LISP Film Festival 2023 Screenplay Finalist, 'Women In The Castle' by Xiaoye Mu
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
Hi, I'm Xiaoye Mu. As you can see, given that my name isn't too easy to pronounce, my friends usually call me Yetsye. I graduated from the Directing Department of the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. I used to be a theatre actor and director, and I played the second female role in a musical that I was the assistant director of. So I guess, to some extent, I am also considered a singer and dancer. Then I became a TV actor, and after acting in two TV series, I started to try my hand at the position of a film assistant director, which was very hard work, but I must admit that it gave me a very rewarding experience of filming. After all these different positions, I started to create my own stories. Now, I am a professional screenwriter. Thank goodness I've finally found what I love and do best, because I love stories, and my everyday life is full of them. Since I was a kid when I first listened to my mum read me Disney's illustrated book ‘Sleeping Beauty’, I've been addicted to all kinds of storytelling vehicles—pictures, novels, cartoons, movies, TV series, and, of course, nowadays, web series, social media, and short videos. By the way, even communication in ordinary life includes not only chatting but also silences, chills, and even arguments. I'm always on the lookout for these messages in my daily life, and in my opinion, they make seemingly ordinary life a lot more interesting.
- When and how did you get into writing?
It's fatalistic to say, but my career did start with a dream I had when I was 8 years old. It was the year I was in front of the screen and was mesmerised by an actor's superb acting skills. From then on, I began my "stargazer" path. My idol started a career in theatre, so I went to the best drama university in my country; my idol is an actor, so I got two leading roles during my college years; my idol became famous in films and TV, so I joined film and TV crews as fast as I could after I graduated. Sounds crazy, right? It wasn't until I was all ready that I decided to take the most important step of all—creating a story for my idol. As you must have guessed, yes, I actually did this, right on the 20th anniversary of my stargazing. And that screenplay for my idol, ‘Operation Renewal’, won Best Unproduced Screenwriting at the 2023 London International Filmmaker Festival in February! As well as being selected for the second round of the 29th Austin Film Festival, a quarterfinalist in the 2023 ScreenCraft Screenplay Competition, and a quarterfinalist in the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival Screenplay Competition in 2023. That really sounds like a miracle. It was also this brave attempt to find what I really love and discover my writing strengths, based on acting and directing experience, in screenwriting.
Sadly, after I gave my work to my idol, I wasn't accepted. Although it really made me feel heartbroken to see a short rejection from my idol in response, I am still thankful for the gift of destiny that has allowed me to spend 20 years finding a career that I really love. Failure and rejection are normal. I'll keep going, and by that, I mean creating my own stories, because I've already found my own path.
- How often do you write/create? Do you have a working routine? And what inspires you to create?
It's hard to say the exact frequency of creation because I'm sure even the best creators aren't always inspired. But, for now, I'll keep myself on track to write at least one full script a year, and by that, I mean a feature-length film or an hour-long pilot episode, and of course, I'll create the full story of the entire episode. It's an exercise in itself; I mean, going out of my way to deliberately set myself up to do a set amount of work in a specific amount of time keeps me always thinking, always observant, and keenly aware of life. For a writer, that's a very important ability, I think. And for a freelancer, it's a form of self-discipline. It can be very effective in preventing the pace of your life from becoming a mess.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It certainly is very exciting and satisfying; it's a sense of achievement. For writers who really love to create, being recognised makes you feel encouraged, “well done, keep going”, and motivated to want to write another piece because you know you're expected to. It's not about money, because empathy is important for creators. Being born a human being, we always inevitably feel alone, and being recognised is definitely like you've found someone who understands you. They understand how you think; they feel what you feel, and it creates a constant desire to express yourself.
- What's the best and most challenging thing about writing a Screenplay?
For me, there's something magical about writing a screenplay, and that's what I think is the best thing about it. Maybe I'm a very ambitious person, but there's always a voice inside me that's telling myself that if I can't control my real life, then I want to be God in the world I create. And as I'm weaving the destinies of my characters as the story progresses, I'll be with them through their trials and tribulations, struggling to reap the rewards of happiness. Writing is like a doorway to another world, where I can live without restraints. It's crazy, but it's also beautiful.At the same time, creating can be stressful. Because, obviously, the audience is becoming more demanding for script writers. They want to see new stories, and they want to be kept on the edge of their seats, guessing at all the possibilities of what could happen, only to be rewarded with an unexpected ending. They look forward to one complex yet acceptable and understandable character after another, and they need creators to be like highly skilled doctors, dissecting the many facets of human nature with ingenious techniques. It's simply too difficult! But it is also too challenging! All in all, I like the challenge; it's fun because it's difficult, isn't it?
- How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected script? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
My finalist script, 'Women in the Castle', is my original TV pilot episode. It started as a brainstorming session for me, which I think is probably something a lot of creators do from time to time. Initially, I was just randomly looking through my mobile phone albums, and then I came across a photo from a few years ago that brought back some memories. Suddenly, an idea popped into my head out of nowhere, and then bang! The initial image appeared before my eyes. It was just so illogical and made no sense, but it allowed me to write a whole story.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Screenplay?
As a young screenwriter, all I can say is, feel life the best you can! Creators should always be thankful for life and all that it brings, the so-called "good" and the so-called "bad", all belong to us.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions and festivals?
The best part about competitions and festivals is that they give creators more opportunities. Like stages, they allow you to fully present yourself, especially to newcomers. After all, not too many agents and producers have much time or interest in reading the work of an unknown writer, and most production companies don't accept unsolicited scripts, which leaves a lot of talented creators with no chance of breaking into the industry at all.
However, entering competitions and festivals does bring some pressure, so I think it's important to keep a good mindset. Don't feel like you can achieve an amazing piece of work just because a particular script is selected, and don't give up just because you don't win if you really love writing. It's all about the experience—growing from one creative endeavour to the next—and no matter what the outcome, you'll find your strengths and weaknesses to improve.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?
Of course! Why not? As a finalist screenwriter, I am honoured to have my script recognised by LISP. Throughout my involvement with this festival, I have felt the responsibility and respect of the whole team towards the entrants, and I love the variety of opportunities that the festival offers to the entrants; it's very attractive.