Masterclass by Katerina Bei

Masterclass by Katerina Bei

Katerina Bei, beloved screenwriter of great cinematic hits such as The Murderess, Eftyhia, as well as TV hits such as Remember When, etc., delivered a masterclass in Agia Anna concerning the question of how easy it is to put your thoughts on paper and how realistic it is to believe that’s enough. She spoke on the collaboration between a screenwriter, a film director, and a producer, while comparing the similarities and differences between the scripts written for the small and the big screen.

The masterclass was prefaced by Eleni Androutsopoulou, head of the Greek Film Festival: “We are hosting one of the most important Greek screenwriters in film, and television, who has done numerous collaborations with renowned directors and producers," she said, welcoming Katerina Bei.

Katerina Bei welcomed the students. Initially, she expressed that she is self-taught, lacking the opportunity to study scriptwriting. Reflecting on the things that are important for her when she starts writing a script, she shared that there are four main pillars: the idea, the characters, the hidden meaning and the ending. 

She stressed the importance of having your ears open and listening, as well as that of communicating with the environment through every possible way. “Nowadays, owing to the internet, we have access to conditions and people we would never have encountered otherwise. That is a gift for us who write,” she underlined. She counseled the students to watch reality shows in order to observe the movements and reactions of the actors in building a character and suggested reading psychology books for exactly the same reason. "Anything related to people is very important for this job," she emphasized.

On the characters in a film or series, she said: "We don't want one dimensional characters, we want fully fleshed out ones. Many times, the character themselves generates the action and the plot and if you know them well, that opens up the scope." She prompted the students to keep asking themselves what exactly the script they are writing might evoke in each person and to try and connect mentally with their story.

Additionally, she stated that even though she follows the four pillars mentioned above to begin writing, there are other screenwriters who don't. She noted that some need more time and more elements, emphasizing that when one starts writing scripts, it is better to have a lot of elements that will aid them in shaping the story.

Concerning when a story can be deemed complete, she shared with the students a trick to help them evaluate whether their writing is well-crafted and structured correctly: "After you finish the script, pick a random scene, read it separately, and wonder: if it were removed from the script, would there be a gap? If not, you need to rework it." She stressed this parameter, noting she strongly believes that every detail in the script must serve the development of the action, otherwise, it has no place in there.

She also referred to the importance of not waiting for inspiration to come. She said the more you seek it, the faster it comes, the more you think about it at night in your sleep and dedicate your time to it, the more ideas will come to you: "Set a schedule for yourself. Decide on a number of pages and write that many every day. Take care of the inspiration, so that it may take care of you too." She assured the attendees that with hard work, they can improve what they choose to do.

At this point, she showcased certain excerpts from films Eftyhia, and The Murderess, noting the changes she made from Papadiamantis’ original text, or specific elements from the life of Eftyhia Papagianopoulou, to better adapt them into the present day and facilitate the needs of the film. She stressed that biography is a terribly challenging genre, primarily because you are asked to squeeze an entire life into a few hours. It's also difficult because each person being biographed has relatives with memories and different perceptions of reality: “In biography I feel as if I must apologize continuously,” she stated

She advised aspiring screenwriters to be prepared to step back, to maintain a balance, and to avoid placing their ego above everything: "Be prepared to negotiate for five, but keep in mind to onto two. Not cutting out anything is not possible. The world isn’t ready to accept masterpieces in their pure state," she said humorously.

She then went on to talk about the instances during which a screenwriter serves a director's vision, working on assignment. In such cases, the screenwriter must find ways to satisfy the director without having to compromise his own aesthetic vision, she said. "In this job, we are often called upon to justify ourselves – both to producers, and channels. However, you must learn to take a step back on a couple of things," she advised the students. "It's not just your baby - there are many ‘mothers'. Many of the comments you will hear will be forgettable, but some will be useful.”

She declared she does not separate cinema from television, adding "television matures you, it's a great school". In television, there is time pressure and high demands, the professional screenwriter is required to develop both speed and communication skills.

She highlighted how important it is to separate the specializations and pointed out that in recent years, films with different directors and screenwriters seem to do better. She also admitted she often borrows elements from people in her personal life and integrates them into her characters. She mentioned that the best characters are not a copy of real people, but that conversely, they borrow elements from various fronts to transform into multidimensional and engaging characters.

In response to a question from the audience on whether she agrees with Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author, concerning the theory claiming that once a work is completed by the author in its textual form and released, its interpretations belong exclusively to the reading public, and it is beyond the author's control, Ms. Bei replied in affirmative. “For me, it is very enjoyable because all the different interpretations make me feel as if my writing is multidimensional. The only failure I acknowledge is if something essential in the structure of the script is not understood. The different understanding of a character’s action is, naturally, welcomed.”

Finally, she urged the students to knock on doors and send their work to production companies fearlessly: "They may not choose you right away, but they will keep your contact details and, in the future, when they are looking for a writing team, they may pick you." Concluding, she said that for her, "perseverance is more important than talent."