This year at ASFF, a new award was introduced for Best Screenplay in the Official Selection. Sponsored by The Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett University, this award is accompanied by a £1000 cash prize. The inaugural winner of the Best Screenplay Award was Daina O.Pusic with her comedy Rhonna & Donna. Conjoined twin sisters are having their biggest fight to date. Donna is in the school production of Romeo and Juliet whilst Rhonna has no desire to be involved. We interview Pusic to find out more about her creative process.
ASFF: Your narrative explores what it means to be attached to someone, both physically and emotionally. What gave you the inspiration for this storyline?
DP: The inspiration behind the story-line for Rhonna & Donna mostly comes from a duality, a split in personality that I associate with adolescence. My own experience of being a teenager is very much marked by a constant struggle to consolidate what you believe your surroundings want you to be and what you believe you truly are.
The tension between Rhonna and Donna represents that internal battle and the peace they make signifies the beginning of a resolution to it, an understanding that our personality is marked by multiple, often opposing, currents and that only by embracing all our messy dysfunctional personality can we begin to attempt self love and self appreciation.
Additionally, on a non-allegorical level, I am interested in exploring narratives led by characters with physical disabilities, directing alternative ways of human movement and finding comedy in situations we would normally associate with tragedy.
ASFF: As the winner of the inaugural Northern Film School Award for Best Screenplay, can you explain your process towards script-writing for this film?
DP: Initially, my process was very rushed. I wanted to write a comedy for the Creative England scheme ‘Funny Girls’ so I reached for a personal, familiar narrative that I felt was simple but layered. I made the main characters adolescents mostly because I think that age of self-discovery and awkwardness has a lot of comedic potential but partially because I fake being a grown up most of the time and have a lot of understanding for teenage behaviour.
After that, I delivered drafts to the Creative England script development team trying to balance out the acts, making sure all my setups had payoffs and trying to think of jokes. Once I started rehearsals, I was fortunate enough to be able to improve the script thanks to the brilliantly funny actors that came on board. We had to make sure that their personal sense of comedy and rhythm translated in the dialogue so I basically just let them be funny and followed them around with a pen and paper correcting the script.
ASFF: What is your key advice to those looking to work on their screenplay?
DP: Everyone is very different so it’s difficult to know if my way of working can help anyone else. If I had to give advice I would say: never underestimate your own interests, work at finding a genuine form of expression, communicate with your audience and respectfully avoid advice that you instinctively know is wrong.
ASFF: What projects have you been involved in since graduating from the London Film School and what do you have in the pipeline?
DP: After graduating, I wrote a short film script called The Beast that won the NISI MASA European Short Pitch award. We made the film thanks to the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, The Finnish Film Fund and See Cinema Network. It has since screened at over thirty festivals, picking up numerous awards and is currently long listed for an Academy Award. I’m also developing a pilot for a television series and my first feature film.
For more information on Daina O.Pusic’s films, see www.dainaopusic.com
ASFF 2017 opens for entries in December.
1. Daina O.Pusic, Rhonna & Donna.