Theo Herghelegiu

Thank you Theo for taking the time to answer all of our questions. We are grateful for everything you have shared with us. At Oxford Script Awards we are wishing you a huge success with your next projects. Keep up the amazing work!

Hello Theo, can you tell us about your background and how you got started in screenwriting?

Theater has been my dream since forever; since I was a child. So, I was into theater as long as I can remember, and from 1998 I’ve been working as a professional director and playwright. While still a student in the Academy of Theater and Film Bucharest, I was casted by my colleagues in the Film Faculty to perform various parts in their school projects. That was the moment when I fell in love with the movies and with that world that happens on set. Soon after graduation I started to co-write feature scripts with some of my ex-mates, film directors and producers, and then it was just a small step to do; to ‘jump’ to my own thing: writing, directing and producing indie film projects. But this small step took me about… 20 years. In the meantime, I kept on writing for the stage and collaborating with filmmakers.

What's your writing process like? How do you go about creating characters and developing a story?

It’s up to the Muse – whenever she feels like landing on my shoulder, I just open the laptop and start writing. But this is just the first (and most important) phase – when you feel that you are only a vessel through which someone is dictating a story in a smooth, magic flow…. But then, when this flow is fulfilled; when the first draft is over, the meticulous and „technical” work begins.

Usually, if I do not know how the story ends, I cannot write anything, not even a first word. Once the end is clear, the story starts to flow and grow ‚by itself’. As far as the characters are concerned, almost all of them are fed by a real person or other; by a feature, or an action, or a situation that really happened, or it really belongs to someone. After that, the imagination takes over and covers that drop of reality with multiple layers. The moment when my characters become alive, they start to behave according to some organic patterns that do not belong to me any longer, but to them.

Can you talk about a recent project you've worked on and the challenges you faced while writing it?

The most recent project I’ve been working on a contemporary opera libretto and it is quite challenging due to many reasons, but the most difficult task is to appropriately integrate & develop the director’s request concerning the main theme of this opera, id est: mental issues in today’s society. First of all, because the list is pretty long. Secondly, it is a ‘pocket opera’, so it cannot be developed on a large, grandiose structure, but it has to stick to only 5 soloists, a choir of 3 men, a ballet of 4 dancers and a mini-orchestra of 7 or 8 musicians. So, a huge theme like that has to be accomplished with minimalist means and resources, a fact which forces the librettist to a very tricky set of compressions.

What do you think is the most important element of a great screenplay?

Perhaps its unpredictability!? To surprise as many people as possible through one of its main elements (basically – its narrative), and also to emotionally touch as many ‚consumers’ as possible?!

In my opinion, there are mainly two ways of making a great film: it’s either a simple, classic, well known kind of story/plot realized in a crazy, unexpected, original, and full of fantasy aesthetic manner, or, the other way round: a very intricate and unpredictable story, with peculiar characters, strange places and highly incredible situations, told in the most simple and clear cinematographic style. Or, in other words: it’s either an extraordinary story told ordinarily, or an ordinary story told with extraordinary forms of expression.

How do you feel about the current state of the film industry and the role of screenwriters in it?

Well, that’s a tough one! In my country, for instance, the film industry is unfortunately underdeveloped. Nevertheless, there are a few Romanian filmmakers who have made it through years, proving themselves good practicians and real artists, winning remarkable awards & recognition at very important international film festivals. But this cannot be called an ‘industry’; this is called ‘a niche business’– oh, yes, we do have a few talented directors who have become visible. But there are so many other young (or not so young) people who could be at least as good as those who had their chance, if only there was enough money to give them a chance, too. Still, more and more indie productions have appeared on the market lately, in reaction to this almost-nonexistent-industry, which is a good thing and an encouraging phenomenon.

Considering the picture described above, the role of the screenwriters in Romania becomes essential; vital. Because there are never enough funds to support a big (or normal) production in terms of complex shooting and sophisticated editing, the main advantage you can achieve is to have a solid script – a good story – and a gorgeous cast.

As far as the international film industry is concerned, what I have noticed is that starting with year 2010 (don’t ask me why this specific year) the great movies; the outstanding films seem to be fewer and fewer, while the B or C series productions, or the entertainment low movies have sensibly increased their number. For what it matters, let’s just take the Oscars as an example – the awarded productions are worse and worse every year, with a few notable exceptions left aside. (Or is it just me growing older and bitter?!)

How do you approach writing for different genres and audiences?

Well, in terms of genres, each genre lays its own functional rules and musts, whatever we might discuss: comedy, drama, thriller etc. But in terms of audiences… I suppose the scriptwriters have to respect their highest standards under any circumstances. Otherwise it could become a compromise. Which could lead to frustrations and might impact the quality of the artistic product.

How do you handle feedback and criticism?

Difficultly. Either good, or bad, feedback usually makes me uncomfortable. Somehow, staying away from what the theater critics have to say assures me a safe spot; while the true ‚barometer’ remains the audience. If a review talks big of you, there’s a possibility to become too self-confident, arrogant, or lazy. If it criticizes you too harshly, then there’s a risk for your self trust and dearness to diminish, which represents a big loss for an artist. Besides, your one and only true competitor is yourself, while driven by your desire to be better, always better, much much better etc, as well as the most demanding and hard to please analyst of your work is also you. So…

In conclusion – let the public read the reviews, you just deal with your creative ideas and your creative team.

I still have a couple of close friends, though, whom I totally trust and whose opinions I can constructively take, no matter what they say. 🙂

Can you talk about any upcoming projects or collaborations you're excited about?

Except for the contemporary opera libretto mentioned above, presently I am rehearsing the script of MARZIPAN for its 2024 indie production. It is a two cast feature, so I work with a great actor from London and with a talented, young actress from Bucharest. Thus, from moment zero, this film promises to be a quite exciting adventure. Another project is Cornel Anapoda, an animation short (I wrote the story and now we are about to record my voice as the Narrator’s voice); a short to be completed together with the composer, who’s also a video artist; the film is about a guy who’s a tramcar phobic time traveller. A future collaboration would be to adapt Mihail Sebatian’s play, „The Star with no Name” and transform it into a musical, for a Romanian composer who lives in Scotland. Also, I have to write a play about curiosity which will represent the dramatic text / support for a symphonic musical piece in the manner of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. The work is a commission for a music festival in Copenhagen. And last, but not least, to adapt my theater play It Ain’t no Sour Cherries at Dinner Tonight for the screen – Ovidiu Georgescu, film director and producer, will shoot a feature based on this text, in August.

How do you see the role of screenwriting evolving in the future?

If AI does not replace us too soon, I guess we’ll still be an osmotic part of that necessary nurturing ingredient of the planet: art & culture.

If it does, then… well… I guess we’ll have to reconvert and learn how to feed the robots in order to help them generate extremely valuable scripts. Meaning: we’ll have to learn how to remain in the game.

What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters?

To be courageous, hard working, flexible, confident and open minded. To stay tuned for spectacular little things in their lives. To love being a storyteller; it’s not a job, it’s a mission…