INTERVIEW WITH ALYCYA MAGANA - WRITER OF EL VALS
With their mother deported and young Danny now the man of the house, acquiring a Quinceañera dress for his older sister means everything – yet how will he do it with no money and CPS closing in?
Firstly, can you tell us a little about El Vals? What it’s about and how did you come up with the idea?
El Vals is the story of two siblings, Danny and Gabby, who are forced to grow up when their mother is unexpectedly deported. In spite of this terrible circumstance and with no money left to make ends meet, Danny attempts to do anything he can to give his sister her long awaited Quinceañera.
The Quinceañera is one of the biggest stepping-stones for young Latina girls and thus something that’s looked forward to since you’re very young. I look at it as a caterpillar hatching from it’s cacoon and turning into a beautiful butterfly, which brought the idea of “What if something happened that threw your world upside down and took away your chance of having your long awaited Quince? What if you were forced to stay in this “cocoon” or limbo?” From there I began to think of the butterfly as a metaphor to not only young girls flourishing into womanhood but also the journey of the migrant.
What made you want to enter it into the Short Film Fund?
I had heard great things about the Shore Scripts Film Fund and wanted to take a chance. I wrote this short script during quarantine at a time when things were very uncertain. This story is very special to me and it was so rewarding to have been chosen as the winner and have the opportunity to work with a great team to bring it to life.
How did you feel when you found out that you were our winner?
I was honestly very surprised. I had recently received a semi-finalist award at a different competition but thought that was a fluke. So going on to win this competition made me realize, not only that I should continue pursuing screenwriting, but also that this story definitely needs to be brought to life and be seen by an audience.
Are you looking to direct El Vals?
Unfortunately no, I am currently filming a short documentary and finishing a feature film mentorship but am looking forward to working with a great Latinx director that can relate to this story.
Do you want to develop the script further? If so, what will you look to change?
Yes, I definitely believe the script could be improved. I am wanting to dive deeper into certain parts, especially the climax and develop it’s catharsis a little more.
What do you feel will be your biggest challenge in terms of getting your script off the paper and onto film?
I believe the biggest challenge in terms of getting El Vals filmed will be casting the siblings. Not only would we have to find great young actors but also ones that can connect on screen and we can see their bond without it being forceful.
Do you think about the practicalities of filming when you write? If so, how has that changed your writing process, or have you always thought that way?
I do now, it’s something that’s transpired with my most recent scripts but it has definitely helped me keep the story a little more contained until the story is ready to be filmed and we can see if we have the means and flexibility to make it a bit “bigger”. For El Vals, I wanted to script to be contained in the least amount of locations, not only because of the budget, but also because I wanted there to be a sense of suffocation, or feeling of being trapped for these two young kids.
I know it’s early stages, but do you have any thoughts/preferences on camera format, aspect ratio, crew, location, and anything else for the production?
I do not have any thoughts on camera format or aspect ration yet. For location I want it to take place somewhere where there is a tense situation with immigration, such as Texas or Arizona. Music wise, there is a Quinceañera song titled “El Vals de las Mariposas” by Tommy Valles that I would listen to when writing. I felt this song gives the film a great tone of melancholia as well as reflects the metaphor I previously stated about the butterflies.
Where, in an ideal world, would you like to shoot El Vals?
I see El Vals being filmed in Texas, California, or Arizona.
What are your aspirations for the film once it’s completed? Certain film/festivals? Help with getting a feature off the ground, etc?
Once the film is completed, I would like to try entering the national and international film festival circuit. I would love to enter festivals like Sundance and even take a chance at Tribeca and other bigger festivals.
Do you have any advice for upcoming screenwriters who are either looking to direct their own material, or find a producer/director for their short script?
I would say that if you’re looking to direct your own material to really take your time in pre-production. Research your budget greatly and modify anything that doesn’t add to your story. If you are working with a director/producer, make sure you know them well or that someone trustworthy recommended them, it can take one person to ruin your film.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned from your previous projects that will help you going forward with making El Vals?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to really know the people, especially producers/directors, you’re working with. If you find someone you’d like to help you bring your project to life look deep into their history/experience and ask people they’ve worked with how it was working with them. I would also say to take your time and don’t rush the process. The more you plan and lay out the shoot days the more time you have to think in between. Sometimes we try to shoot everything in the least amount of days and this usually leads to chaos.
Find out more about the current season of our Short Film Fund HERE.