Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?
Maurizio Caduto: To me, Like A Bloody Monkey is about the price of survival. Zehra’s traumatic transformation into a stronger character, who’s finally fit to fight for survival and revenge, begs the question: At which point the price becomes so high it defeats survival’s very purpose?
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
Drama. There are some elements of thriller and soft horror. But LABM is a grim, dark drama.
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
The struggle of transgender women in Malaysia is a story that needs to be told and I hope Zehra will help bringing much needed attention and empathy to it.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
It’s got to be The Godfather. That movie just won’t age.
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
About eight years ago, I stumbled upon the actual events of a trans gender woman arrested in Malaysia and her ordeal. As I researched the topic, I found similar stories. Even though I knew I wanted to write a screenplay about this, it took me a while before I felt I was up to the challenge. Writing only started two and a half years ago. The first attempt took about 8 months and it was unsuccessful. I had not found a compelling angle, I did not fully understand my characters, the theme was unclear. I dedicated a few months to just think about all that. Eventually, a year ago, I started anew and, five months and a few rewrites later, I felt I finally had the right script. Then it took me more than a dozen revisions to get it to where it is now.
7. How many stories have you written?
Like A Bloody Monkey is my second feature length screenplay. I’m currently writing a new story, and I know I should rewrite my first one. But I have other stories lining up, so I’m not sure when that will come to pass.
I love stories. I grew up with stories my father would make up for us kids everyday. I’ve always written in one form or another. As an advertising creative I have written tons of stories in the 30″ to 60″ format – even though I was an art director. Writing a screenplay though, turned out to be a completely different challenge and a wonderful shock to the system.
8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)
You By My Side, by the late Chris Squire.
9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
Quite a few, actually.
As a westerner living in Asia, I knew all too well that, I could become my story’s weakest element. I was afraid of becoming judgmental, patronising. This is the main reason it took me so many years to start writing. I needed to learn the local culture and sensibility well enough to strike the right tone. In other words, I had to earn the right to write this story. It took me a lot of honesty to admit that, sometimes I was sometimes forcing myself onto the story – and as much humility to step back. It wasn’t easy.
The other big challenge was deciding what kind of story I wanted to write. I knew from the start that, I did not want to just tell the true story of one transgender woman. Instead, I wanted for all those true stories to converge into one – hence, the ‘Inspired By True Stories’ title at the start. I wanted Zehra to become, in her dramatic rise and fall, the living proof that, discriminating and abusing those who are weak, poisons the very soul of our society. And LABM to be the story of Zehra’s unreciprocated, tragic, betrayed love for her own country.
Lastly, Malaysian slang is quite unique. Chinese dialects, Tamil and Malay expressions are routinely mixed with, and word-for-word translated into English. So you have basically at the least three different English-based dialects. Again, it took me a lot of time to get a sense of what sounded right. If overdone, it can sound quite cartoonish.
10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
I am passionate about a-lot of things. My days are too short and my neurons too few to cope. In no particular order: Listening to and writing music. I was trained in classical music and have almost always been in a band, playing gigs. I also love woodwork and I build high-end custom guitars for a selected, like-minded clientele. Photography, movies, cinematography, editing, the whole cinema thing – I love it! I’ve been an advertising film director until three years ago, when I decided to focus on writing. Traveling is another life long passion of mine, and I’m often on the road. I make it a point to travel in the simplest possible way. I’m not particularly interested in sigh-seeings and touristic attractions though. Instead, I prefer getting close to people’s everyday life, which is were great stories hide.
11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?
Very good indeed. FilmFreeway keeps track of my favorite festivals and updates the status of those I entered, which is really cool.
12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
I felt Diversity was the right festival for my story and I was intrigued by the possibility of a reading with professional actors. Amazingly enough, it actually happened – and it’s a great experience! I can’t even begin to explain how beneficial that is to further fine tune a script. Priceless.
The feedback I received was excellent. All points made were valid and clearly explained. Because of that, I could suddenly see areas that needed improvement and opportunities I had missed along the way – they were hiding in plain sight! Even notes I did not fully agree on, ultimately were hinting at something missing, something I had to look for. It certainly helped propelling the story to a higher level of both dramatization and clarity, for which I am grateful to the reader and the festival.
Watch the Screenplay Reading:
Logline: A Malay trans woman is forced into prostitution in jail and fights to survive and regain power over herself.
Synopsis: Malaysia, 1998: KARIM collects his brother Amir from the beach while Amir’s friends make fun of him. Flash forward to 2015 and we met ZEHRA as she leaves boyfriend DAVE in bed and goes to work. At work she talks to her friend Farah, a trans woman who is showing off her surgery. On being asked if Zehra wants breast work done, she says she is happy being as God made her. On the way to a club that night, Dave coerces Zehra into oral sex in his car despite watching police cameras. At the club we see a man (SHAVED HEAD MAN) leave before they enter. Zehra and Dave dance until the club is raided by police. Dave abandons Zehra and the police check her ID – we discover that she was Karim from the first scene. A police officer offers to let her go in exchange for sex and she assaults him. She is arrested for the assault and for “cross-dressing”, sentenced to 1 year in prison.
Narrator: Val Cole
Zehra: Zena Driver
Warden: Nick Baillie
Menni/Jensen: Peter Mark Raphael
Dave/Peter: Russell Batcher
Farah: Valerie Courville
Hafiz: Ryan Singh