Finding Your Voice & Selling Your Story: An Interview with FAUDA Screenwriter, Michal Aviram

Friday 21 June 2019

Every experienced screenwriter was once someone who followed expert tips before selling any script at all.

Successful screenwriters are born from all backgrounds, nationalities, and locations. That's exactly the subject I'm going to tackle in today's interview with Michal Aviram, the screenwriter of Netflix's acclaimed Israeli political thriller Fauda. 

Read on for insightful screenwriting tips, as well as a word from this pro about making your script Netflix-worthy. 

It's not uncommon for movie industry professionals to come across several non-native English speakers, which encompasses screenwriters as well.

An example would be me, a Brazilian writer, and yourself, a professional Israeli screenwriter/screenwriting teacher. One thing about your blog that really grasped my attention was the "Non-native English Screenwriter" section, and I was excited to know you're keen on helping people from all around the world.

Would you say any aspiring writer outside of the USA could successfully write a marketable, Hollywood-worthy script?

I believe everything is possible if you do the work. It might sound like a clich̩ or new age mantra Рbut it's true.

The important question is not if it's possible rather then – why would you want to write for Hollywood? I am not teasing, of course we all want our work to be produced in high budget, be performed by the best actors and directed by the greatest, and be paid accordingly.

But my experience had taught me that the goal for a new screenwriter, shouldn't be "to make it in Hollywood" but to build a sustainable career, one that would last decades and produce films and TV shows you'll be proud of.

The Hollywood blockbuster may come your way, and it may not. But I assure you that it is far from being the holly-grail of screenwriting.  I think every screenwriter should aim big and far, but never wait. Keep writing, find any writing gigs and industry jobs. Be a part of a community, help fellow screenwriters, keep learning, read books, go to seminars, watch a lot of films and TV.

And remember, every screenwriter has their own path. Some may write locally first and then get "discovered" by larger international studio, or have their series remake or reproduced for broadcaster or a streaming service.

Screenwriters from anywhere can work in Hollywood, there are many examples to writer, directors and actors who are not American. The ever-changing tv industry presents an amazing opportunity to screenwriters for all around the world.

Everybody is looking for a good story well told. They don't care about your English. They want an original and specific story. Don’t try to write "For Hollywood", write what you can write the best. The story only you can tell.

Screenwriters are in a unique position in "the industry". You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. You create your own work. That also means you'll have times you make a lot of money, and then you may have long period of making none. That's the way it works, and that means you need to handle your money wisely.

It’s a marathon. Not a sprint. And it's worth it.

So – yes. Absolutely. A writer outside of the USA could successfully write a marketable, Hollywood-worthy script. But it doesn't necessarily mean that should be their first goal.

Every novice screenwriter usually has tons of questions: where do I start? How do I structure? Is my writing predictable? And so on. 

Though many writers claim to be self-taught through a lot of reading and writing, of course, I'm sure that a professional helping hand would assist  in honing existing skills. 

As an industry insider, how does your expertise add to a screenwriter's road to success?

Storytelling is something that comes naturally to people, it's the we conceive the world. Screenwriting principals are really not complicated, using them effectively… that could be trickier.

Like in any other field I believe learning could save you a lot of time and frustration.
How to learn – that depends on each person preference. Some are autodidacts, some need to have tasks and deadlines to actually do the work.

You need to be honest with yourself. If you need a more structured environment to learn – find a course and take it. Give yourself the best starting point you can.

I think it's important to choose a program, whatever works for you, and give it your maximum. Maximum time, effort and intention. Whatever program you choose; it could be online or 4 years in writing school – you will get out of it as much as you put into it.

I made this crash course (you'll finish it in under 20 minutes). In it I explain all the basics screenwriting terms. Take it, it's free and super useful. It is the first lesson in every class I teach in college.

I love teaching I want to give the support I didn’t just starting out.

I like seeing the progress students are making. I have a class where in the first day of school students don’t know the difference between a scene and sequence, and they finish it with a finished full episode. It is so satisfying.

The fact that I teach AND write for TV keeps the way I teach very practical and very up to date.

You've written Fauda, a Netflix Israeli thriller acclaimed by Stephen King himself as "all killer and no filler". If readers visit your blog, they can check other shows you've written for worldwide broadcasters, as well. In your opinion, which factors make a script suitable (and marketable) to big platforms such as Netflix?

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I think the more personal and specific the story is, it speaks to more people. 

That's why you should write your own thing and not try to write like something you watched or what is 'hot'. It doesn't mean you can't write about vampires or spaceships (I am a total sci-fi freak). 

It means the emotional story, characters and conflicts should be important and personal to you. It also means, if you are choosing to locate your story in a place or time you are not very familiar with – research. 

The specifics the research will provide are priceless.

Write Better Scripts has everything a screenwriter needs to thrive. However, I'm  sure you have your own projects to develop. What first made you think of helping other writers, and how do you divide your time between your work and your students'?

I do a lot of masterclasses and workshops outside of Israel and that is my way to keep in touch with people, and provide them more content they will find useful.

I also have a Facebook group for support and writing emergencies.

Some people might think that professional screenwriters are unfazed by blocks or any type of disturbance writers might suffer from. What's the best advice you can give us on getting unstuck and laser-focused when working on a screenplay?

I have the best tip for that. I got it from my dear friend and screenwriter Dana Idisis ("On the Spectrum"):

Write poorly, badly. Embarrassing even. Just write.

It works like a charm.

And I'll explain: When you judge yourself and listen to that mean inner voice telling you, you're a horrible writer – that's when you get blocked.

Don't listen to that voice. Don't judge your work.

Finish a first draft. And then rewrite.

Laila shares all of Into The Script's news on her Instagram page (@lailarsnde) and Facebook.

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