Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An Interview - Srini Avasarala

Srini is always a pleasure to talk with. He has a sharp mind, an opinion, great wit and loves a laugh. He is also very passionate about what he does which is cinema. The actor-writer-director of a ton of good movies in Telugu ('Oohalu Gusa Gusalade' and 'Jyo Achyutananda' are his directorial ventures and 'Ashta Chamma' and several other movies as an actor fill his page).
When we met recently I asked him a few questions about writing - screen writing in particular - over a hot cup of coffee.
Happy Together 
Q. How does your writing process start?
A. I start with the question 'what if...'. For it to work I need a strong character and a situation that is in conflict with the character. Every scene should go towards the core conflict. Not digress.

Q. Do you follow any structure or method?
A. I follow the established structure as told in Robert McKee's 'Story' or in any good book on screen writing. It's a well established process and being aware of the structure helps to not make errors.

Q. How does the story unfold after the 'what if'?
A. I believe films are about people. So I think - what's the worst that can happen to this person in this situation. That's pretty much the 2nd act ending. We are all unconsciously waiting for that to happen sometime.
But to set the ball rolling you need a good inciting incident. In a love story it would be the time when the boy meets girl. I need to think of interesting situations there.
At the end of the 1st act I need to change gears.

But it always boils down to this - character vs situation.

Q. What next?
A. Once the 'what if' is in place - you should have an objective. Audience should care, wonder if the character will be able to get his objective. The audience connects to the character's motivation to get his objective. You should know his motivation well and it should be strong. A weak motivation will not work.

Q. Do you sometimes cut out stuff you liked while writing but which may not help in the story telling?
A. Yes. It may sound very good to us but if it does not take the story forward, its best to remove it. I make enough material and if it is not fitting in a scene, or is dragging it down, I save it up and use it later.

Q. Do you always have an ending in mind when you write?
A. Not always. For my first film I did not have. But it's always easier if you have an ending in mind.

Q. How long do you spend on developing the story?
A. I normally let an idea develop in my mind for about 2-3 months.

Q. How do you correct it if you feel energy is dropping in a scene?
A. When there is a drop in energy I correct it - intuitively. But it's most likely due to a drop in conflict.When things are not working I go back to the basics.

Q. What are the important things to keep in mind?
A.Focus is important. The story should go towards what the story teller has promised to the audience.

As a writer - I must present a wide array of choices and throw them at the protagonist.

It helps to be clear about the story you want to tell. The entire structure should be like dominoes falling, scenes triggering scenes, towards the end.

Q. Any insights you uncovered in your journey?
A. The things that I wrote thinking it will work (second guessing the audience) did not work.
I am also a bit embarrassed about emotions. I feel I cannot tell another person how much to feel and how, what to do, so I don't explore some parts which the audience may want to see in more detail.

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