Interview with writer Matt George Lovett – Chris Mitchell

Matt George Lovett is a writer, director and musician based in East London. He has dabbled in film, TV, novels and poetry, usually with a hefty penchant for the historical, the unusual and the surreal. He likes antiquated dialogue, rustic folk music, steam engines and The Philadelphia Eagles.

Chris Mitchell is a writer and producer based in South London. He has written for stage, screen and radio, mostly in the comedy and horror genres. He likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. ‘Mariana 627’ is the pair’s first collaboration, as well as the short film debut for both writers.

Matt George Lovett
A Friend In Need (short film) – Director
The Survivalist (short film) – Director
Leargaidh (short film) – Writer
Mariana 627 (short film) – Writer
Crazy Medicine (short film) – Editor

Chris Mitchell
A Friend In Need (short film) – Producer
The Survivalist (short film) – Writer
A Beautiful Death (short film) – Producer
Mariana 627 (short film) – Writer
Gnomeland (stage play) – Writer

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

M: The first coherent story I remember writing was an anime-inflected epic I wrote with friends when I was about 12. Zeppelin armadas, chi-wielding demon-hunters, a panel of fourteen cyborg aristocrat villains… one day I’ll return to that.

C: The first story I can remember with any clarity was one that featured a puffin as the main character – I must have been around eight at the time. The puffin is sad because he can’t fly like his friends, so everyone in the tree works together to build a contraption that helps him join them in the air. It wasn’t very good, but if I ever decide to write a children’s book, I know what to dust off.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

M: I’m an uberfan of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’; I think the storytelling in that first gave me the bug. Old noir classics like ‘12 Angry Men’ or ‘Casablanca’, moving at the pace of a smouldering cigarette. And 1938’s ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’ is possibly my favourite flick ever – bring back the swordfighting epic I say!

C: Adventure films like ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Wars’, classic cinema like ‘Some Like It Hot’; there were a lot of influences growing up. I remember seeing ‘Dial M For Murder’ at a very young age, which in turn led me to Agatha Christie and every Sherlock Holmes story ever. I do love a good whodunit.

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

M: Make it. Even if it’s just a single scene made with stick puppets and prayers with your mate’s dad’s DSLR, you’ll learn so much actually putting a script into production, and you’ll start off on that networking train.

C: Make it yourself, or else see if you can get onto a script development scheme. There are plenty out there, and it’s also great practice for taking on feedback from readers and industry professionals.

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

M: Not many. I’ve never really bought the idea that you should write what you know. If you have a unique life experience then by all means let it infuse your writing, but you certainly don’t have to write yourself. For me at least writing is about imagination. Be it an old widow in Dust Bowl Oklahoma or a young Malaysian Imam visiting Pluto for the first time, the key is to make the character recognisably human in their behaviour, and really know them like an old friend. If you can do that, then you can throw them into whatever situation you fancy and you’ll know how they’ll respond. The rest is just research.

C: I rarely base my writing on my own experiences. One of the joys of writing is conceptualising a completely different setting, time period and set of characters to any you’re familiar with. It engages the imagination and acts as a catalyst to creativity. Perhaps my life experiences come out in my writing ‘voice’, but it’s not a conscious choice.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

M: With screenplays (you don’t get the luxury with novels!) I love to get the actor portraying a character involved as early as possible. The way I see it, their job isn’t just to play the role – they have to become the world expert on that character. Nothing develops a character better than sitting down over a few pints with the actor who’s going to play them and discussing the character for a few hours. You’ll come out knowing their first crush, their favourite flavour and their opinions on freeform jazz. Most of that will never make it into the story in a literal sense, but every tiny detail builds up, and informs every turn of phrase, reaction and quirk. Another tick of mine is I spend an unreasonably long time on characters names. Done right, a name really can speak volumes.

C: When writing a character, I’ll usually have an idea of who they are and what impact they’ll have on the story, then I’ll see what happens during the actual writing process. Often you find characters grow organically – the story changes as they do, and vice versa. It’s also good to chat about your characters with other writers: you’ll discover new perspectives and unique insights you’d not previously considered, which can be very beneficial.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

M: Sometimes. Usually not BEFORE I start writing – the two develop alongside one another.

C: Sometimes, if it informs the plot. Usually the ins and outs of a character’s backstory will develop naturally as you write. A later line of dialogue can suddenly be injected with a lot of subtext if you insert a small detail into the character’s bio, but you have to give yourself the freedom to let these things evolve as you write.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

M: Depends. Usually I’m not too emotionally involved – they’re paints on a larger canvas, they’re not my children. My job is to make OTHER PEOPLE care for them, not lose myself in them. I’m also the kind of cruel bastard who loves to kill off unexpected characters, so there is that…

C: I try to stay detached whenever possible. You can be too invested in a character and start trying to force the story in certain directions to protect them or show them in a more positive light – a savvy reader will spot that sort of thing straight away. Also from a development point of view, it’s good to leave the actors enough freedom to take on a role and make it their own. Sometimes it’s the unexpected angles that are the biggest revelations.

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

M: It’s not everything, but it’s damn close. There’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to structure stories, but any given tale with have a better and a worse way to structure it. Two films with identical plots can have hugely different tones if the structure is changed up.

C: It’s pretty important. Structure helps dictate the pace of the story you want to tell. Poor pacing can often ruin even the best script, as it’s tied into the emotional beats an audience feels at certain points in the story. You want them to be engaged and care about the progression of events, not come out at the end feeling like none of it mattered.

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

M: I usually outline the plot, but leave the nuances (dialogue, character voices) for the writing itself. I know what my characters will do and where they’ll end up. Whether they’ll cry or quip when they get there, I won’t know that until I’m writing the scene!

C: Most of the time I’ll have an idea of how a story will start and how (ideally) I want it to end. I’ll then build the story inwards and see how things progress. Usually the specifics will change due to character action/motivation, but the broad strokes will remain the same.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

M: Meticulousness. Every feature of a character, from their age to their gender to their favourite sports team, will affect how they behave and (arguably more importantly) how an audience will react to them. It’s not just about dark backstories either. If your character is male, you need to know why. Does it make a difference if they’re female? Will we react to them differently if so? Which option is sharpest for the function of the character, and the themes of the story? Leave no details as placeholders.

C: You have to know the character you’re writing inside and out. Make sure you fully understand how they would react in any situation and why. See if you can point to a single line of dialogue taken out of context and identify who says it. It comes down to familiarity and relatability; if you know your character, the audience will too.