New Talent At Tribeca

What was once Mother's ruin becomes the maker of new scriptwriting talent.

Most budding screenwriters dream of the day they might be attending their own screening at Tribeca Film Festival. Thanks to an open competition launched worldwide, UK-based Anthony Khaseira and Chris Cornwell have done just that. Spearheaded by the Academy Award winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, the initiative invited budding new writing talent to take inspiration from an initial script penned by Fletcher, and see where their imagination took them.

We caught up with Khaseira and Cornwell to find out where, aside from one of the world's most rspected film festivals, they ended up.

First up a question for both of you. Tell us about the process from when you first read Geoffrey Fletcher’s script to when you started writing. Did you adapt an idea you already had or did the script inspire something completely original?

Chris Exit Log was inspired by the dialogue that Geoffrey had written. One of the joys of the process was having restrictions and having to figure out how to twist them and build on them in unexpected ways. The dialogue implied that it was two people trying to escape a situation. The only brief was to be imaginative, and so I thought that it would be fun to have two characters trying to escape a time, rather than a place.

Anthony Reflections was written for this competition, although I have written other scripts around the idea of a ‘double’ – I think there’s something universally intriguing about seeing oneself as a separate individual, a theme I’ll no doubt explore again. When I first read Geoffrey’s outline script it was clear to me that there were two people in a place/situation that neither wanted to be in. I thought it’d be interesting to use that situation as a metaphor for something else, in this case being stuck in a failing relationship and twisting some of the lines of dialogue so they meant something else.


New Talent At Tribeca

Anthony, your film is all about a romantic dinner that takes a horrible turn. Is this from experience? Are we watching the fallout of past relationships and some very bad dates?

Well they say write what you know... [Laughs] I wanted to focus on two people who had reached the end, but neither wants to admit it – this is their central problem, and I think it’s a universal one. If they didn’t still care for each other then it would be easy to call it quits, but it’s hard to know when to let go/to know how you feel when you’ve been with someone for a while. Therefore they avoid the issue and don’t heed the warning sign the mirror seems to be showing them – they are literally forced to face themselves. It’s the only time they are honest with each other but because they’ve left it so late it all goes wrong. Although the mirror element is fantastical, I wanted the idea to be grounded in some reality/situation that people could connect with.

How did you pick your genre?

I would describe Reflections as magic realism, rather than say Sci-Fi, as it is firstly a drama but with a surreal twist. Magic Realism is perhaps a genre more associated with literature (as there is more freedom to explore metaphors and ideas) but I feel it fits this film as the whole thing is essentially a metaphor. In general I think the genre a film takes often fits the idea – in this instance the arresting image for me was a couple seeing their reflections move independently of themselves. Immediately I felt this would be an unnerving sight. I decided to make their reflections argue so as to be the mirror opposite of what they are like in reality and this then meant the images then became rather disturbing – naturally the genre then starts to become dark, thrilling…


New Talent At Tribeca

Chris, tell us how you became interested in 80s Sci-Fi. Is there a particular film that sparked your interest? If you could have written any 80s Sci-Fi what would it be?

Ooh, there are so many good ones out there. Blade Runner and Alien are both films I find very inspiring. I wish I’d written Aliens- it’s one of the most ruthlessly entertaining and inventive films ever made. It ought to have been a huge disaster: you take a horror property with quite strong indie sensibilities, about ordinary people being trapped with a monster, and you add in space marines! And guns! And loads of monsters! And yet it retains a lot of the smart character and thematic work from the original, while giving audiences a roller coaster ride.

The situation you’ve imagined in Exit Log is terrifying. Is this how your imagination works?

Haha, I’m not sure how to answer that. I guess I just wanted to be true to the story I was trying to tell. The dialogue, to me, implied that the ending was unhappy. I really love having a visceral element to my stories, so I wanted to express that unhappiness in the most horrifying way I could think of. Showing the characters in a really nasty visual way that they’ve spent eternity trapped in a state of abject terror seemed like a good way of doing that.

If you could relive three minutes over and over again what would you be doing?

I’d probably be happiest being completely oblivious. Just going for a peaceful walk in a park on a shiny but cold spring day. Cripes, that sounds pretty trite, doesn’t it?


New Talent At Tribeca

Anthony, how did your protagonists meet?

In all honesty, with a short like this, I didn’t really think too much about their backstory – it was more about how the two people felt right now and those moments of doubt which I think most couples experience.

What comes first for you, the character or the story?

I like coming up with plots, with twists and turns. I then think what sort of characters would really make the plots work. For me, the best plots/twists/stories are the ones which are caused by a character’s actions/reactions, especially when motivated by an emotion. In Reflections for instance, the guy’s main action of breaking the mirror is caused by a moment’s hurt/anger at what his girlfriend tells him. The consequences then unfold from there…

Chris, tell us about the collaborative process of working with a director. Did you enjoy it? What did you learn? Any disasters?

It was great fun being involved in the process. It was fantastic seeing my words being reinterpreted. You just have to reconcile yourself to the fact that the movie is not going to be the movie of your script. It’d probably be a mess if it was. What you want is a lot of very talented people reinterpreting your script, adding their own expertise, making it better than you imagined. I feel really lucky with Exit Log in that respect.

Anthony, you’re also involved in theatre, could you see this story translating to the stage?

Probably not, although I think creating some visually spectacular on stage would be great – I’ve a few ideas but nothing concrete just yet.


New Talent At Tribeca

What have you both enjoyed most about the Imagination series experience?

Chris Seeing the film being made is incredible. It’s amazing that the films get realised as part of the process. Following the story from script to screen teaches you so much as a screenwriter.

Anthony It’s all been amazing, and a fantastic opportunity to present my ideas and future work. But above all I’m proud to have created a short film I think is original and well executed.

What was the atmosphere like at Tribeca? Did you feel inspired? What were the standout moments for you? Did you meet any heroes/get star struck?

Anthony Tribeca was great. It was really good to meet the other winners, especially as we all got on really well! This short film has definitely reminded me of the possibilities that short films can offer.

Chris Meeting Geoffrey Fletcher was fantastic. He’s incredibly perceptive and so generous when it comes to sharing his thought processes. Collaborating with him on Exit Log was a heck of a lot of fun.


New Talent At Tribeca

How did it feel to see your work screened at Tribeca?

Chris Tribeca was surreal and amazing. Seeing the film with an audience was tense, but great. What I wanted most was for Exit Log to be entertaining, and I was so relieved to see people have fun with it.

Anthony I’d love to be nonchalant and shrug it off, but it was amazing and probably the craziest week of my life (so far..!)

What’s next for you both off the back of this?

Chris It’s been very inspiring. I never thought that Exit Log would be made and it just showed me that you never know what’ll bounce back. I’m working on another short film at the moment. It’s called EDIT, and it’s a horror film about an editor who begins to believe that someone is sending her a disturbing and horrifying message through the pieces of film that she works with.

Anthony I’ve a few shorts I’m writing & a couple of directors keen to get them off the ground - I’ve always got ideas and scripts I’m working on so it’s just about picking one, sitting down and getting that first draft done!

Words by Leila De Vito

The Imagination Series is a global initiative launched by Bombay Sapphire.


Anthony Khaseira's Reflections

Chris Cornwell's Exit Log