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Christina Alagaratnam, LISP 2022 Short Screenplay Winner by 'Face to Face'

LISP 2022 Short Screenplay Winner, 'Face to Face' by Christina Alagaratnam

Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?

I’m a writer who writes for screen, stage and page! My day generally starts with a cup of tea. It’s a routine to sit down at my laptop with a cuppa and then start writing or researching my current project. When I’m not writing, I’m wine tasting. I’m officially qualified in wines and chocolate, so I have every excuse to attend tasting events!

When and how did you get into writing?

I’ve always created stories and made-up characters ever since I was very little and I’d love to just act it out. Later, the writing carried on into my teens, but they were stories that no one was ever going to read. Just usual teenage angst!

Then, I went off and studied English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Westminster and ended up doing a Masters in Creative Writing, just because I really felt that there was more to learn. While I was there, I interned for a boutique theatre company and wrote my first play for them. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to pursue it. That was seven years ago and I haven’t looked back.

I’ve had my plays performed at the Brighton, Camden and Peckham fringe festivals which are the biggest fringe festivals in England and London and really important for showcasing new writing.

Now, I’m branching into screenplays and this one is my first. It was a risk, turning my play into a screenplay but it’s paid off. It’s already won awards in Rome, Venice, Florence, LA and New York. It was shortlisted in Paris for the Paris Arts and Movie Awards and I got invited to the film festival over there, to walk a red carpet. It’s so surreal.

But of course, winning LISP is the cherry on the cake! Winning an award for writing in your home city is something I used to dream about when it was a play and making rounds on the London fringe circuit. So hopefully I did the right thing in turning it into a screenplay.

How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

When I’m writing to a deadline set by a director or producer, I usually work well into the night with lots of coffee and chocolate on stand-by. I like writing at night, I work best that way.

There are many things that inspire me to write. I usually take inspiration from the news or documentaries.

It’s hard when you don’t have anything to be inspired by. I remember during lockdown, my creative reservoir dried up and I was feeling down. So I decided to start up a podcast, called The Night Writer, just to keep my creativity going and connect with the world again. I wanted it to be a podcast about urban legends, fairytales, nursery rhymes and the dark history behind them. I’m also fascinated about history and the characters involved. Once I started researching the episodes and planning the scripts, I really found my inspiration again. There are so many hidden stories within our favourite folk tales, especially the ones about women like Snow White and Rapunzel, who have been glamourised by cinema. But actually the history of those women is much darker and goes back to the depths of European court politics. It wasn’t all singing birds and baking pies, believe me!

How does it feel to have your work recognised?

It’s so surreal. All writers dream of seeing their work come to life in some shape or form. Your characters only exist in your head and then seeing very talented actors bring them to life, in front of an audience is an experience I’ll never grow tired of. I’m so lucky and grateful to be a writer in theatre and film, where I can experience this.

Winning awards is also a ‘pinch me’ moment. It’s a real vote of confidence that people believe in my script and in my writing.

I remember when I won my first award in LA, I ran straight to my parents and shoved my phone in my Mum’s face because I was hyperventilating so much!

What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Screenplay?

For me the most challenging thing about writing anything is to stop editing as I go. I always end up editing chapters or scenes before I’ve finished the whole thing and it’s like driving a race car with the handbrake on! Nothing will ever get completed if we keep doing that, so that’s a habit I’m breaking out of. I love the process of just writing it all out for the first draft. The first draft is always meant to be bad! The best thing is always writing the words: ‘The End’ after a marathon writing session.

How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?

I’ve been working on this for about seven years!

The story of Face to Face is about a woman who visits her father’s killer before he dies. Originally, I wrote it as a twenty-minute stage play back in 2016, where she visits him in prison before he’s about to be released into the world. There would be lingering questions about his future and how is he going to function in the big wide world, after being in prison since he was a teenager?

The story was inspired by a documentary I saw about a group of teenage boys who violently kicked a man to death, outside his home, in front of his daughters. I had an idea in my mind – actually, it was a scene that appeared before me of one of the killers and one of the daughters coming face to face, so to speak, ten years after the event. I didn’t plan the story. I literally sat down and made up two characters, stuck them in a prison visiting room and let the dialogue flow. The characters then twisted into separate entities in my mind, so Scott Bellamy was his own person and Emma Carmichael was hers.

It’s been performed at the Brighton and Camden fringe festivals to 4* reviews and I’ve worked with other people to expand the cast and bring in more voices. But eventually, I realised that this story is about just two people. And the pandemic made me certain that I can tell this story onscreen. So, I decided to go at it alone and just write this story my way.

Relying only on basic screenwriting skills, I stripped everything back again and just focused my attention on Scott and Emma. It started with a two-hander and it will end with one! I also tweaked the story so that Emma visits Scott at his home before he dies.

Once I was happy with the final draft, I sent it off to some competitions around the world and… the rest is history!

The next step is of course to get the film made, as everyone keeps asking when they’re going to see it! So, I’m very excited to get working on that.

Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Screenplay?

I know a lot of people say ‘write what you know,’ but if you’ve led a pretty boring life, you’ll have nothing to write about. If you want to write about space-cowboys, why not? I’d say write whatever you want, just make sure you do your research first. And focus on characters. You can always hit someone in the feelings once you nail a character they can connect with.

What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?

The best thing about competitions is that it allows you to put your work out there, when you normally wouldn’t have the confidence to do so. It also gives you a chance to reach out internationally and find new audiences.

The most challenging thing is being rejected. It can be a little damaging to your self-esteem, especially if you are already feeling nervous. But unfortunately, rejection is a staple of the industry and eventually you’ll learn to brush it off and search for the next opportunity.

Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?

Of course! It’s a brilliant opportunity to launch writers and help them on their journey. I’m so thankful to LISP for believing in my script!



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