By Anna Spyrou
Los Angeles, July 2017
Greek-American Evan Spiliotopoulos, screenwriter of the 2017 live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, spoke to SEEfest about the Disney hit movie and his writing career in Los Angeles.
SEEfest: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in screenwriting.
Evan: I always wanted to be a writer and I always loved movies, so screenwriting was the natural combination. Growing up in Greece, I would write short stories and watch every movie I could get my hands on. When I finished high school, I attended the university of Delaware and then American University in DC where I got a degree in screenwriting.
SEEfest: What brought you to Los Angeles?
Evan: Greece has no competitive film industry and certainly no structure in place to cultivate screenwriting. Since I wanted to specifically be a screenwriter, my best option was to come to Los Angeles. For theater and some television, it’s New York. But for film and the rest of TV production, it is L.A. The move was intimidating since I didn’t know a soul, but I had won a few writing awards in festivals and had built a portfolio. So, in 1995 I made the trek to California. I was fortunate enough to very quickly get a job writing for the Sci-Fi Chanel, which launched me.
SEEfest: When do you know an idea is worth writing, and what is your process of getting it there?
Evan: If there is a great conflict, an interesting plot and a unique angle into a story – and if it is cinematic – it’s worth pursuing. My process consists of writing a paragraph of bios for the main characters to get to know them, then laying out the screenplay in a beat sheet. Usually I can see plot holes and structural flaws in an outline before I start writing. With this prep, a first draft takes me around three weeks.
SEEfest: How was your experience working on Beauty and the Beast with such a star-studded cast?
Evan: Fantastic. As thrilled as I was with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, it was being associated with the incredible supporting actors like Kevin Kline and Ian McKellen and literally everyone else that blew me away. It also made me feel very confident that with people of that caliber, the script and dialogue would sound golden.
SEEfest: Had you worked with Stephen Chbosky before? How did that writing partnership work?
Evan: I had not, but I loved his work in Perks of Being A Wallflower, which he also directed. We actually did not write Beauty together. But our work, and director Bill Condon’s contributions, overlaps throughout the film.
SEEfest: We get noticed because of our successes, but we create them on the back of our failures. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?
Evan: In film, failure is married to success. Getting a script produced and made into a movie is a success unless the film fails at the box office, in which case the entire experience is perceived as a failure. The catch with applying what I have learned in a bad experience is that there’s very little I can do to avoid it next time. Once the script is done, there are a thousand things that can go wrong that the writer has no control over. That’s why films like Beauty are a bit of a miracle.
SEEfest: Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?
Evan: Not really. I have yet to engage with Instagram and Twitter. Other writers have had bad experiences with social media where strangers will pop up out of the blue and try to push scripts on them. It’s happened a couple of times to me. So my social media presence is sparse.
SEEfest: We are all here because we LOVE cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we, as a Southeast European community, do to help others discover a similar pleasure?
Evan: As the story goes, my parents took me to see an Asterix and Obelix cartoon when I was three. I stayed absolutely silent during the film and started crying when it was over because I wanted more. That was my addict’s moment. As far as what Greece can do, well I think people have plenty of
opportunity to discover a love for cinema without help. There are theaters and DVD stores all over the place, plus Greece unfortunately has a big piracy problem. So the real question is how to cultivate film production and how to encourage foreign films to shoot in our country. Local film production explodes when both the state and independent producers have a lot of money to invest in films. The way they get a lot of money is by doing everything possible to attract foreign films and get them to spend cash in Greece. Since every consecutive Greek government regardless of political leaning has ignored or discouraged foreign film production, we will not be making a ton of movies in Greece and the success of our filmmakers overseas will be confined to rare examples.
SEEfest: Do you have a project in the works right now? Would you share some details about it?
Evan: I do have a science fiction thriller that seems to be in a good place. But the plot, as they say, is under wraps.
SEEfest: What words of wisdom would you share with an aspiring writer?
Evan: To quote Ray Bradbury: “Writers write”. Every day. Without fail. If it’s one page or ten, write.
Anna Spyrou is an award winning writer-director passionate about storytelling and living in Los Angeles. She has been involved with SEEfest social media team since 2016.
The story of the Beauty and the Beast was originally penned by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 18th century France. It was subsequently edited and rewritten by another French lady, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. It was also in France in 1946 that it was first made into a film by Jean Cocteau, starring Jean Marais and Josette Day. The story has been made and remade as a musical, theater play, TV serial, animated feature, opera, ballet, game, and live action feature film in countries across the globe. The two Disney versions, 1991 animated feature and 2017 live action remake are best known to American audiences.