A Vital Perspective
Since graduating the program in 2021, Mariannjely Marval has continued to work with her mentor, Richard Brandes. Their collaborative script, Devious Deeds, hit the market, was quickly optioned, and is soon to be released as a feature length film!
How did you get interested in screenwriting?
I used to be an actress. Acting was what I thought I wanted to do, but [I realized screenwriting] is what I’m meant to do. I’ve found so much more freedom and creativity in writing. Having a background in acting really helps with my writing.
That’s interesting! How exactly does your acting background aid in your writing?
I feel my characters. I live my characters. As an actor, when you get a script, you have to create your character’s background [based on clues from the writer]. My script has extra help built-in for the actors. I try to give more information for the actors to prepare with. I tend to act in my head [as I write]. I’m generally the protagonist, and it helps me put my heart into the script.
It sounds like you let the writing process really emotionally envelope you.
Absolutely! Funny enough, I can get nightmares. If I’m working on a thriller I get so into the story that I will have dreams. Sometimes it gives me ideas. I will wake up and be like, “That dream was cool! I’m going to go with that.”
What Is your outlining process like?
I’m not the most organized person. I have to rework my outlines immensely in order to show them to someone else. They make total sense to me, but not to anyone else. They are based on a few images and words and intents. I’m a little all over the place… but I understand my own madness.
You say you picture yourself as the protagonist, does this make it harder for you to write characters that are further away from your perspective and identity?
I’m not an American, I’m from Venezuela. I have an immigrant point of view, and that’s my focus. The story and message I want to tell. I put my voice into the protagonist. For my secondary characters, though, I do a ton of research. I exchange material [with American writers in order to nail American character’s voice]. I want to make sure everyone’s voice is [natural].
I watched the trailer for Devious Deeds and it looks amazing! It seems like there might be an allegory for an immigrant experience there. Can you speak on that?
Devious Deeds is the project I developed with Richard Brandes and Film Connection. Richard said, “Give me three ideas you’re passionate about and write something that you know.” My strategy was to take a world I’m familiar with and then get creative. I was an au pair myself [when I first came to the United States]. I remember all the fears I had as an immigrant going to live with a family I’ve never met. I brought it to Richard and that’s how it was born.
Can you give our readers a quick synopsis of the film?
It centers around an immigrant au pair who travels to the U.S. to live with a picture-perfect family. Little by little, she sees that things aren’t as they seem. She discovers that the family has a different motive for inviting her to live with them.
Was it telling of your experience as an au pair?
It has nothing to do with my experience. I actually made a phone call to my host family after the script got optioned. I was like, “This is happening, but just so you know, this is not based on you. I had a great experience. It was the best year of my life.” This is a “what could have been” story.
What an interesting source for horror! Almost every immigrant I know, whether or not they came with documentation, has a similar story. Your employer really holds your life in their hands, and you can only pray that they are benevolent people.
You are in another country. I had no family or friends. I was in a position where, if things went wrong, [they could go very wrong]. I wanted to [encapsulate] that anxiety. With my scripts I like to face my own personal fears… in horror that is, I also write romcoms.
That’s a funny juxtaposition. Can you talk about what draws you to horror and romcoms, simultaneously?
Life is a balance and I live in that balance. My life is not a horror movie, nor is it a romcom. They both let me travel to a different world. I have so much fun writing a horror where everything goes completely wrong, and then turning around and writing a romcom where everything goes magically right. I like the opposites. I usually have to write a romcom after a horror movie, in order to come out from the darkness. It brings me back. If I were to just write horror, it would start getting to me, I’d have way too many nightmares.
There’s a wonderful diversification in perspective in cinema right now. A lot of amazing queer and black cinema is making its way into the mainstream. There aren’t a ton of blockbuster American films that deal with immigrant voices. I know it might sound obvious, but why do you think that this perspective is important in film?
I love this question. I had the insecurity that, “I’m in such a different position. Why would my voice be relevant? How can I compete with an American writer?” More than ever there is a curiosity about [diverse] cultures. All my immigrant friends–we want to see ourselves on TV. Everyone wants to feel part of something… feel like they belong. I understood my mission. As an actress [the lack of representation was frustrating] but as a writer, I can start telling those stories, and create opportunities for people like me.
“As an actress the lack of representation was frustrating but as a writer, I can start telling those stories, and create opportunities for people like me.”
The problem isn’t always being underrepresented, but misrepresented. I saw that there was a need to start writing our own stories. I realized I was so much more powerful than I thought. [My language] might be a disadvantage, but my perspective is [important and compelling].
Minority communities have so many stories to tell, from our perspective. There are universal themes that everyone can relate to, but your unique voice is your superpower.
“…Your unique voice is your superpower.”
Also with what I said earlier, I do just want to acknowledge that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once was hugely successful and even won Best Picture.
Yea, I mean, I love that movie. It was so fun. Such a huge deal that it got the relevance that it did. It came from the hearts of diverse people.
A lot of the best horror and thriller writers base their work on personal trauma and use their work as a sort of art therapy. Is there an element of this in your work?
I do learn a little more about me with every script. They definitely are a form of therapy. Things that happen in my daily life show up in my script, [and sometimes] I start questioning, “Why are you so interested in that?” They give me a greater understanding of myself and the world.
How’d you learn about Film Connection?
During the pandemic, like many others, I was saying to myself, “What is the next thing? What is my calling?” I always liked to write, and I always wrote in Spanish. I had a background in theater and would write plays. It was a way for me to express myself… I never felt that I was very good at expressing myself verbally. Screenwriting was always in the back of my mind. I started doing research and I found Film Connection online. I was like, “This is great. I can do this from home during the pandemic. I can have this connection to Los Angeles without being there.”
Can you tell us a bit about your mentor?
My mentor is Richard Brandes. I guess I said “is” because I still think of him as my mentor. It’s been a couple of years and we still talk. He’s just such a great person to work with. I was matched with him through Film Connection and I felt so lucky! His background is so impressive, I love all of his movies. I put in extra work and he saw it. He gave me so much reassurance. As an immigrant and a non-native English speaker, I have so much insecurity. It’s not just writing a script, it’s writing it in another language. He said to me, “You’re good! I understand you!” He was my biggest fan. He helped me so much. The fact that he believed in my work, ideas, and abilities allowed me to believe in myself. I’ll be forever grateful to him and Film Connection.
“The fact that he believed in my work, ideas, and abilities allowed me to believe in myself.”
Do you have any advice for someone considering joining Film Connection?
Yes! DO IT! You will not regret this. Regardless of the outcome. I got so lucky. My project got produced. I’m so proud of it. My very first script. But even if that didn’t happen for me, I learned so much during this time. This connection you get with someone who is already in the industry is such a great opportunity. You have to take advantage of it, work hard, and maintain a good relationship with your mentor. But no matter what you are going to come out of it a better writer, a better filmmaker. It could be the beginning of something wonderful.