Recently, Japanese screenwriter Hiroko Hagino had a dream-come-true moment: she walked the red carpet at the Cinema City Film Festival and accepted the award for Best Foreign Screenplay, which was something she could have only imagined when she starting taking UCLA Extension Writers Studio courses years ago.
We got a chance to ask Hiroko some questions about the award, breaking into “the business” from outside of Los Angeles, and her attendance at the UCLA Extension Writers Studio for the past four years.
Here’s what she had to say:
Writers’ Program: Can you tell us where you’re from and how you got interested in being a screenwriter?
Hiroko Hagino: I’m from Tokyo, Japan. I grew up in suburban Tokyo as a mono-lingual Japanese child. I had English classes in high school but I never used it for real communication and couldn’t really speak English when I entered college. I majored in English literature at a college in Tokyo. I joined a college extracurricular student activity group called E.S.S. (English Speaking Society) to practice using English. After my English skills improved, I took simultaneous interpretation courses. Thinking I should study in an English speaking country, I went to graduate school in the US. My graduate major was linguistics.
I always liked watching movies. I was also interested in writing stories. I have written many academic papers including my 200 page Ph.D. dissertation in English but wanted to do creative writing. I read much fiction in my youth and wanted to be a writer someday. I was also thinking of writing novels.
Several years ago I was asked to translate a feature film screenplay in English into Japanese. I did it in one week. Then I thought I might be able to write screenplays in English myself.
I started writing a script using the format I got from the translation material. About that time, I joined a writers’ group in Tokyo that met once a month, made up of English teachers writing plays and screenplays. Each month we brought printed copies; 10-20 pages of our script for reading and review. I finished writing a feature film script in one year’s time.
I was hopeful to find the way to make it a movie one day. When I saw an academy award ceremony TV broadcast, I started to dream about making a movie in Hollywood.
I happened to see the UCLA Extension catalog when I was vacationing in L.A. a few years ago, and noticed there was a Writers Studio workshop that fit my vacation schedule in February, so I signed up.
WP: Can you tell us a bit more about your film, TOKYO DREAMERS and about your experience with Cinema City Film Festival?
HH: TOKYO DREAMERS is a romantic comedy about three single women (two Japanese, one American) all working in Tokyo, searching for true love. “Lost in Translation” meets “Must Love Dogs, “Sex and the City,” and “Love Actually.”
Cinema City International Film Festival, held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, provided me with great opportunities to meet many professional people in the film industry. I had a vision of myself walking the red carpet someday and the Film Festival was an occasion to have a “dream come true” experience. I walked the red carpet as one of the finalists. My dream and the reality seemed to have intertwined when I stood on the stage to receive the “Best Foreign Screenplay Award,” clad in an evening gown made out of yellow silk “kimono” fabric.
After I received the award, an LA based Japanese producer contacted me with an independent movie project proposal for TOYO DREAMERS and we talked about the casting and other issues. I don’t know if it will materialize but hope that it will be made into a movie and be shown in many theaters.
WP: How did working in Barney Lichtenstein‘s Writers Studio course help you prepare your script for the competition?
HH: Barney gave students individual attention with one to one counseling. He gave us encouragement and helpful advice. I kept revising my script and Barney’s course and other UCLA Extension Writers Studio courses helped guide me through the process. I felt ready and confident after having done the revisions following the suggestions of instructors to submit TOKYO DREAMERS for film festivals.
WP: You’ve attended the UCLA Extension Writers Studio four times, coming all the way from Japan. What is it about the Studio that keeps you coming back?
HH: I enjoy watching happy-ending Hollywood movies. So I wanted to write a feature film that someone like myself would enjoy watching; an interesting and entertaining film for a global audience. For this purpose, I thought I should write scripts in English and learn Hollywood screenplay craft and formula.
Because the UCLA Extension Writers Studio has excellent instructors who have written Hollywood movies I thought the courses there would best suit my goals. The February intensive workshop schedule has been convenient for me (since it’s held during my university winter vacation period; it’s a nice way to get away from cold Tokyo and spend holidays in sunny and warm Los Angeles). Additionally, the longer online courses were helpful while in Japan.
WP: Do you have any advice for screenwriters outside of Hollywood and the US who are just starting out?
-Perseverance is the key. (Remind yourself of your goal; execute what you have planned.)
-It is important to complete an entire film script in order to know how the story develops and ends.
-Then keep rewriting; value suggestions of instructors and opinions of fellow writers -Rewrite until you feel confident.
-Buy a screenplay writing software and use it for automatic formatting of scripts.
WP: What are you working on now?
HH: I’m working on a few scripts. One is “Anime Fan,” a story about a young American boy who comes to Japan to meet a figure like girl and to pursue his interest in becoming an animation creator.
I am also participating in the production of an omnibus Japanese movie through a Japanese film producer course I’ve been taking in Tokyo. The movie features some known Japanese actors and is scheduled to be shown in Japanese theaters next year.
Gabrielle Stephens is the Program Representative in Screenwriting Onsite.