Interview with the 2014 BlueCat Short Screenplay Winner Jennifer Cui
A young Chinese girl ventures outside her home to find a crowd gathered near a dead body, only to find something entirely different upon second glance.
Winged is a unique, experimental piece. Explain your approach to telling unconventional stories.
I’m not so sure what defines “experimental writing,” but I think writing is experimenting. I’ve always loved reading absurd stories that are told in a serious way, like One Hundred Years of Solitude.
What inspired you to be a writer? What is it about screenwriting that attracted you?
Reading made me love writing. Quoting a Frenchman whose name I can’t recall, “I don’t write to say what I think but to know what I think.” I think writing is a great way to understand yourself and screenwriting is just a different method of writing.
Winged is a concise story, yet it feels packed to the brim with many interesting things — the little girl, the inchworms, the dead body, the man-size moth, etc. Can you discuss how you came up with story?
My screenwriting teacher wanted us to write about an important childhood experience. I was born in Australia but grew up in China with my aunts and grandparents. Every summer the trees in front of our apartment would be covered with those hanging inchworms. Whenever a gush of summer wind blew, they would all splatter to the ground and since there were so many, no one really cared about stepping on them. I was actually one of the kids who poked at the cocoons…
As for the dead body, in Beijing we call the inchworms “DiaoSiGui’er,” which in a literal translation means ‘the hanging ghost’ or ‘the hanging body.’
I wanted to connect the worm with the body, so this is a story of metamorphosis, life to death and death to life. I also think that Lea’s growth in the story is some kind of metamorphosis. The man-sized moth is a tribute to Kafka and a play on the Chinese idiom Po Jian Cheng Die.
In recent years the trees have all been sprayed with insect repellent, and well, there aren’t many trees left in Beijing anyway.
When do you find the time to write?
There’s always time for writing!!!!!
How do you stay motivated?
I don’t… I need to finish a story in one go, because I find it hard to pick up the rhythm and flow of the story after I’ve left it, and that’s why I’ve only been able to write short stories. Since I never stop until I’ve finished, I always need to stay up for the whole night and maybe even the next.
Winged has a distinct style and visual sense. Do you plan on directing it eventually?
I don’t think I’ll be a good director, but I’d LOVE to tag along or work with the film crew if it ever happens (sorry, had to use caps lock to emphasize).
Do you have a certain page count you like to hit every day? Or do you set a time frame for yourself?
I think that’s what I need to do…
I only write when I feel like it, or if I’m being pushed.
Do you outline before you write?
No… but maybe it’s another thing I need to start doing…
Once I get a basic idea of what I want to write, I start glaring at my laptop. Once I start writing, the story just becomes clearer.
How do you know when a script is done?
I don’t, because I don’t think stories end on a full stop. You could write forever, and you can stop whenever.
What advice would you give to writers who are in the middle of writing a draft?
I think writing is like running a marathon — once you get past the point of wanting to break down and stop, you start to feel like you’re soaring. Soon you get to the point of wanting to stop again. And then the process is repeated until you manage to make it to the finish line or you can faint and get carried away by the medical team.
What advice would you give to writers who have just finished a script?
Read it. If you like it, send it away to some kind of competition I guess. If you don’t like it, change it. I would stay away from giving it to other people to read, unless it’s someone you really trust.
Why did you enter BlueCat?
When I was searching for short screenplay competitions, BlueCat was one of the first suggestions on Google. The name brought back memories. There was an educational Chinese cartoon series called Blue Cat’s 3000 Questions. I think I loved it. I remember it as a story of a curious cat traveling the world with his buddies searching for answers.
Who are some writers and filmmakers that inspire you?
I’ve got so many classics I still need to read. No time for current writers, their works haven’t been tested by time yet.
I’ve been mainly inspired by the Chinese & Japanese YoKai culture, Japanese anime & manga, and other short animations such as Kiwi! and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore (these two are my favorite).