Why A Writer Has To Punish Their Main Characters – Yvan Iturriaga

Film Courage: You wrote another screenplay American
Babylon which you won an award or you won a grant? What’s the
screenplay about? Yvan Iturriaga, Filmmaker (The North Pole TV Series): American Babylon takes place in 2001 the summer of 2001 and it
follows 26 year-old exile from Chile. I don’t know how I came up with it and he
he mostly just wants to ignore the world around him and be happy and chill
and take care of his sick uncle who’s a ex-revolutionary from Chile who is kind
of this if he recycles he builds crosses for the church he stays that he’s kind
of this hermit. And the main character also barters weed so he lives in this
underground economy but it’s um bartering and his girlfriend
Satya (a black girl from Oakland) who goes to University of California at Berkeley, studies history,
she’s an activist and she is organizing a march so she’s always pushing him to care and
to get involved in the world around him back in 2001 you know Bush had just
stolen the elections and Oakland was up in arms and there was huge marches
against globalization so the world was very active and so my film is like
dealing with that world and pushing our main character to care but he avoids it
until his uncle gets sick he can’t afford it take care of him he’s forced
to switch from bartering to selling weed kind of breaking his his mode of
operating in the world eventually the march of the girlfriend organizes riot
police shut it down it’s a peaceful march but she gets hit and arrested and
taken away for a while and all these things trigger the main characters
memories of his parents being hurt in a dictatorship in Chile and so these
these dreams last nightmares start reoccurring and pushing him and he ends
up kind of breaking and joining the group of his girlfriend and they all
decide to take an action and because of his history they decide to they pick a
day for an action based on a day that started the dictatorship and chillin and eventually it becomes an argument
between them about doing a violent or nonviolent action the girlfriend is
definitely about non-violence very much like an MLK [Martin Luther King] character and embodying that
ideology and the main character because of his experience and his past cannot do
anything but do a violent act and it’s not about hurting anybody but it’s about
property destruction they pick a company to had a history to his military coup
the US was heavily involved in a military coup in Chile so the film is
like connecting these dots and eventually they go into this it becomes
like a heist film and they go to do this action there in a Plaza in San Francisco
with two big screens on both sides in the financial district they get there’s
a snitch they get surrounded by the police weapons drawn and 9/11 happens in
the screens and that’s the film and it’s it’s based on real history a lot of
people don’t know it but the dictatorship in Chile occurred on
September 11th 1973 so all my life and all Chileans lives 9/11 has been a day
that we that we mourn or you celebrate depends on what side you’re on
but a day for sure that marks or history and so when 9/11 happened here I was a
taxi right here in LA I I still get chills like how is that possible and
they’re very similar events I mean there’s airplanes bombing the National
Palace in Chile and airplanes hitting a building here on a Tuesday in the
morning it’s just like really weird so it comes from a place of me having to
9/11 is in my life to kind of grapple and to address this cycle of violence
you know like violence begets more violence is a theme on my film and how
we one cannot have a historical amnesia and not acknowledge what’s happened in
the past because if we do things will keep happening and we need to learn how
to deal with these things and a healthier way that’s kind of
my crazy family how long did it take you to write that well the initial idea I
mean the ending came to me a few days after 9/11 I mean I was like I have to
connect these but you know that’s a long time ago and then realistically two
years ago two and a half years ago I sat down and wrote my first solid draft then
I applied to this a film’s rain and grant and I got a screenwriting grant
for that and since then I’ve been you know I’ve done a few drafts I went to
this amazing lab called scenic one on lab that takes place in Mexico small
towns seen some Sun with mentors and it’s 13 other filmmakers and really like
took my screenplay to a new level yeah so it’s been solid two and a half
years really working hard at it yeah is it hard for you to work on it is
it does it bring up a good question memories or sort of an anger I mean
that’s the thing I had to realize that this lab is that unconsciously I was
definitely protecting this character you know he’s not me but he’s definitely
somebody who has a similar experience to me I had both my parents thankfully so I
don’t have the pain that he does but I still was protecting him emotionally and
a screenplay in a movie you have to push your characters to to feel you know to
go rock bottom and so yeah I’ve had to open up you know my own personal fears
my own personal traumas to allow this character to go there and yeah the
screenplays way better because of that you know you have to allow yourself to
to feel and to yeah go to your dark side is that something you would recommend to
other writers don’t don’t protect your main character as close as as they may
feel absolutely I mean one of the main lessons so the girlfriend is a genius
advice I got in you know there’s this my film is a story that has a huge
backstory that’s not seen in the film I his parents get assessing it which is
like the biggest emotionally back story you can have character losses as parents
right so an equivalent to that you have to
balance that out with the present film other
why are you telling the president not the past you know and so something just
as emotional needs to occur in your present in the film it needs to happen
to this character that pain needs to happen to this character
how do you achieve that you know how do you achieve a trauma of a past to affect
the present so I’m not doing this but our recommendation or a logical
deduction of that is I have to hurt the girlfriend all right like somebody has
to die the uncle I said I somebody has to hurt but even if you’re not going to
make that choice as a writer because you don’t feel it’s right you have to try it
and by doing so by pushing to the edge by hurting somebody and one of your
characters you’re gonna learn what you need to do what you miss what what you
can gain from that it kind of experiment and so I highly recommend when you’re
dealing with highly emotional things – yeah push it to the limit not as it’s
just a gimmick but to learn what this does to your character into your story
and I help me a lot to hurt her for like three days she comes back to life
now she’ll go down I said I I practice I worked out the film in a way what
happens if she does get hurt you know like what does that mean to the Cure
what does that trigger and how that can I I don’t want to tell you but how does
that how can you achieve a symbolic ending in a way you know that’s what I
had to do is figure out a way that she in a way dies but not essa you

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