“There’s No Language For The Visa Of Storytelling” Says Lucy Luna
Lucy’s multi award-winning feature script, Sophie & Valentina, has led her to the beginning of her professional writing journey, having won the 2019 HBOAccess Writing Fellowship, the ScreenCraft Fellowship, invited to the prestigious International Screenwriters’ Association Development Slate, and placing on the Young & Hungry List.
Her written and directed short horror film, We’re All Here, found success in the festival circuit garnering six awards to date. She penned a horror feature script for Mexican producer Gerardo Gática, wrote on CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories, and is currently writing on OWN’s All Rise and recently selling a show to CBS Studios.
Originally from Mexico and with English is her second language, Hollywood seemed too far away. She packed her lived in life experience and her love of storytelling and headed north to the land of dreams. She shared her story with Creative Screenwriting Magazine.
I am originally from a small and beautiful picturesque city in Mexico called Morelia. The dream of working in Hollywood one day seemed unreal. It was the kind of dream that would make kids laugh, not because they were making fun of me, but because it sounded impossible. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I simply stopped answering. In such a small town, this wasn’t something I’d expect people to understand.
And somehow, within me, I knew that it was possible. I knew that there was room for me in this industry. I just had no idea how to get there.
I was lucky because I always had the support from my family. And when I say support, I mean love, understanding and encouragement. Financially we were always struggling. With no money and no real pointers, I was forced to create my own path. I knew I couldn’t follow anyone’s steps. My journey was different. But at least I had my family as my cheerleaders.
I read all these inspiring stories of about how Penélope Cruz moved from Spain to Hollywood knowing only one sentence in English, or how Antonio Banderas memorized his dialogue without fully knowing what he was saying. I was terrified because my dream wasn’t acting, it was writing. I had to know English.
I knew what I wanted to do since I was a teenager. When I was fifteen, I decided to move to Hollywood to write movies, but I wasn’t able to do that until I was twenty-four. That’s how long dreams take to cook sometimes. Unfortunately, as a foreigner, as an outsider, there were too many extra steps I had to take care of before even focusing on writing.
1) Learning The Language
I watched movies and TV in English since I was young. Eventually, I started adding subtitles in English as well. It helped me so much to hear the actors speak, and then read how the words were written. I was reading scripts and books in English too as much as I could. I probably understood about 30% of what I was reading at first, but I kept at it. Once my English was good enough to start writing samples, I applied to film schools in Los Angeles. And the truth is, this is an ongoing journey. The first weeks after moving to Los Angeles I was going to bed around 7pm because my brain was so tired from suddenly living my life in a different language. Even now, I still write with a dictionary next to me and I ask my friends to remind me the difference between in and on.
2) Always Proud To Be Mexican
Learning a new language is an important tool that helped me get read, repped, and hired by English-speaking people in the industry, but it was never meant to replace my own language and culture. I grew up watching Almodóvar films, and old Mexican movies with María Félix and Pedro Infante. I always wanted to bring my voice and my stories with me. Exploring a new language doesn’t necessarily mean I’m leaving who I am behind. And I’m very grateful that the industry is currently embracing artists from different backgrounds and different life experiences.
This is when I believe that art can help heal the world. It’s an industry that may come across shallow at times, but ultimately we’re telling stories, and watching all types of stories, from different people, different places and different languages, may help us understand each other better as humanity. Recognizing that there is more out there than the life we know.
3) I Was Always Creating
Before I was able to save money to make the move to Los Angeles, I was making films and short films. I gathered friends from college and started filming. Yes, I had plans and dreams such as sending those films to festivals. Some of them did get in. But mostly I was just present, enjoying what I was doing. I had ambitions but it was until later on that I realized I was achieving something greater: I was learning. Taking our time to explore and learn may sound basic but it’s important. Start creating now, with whatever you have. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t given myself those experiences.
I also started writing. By the time I was able to finally move to Los Angeles to properly study screenwriting, I already had two scripts written. I used to joke and say that they were terrible. Of course, they were the work of an amateur and they ended up in my drawer, but I stopped labeling them as “bad” scripts, because their purpose wasn’t to get made. They were a learning tool.
4) I Focused
Something that I’ve always known, is that I never had a plan B. At times that would scare me. If it isn’t writing, what else could I do? I never knew how to answer that question. I didn’t have a backup plan in case this didn’t work out. And while I understand that it probably wasn’t too smart, I think that also gave me the right drive and focus. I wasn’t distracted by any alternatives, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with other options. I was always focused on doing the next thing that could get me to where I wanted to be.
5) I Surrounded Myself With The Right People
As a foreigner, I had to go through immigration processes in order to be able to work in the country. I haven’t stopped working since I was granted permission and that’s thanks to my wonderful team. Surrounding myself with the right people has been half of the journey. A great immigration attorney, an amazing manager, wonderful agents, an entertainment lawyer that works hard to get me the best deals. And equally important, I am surrounded by people that I love, people that believe in me, people that inspire me.
This journey is relentless at times, it’s certainly not easy, and it isn’t simple. However, it does come with rewards. It makes you resilient. It tests your love for the craft. And it shows you who are the people that are willing to stay with you until they see you cross the finish line.
6) Breaking Stereotypes
I remember in my early years in Los Angeles, I would get the weirdest note: “Can you make it more Mexican?” – I would usually reply with a joke, asking them if they wanted the characters to be eating enchiladas for dinner. The truth is that I never knew what they meant, because my characters were Mexican. Their point of view was culturally different. And I understood later on that people were used to see certain stereotypes on the screen, so whenever those elements weren’t present, they didn’t recognize them as “Mexican.”
When I was getting started, I would get so many offers to write yet another drug dealer story, and even though there are wonderful films and TV shows that touch on that subject, I don’t want to do that. It’s a very personal choice. I know that the cartel is an issue in Mexico. Just the way mass shootings are an issue in the United States, but could you imagine if 90% of the movies in Hollywood were about that? That’s my point. We’re more than that. I’m not suggesting to stop telling certain stories, I’m suggesting we tell other type of stories as well. Thankfully, that has been changing, and I want to believe I’m here to contribute to that change.
I guess what I’m trying to say to all those international writers that are trying to break into Hollywood is one thing, “You’re not a foreigner, there’s no visa or passport for the language of storytelling. Your culture is unique and the world is waiting for your stories.“