Interview with Screenwriter Sina Sultani (BEACON)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Sina Sultani: Beacon follows two women who must fight to retain their memories against a kidnapper desperate to harvest them.

It’s a psychological thriller about gender identity and mental illness framed in a unique setting using a non-linear narrative. Co-created and inspired by Maxi Garcia, a prominent member of the Trans community in Vancouver, our hope is to challenge and inform our audience while showing that a minority, female-led story can be heart-pounding, poetic and deeply personal.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Beacon is a psychological thriller with a non-linear structure both narratively and physically. Our goal was to introduce allegorical imagery and hyper-realistic settings to discuss our characters’ personal challenges. Drawing in tone from films such as The Lighthouse and The Witch, we wanted to paint a world that was stark yet heartbreakingly beautiful.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Films involving gender-diverse, female-minority characters are few and far between, let alone projects merging multiple genres. Even though we’re marketing Beacon as a psychological thriller, it’s a deeply personal metaphor discussing a character’s journey through sexual identification and an immigrant upbringing. We believe in the importance of this project because we believe in the expansion of the conversation. Our goal is to show that conventional genres can be elevated based on diverse casting and subject matter.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Starkly enigmatic.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

That’s a difficult question to answer but I’m leaning towards David Fincher’s Se7en. The complexities of the narrative, characters, and mix of drama with sardonic doses of humour demonstrates a depth of realism that I hope to achieve within my own projects. For example, the throwaway line from Kevin Spacey to Morgan Freeman’s character, “I know you,” opens a slew of questions that never get resolved. Moments like those are beautiful and surprising given how much emphasis is placed on informing/catering to the audience. Also, that ending… what more can you say?

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

Concept to first version took 1 month with additional refinements ongoing. However, if I were to quantify everything together, I would say 1½ months have been spent developing and editing the script to-date. At the time, Beacon was the quickest feature I’d written but I successfully challenged myself to complete another project within a week. That expediency is not restricted to the mechanics of turning out pages but includes the creativity involved in navigating narrative roadblocks.

7. How many stories have you written?

That’s difficult to quantify and depends on your definition of a story. If we stick to screenplays, inclusive of shorts, features and pilots, I would say approximately 15 over 7 years. However, in the past year alone I’ve been focusing exclusively on features/pilots and since September 2019 I’ve pushed out 6 scripts, with a 7th on the horizon. In saying that, I was working/re-working on one project for an entire year (2018-2019), which I was never happy with. It was a hard to pill to swallow, especially given how much time I’d invested, but going through the motions was critical in helping me develop my concepting and writing process. It showed me, like any other craft, just how important it is to continue to write and hone your skills.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the
most times in your life?)

There’s no one song, but I’d say Dr. Dre’s 2001 is an album that I constantly return to. You can feel the upswing of those songs and how it captured a time and an energy that’s been difficult to replicate. However, while writing, I lean towards film or video game soundtracks that are contextualize to the narrative I’m assembling. I find it helps to mentally place me in the required environment and facilitates the creative process.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The biggest challenge was finding the character’s voices, which still needs improvement. Post-Beacon I began to incorporate a new way of writing dialogue which makes the process easier and gives the characters more… character. That’s one aspect of the script that keeps me up at night.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

As with every indie filmmaker who’s short on time and money, I’ve written, directed, produced, edited, shot and composited nearly all of my past short films. The entire process has been eye-opening and the exposure to so many different disciplines really helped to inform my understanding of the overall process while introducing me to different aspects that I never knew I’d enjoy. For example, I’ve discovered a great love of sound design. The act of layering multiple sources to create new and dynamic audio is just as exciting as developing a new concept. I also enjoy videogames and experiencing the marriage of narrative with gameplay and camera selection, which has been deeply informative and highly influential.

11. You entered your screenplay via Coverfly. What has been your
experiences working with the submission platform site?

This is the first year I’ve ever used Coverfly and its experience/interface reminds me of Filmfreeway. That’s a huge compliment given that both platforms are crucial in connecting filmmakers to festivals/competitions. However, I’ve experienced a few issues with respect to multiple submissions and discount codes. It’s a combination of Coverfly’s checkout interface and most festivals offering single-use codes. That might be a separate conversation, however, the costs add up after submitting 3+ scripts across 5+ festivals. In saying that, it’d be ideal if those codes were either mutli-use or if the competitions themselves offered bulk-submissions discounts.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings
on the initial feedback you received?

As a Canadian I always want to support fellow creatives/festivals. It’s important to bolstering our artistic community through direct investment/interaction. Additionally, the cost-to-feedback ratio was well-positioned as many festivals providing feedback can be prohibitively expensive, especially when accounting for multiple submissions. The added benefit of earning a scene-specific table read simply added to the overall experience.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

After awakening in an abandoned shelter, two women must fight to retain their memories against a kidnapper desperate to harvest them.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Allison Kampf
ZAKARIA (F): Elizabeth Rose Morriss

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