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From a beautiful small town from the north of Portugal called Guimarães, Jo Ferreira writes one-hour genre female-driven TV pilots, filled with action and big worlds.
Repped by Zero Gravity Management, the Screenwriter began writing scripts and entering contests while doing her M.A in English and American Literature and Culture.
In 2020, her first pilot “The Runaways” was a finalist in Screencraft Fellowship and Page and is, at the moment, “being read around town”.
In this interview, part of Zaftyg’s series, Jo Ferreira opens up about her craft and her writing career.
What are you currently working on? Tell us more about it.
I just finished the first draft of a new pilot called “Voluspá”. It’s essentially a Viking Western. It follows a mother and a daughter as they go on a “road trip” to get to a trial which could change their lives, and on the way, they try to survive this ruthless Man’s world. It’s touching, violent, filled with action, plus Norse Mythology and Feminism! I’m also working on writing/directing an animated short film. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years and I’m very excited about it.
What originally attracted you to screenwriting?
I’ve always been addicted to cinema. One of my favorite memories from my childhood is going with my father to this small movie theater in my town called Cineclube. It showed everything from old movies to indie and popular modern films, and that had a great impact in my life. So from a really young age, I was blown away by the magic and the power of the screen. In high school, I shared an interest in both literature and art. But I could only choose one area, so I decided to go with the literature. I wrote a poem which was published in the school’s newspaper which made me really proud and I wondered if I could be a writer. I always admired novelists and I actually thought about writing a novel, but for some reason when I sat down to write it, it just didn’t feel right. Then later, I tried writing a screenplay, and it was just a lightbulb moment. Eureka. Painting images by using words. Art and Literature assemble! This is the right format for me.
What’s a typical work week like?
I know that some writers have this organized, planned routine. I’m afraid my process is a bit chaotic. I’m a night owl. So often, I wake up late in the morning which means I mostly write in the afternoon and evening. In pre-pandemic days I would go to a coffee shop and write as much as I can. Some days from 3pm-7pm, others 5pm-7pm. In the latter, I would continue to write in the evening, after dinner, since 2 hours wouldn’t be enough.
What writers have influenced you and why?
Stephen King. Mary Shelley. Haruki Murakami. Bryan Fuller. King when it comes to how real and complex his characters are. I was blown away by Carrie, which was the first novel of his I read, and it rocked my world. Here’s this middle-aged man who wrote so genuinely about this teenage young girl, and the emotions and things she goes through really spoke to me (except the telekinetic and bonkers mother bit). That really inspired me on focusing on character, doing the work, the research so I’m as honest as possible when I create characters for my stories.)
Shelley is just incredible. To write Frankenstein at 18 years old! To write about something that is still so resonant today, that’s the dream of a writer. The idea of trying to defy Nature. Especially in our day and age when we’re pretty much destroying it. We’re focusing on these technological advances, going to Mars… but what truly matters, accepting one another, no matter the race, gender, religion… we should focus on us, our land, our Mother. So yeah, the theme and subject of the story, that is what Shelley inspired in me. To write about something that is resonant and meaningful.
Both Murakami and Fuller, when it comes to their cinematic visual writing. Even though Murakami is a novelist he has such an ability to make you “see” through his words, he has such a magnetic skill with his quill. Especially in his novel “After Dark” it was the first novel of his I read and till this day remains my favorite. When it comes to Fuller, you can also really “see” through his words, especially in his pilot of “Hannibal” and all his screenplays possess this stunning cinematic poetry to it that I find just incredibly beautiful and it inspires me so much.
What makes a great story?
I believe every great story begins with character. Characters are the heart of storytelling. It’s what makes us care. What makes us exhilarated and heart broken when the protagonist achieves or fails in her/his journey. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have this big world if you don’t care about the character. If you look at the work of Stephen King for instance, all his novels pretty much are all set in Maine. It’s not really the world of Lord of the Rings you know what I mean? But the way his characters feel so real to us… It’s what makes us terrified of what King’s characters are going through. That’s what makes stories great I believe. It always begins with character.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I used to go to a coffee shop to write. There’s something about coffee shops, that makes writing special. Put on my headphones, let words and ideas fly. Unfortunately, now with the pandemic that isn’t possible (Portugal has been in lockdown since late January).
Do you have any tips on how to overcome writer’s block?
I feel like, when you can’t put the words on a page is because either the story or the words aren’t ready to come out yet. Perhaps you need to work more on it. That could mean research. Studying more about the subject at hand or reading more scripts closer to the genre you’re writing normally helps.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in screenwriting?
If you want to write, then you are a writer. Own it. You don’t need permission from anyone else, but yourself. It’s hard. It takes time to develop all the tools to write a good screenplay, but you can do it. Keep pushing. Keep writing. You’ll get there. Also, read as much as you can. Scripts, novels, poems… And network. I wish it was all about the writing but it isn’t. Find people who believe in you and your writing. Find other writers, share your writing with them and you will evolve as writers together. They will become your colleagues in the future.
Who you are as a writer and how did your career experiences help shape you and make you the kind of writer you are and will be?
I always felt there was a lack in representation of women, especially in genre film and TV. This was one of the reasons why I wrote “The Runaways” because I felt that in the noir genre women are often portrayed as either the femme fatale or the damsel in distress. I always loved the noir genre and gangster movies but I never saw myself on the female characters, so I wanted to do something about it and like that writing saying if it doesn’t exist, write it yourself, so that’s what I did and what I am planning to continue to do with my screenplays.
What are the struggles in the industry for a female screenwriter? Is it still a “boy’s club”?
Very much so, but I think it’s getting better, changing. In another time I would never get my scripts read. I’m a woman from Portugal who got repped by Zero Gravity last year. This is a time where it doesn’t matter where you live, you can get a Zoom meeting with industry people that could change your life. Yes, it’s true that women need to work harder, and it’s also true that there is still a big lack of people of color in writer’s rooms and diversity on our screens. But I’m hopeful that, bit by bit, things are changing. The industry needs new voices and POVs, and that won’t happen until we are open to much more than just one gender and one color.
Of all the things that you’ve done, is there one that you’re really proud of the most?
The person that I am now. I feel like I’ve grown so much. That I kept pushing no matter what, when in another time I would have just given up. A few years ago, I almost gave up on writing. Asked myself what was the point, wondered if I was good enough, if I was even a writer. But I realized even if I didn’t make it, I would continue writing. It’s who I am. My passion. What I love to do. So I decided to give it another go. This is why I decided to send my script “The Runaways” to American contests. I didn’t know if I was good enough, if I’d be able to “compete” with writers which English is their mother language. I’m proud that I decided to go for it, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here now, I wouldn’t be confident in my writing. So I’m proud that I took that leap of faith.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
Write for a living. That’s the dream. Getting staffed in a writer’s room. Sell a pilot. I would love to direct and write a feature one day.
How do you want to help move humanity forward?
By telling stories about women. There aren’t enough stories about us. Cinema and Television are such powerful tools. They can really open your eyes. It’s like a window to the entire world. I read this quote by Kurosawa the other day “On the screen, we see people living in different parts of the world, and we share the full spectrum of their emotions and come to understand them. So I say that cinema is a system that can inspire people of the world to get along.” There is still racism and sexism out there, but I truly think if there is more representation of people of color and women on the screen, we will be able to defeat the hate, and instead accept and love one another for the beauty of our differences.
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