Making It As A Screenwriter | Karim Halwagi

By: Sarah Chaisson-Warner

Karim Halwagi’s THE LION’S DEN won the Best Thriller prize in our 2022 Feature Contest. Karim aims to develop Wagi Media into an independent film production business focused on developing and producing high-concept films.

The Early Writer

Writing has always been in Karim’s blood, ever since childhood. Karim loved storytelling when he was young, and created stories to appease his “overactive imagination,” but his favorite medium for storytelling was always filmmaking. “I have always loved stories but struggled a little with reading books,” he says. “I was in too much of a rush and always wanted to get to the end too quickly.” Filmmaking was forever on his mind – whenever Karim read a book, he would picture it in his mind as a movie.

In the early 1990s, while working abroad, inspiration struck Karim, and he took his first steps toward becoming a screenwriter. “I had read an article about construction workers in 1920s New York and decided that this was a story – and a film – that should be realized.” From there, Karim he wrote a 12-page treatment on a Psion Organiser (a small computer developed in 1984 with a 4-inch screen) based on this logline: In 1920s New York, during an ultimately futile race between two former architectural partners to build the tallest building in the world, an ambitious construction worker is caught up in their bitter rivalry which challenges his morality, threatens his family and forces him into a frenetic fight for survival.

The story of the construction workers in the 1920s served as a spark for his developing interest in screenwriting, and he had a few friends who were starting out in the film industry at the time as well. “I started writing with a view of being able to realize great stories I discovered, or created in my mind,” he says.

“The story of the construction workers in 1920s New York really fueled this as I saw the amazing visual impact it could have along with the compelling story and characters, and so my first screenplay came to life.” – Karim Halwagi

Establishing Himself

As Karim began to build his career as a screenwriter, his biggest challenge was learning and understanding how to format screenplays and the concept of the “story within the medium.”

To advance his skills and knowledge, he read several screenwriting books, including “Story” by Robert McKee, “The Poetics” by Aristotle, and the scripts of many of the films he had grown to love.

Once he had mastered the art of formatting and learned more about structure, plot, and character development, his next challenge in establishing himself was, like many new screenwriters, navigating the industry.

“I found it hard to find producers who had the credentials and ability to get a movie made,” he says. “Finding an agent/manager is also difficult simply because there are so many talented writers out there, and breaking down the walls is really hard, even with contacts in the industry. This is still the case.”

His Winning Script

Karim’s script, THE LION’S DEN, is a tense, well-paced thriller pitting (mostly) unarmed men against lions, with the goal – the border fence – tantalizingly close. Karim has always loved the thriller genre “because of the rollercoaster ride they offer. Great thrillers take you on an incredible emotional journey, filled with thrills, drama, and hopefully and great payoff in the end. What’s not to like?” he says.

The challenges of navigating the industry were one of the many reasons Karim entered Shore Scripts’ feature competition.

“I entered the Shore Scripts Feature contest because I wanted to explore a way to gain insights into my screenplay, my ability as a writer, and see if it could place well and elevate the visibility of the project. Navigating the industry is very difficult and so the contest seemed like a great way to potentially showcase the script.” – Karim Halwagi

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The idea for THE LION’S DEN came from “a brilliant and truly interesting South African guy who was at the time helping me to move house. We sat and chatted over a coffee with him telling me about his family back in South Africa and their time out in the veldt.” During their chat, he shared with Karim a “bit of an urban legend” about a group of Mozambiquan migrants who were attacked by a pride of lions as they embarked on a rite-of-passage trek to South Africa called the Jompejozi.

Karim is now working with a producer and hopes the film will be made and released in the not too distant future. In the meantime, he is also writing two new projects. The first is a supernatural thriller that follows an NYPD detective who, whilst investigating a spate of unusual and violent murders is trying to stop his life from unraveling and becomes entangled with a spiritual healer claiming to have psychic insights into the killer. His second project is a completely different genre – a contemporary adaptation of the “Oliver Twist” musical!

He also hasn’t forgotten about his first project MANHATTAN RISING which led him to pursue a screenwriting career. Things are certainly looking up.

Karim’s Advice for Writers

What’s Karim’s best advice for writers who are just starting out?

First: Keep going and don’t be afraid of criticism. “Writing is ultimately about rewriting and I found that any and all feedback is incredibly useful.”

Second: Network, network, network. “Don’t isolate when you’re writing – reach out to other people and network as much as you can. While not everyone will be able to help, you just never know who might and the more people you know, the better the chances may be to find mentors, allies and champions for your project.”

Third: Whenever you hit a writing block, take a break. “Whenever I have hit a block, I tend to walk away from my keyboard and do something physical and ideally get outside into the fresh air – go for a walk or go cycling. I always carry on thinking about my project in the background, but disengaging directly from it sometimes allows a broader approach to any outstanding issues, and more often than not I’m able to re-engage with my project more effectively afterwards.”

Interested in learning more and entering our 2023 Feature Contest? Click here!

Want to know more about Karim and his work? Watch his winner’s video below.

After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing a sci-fi TV series, a horror short, and a family Christmas script. 

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