We sat down with Roberto to learn more about his career thus far and what general advice he has to offer to emerging feature screenwriters.
Question: What are some of your favorite childhood films that inspired you to start writing?
Roberto: Well, I grew up in an interesting household because my dad is Italian from Sicily. I grew up in Milan, but I went to a British school in Italy, so my movie upbringing was really varied. I remember watching the original 1989 Batman when I was six years old. That was amazing. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the Terry Gilliam movie. And then I started to get into more artsy stuff. I remember I saw Short Cuts by Robert Altman when I was 11, which is kind of crazy because it’s a really intense movie. And then, like most kids in my generation, I saw Pulp Fiction when it came out. I was 12. And that just blew my mind.
Question: I read before that you love writing treatments. Do you write them before writing scripts or do you tend to write them after?
Roberto: I write them before. It’s actually the most important step in the process for me. Just because I’m usually a little lost at the very beginning of a script. I think it’s normal. You’re still figuring out where you’re going to go and what angle you’re going to take. People that outline or do beat sheets, I really envy them. Because that implies you’re sort of summarizing what the beats are. But I don’t know what the beats are yet. So for me, it’s very helpful to work things out in prose, rather than in a screenplay or outline. Also, the treatment can sometimes focus on character. Sometimes it can be more about set pieces, and you start to think about what those look like. But you’re kind of throwing ideas on the page, and you’re not so restricted by format.
Question: When you’re writing, which parts do you cling to when you’re starting a new project?
Roberto: I think it depends on the story. I’m very aware of point of view; that’s a really big deal for me. Sometimes you can mix that up. Sometimes you can be objective. But I always ask myself: Whose story is this? What’s the emotional trajectory of the character? I think that’s important. And I’m talking about movies. Because in television, you’re allowed to dip into different points of view since it’s not that strict, and you don’t have two hours; you have two years or more.
Question: What do you find the most difficult part of writing multiple seasons of television?
Roberto: I feel like the good thing about movies is that you have a limited canvas. You’ve got two hours or so. You often think in terms of a beginning and an end before you sit down to write. With TV, shows can take massive tangents that surprise both the audience and the writers themselves. The canvas is much, much vaster. The re-framing of narrative limitations can be exciting.
Question: What are the challenges and benefits of being a writer on set with the cast and crew?
Roberto: That’s a great question. I thought about that a lot, actually, because I was on set for the entire time of House of Gucci. And it was an amazing experience because I got to see Ridley Scott direct, and I saw my words come to life. It was the first time I heard these words that I’d written, being performed. It was very emotional. The tricky thing about being on set, unless you’re directing the film, is that you must understand your place and accept that you are not going to be captain of the ship. The director is.
Generally speaking, I think a writer should spend a couple of days on set to see his or her work come alive. We spend so much time slaving away in the dark, trying to make these dreams come true. Being on set goes beyond the utility of having the writer present for any last minute changes: it is about rewarding the person without whom the film wouldn’t exist. I am always saddened to hear about writers who are cut out of the production process itself.
In my case, I was very lucky. Ridley was very generous and he understood why I would want to be there. I’ll always be grateful.
Another thing I learned from being on set is to not be so precious with things because, ultimately, it’s a constantly evolving monster. And things that you thought were set in stone, either for budget purposes, or location, or actors that sometimes don’t want to perform what’s on the page, right? They might just use it as a jumping-off point. And then they go in a completely different direction. That was something that I very, very quickly had to get used to.
Question: I read that you originally went to university for directing. And so what is it that really drew you to directing before writing?
Roberto: I think when most people fall in love with film, unless they want to be actors, the profession that they gravitate towards is directing. It’s that sort of stereotypical image of the person behind the camera, lining up a shot, or manning the ship. I started out directing at Columbia, but then I switched over to screenwriting, really out of a fluke. I wrote a script in my second year that won some awards. And then I was represented by CAA and got my first Writers Guild job.
I was watching an interview with Akira Kurosawa, and they asked him what he recommended to young filmmakers if they want to be directors. He said the best thing that a young filmmaker can do if he wants to be a director is to write. -Roberto Bentivegna
Question: What advice, or a piece of advice you’ve been given, do you think would help writers that are starting their careers?
Roberto: When I was starting out, the biggest thing that helped me was awards. Writing a script that got some momentum really gave me a sense of purpose, of validation. And young agents tend to look at these fellowships and competitions—which beats cold calling or referrals. I always felt that agents should be the ones to seek you out—not vice-versa.
Also, I would say to not worry too much about what’s out there. I’ve always felt if you try and play catch-up, it just never works. You shouldn’t be obsessed with the business, but you should also be aware that, ultimately, you’re making something for people to watch. There should be a consideration of how realistic is the idea. How is it going to work after the writing process? How is it going to work with producers and actors or sets? Just ask yourself if you can see this movie, in a theater or streaming.
GET YOUR STORY OUT THERE
Don’t miss out on the chance to get industry guidance from Roberto, as well as continued support and script circulation from our Writer Development Team. And not to mention, $5,000 in cash to help further your writing career.
Click here to learn more and submit your screenplay to our 2023 Feature Competition. You got this!
SHORE SCRIPTS & THE WGA STRIKE
In regard to the current WGA strike, you may be wondering how Shore Scripts plans to proceed with our script circulation and contests during this time. Here’s what you should know:
We fully support the strike. Our goal hasn’t changed. We are still here for emerging screenwriters and filmmakers, supporting you as you develop your work and take the next steps in your screenwriting careers.
Many of our contests offer script circulation and industry meetings as prizes, and this is our approach:
- Winners and Finalists of this year’s Feature Contest will receive their invitation to join our Writer Development Program (WDP) in January 2024.
- We will not circulate scripts or arrange meetings directly with struck companies for the period of the strike.
- We never circulate a script without first asking for permission from the writer(s).
- Script circulation is not the only outcome of the WDP – you may wish to work on other aspects of your career and script development with the team.
- Any script circulation offered as a prize for any of our contests can be deferred at the writer(s) request.
We support the WGA and wish for a swift resolution to the strike, so writers can get back to doing what they love best—writing. And so that all writers can share in the just rewards for their creativity and important work.