Articles & Advice

Amanda Bermudez On “Nightingale”

Amanda Bermudez is a storied screenwriter with many accolades including the ISA Top 25 Writers to Watch. Having grown up throughout the United States, Bermudez has sought to explore under-represented narratives in a variety of media. Upon completing high school at 16, she moved to Moscow, Russia, where she worked as a volunteer with Afghan refugees and as a music translator. She received her bachelor’s degree between Chicago and Sydney, Australia in Philosophy of the Arts, and went on to study art and film studies at the postgraduate level at Yale University.

In addition to writing and filmmaking, Bermudez is also a former boxer and EMT, and her work gravitates toward contemporary explorations of power, the architecture of language, and the dynamics of privilege. With such a rich background, she shared her thoughts with Creative Screenwriting Magazine.

Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted ISA interest?

There’s a monster and a hero in every person. At one point, before I’d settled on screenwriting and filmmaking, I found myself splitting my time between earning a degree in philosophy and becoming an EMT. The violent taxonomy that limits people to either the physical or intellectual realms––and how unique individuals press against that––has always fascinated me. As a result, I became a writer, and continue to gravitate toward characters who exist in competing realms while belonging to neither.

This is certainly true of Nightingale, a pilot that’s won a handful of awards and attracted the attention of the ISA this past year. It’s a project that’s very close to my heart, and centers on a character who’s ni de aquí, ni de allá––neither from here nor there––a brilliant surgeon who’s ascended from abject poverty to the top of the medical profession. But when the ill-fated surgery of a New York senator costs him his medical license, he returns to the dark, crime-ridden neighborhood of his past, only to find a new outlet for his skill set: as a resident surgeon for the brutal gangs of inner Baltimore.

I found in writing this story that power, privilege, and playing god are exemplified by two very different worlds: gang culture and the Ivy League. My goal is to plunge the audience into an interstitial space that’s dark, diverse, and hopefully as challenging as it is entertaining.

Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?

There are a number of compelling reasons to be a screenwriter (the absence of a dress code, for one), but one of the best things about screenwriting is the chance to see what you create, take on a life of its own. You develop something in the quiet of your mind or writing nook, and then one day it’s beyond you. It’s humbling and empowering to see people paint the blood you imagined on a set. Actors audition to read your words. Producers argue over details and toast the success of the project. The most rewarding part is to create something that is eventually fully outside of you, something that belongs to everyone.

What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?

Fearless curiosity and discipline. Not only the discipline to meet (or self-imposed) timelines, but to examine one’s own prejudice and privilege, and to make sure that it doesn’t poison the waters of what you create. Writers are in the business of designing alternate realities, and if you’re going to engineer a blueprint for the future, you had damned well better know how the construction process works.

Screenwriters are obligated to hold themselves accountable and to propel themselves forward in both skill and creative output. Writers also have to cultivate an enchantment not only with what they do but with what others do. If constant learning isn’t your jam or if aggressive curiosity sounds like too much work, you’re in the wrong industry.

What is your winning script and why did you choose to write it?

I was originally inspired to write Nightingale by my husband, the immensely talented actor Joshua Bermudez. He’s essentially a genius IQ in a superhero body, and he’s a massive source of inspiration. He also has a wild amount in common with the series protagonist, who grows up with a gun in his face, but goes on to earn a graduate degree from Yale. I was also interested in exploring ideas of privilege and identity through violence and the personas we take on.

How many drafts did you write before being accepted into the ISA Top 25 list?

I was fortunate to have an early draft accepted, but the project has definitely seen some new iterations since.

What did you learn with each draft?

The spark of the idea grew when I realized that although I’m a female writer, I hadn’t given my female and non-gender-conforming characters enough life or complexity. So I delved into research, invited some trusted voices into the room, and found the tools I needed to begin dismantling my own prejudice and create a world in which humanized expression is imperative.

Since then, what began as a project inspired by a strong central idea has evolved into a rich world populated with a full spectrum of compelling characters and themes. Essentially, the project has grown from a focused and fascinating exploration to something that’s ready to have a six-season life.

What inspires your imagination?

I find a great deal of inspiration in media beyond my wheelhouse––comic books, VR technology, visual art––as well as in history and science. I feel fortunate to live in LA, where one can bike to the ocean in the morning and attend an immersive art exhibit in a downtown warehouse in the evening. At the moment, I’m in the mountains of Colorado spearheading a new podcast for writers. I have always found travel (specifically silence and nature) to work wonders for the imagination.

Do you have a preferred genre, format, theme you write in?

I gravitate toward dark, playful thrillers with an intellectual edge. For instance, The Face Of The Earth, a feature that won the Diverse Voices Award this past year, explores the vulnerability and power of visibility, and the savage extremes of what it is to be seen and to be loved, by examining objectification from the subjective view of the objectified other.

I’m increasingly drawn to the ways in which technology and art intersect, and am currently developing a feature called iCON, which leans heavily into themes like gender and technology while maintaining the sportive qualities of a smart, sexy heist thriller.

Developing my voice has taken (and is taking) years, and has sparked a proclivity for under-represented narratives. It’s a terrible and exhilarating thing to realize that you’re a member of someone else’s reality, and there’s a kind of power in being objectified, particularly as a woman or a minority, but this power––often veiled as adoration or even respect––is a power that is leased, not owned. True power is owned.

Throughout my work, elements like sex trafficking, media ecology, and the dynamics of violence and intimacy function not only as au courant themes, but also to underscore the idea that society must be collaboratively built, not inhabited by select invitation. My hope is to generate opportunities for artists of diverse backgrounds and to contribute to an evolving architecture of power, language, and identity.

How do you train to improve your writing craft?

Read constantly, and place yourself in the company of those who are better than you at what they do.

 Do you have any mentors, heroes/ heroines?

Absolutely. To be honest, far too many people have helped me in my career to name them all without leaving someone out. I will say, cultivating relationships with individuals you admire is essential to your personal and professional growth. It’s also important to keep in mind that, beyond the weathered, white-haired mentor type, there’s something to be learned from every person you encounter.

What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?

Carve out time to do things that interest you beyond writing. A compelling person with a full life will always be in the best position to generate meaningful stories. And go find your crew––excellent writing doesn’t take place in a vacuum. That way, even if you don’t make the Top 25 list, you’ve made some friends and become a more awesome person.

What is something that few people know about you?

My middle name is Jean, which I hated as a kid until I found out about the X-Men.
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