Marysia Nikitiuk: Todays Character is a Bad Man with a Kind Heart and an Incredible Sense of Guilt

Thursday, 2 June 2016, 14:19

Ukrainian film and theater directors often complain of a lack of good scripts. Marysia Nikitiuk is a lucky exception to this rule. At 29, she already has significant pedigree, being an author of a few dozen plays and scripts that were selected by international festivals in Locarno, Clermont-Ferrand and Odesa.

Marysia directed three short films using her own scripts, created the first Ukrainian media for theatre lovers called THEATRE and recently became an author of a book of short stories titled The Abyss [Ukr.: Bezodnya], which was published by Anetta Antonenko Publishing House.

A young film director Roman Lyubyi made a screen version of her story titled ‘Pigs’ and in August 2016 Marysia herself is preparing to work on a feature film based on the script of a story titled ‘When trees are falling’.

For this script Marysia Nikitiuk won the ScripTeast award for the best script from Central and      Eastern Europe named after Krzysztof Kieslowski during the Cannes Film Festival in May this year.

Ukrayinska Pravda Kultura spoke to Marysia about the peculiarities of the screenwriting profession, Eastern European films in Western Europe and the specifics of the modern European Film Market.

— Marysia, how was the contest in which you participated related with the Cannes Film Festival?

— They are related indirectly. The competition part is only in the final, actually during the Cannes Film Festival. ScripTeast is an educational and promotional program on scriptwriting and pre-production.

This program was launched ten years ago by Dariusz Jablonski [Ed.: famous Polish film director and producer] together with colleagues to promote scripts of feature films from the countries of the former Eastern bloc on Western European platforms.

 Marysia Nikitiuk with the Kieslowski ScripTeast award for the best script from Central and Eastern Europe. Photo: ScripTeast Workshops

The European film market is rigid: financing is scarce, each European film cannot be financed by just one country, it is always a co-production. So, the promotion of the scripts at the stage of their creation became increasingly relevant.

The ScripTeast program collects the best scripts from Eastern and Central Europe. The call for entries is announced every summer, and in October work starts on the scripts with the help of a team of professionals. It takes about two weeks.

The first session happens in Warsaw with daily work on scripts, which then continues online. This is a kind of text improving laboratory. The next two stages take place at the Berlinale, during the professional part which gathers film industry representatives. And the final session takes place in Cannes also alongside the professional part of the festival.

Thus, this award has nothing to do with ‘palm branches’, but it correlates with the professional part, which is held on the territory of the International Village. Of course, film producers, distributors and others visit it.

The Poles have made a very reasonable thing: they went outside their Eastern European discourse and built it in the professional section of the main film festivals in Berlin, Cannes and the whole of Europe.

Award Ceremony of ScripTeast-2016 in Cannes

This is a certain trick, but it is also a smart way to attract Western investments, because, in general, Western film professionals are not willing to cooperate with Eastern Europe, especially with Ukraine. They can’t really tell the difference between Ukraine and Uganda.

— That’s why I want to know whether we are a cultural ghetto of the Western Europe. Of course, the vector of support of Eastern Europe is growing, but how is Eastern Europe accepted by the Western audiences and is it interesting for producers?

— Eastern Europe is regarded as the part of a global European context by the festival audience and this has its own problems. This year, for example, the Berlin Film Festival was overfilled with films about refugees. Actually, a film about refugees won the Golden Bear. In Cannes, in the official program, there were two Romanian films.

The Eastern vector is interesting to the audiences. But they are interested in today’s events. Many distributors are tired of movies about WW2. They are interested in how Eastern Europe lives now.

An interesting movie must cover its subject widely. It must be interesting to the audiences that does not understand the specifics of the region. It must be a universal story. Movies about our war in Eastern Ukraine, for example, can be very interesting, but the topic has to be processed artistically, it takes time. Free-riding on the topic of the war is useless.

During Maidan, we had very interesting documentary movies, but now it has passed. I spoke with some producers and I had the impression that they are glutted with information about the war. They are careful with these topics.

Ukraine has many other problems that can be highlighted. Why do we need to highlight problems? We need to do this because cinema as an art is capable of bringing some issues up for the public discussion, and conflict is the heart of the drama. And a good screenwriter always makes sure that his conflict deserves the viewer’s attention.

