Zsolt Pozsgai

Thank you Zsolt 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 Zsolt, can you tell us about your background and how you got started in screenwriting?

I started with poetry, continued with play-writing and then film and screenwriting came into my life. I’m convinced that poetry, drama and theater are related genres that build on each other, because they all condense reality and show it. What I have learned from poetry I have used in writing drama. And what I took from these two I incorporated into the scripts. So for me, all scripts are poetry, whatever the genre. Successful playwrights were first asked to write scripts for television series, and even then that had value. There were Hungarian weekly television series, crime series, which I wrote alone. 167 episodes. And they were all separate stories. And then I was asked to write screenplays by film directors, and I wrote for them. And then one of the directors gave up directing and gave me the job of directing as well as writing. From then on I wrote and directed my own films, about twenty in the last fifteen years. Feature films, documentaries. In the meantime, I haven’t given up the theater either, and my plays are constantly being performed in my country and all over the world.

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

I don’t use computer programs for this yet. I use my imagination in my own practice. And my instincts. If I find a theme that interests me and that needs to be made into a film, the characters almost come naturally. But to do that, you have to have your eyes open to the world. If you come across someone on the street, in the subway, anywhere, I try to figure out what kind of fate might be behind that person. From their face, their gestures, their movements, their communication. And I incorporate them into the script. Good characters make a good story, or a good story creates good characters. It varies. I usually write the story down, sketch out the characters, and almost immediately start writing the script, because the script evolves as I write it. I don’t decide everything in advance, I let the characters and my imagination work. It’s essentially a very immersive play, a spiritual transformation. You have to know the soul of each character and find the tragedy or the comedy in each one. And it all comes together in the end. It’s called instinctive writing, not everyone works that way. I can’t do it any other way.

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

I love writing scripts for historical films. I can see the film in front of me as a director. Most recently I wrote about a very important figure in Hungarian history. But I’m always careful to make the story understandable to anyone in the world. You don’t need to know Hungarian history to make a film that can be experienced. That is the real challenge. My last film, DRAKING WAY, which I wrote and directed, won 287 awards in a year at film festivals around the world. From Bhutan to Canada, from Los Angeles to Australia. But it is a special Hungarian historical film. But it can be experienced everywhere. Buddhists in Nepal awarded it the same way as, for example, the big festivals in Florida.

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

Characters and dialogue. If you write good characters with good dialogue, then the actor can act. If the actor knows what to play and is happy to play it, the audience will enjoy the film. You can read a lot of good synopses, there are a lot of good ideas. But if you can’t tell a story from that with enough dialogue that can be described as writer practice, then the film will fail. Or the script won’t get made into a film. And what I said before: good film is also poetry, you can use poetic elements. You shouldn’t write in the style of everyday life, because people know everyday life. You have to write about what is behind their everyday life. And that can only be done through abstraction. With the abstraction of reality.

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

I am happy that the importance of independent films has increased. Where it’s not the producer and his wallet that determines the film, but the talent and imagination of the creator. The development of film is very dangerous because of the many television series that simplify reality. Reality is very complicated and only poetry can help us to understand it. The films that come to the fore are those that still have an original story, plot and original dialogue. These films are being made mainly in the East. You only have to look at the big film festivals, and increasingly films from Africa, Iraq, Serbia or similar are winning. Because they are bringing something new to a world where the computer program is coming to the fore in the creation of the film. The human filmmaker has been pushed into the background.

How do you approach writing for different genres and audiences?

I think there is one kind of audience. If you can create a film that is valuable, then all audiences will like it equally. Some audiences like it because they understand it, some because they want to understand it. Because they feel the value in it. Today, audiences go to the cinema not out of boredom, but out of interest. There are far fewer viewers than there were years ago. And because we live in a very complicated world, genres are mixed. You cannot write a dramatic film without absurd or comic elements. And you can’t write a comedy without some tragedy in it. The history of the present is tragicomic, and that’s what you see in good films. How much we can laugh in FORREST GUMP, for example! And while we laugh, what great dramas we live through. And this film, for example, is an experience for all audiences. That’s what we should strive for.

How do you handle feedback and criticism?

I think carefully about all criticism, but it can’t influence my work because, as I’ve already written, I write on instinct. So, what my instinct tells me, I can’t push to the background. So criticism, whether it’s good or bad, is definitely instructive, but it doesn’t influence me in my work.

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

I’m very excited about the script I entered for the Oxford Festival. I’ve found a profession that very few people in the world are doing. Maybe only a few, but the impact is huge. People who are working to destroy all that humanity has successfully created in its evolution. And in return they get a lot of money from different companies. I wrote about one such person. We have come to the point where we have made too good of certain products, and because the interest of this economic world is in constant re-production, the perfect price has become the enemy. I tried to put that into a story. And because the theme is very grotesque, the film itself is absurd. And at the same time it’s realistic. It’s my screenplay THE IMPAIRER, and I would love to direct it somewhere. Anywhere in the world, because my protagonist can live anywhere, the problem is real anywhere.

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

I really hope that in the future it will still be talented and imaginative writers who write, and not computer programs. Recently I got an offer to work with such a program, which essentially writes the film for me. I don’t want that. I don’t want to exist in such a world.

What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters?

Before writing a screenplay, learn about film-making. Go on set, learn the technical details. Learn how to work with actors so you can guide them. And if they then just write a script, they have the technical knowledge to see themselves writing it. And if they recognize and like a talented actor. A good actor is very much to be loved as a writer as well as a director. The script is only part of the film-making process. It is one of the most important parts, but its realization depends on the talent of the director, the talent of the actors, the talent of the cinematographer, and so much more. Anyone who knows this and still dares to start a script is a brave person, and I wish him/her good luck.