In Conversation with Gonzalo Maza: Screenwriting at the BFI

‘It wasn’t me writing – it was a stream of ideas flowing through me…I was simply a tool.’ 


Among the great names that the BFI Future Film Festival gathered this year was the Academy Award winner and screenwriter Gonzalo Maza.


Having been nominated for both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, his film ‘A Fantastic Woman’ won the award 
for the Best Screenwriting at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, followed by an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.


At the masterclass in screenwriting organised by the festival, Gonzalo shared some of his experience and expertise with youngsters 
breaking into the film industry. Like many who did not enjoy the privilege of studying film in school, Gonzalo started his career 
by writing a script for a high-school play. Of course, before writing a masterpiece of cinema or theatre, one must polish their 
style and storytelling skills. Gonzalo’s methods involved writing opinion pieces, reading scripts and screenwriting books, and 
ultimately constantly envisioning scenes that could be transcribed into a film. So, whether you are at the beginning of your 
writing career or have already ventured into the art of screenwriting, bear in mind that there is a long journey.


Where does that gleaming, magic-powered thing called ‘inspiration’ come from, though?


He admits that the beginning is always very hard. You have to spend a lot of time thinking, musing about ideas, dialogues, details, 
reading about what others have done before you. Information is free nowadays – there is no lock on the Mediatheque of the British 
Film Institute, you can easily find scripts online, the gems of cinematography are out there. But you have to look for them. And 
inspiration comes with that, for it is the journey that matters, not much the destination.



Once you embark on that project, you will be surprised by what can strike you. The beginning can be daunting, but you will, 
at some point, ‘feel a sudden impulse’, like an intense boost of energy and inspiration to write a script in full. The urge 
to write feels ‘like an alien within yourself’ that needs to break out. And ‘as writers, we are always seeking for those 
moments of inspiration’, he claims. The point, always, is to keep writing. ‘Just write! Write the whole script, so that you 
can show people your work.’ Directors and producers alike do not have the time to look at mere scenes; they want to see the 
development of an entire strand of thought - a plot with its beginning, climax, ending.


And that is why ‘you must have your ideas clear in your head before you start writing.’ You should aim to write precisely 
what you wanted to write in the first place; make sure that the final piece reflects your initial vision as closely as 
possible.


A recipe for success?


‘You need to have someone to talk to and to share your ideas with.’ Unfortunately for us, we are inadvertently subjective; 
therefore, we need someone to judge our work with an objective eye. ‘When you start writing’, Gonzalo says, ‘you are 
essentially transforming an abstract thought into words and scenes.’ When writing, you need to keep in mind that you are 
trying to convince other people coming from a myriad of different backgrounds that your ideas are excellent. This profession 
requires you to be a salesman at the same time, to be able to ‘sell’ your thoughts in a compelling way. Writers have to collaborate 
with directors and, from Gonzalo’s experience, they very often want to change things. You have to defend ideas, to be able to 
protect them, believe in them, but at the same time, you have to be flexible. If a dialogue that you thought was great turns out 
to be poorly performed by the actors, then you might as well get rid of it – it all depends on various factors.


Ultimately, the ‘secret’ lies within yourself.


GONZALO

[smiling optimistically]


‘You really need to be in love with an idea, and you need the energy springing from it to pursue that idea for a long time.’


Pretty much like love, I suppose (?).

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