Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 6 August 2020

'Narcos' creator in Dubai: Chris Brancato on the craft of writing

'I am interested in people who would do things I wouldn’t do. I like the research. I like doing the interviews and finding the story,' he says

Chris Brancato speaking to participants of the Original Narrative Forum at the American University in Dubai. 
Chris Brancato speaking to participants of the Original Narrative Forum at the American University in Dubai. 

Most writers spend the beginning of their career searching for what interests them. Narcos creator Chris Brancato knew early on: it was crime and bad guys.

“Like a lot of people, I am interested in people who would do things I wouldn’t do,” Brancato tells The National. “I like the research. I like doing the interviews and finding the story.”

Brancato spent eight months in Colombia researching for the Netflix hit show. He spoke to the military and police officers who chased the infamous drug-lord Pablo Escobar and also interviewed DEA agents and people involved in the narcotics trade. The end result was a gritty crime drama that chronicled the rise of the cocaine trade in Colombia. One that raked in numerous awards and nominations, as well as an ardent fan base.

“My job was to break up all that information into episodes, to make it engaging and appealing to viewers,” Brancato says. “That’s where craft comes in.”

Yet, Brancato feels a responsibility not to portray the criminal lifestyle in an alluring way, careful not to make it desirable for viewers.

“It’s important to show that people become criminals as a result of economic opportunity and not some moral shortcoming,” he says. “It is just as important to show that the end is not good.”

His newest show, Godfather of Harlem, is a collision of the criminal underground and the civil rights movement. It explores the real-life friendship between Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whittaker), a Harlem crime-boss, and Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), a human rights activist and popular figure in the civil rights movement.

“Viewers have never seen this depiction of Malcom X and his Nation of Islam movement,” Brancato says. “It is radically different than what is usually seen on television. Even its depiction of Islam is different than what is usually seen on American media.”

The idea was to shed light on a lesser known story while still making an entertaining gangster show, he added.

But these comments were made during Brancato's visit to Dubai this week.

He is attending the 5th Original Narrative Forum, a short film festival, to share his insights on screenwriting with students at the American University in Dubai. The festival, which runs until Tuesday, December 10, is organized by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication at the American University in Dubai in partnership with MBC.

Writers should devote some time looking for subjects that interests them. It is a natural beginning in the career-trajectory of a writer.

Chris Brancato

His advice to aspiring screenwriters is simple: write, even when you don't have the time to do it.

Even spending as little as ten minutes a day can go a long way,” he says. “It’s important to stay consistent. Consistency counts as perseverance. Writers should devote some time looking for subjects that interests them. It is a natural beginning in the career-trajectory of a writer."

But hone one's craft and develop a sense of storytelling, Brancato advises writers to refer to the internet to learn more about the craft of television and film writing. There’s a wealth of material online, he says, adding that writing is a uniquely personal skill.

The internet has made it possible for everyone to access the tools of the trade. It’s important to be aware of that. Students can look up the story structures to their favorite films and TV shows, break them down in scenes and see how a story is built.”

Brancato says he saw a lot of himself in the students he met at the workshop. “They remind me a lot of myself at that age. Passionate and really eager to tell a story. I have no doubt that we will be seeing some interesting productions and stories emerge from the region very soon.”

This year’s event showcases 36 films, selected from hundreds of documentary and feature film submissions. Included in the shortlist are productions from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon.

The films will also be competing for MBC’s Hope Award, which will see one filmmaker in each category receive an award along with a monetary prize.

Ali Jaber, MBC Group TV Director, and dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication said that the festival aims to support aspiring filmmakers and TV producers from around the Arab world.

“Support begins from the stage of discovery,” Jaber said, “We want to provide platforms for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their work, right through to training and mentorship through workshops.”

Updated: December 9, 2019 06:51 PM

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