Talents From ‘Holy Spider’, ‘Ballywalter’ & ‘Boiling Point’ Discuss The Screenwriting Process & Balancing The Writer-Director Relationship: “Sometimes It’s About Digging Sideways” — Storyhouse

The second day of Dublin’s Storyhouse screenwriting festival kicked off with a bang on Friday as established writer-directors Ali Abbasi (Holy Spider), Mounia Akl (Costa Brava Lebanon) and Stacey Gregg (Ballywalter) all discussed at length the process of how they achieve their best work and how they balance the writer-director relationship.

“I think it’s not necessarily a process of digging deeper – sometimes it’s about digging sideways,” Abbasi told the Light House cinema audience. “I don’t necessarily think that working on something for ten years makes it better.”

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Abbasi’s Holy Spider is a film noir based on the true story of the “Spider Killer” Saeed Hanaei who saw himself as on a mission from God as he killed 16 women who were sex workers between 2000 and 2001 in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad, and Abbasi said that when it came to making the Palme d’Or contender he was drawn to the “sensational” element of the project.

“It’s sensational that somebody killed so many people and sort of got away with it and became a hero and had this crazy double life,” said Abbasi. “But that’s the surface of the story. Then it became like that banal saying that ‘everything is about sex’ or something like that. This is really the story in a way but also the story of Iranian society and the government. The Iranian government is about sex in my opinion – everything they do is a metaphor for that in a way.”

For Here Before writer-director Gregg, she noted that she’s learned to be kinder to herself as a writer and allow herself to approach writing with a more forgiving attitude.

“There was a period in my twenties where I thought I worked best at night because it sounded really romantic but it was just f**king exhausting,” she said. “I think I’m a lot kinder to myself now.”

She added: “I work in bursts and when I’m in a burst, I work as solidly as I can but in between those times, I think you just have to be a fallow for things to grow as well and nourish yourself as well and I’m still at a point in my career where I feel like that’s a luxury and I’ve had to work really hard to say to myself, ‘chill out’.”

Akl went on to reflect about the experience of working on her debut feature, Costa Brava Lebanon, about a free-spirited family that escapes the overwhelming pollution and social unrest of Beirut by seeking refuge in a utopic mountain home they built for themselves. That project was in pre-production when the 2020 Beirut explosion occurred, ultimately forever changing her experience on the production.

“My cinematographer nearly lost his eye,” said Akl, of the terrifying experience. “I think what happened for the whole team is that it felt that making this film during those really chaotic and tragic circumstances and having gone through drama together really felt like a bubble of safety.”

She added: “Making the film kind of like helped us survive a really difficult episode of life because it became like group therapy making the film actually.”

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