I had the privilege of collaborating with screenwriter Anna Aleta A. Nadela last night. She is one of the lead writers on a soap opera in the Philippines. Her successful career in network television took off about seven years ago and she is now expanding into feature films.
She and her producer contacted me to analyze and consult on their feature film’s story structure. Their goal was to develop the film for multiple cultures in the Asia Pacific region and in additional countries that have Filipinos who are working overseas to help their families.
The story is tentatively titled The True Hero and will be filmed in the Philippines and Hong Kong. Aleta’s writing was strong and she created highly dramatic and emotionally charged scenes that worked well, greatly simplifying my job.
Over the past five years, I’ve studied numerous story structures and how each impacts audiences in various cultures and countries. The beats and structural elements that are designed for a universal audience can be integrated across multiple cultures.
The key to a successful integration of the elements into any given story is based on a strong visual and emotional platform – Something that few screenwriters consider. The majority of writers focus on the plot points, character development and dialog. However, to crossover multiple cultures the visuals and emotional elements must take priority.
Thanks to Aleta’s talent and flexibility, we were able to get on the same page quickly. Her mastery of the craft and creativity allowed us to remold the original story using a structure that has made hundreds of millions overseas in the past five years.
Within a short time, Aleta reconfigured several of her key story elements into the new structure and was ready to start typing. In all of the years I’ve consulted, I’ve never seen anyone learn and apply a cross-cultural, universal story structure to his or her existing screenplay so quickly.
Based on our collaboration process, I’m expecting her drama to bring me to tears during my next read. She already hinted at a few true-life character modifications that she’d make to heighten the story. In fact, each of her characters was based on a composite of real people that she interviewed.
It was a thrill to work with Aleta and I’m looking forward to her next draft. I always count it a good day when I get to collaborate with an artist of Aleta’s caliber.