Interview with Filmmaker Roberto Bentivegna

Dave Beazley speaks with Roberto Bentivegna about his career to date, and how he started out in the film industry.

img_0144When did you first become interested in filmmaking and screenwriting?

I was always interested in writing from a very early age. As a kid I gravitated towards horror, and specifically an Italian comic book series called Dylan Dog. It had a huge impact on me both in terms of content, and in how the stories were told visually. I also remember seeing The Adventures of Baron Munchausen at the cinema and being completely blown away. 

Did you study Film at University? If so, where, and was this a positive step in helping you launch your career?

I studied Film and English at Emerson College in Boston, and then pursued an MFA at Columbia University. Both were very helpful but I think the MFA was the turning point for me. I learned about self-discipline, and made several connections with people that are now some of my closest friends and allies. There are different opinions about film school and I respect those who think it is a waste of time and money. But I respectfully disagree. For most of us, being in a 2 year environment in which we practice our craft every single day, receive feedback, and create valuable relationships- these things can only be of great benefit. The most important thing I learned is to stay true to your sensibilities. Film schools have an identity. Some veer more towards character-driven, independent film. Others embrace the studio system. So it’s important to know if your $300 million zombie epic is completely out of sync with the indie-minded film school you’re applying to.

Did you have both a manager and agent? If so, can you let our writers know a little bit about what each of their roles are, and how they help you?

Agents and managers are vital to your growth as a film professional, and ideally they can help guide you and your projects towards the promised land. They are your closest allies. Most collaborators come and go, but if you find the right representative he or she will most likely be around for a long time. 

The general consensus is that agents help to sell, or position, material in the marketplace. They get you writing assignments. If they are at a big agency, they help package the film with talent within the agency. They can give you some feedback on your projects, or tell you if an idea is D.O.A. based on how similar projects have performed recently. 

Managers are often producers and in some cases management companies are also production entities. Often managers will offer to develop material with their clients, give notes, hear pitches, even come up with pre-existing material or concepts for them to think about. I have heard people say that “managers focus on your career as a whole”. I think it is up to the client to decide how hands-on the manager should be. Some managers have exquisite taste, a deep understanding of story and structure, and genuinely help their clients to get from concept to execution. Those are obviously the managers you should aim for.

How did you go about getting your first agent?

I won some awards at grad school and was contacted by my first agent directly. He was an assistant at the time and on his way to being promoted. Assistants rarely stay assistants for long: it is good to have foresight and realize that six or twelve months from now, an assistant will become an executive or an agent.

Do you have any tips for writers seeking their first agent?

I think submitting to writing contests is incredibly important. My feeling is that agents are more attracted by writers who are pursuing their own path and finding success, rather than writers who place representation above everything else. In other words: let them find you, rather than the other way around. Placing in several major contests will help a lot. Having an insider introduce you- whether it is a producer, an exec, or someone at the agency- is a huge boost. Personally I have never asked any of my friends to refer me to their agents. It’s a personal choice: I wouldn’t want to put them in an awkward position.

What are you currently working on? 

I am finishing an adaptation of a wonderful novel by AM Homes entitled “May We Be Forgiven”. I developed it with one of my favorite filmmakers, and we are just getting ready now to send it out into the world. I also finished a new original screenplay, “Death is My Plan B’, and have a fun, gritty historical heist movie I am plotting. I also have to make the most of my Disneyland Annual Pass before it expires next month- so I expect to hit the Magic Kingdom at least twice in the next few weeks. 

Lastly, do you have any tips for writers trying to break through?

You never know which one of your scripts will resonate. It is a bizarre alchemy. You can’t predict it, and you can’t strategize it. My feeling is that you should pick a genre you genuinely adore. A genre you know intimately. Maybe a genre you can turn upside down, or a story you can tell in a way that feels fresh simply because you wrote it. You learn screenwriting every time you open up a new document and start on page 1. In a sense, every script has its own structure. The Hero’s Journey is great… if you have a hero. But if you have a piece with multiple protagonists, watch Robert Altman or PT Anderson movies. Same goes with “sympathetic” protagonists. That’s fine if you’re writing Captain America. But what if you want to tell the story of a morally ambiguous fella? Watch “Taxi Driver” or any film noir, ever. Rules are great but you have to think for yourself and follow your instincts. 

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