-driven ensemble piece. Someone told me after reading the script that it felt like “a crime was taking place in almost every scene,” and I really liked that analogy. It is intense and at times chaotic, just like the characters and their inner turmoil.
In the story, we watch as a torturous weekend deepens the wounds between two children and their reckless father in the aftermath of a bitter divorce. At its core, Blue World is a portrait of a dysfunctional family, but it also has a glimmer of a coming of age tale as the protagonist, Samantha, 11, is pushed to her limits and is forced to stand up to her abusive brother and father for the first time in her life.
The story delves deep into a complicated family dynamic; one where no one is to blame, yet everyone is at fault. Although divorce is a universal theme and subject matter, this story sheds new light on the topic through the raw perspective of a child.
6) What was your inspiration for the plot and dark/energetic banter of Blue World?
Blue World started off as a semi-autobiographical story, but it quickly took on new characters, circumstances and a life of its own. I wanted to create a story that explored the complexities of growing up in a broken family while highlighting the importance of grit, love, humor, and empathy.
I was inspired by the intense feeling I had as a kid at the end of the weekend. Sunday always loomed with a heavy sky filled with endless tension, unspoken truths and anxiety... all due to the fact that time was running out for one of my parents, and us kids were just struggling to stay afloat in such a confusing and uncertain time.
It was that undercurrent of anxiety that really fueled the plot and dialogue. It came naturally to me once I realized this was a story about a family who was stuck in unwanted circumstances together, whether they liked it or not. It was fun to write because even though I could relate to the situation, the story and characters continued to surprise me and through the process I was able to explore aspects of my own experiences on a deeper level than ever before in my writing.
7) What are you working on now? Has the success of "Blue World" changed your trajectory at all?
I am currently writing the feature-length version of Blue World, and have four other features waiting for me after that. I plan to shoot the short, Blue World, as a proof of concept and I’m really looking forward to the road ahead.
The success of Blue World has changed my trajectory for sure, mostly from an internal standpoint. This is the first script I’ve submitted to screenplay competitions and the response has been overwhelming, exciting and encouraging to say the least. This experience has given me a newfound focus and determination to keep writing and to reach my goal of becoming a professional screenwriter and filmmaker.
8) Any advice for those about to write their first short or feature?
My advice would be to trust your vision. I have learned that you are never going to please everyone with an idea, so the best place to start is from your heart. What’s most important is that you write the movie you want to see and tell the story you want to hear—it’s the only way to find your voice and voice means everything in this craft.
Something else I’ve learned is to celebrate when you’ve written a draft or a scene that disappoints you, or when your ideas haven't translated well from your mind to the page. I say ‘celebrate’ because it’s an important part of the process—re-writing is where the true writing and discovery begins and it’s where the real magic happens. Trust your ideas. Trust yourself. And don’t give up.
Lastly, put yourself and your work out there. Writing can be very isolating; don’t be scared to share what you’ve got. We need each other. Feedback is most important and community is everything.
Congratulations once again to Alexandra Leopold, the Season 6 Filmmatic Short Screenplay Awards Winner. All contact requests for Ms Leopold will be forwarded to her attention.