Every screenwriter has heard the expression “write what you know.” Husband and wife writing team Zoe Warncke & Michael Mizrahi spoke to Creative Screenwriting Magazine about project based on Zoe’s side life experiences. Let’s track their rise to the ISA list of Top 25 Screenwriters To Watch in 2019.
Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted ISA interest?
ZW: I am a German lawyer and one of the world’s most exquisite doms. I think that this mix allowed me to see and experience the most decadently beautiful things and the most disturbing, saddest things human beings have to offer. Right now, I’m an editor-at-large for www.IRMASWORLD.com. I can just guess what attracted ISA’s interest; maybe the fact that Libertine is a true story? Or that I already published a book about being a lawyer/dom that was a best seller in Germany?
MM: Zoe and I both were able to overcome adversity to stand on solid ground. Using that experience in writing Libertine, brought the script to life. As a writer, it’s not true you have to suffer, you just have to have life experience. That’s where I start writing from. Professionally, I changed careers in my 30s. Starting as a PA, I’ve been working on film and TV production for twelve years. I never looked back, although I’ve made some wrong turns. I kept returning to my goal (reference- Whiplash “Why is Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker?”). I also had to learn to respect the craft, to learn and follow the rules. Until then, no matter how interesting the story, the scripts never got a nod.
I think ISA likes Libertine because it’s a unique and true story. Because Zoe is real and here to tell the tale herself and because we tailored the script to something that Hollywood could market; structured the way they expect it.
Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?
ZW: I am not good at deciding on a goal. I usually take a path that feels right for me, follow it, and pick whatever comes along my way.
MM: Aside from all ego-driven reasons, I want to create art; to touch people as I was touched so many times in my life when watching other inspiring films. I confess, since getting recognition, I now have daydreams of photo op.s with J.J. Abrams, but I know my dreams of personal success can’t inspire me.
What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?
ZW: I can just say what we needed, and me in particular- a high tolerance for frustration.
MM: To be fully committed, tenacity, a painstaking willingness to learn, the humility of being teachable, work well with others, a good listener, an understanding that you need to market yourself. Get up and try it again. These have been working for me.
What is your winning script and why did you choose to write it?
ZW: Our script is Libertine and it is about my life as a lawyer and a dom. I am sure my husband can explain that more eloquently than me. I guess it’s just too close to me.
MM: Libertine is a groundbreaking one hour TV drama pilot script based on the real life of lawyer Stephanie Zoe Warncke who moonlit as dominatrix Domina Hera. My winning script is my co-writer Zoe’s extraordinary life. Odds are, she shouldn’t be who she is today, a true Phoenix. I’ve never met a person that inspires me more. Dare I say, if she hadn’t known such pain, she wouldn’t have been so motivated to change her life.
How many drafts did you write before being accepted into the ISA Top 25 list?
ZW: I stopped counting.
MM: At least four major draft changes. It’s a blurred line really. We developed the script for a year and a half. During the early drafts, we focused on the story itself. When we knew we had the story we focused on the structuring of the acts and killing of our babies. Lastly, we gave the script, the writer’s voice and finally proof-read for grammar, format, and typos.
What did you learn with each draft?
ZW: That there is always room for improvement, and not to bite my husband’s head off.
MM: The most important question! The top two things are:
1. How to collaborate with a writing partner.
2. The game changer was listening to Max Timm (ISA Director Of Education & Outreach) talk about the writer’s voice. It allowed me to get as literarily descriptive with the scenes and characters as permissible in a screenplay format. The writer’s voice gave the script another dimension. A really good script became a great script.
What inspires your imagination?
ZW: I can give you a very charming intellectual answer about the books I read or the art I like, the independent music I listen to… but the truth is, since I was a child it was Haute Couture. I spent hours as a child to make collages out of magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. The beauty, the craftsmanship, the history, was always what I was longing for in life. When I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as a child, I could identify with her standing in front of the window at Tiffany’s and being content and happy. I was not alone 🙂
MM: Real life inspires my imagination.
Do you have a preferred genre, format, theme you write in?
ZW: I just have experience writing about my life, but I think real people and real stories attract me the most.
MM: I like irony, drama, comedy and adding layers of epic detail (higher power elements and history) to stories. We are committed to put in an Oscar Wilde quote in each episode of Libertine.
How do you train and improve your writing craft?
ZW: I always loved to write poems… I think my husband has a whole folder full of them. It allows me to dive inside me, something I was not encouraged to a child, and the medium poem is my vehicle I guess.
MM: Reading other peoples scripts. Always reading books, online articles, podcasts etcetera, from experts. Get out there and experience life. Stop texting and pay attention. Walk through the fear. Embrace the pain. Love and learn.
Do you have any mentors, heroes/ heroines?
ZW: My hero and heroines are all those people who can be kind in unkind and emotionally challenging situations. People who manage to be honest with themselves and dare to be real without doing any harm.
MM: My héros have little to do with writing, but they pointed the way forward for me to be prepared for the opportunity to be the best writer I could be.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?
ZW: Enjoy writing
MM: Stay out of the bars.
What is something that few people know about you?
ZW: I am a total introvert. Most people think I am a social butterfly, but I am not. I enjoy 1:1 conversation and gain a lot of energy from them, but too many people drain me.
That is why I love being a dom: the energy between me and a client is so rewarding. Hmm, but I think most people that know me know that about me…. I don’t like the beach in the summer and I always thought my face is really ugly.
MM: I’m a trained TNR (trap, neuter, release) feral cat volunteer with my own cat colony. I follow Jennifer Lawrence on Instagram.