Don’t Kill The Screenwriter
Mariannjely Marval is a recent Film Connection graduate who sold her first screenplay ever to the LifeTime network. I interviewed her about this success back in March, and decided to sit down with her again, post-premier of her debut film, Don’t Kill the Babysitter, to discuss both the movie and her plans for the future.
Why don’t you start by telling us about the premiere?!
I found out about the premiere just three days before; it was pretty sudden. I gave my close friends a heads-up and let my former host family in on it too. I pulled something together at home with my family. I happened to be visiting them in Texas at the time, so it worked out perfectly. It was a lovely night, messaging with my mentor, Richard Brandes, friends, and even face-timing my host family while watching. Now, my family in Texas doesn’t speak English, so during every single commercial break, I was their translator. But even though they didn’t catch all the details, they got the basics of what went down. Regardless, having them right there with me, witnessing my achievement, meant the world. And let’s not forget the “written by” credit – an absolutely incredible moment.
“Having [my family] right there with me, witnessing my achievement, meant the world.”
It was a television premier, correct? It wasn’t at a theater?
It was on TV, aired on the LifeTime Movie Network. The interesting part is that most of the team is from Canada, so they had to do some digging to figure out how to watch it. We were so excited to finally see it on TV!
Were you happy about the way it came together?
Absolutely! I didn’t set specific expectations, really. Writing the script was so fun, just imagining everything in my head. When I saw the director Chris Bragg’s take on it, I was smitten. Seeing those mental images come to life was so cool. A bunch of moments matched exactly how I’d pictured them. It was surreal! Special shoutout to Charles Hamilton as well, the talented DP.
The fact that a lot of the film was actualized the way you had envisioned probably speaks to your talent as a writer.
That’s very kind. I was open to seeing how the director interpreted things, as well. I loved seeing his personal spice and the things he added. It’s a collaborative art after all.
I noticed that the title changed since we spoke last, how’d that come about?
The original name was A Perfect Match, once we went into pre-production it was changed to Devious Deeds. We did all the pre-production work under that title. I believe the network ultimately chose Don’t Kill the Babysitter. It is fun and straight to the point…. I wish it was Au Pair instead of babysitter, but they use Au Pair in the description, so it’s still accurate.
What about Au Pairfect Match?
A little mouthful but I can roll with it, haha.
Just kill me now haha. Were there a lot of other changes to your original script?
There were about three rewrites before production started. Some changes happened during filming, but the essence of the script was there.
THE NEXT SECTION OF THE INTERVIEW CONTAINS SOME *SPOILERS,* AND YOU MAY WANT TO WATCH DON’T KILL THE BABYSITTER BEFORE CONTINUING.
I noticed that you handled Venezuela’s current political climate with a very light touch. It would have been easy to paint Mariela as a sort of refugee. Why did you decide not to focus on that aspect of her character?
My thing is exploring the young immigrant experience, giving it a new twist. I’m all about showing a different side. You know, there’s already a bunch of movies all about the political stuff, the downsides. I wanted to spotlight a young foreign girl coming to the US with dreams, and how fast those dreams can turn into nightmares. Often [in the media] Latinos are portrayed as the ones who come to do something wrong, and I wanted to flip that. The reality is not black and white; we are all capable of things, and there is danger everywhere.
There’s a line in the film, “Why do you deserve to live more than we do.” Do you want to talk about the underlying theme this line uncovers for the viewer?
It’s about equality. It shouldn’t matter if you come from another country or another disadvantaged social position, we all have the same [intrinsic] value. A better social position doesn’t mean your life is worth more.
“A better social position doesn’t mean your life is worth more.”
In a lot of ways, I thought the most interesting character was the mother [Lori Collins]. What were you thinking when crafting her?
The actress who played her, Dawn Nagazina, was amazing. She was able to go into that deeper level that I wanted that character to be. That character is conflicted the whole time. She’s caught up in this major dilemma – choosing between staying with her beloved daughter and husband or taking a morally questionable path. She’s losing hope and is desperate. She makes you question, “If I were in her position, would I do the same? Would I do this for myself? For my kid?”
Without giving too much away, I wanted to say that I thought the image of the elevator was particularly compelling. How did that image come to you?
That was a great surprise, actually. In the script, we had this secret door in Chase’s office. But when I was on set during the final weekend of shooting, the director was pumped to tell me that the location had an elevator. Sometimes, these fantastic details emerge during production. I love what Chris did with it!
The film is absent of a love interest, why did you decide not to include one?
The very first version actually had a love interest. I love romance. But the love aspect distracted from the horror. Eventually, I had to kill the love interest and keep her friend character only. That’s the process when getting feedback and collaborating with the production team.
Do you and the protagonist have much in common?
When I moved to the US as an Au Pair, I was definitely naive and innocent. Mariela kinda mirrors me in that way. I borrowed the start of my story, but she’s way stronger than I ever was. In her shoes, I would’ve been an easy target. Fortunately, my experience turned out differently, and I ended up with the absolute best host family, whom I still adore to this day.
Yea, she’s definitely a badass! Did you set out wanting to intentionally create a physically tough female character or was that just what happened naturally?
I wanted to use the belief that it’s very rough in Venezuela-which it can be. She’s a character that’s had to fight in her life. She knows how to protect herself. There’s also an irony that she was originally selected because she’s fit, strong, and healthy. She’s got a great heart… in every sense.
The actress who played her did a great job! Is there anything you’d like to say about her?
Valentina Andrade did an incredible job as Mariela. To begin with, I was thrilled to see a Latina taking on the role. And when I got to the set, you could instantly feel the love everyone had for her. She’s a powerhouse. Meeting her was a real highlight. We actually had a chance to sit down, and she shared that this was her first lead role, expressing how exhilarating it was for her to read the script. That’s exactly what it’s all about – paving the way for folks like me and seeing our faces on the screen. Representation truly makes a difference.
There are moments in the beginning of the film where the host family portrays a kind of over-cultural-sensitivity that could be considered microaggressive. When you were writing these moments of dialog, did you see them that way or as genuine?
I didn’t really think of those as microaggressions. I wanted Lori to be extra accommodating, probably out of guilt. They’re genuine folks, desperate in their own ways. Chase, the dad character, just operates with a different mindset than Lori, so he’s more straightforward and determined.
So now that you have this first film under your belt, what are you working on currently?
I have a couple meetings coming up with managers. Obviously, with the WGA strike things are slow, and I’m being careful about what I can do. I am writing a few scripts that are ready to pitch when the time is right. I’m exploring both myself as a writer and the genres I like to write. It’s my first credit, and I can use it as leverage. I’m excited for the next one. It was an amazing opportunity that I’ll forever be grateful to my Film Connection mentor, Richard Brandes.
Is there anything you’d like to leave our readers with?
I’m all for more diverse voices, new stories. Let’s get fresh perspectives out there, stuff we haven’t seen in the media. To anyone reading this, take chances and share your story. Everyone’s got a story worth telling. Don’t hold back – go for it. I’m rooting for more underrepresented voices on the big screen. We are the ones to tell our stories.