The word “spark” is defined as “a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire, alight in ashes, or produced by striking together two hard surfaces such as stone or metal.” It’s also a common term used to describe the earliest stage of a writer’s creative process. The big idea—urgent and unrelenting—that seduces the artist and compels her to tell a specific story.
As the Feature Film Program welcomes three new filmmakers into the fold: Feature Film Program development Fellow Julia Fontana, Asian American Feature Film Fellow Vivian Tse, and Asian American Feature Film Grantee Tasha Huo. We invited them to share their personal connection to their screenplays and to the women that inhabit them.
Julia Fontana (screenwriter), A Woman in the Shadows: While fighting to protect her husband from the Nazis, Thea Von Harbou, the wife and creative partner of iconic filmmaker Fritz Lang, is tempted to use the propaganda machine to step out of the long shadow cast by her husband’s genius.
“Fritz Lang left Germany very shortly after Hitler’s rise to power. His wife, screenwriter and closest creative partner, Thea Von Harbou, stayed behind. I was studying film in Barcelona when I first read about their break-up. My first reaction was to think this made no sense. My second reaction was to wonder if there was a cautionary tale in their story; I had just fallen in love with a filmmaker. In time, we became creative partners and got married. While building our future, I began investigating Lang/Von Harbau’s past.
When Fritz and Thea first met, she was a successful novelist and screenwriter; he was no one. She mentored him. Their love and collaboration yielded masterpieces such as Metropolis and M. All credit went to Fritz. He was the genius; she was just his wife. In Hollywood, Fritz would claim that he’d left Thea because she wanted to make propaganda films. But how could that be true of a smart, talented woman who had written overtly anti-Nazi films? Did she really want to commit creative suicide? Beneath the mystery lies a story about the complexities of asserting female power, a fascinating tale that explores the intersection of power, romance and ambition.”
Julia Fontana is an LA-based Spanish writer and a producer at LA Panda (10,000 KM, Next). After graduating with an MFA in writing and producing from UCLA, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, she worked at Participant Media before becoming a full-time writer. Fontana sold a biopic about fashion designer Balenciaga that she is co-writing with her husband Pablo Gómez-Castro, recently had a TV show optioned by the CW, and is currently developing a one-hour about her experience as an immigrant in LA. She is repped by Circle of Confusion.
Vivian Tse (writer/director) / These Animals: These Animals is the story of an astronaut’s final year spent on Earth as she prepares to crew a one-way mission to Mars.
“My story revolves around someone making the difficult choice to pursue something at all cost – which has consequences. I wanted to explore the idea that one’s passion and ambition can make you a stranger to the people closest to you. The idea that your choices make very little sense to others, and the strain you feel when you think you owe the people who love you something more, are concepts I took from my own life. I’ve felt the pressure to have a normal life and a normal job. When I first started writing this script, it was a sci-fi drama. It wasn’t until I started delving deeper into the material and characters that I realized I was writing about something else entirely–that it was more personal than I thought. It was a reaction to all the pressure I was feeling from my family. And I know a lot of filmmakers that feel similar pressure. And yet, when they finish with one film (that they’ve already struggled to make), they still come back and do it all over again. There is something in that dogged mindset and what it takes out of you that I needed to explore.”
Vivian Tse is a filmmaker making both narrative and documentary films. She was a Colonist at the 2013 Nantucket Screenwriting Colony with her feature script Joe Boy, which was also selected for the 2014 IFP Transatlantic Partners Program. She participated in the 2014 POV Hackathon with the documentary transmedia film The Angola Project. Originally from San Francisco, she graduated from the University of Southern California.
Tasha Huo (screenwriter) / Black Belle: A female gunslinger in the old West vows revenge against her enemies.
“The opening image of the movie came first for me–a woman standing at the edge of a town, a clear demarcation between the wild she just came from and the civilization of people and the expectations therein, and definitely there’s a personal connection in that conversation for me. The script itself goes on to explore the gray area of morality that both exists between people and then inherently in Natural Laws, and calls into question the right and wrong of those standards. The most shocking part of entering adulthood for me was learning that there was a gray area at all because I was raised in a very Black and White household, so this script became an exploration of that uncomfortable middle ground and also a kind of open challenge to the audience. By the end, I don’t want to give you answers, and I’ve found that people take their own belief system to the script and wrestle with their own conclusions. Which is the most rewarding possible culmination of writing I can think of.”
Tasha Huo has degrees in history and literature and an MFA in screenwriting from Boston University. After working as an assistant on Studio 60 and at Universal Pictures, she received a blind feature deal at Warner Bros. in 2014. She is currently working on an historical biopic for Sobini Films and several TV and feature projects. Black Belle will be directed by Shana Betz (Free Ride) and star Zoe Kravitz; Mark Canton and Lawrence Smith of Mad Riot are producing with Chad Simpson. The film will begin production in September.
Julia, Vivian and Tasha are each recipients of Feature Film Program development granting and mentorship as well as year-round customized tactical and creative support as they continue to develop their projects from script to audience. The Asian American Film Fellowship and Grant are made possible, in part, through generous support from the A3 Foundation and Naja and David Lockwood.