MovieMaker Presents: Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters to Watch, 2016

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Nina Ljeti

Who: Bosnian-Canadian moviemaker and musician for manic-wave rock band Nani; co-wrote and co-directed 2016 feature Memoria; adapting a biopic on Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead and writing feature Beautiful Children

nina ljeti headshot

How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

I started writing shorts while still in high school in Windsor, Canada. I grew up in the punk/metal scene, surrounded by musicians and skaters with unique backgrounds and lifestyles. I wanted to tell stories about them, and I thought a screenplay was the best method to do so. I think I’ve written at least 10 screenplays about my friends in Windsor. They’re still an inspiration to me—in fact, some of the characters in Memoria are loosely based on them.

What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write?

The first draft of my Jerry Garcia biopic for Rabbit Bandini Productions was difficult to write because I had so much material, and so little personal connection to the story. The first draft, at 220 pages long, was complete garbage. So, my solution was to completely immerse myself in the music and the message of the The Grateful Dead. I also chose to use certain people in the L.A. music community as inspiration for the characters in the story, in an effort to bring as much of my personal experience into the project as possible. I wrote the second draft from scratch without even reading the first. I think this was a good decision, because it prevented me from cutting corners.

What was a major turning point in your career?

Last year, I went to Canada to direct a film that was written by one of the film’s producers. This project was a nightmare for me. I had never dealt with so much emotional abuse in my life. It completely destroyed my confidence and faith in the industry. But I learned a lesson here: Never do anything that you don’t fully believe in. Since then, I’ve shifted my focus to the Jerry Garcia biopic, and to starting a band with my friend, Jacob Loeb. I feel so artistically fulfilled at this moment, and because of that, I’m experiencing a lot of success with my work. I understand myself as an artist now, which is most important.

Do you have a favorite experience at Austin Film Festival?

After our first Memoria screening, I met two local filmmakers, David McCaw and Ericka Desouza. They were secretly filming some of the young actors from Memoria before, during and after our world premier. A month later, they sent me this beautiful, intimate video they made of the Memoria cast hanging out in Austin. I loved it. It totally summed up my feelings towards the city and the film festival itself.

Directory:

1. Annie Silverstein 2. Jared Frieder 3. Mike Covino and Sam Kretchmar 4.Troy Anthony Miller 5. Kieran Fitzgerald 6. Ya’ke Smith 7. Brian Klugman 8. Nina Ljeti 9. Kevin Hamedani 10. Eric Haywood 11. Andrew Lanham 12. Julie Howe 13. Tess Morris 14. Matt Cook 15. Monica Zanetti 16. VJ Boyd 17. Edward Ricourt 18. David Broyles 19. Sasha Gordon 20. Eric Hueber 21. Faraday Okoro 22. Arturo Ruiz Serrano 23. Maya Perez 24. Max Taxe 25. Negin Farsad

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