 "The Eastern vector is interesting to the audiences. But they are interested in today’s events."

People want attention worthy topics for the festival movies. A good romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston — that is great, but this is not a festival movie. Berlin scavenges for social issues. People in Cannes are looking for new celebrities and potential promotion in the World. Berlin is tough, experimental. Cannes are uncomfortable for watching films, but they are definitely number one for solving professional issues.

— As far as I know, you worked with Mark Peploe — the legendary screenwriter who has written scripts for Bertolucci and Antonioni. What is your opinion of him?

— Mark Peploe was one of our speakers at the first stage in Warsaw. As an artist he neither fully accepts, nor rejects your work. We walked for a long time and he told me his impressions of my script. He said that the explosiveness, wilderness of my world appeals to him. He helped me to improve my English so that English-speaking readers could understand my remarks.

The most helpful were those who are script-doctors, professional readers and selectors. My curator, renowned script-doctor Christian Ruth, told how he once attended the pitching for Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Wave.

Christian did a lot for my script. He said that it is all wrong, chaotic, explosive and that in general no one does their stories this way. Yet he concluded that somehow it works, so I should not destroy it. We then started building some logic in. He suggested one of the key final chords and many other ‘polishing’. Christian is one of those who doesn’t break, but only mends. He went outside of the logic of the literary text.

 Shooting of the third short film titled Rage, which is based on the script by Marysia Nikitiuk, in the village of Stari Petrivtsi. Photo by Yevheniy Muts

— And what about the way of the young scriptwriter in Ukraine: what to do, how to understand your profession, where to go?

— It is necessary to write: for yourself, for friends, for anyone, in order to develop a writing skill. It makes sense to read some textbooks, for example, Robert McKee, but I do not believe in books as they only describe a mechanism.

There is, for example, Joseph Campbell, with his The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The Cosmogonic Cycle and Myths to Live By, both are books on comparative mythology.

Campbell studied the laws according to which people create stories. By comparing many stories he created a universal principle, that history had always worked like that: from the Bible and pre-ibllical myths until the present times.

You must have a basis to understand the origin of drama as it is not a countable structure, it is based on millions of years of human experience. History, which we make from immemorial times, has a three act structure — birth, development and death.

A good screenwriter must read literature on psychology, modern science, philosophy and  anthropology. This is necessary to become a good narrator. The modern character becomes more complicated, it can no longer be flat. Today's character is a bad man with a kind heart and an incredible sense of guilt. These are very difficult images. For their creation you need great life experience or at least an idea of this experience, serious empathy, interest in life and understanding how our brain works.

When the script is ready, you should look for online resources like Volodya Voytenko’s Screenwriting Workshop and publish your texts there. A lot of filmmakers and students are looking for text there.

"You need great life experience or at least an idea of this experience, powerful empathy, interest in life and understanding how our brain works." Photo by Rustam Himadiyev

Of course, you should meet with directors. You need to work together with them, even if they drive you away, insist on being next to the shooting area, thus you could see how the text is transformed into reality, facing it, often ‘breaking’ — and it will give more understanding on how to write a really good script. There are a lot of professional forums. For example, ‘Ukraine, goodbye’ is a yearlong laboratory. Don’t miss such things, apply, and send a resume.

If you have a cool text, try to look for producers. There are professional readers — people who proofread scenarios. It is also very useful to communicate with them. There are so many overseas competitions, the Ukrainian State Film Agency in Ukraine, already mentioned ScripTeast and TorinoFilmLab.

Ultimately, it is necessary to learn English. There is also a lot of French screenwriting workshops. It is difficult to acquire technology here, so you need it from somewhere else. And don’t be afraid to look for a director for your story. If directors are looking for writers, why cannot screenwriters look for directors?

Original article by Ljubko Deresh for Ukrayinska Pravda.Kultura, translated by Yulia Beshlega.

Publications of the English version of Ukrayinska Pravda are not verbatim translations of the source publications from the Ukrainian or Russian language versions of our website. For the sake of clarity and editorial effectiveness our translators might take the liberty of shortening and retelling parts of the source publications. Please consult the text of original publication or the English editorial staff of Ukrayinska Pravda prior to quoting our English translations.

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