Texas Book Festival 2016: Interview with Maya Perez

“On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films” presents award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers discussing their careers and the stories behind the production of their iconic films such as “L.A. Confidential,” “Thelma & Louise” and more. We had a chance to speak with co-editor Maya Perez, also the producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series Austin Film Festival’s “On-Story,” about the process of bringing together the book.

Maya Perez / Photo by Andrea Turner

Maya Perez / Photo by Andrea Turner

Interview questions by Catherine Gutierrez

So I noticed that you’re a producer on the television series, “On Story,” and wanted to know how you got started with the series and then compiling these companion books.

Maya: I was the conference director at Austin Film Festival for many years and  unfortunately we were able to go to many of the panels because we were working. We would hear about how amazing they were and so we would sometimes watch the video recordings after the festival. We thought we can’t be the only ones who want to see this. Even though over 2,000 people come to the festival each year, there’s so many more that can’t come in for whatever reason and during the festival it’s a 5-ring circus so you can’t attend all the panels that you want to.

We talked to KLRU about putting together a show and they loved it. In the middle of the first season, KLRU told us that they loved it and wanted us to go ahead and do a second season. Now we will be premiering season 7 in April 2017. The show itself is 30 minutes so when panels are an hour and fifteen minutes, there’s a lot that doesn’t get to be included. The book is the perfect format, especially for the one-on-one conversations because we can include so much more of the information. It seemed like a perfect compliment to the show.

Is there a certain criteria for people that are interviewed or that are included in the book?

Maya: There are certain people who come to the festival for years who are festival favorites because they are always so forthcoming with their experiences. There’s a documentary, “American Masters” about the architect Frank Gehry, that Sydney Pollack did. It’s fascinating to me how an architect starts to come up with their ideas for a new building or how an artist comes up with the origins for a brand new song and how they put it all together.  Anyone who is in interested in the creative process, will find some great stories.

Do you think this book will serve not only as an inspiration for aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers but for people watching films that will allow them a peek inside to the creative process behind their favorite films or just the process in general?

Maya: If you saw a certain movie and you loved it then this might show you a whole other reason to love and another way to look at it. Callie Khouri talks about how she grew up. Even as a young child in a small, provincial town  she always felt confined by that. She would say I should’ve lived in the city and I knew it and wanted it so badly. I loved reading that transcript and thinking about “Thelma and Louise” and the women in the film who felt the same way. I think the moments from people’s upbringing, their family relationships play a big role in their stories. I bet you weren’t thinking about that when you are watching “Apollo 13” but when you hear about Ron Howard and his childhood and his relationship with his dad you start to see this connection and I don’t even know if the writers or filmmakers see that themselves.

Writers are also often a superstitious bunch and it’s interesting to hear how they make the decisions they do or the projects that they choose. As an editor that was the fascinating part of putting this book together.

Are you working on anything right now?

Maya: I’m also a screenwriter, so putting this together was sort of the best thing I could do while I wasn’t working on my own stuff. Learning lessons and so much inspiration. We’re having our first production meeting next week to start putting together the episodes for season 7. We got 200 panels this past year, and we have recordings from the past 23 years of panels. We’ll go through to get a good mix of genre, classic film, young and upcoming filmmakers, those who are more established and figuring out how we program for the TV show and also for the podcast and radio.

Do you plan to continue making more books in the future?

Maya: There are literally more than 1,000 recordings. We have content for easily 10 more books. One of the challenges with our first book was that we asked ourselves what do we include? Our first draft was way too long and had to cut 10 transcripts which was heartbreaking.

Is it is easier to write your own material given the inspiration from all these amazing screenwriters or is still just as hard to create?

Maya: The actual writing part is just as hard. What is really comforting, everyone has a different process. There’s not a single writer or uniform way of doing it with this whole writing thing. There’s some that believe in writing an outline and doing notecards and others don’t, they just start writing and figure out the end when they get there. Some spend months on their research and start to write and others write the emotions of their characters and fill in the research later.

There are a lot of books out there that tell you step-by-step on how to write a screenplay. I don’t think there is only one way. It’s reassuring to hear these professional, Academy award-winning writers. If I’m not writing in the morning that’s okay, if I’m not churning out 15 pages a day, that’s okay, it doesn’t mean that I’m not a writer. It’s just about finding my own path. The best thing to do that I’ve heard is to read other screenplays and sit down and do the work.

Why should people go out and get the book?

Maya: We hope that people will find the book because they love movies and storytelling and are interested in the creative process. These are filmmakers talking about iconic films, so we assume that many people have seen these films and hopefully they’ll re-watch them with a different, more enriched perspective and they will be inspired to create their own work.

On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films was published in last month. You can order the book here: http://bit.ly/2diqngd

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Maya Perez and Barbara Morgan will be at the Texas Book Festival on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 11:00 a.m. You can find the full schedule here.

Stay tuned for more Texas Book festival coverage on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @ShuffleOnline.

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