Thursday, 23 May 2019

Writing An Authentic Story That Sells For Blumhouse & Netlifx with CAM Screenwriter Isa Mazzei



Today's guest at Into the Script is Isa Mazzei, the screenwriter of one of my favourite psychological horror films - Netflix's CAM - released last year, which turned the genre on it's head with it's modern portrayal of female protagonists in horror. 

Isa has also turned her experiences as a former cam-girl into an upcoming book and memoir titled 'CAM GIRL' which will be released this coming November. It's a genuine pleasure to be able to welcome Isa onto Into The Script to share with you all her experiences and advice when it comes to writing an authentic story that sells to major Hollywood players such as Blumhouse & Netflix! 

So as always - make sure you've got a pen and paper to hand, Isa is certainly a lady we should all be taking notes from. 

1) ‘Cam’ is one of my favourite Thrillers of all-time for multiple reasons. The concept is so unique, and it’s great to see the genre exploring territory not often seen before, such as the world of cam-girls – especially through the eyes of such an intriguing and complex female protagonist like Alice.


As the story is heavily drawn from your own experiences as a former cam-girl, can you share with us what first inspired your screenplay, and how you went about the creative process of writing ‘Cam’ from concept to finish?




I wanted to tell a story where audiences would empathize with a sex worker, a protagonist we are rarely asked to empathize with in mainstream media.

I have always loved genre, and a thriller seemed like a great way in--get an audience wrapped up in an exciting story, so much so that maybe they forget what they’re feeling is actually quite subversive and important.

I worked a lot with Daniel on the screenplay process.

We developed the entire story together, and I would send him drafts, then he would send me notes, and we’d talk through everything scene by scene.

It was extremely collaborative, not just between the two of us, but also with many of our friends, lots of whom read and gave us notes along the way.


2) ‘Cam’ drew the interest and support of major players in the industry with Blumhouse Productions, Gunpowder & Sky and with Netflix buying the distribution rights.

What advice do you have for emerging thriller writers looking to create a film that satisfies audiences in 2019, and do you have any tips when it comes to gaining interest for such big names in the industry?



CAM got a lot of attention because it felt urgent.

It was a film that needed to be made. There was something about a sex worker telling a sex work story that felt fresh, and felt right.

And I think that’s the best way to get attention in the industry.

Tell an authentic story. Don’t appropriate, don’t stereotype, don’t be disrespectful. There are so many fresh new takes out there and I hope to see a lot more of that in the future.

3) What do you feel transforms a mediocre story into a great script and marketable concept? Can you elaborate on these elements?



No story is mediocre if you dig deep enough. Human beings are fascinating!

If your characters aren’t--then you’re not going far enough into what makes them tick. In terms of making something marketable, don’t be afraid of borrowing from the greats.

All stories are just copies of other ones.

CAM is very much inspired by Whiplash--I looked at that and the script for Black Swan a lot while writing. It can really help especially in the early stages to model your script off something existing that you consider successful.

Where is the character getting into trouble? Where is the character learning a lesson? When is the character giving up and when do they decide to fight back one last time?

Figuring those things out, on a minute per minute basis, and then translating them into your script can make a super out-there idea feel really familiar and commercial, because underneath it’s got that same arc.

4) What advice do you have for other filmmakers and writers when It comes to networking and building professional relationships in the industry?


Don’t be precious. With your work or your time.

If someone asks to read your work--send it. Ask their advice. Listen to their notes.

If someone asks for feedback try to make time for that as well. The more genuinely you can collaborate within the industry the better relationships you’ll form.

Don’t view anything as purely networking, really try to find people you want to work with, people who are making things you admire, and talk to them about it.
5) With streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, there is a vast selection of content for audiences to consume nowadays. What advice do you have for writers looking to write a film or show that stay with audiences, such as ‘Cam’ has done?
A lot of people nowadays tell me they have ideas for scripts. And it’s usually cool. But then when I ask where it comes from, or what it means to them, why it matters, they often shrug and just say “I dunno, it sounded cool.”

I think the most fun, engaging writing comes out when you really dig deep into what you’re trying to do with a story. I’ve had full-on breakdowns while writing, CAM and my book, Camgirl, and even my next movie.

Even my upcoming projects which are not quite so autobiographical are still coming from places that are very vulnerable inside me. And I think everyone’s projects do.

So if you think you’re doing something because it “seems cool” or “is funny” I would say you’re deflecting. I encourage writers to really reflect on what they want to do. Whose minds they want to change.

That story came from somewhere, and it matters. And once you get in touch with that, and confront it, no matter how terrifying it is, I believe that ultimately, that produces work that is going to stand out.
6) What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given for working in this industry, and would you mind sharing with us?

Don’t ask permission! This is something my director told me often while trying to get CAM off the ground. I don’t think it just applies to literally breaking the rules.

I think it also applies a general attitude when pitching projects. You don’t want to be arrogant but you also want to walk in like you know what your script is worth.

A lot of people laughed in our faces when we said we wanted a million dollars for CAM. They told us there was no way we’d get that. And this was an example where Daniel just kept saying over and over, nope, we’re getting a million. Sorry, but we’re getting a million. He didn’t need permission to ask for a million dollars. So we went and we got it.

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