Scriptwriter of the month: Ismene Daskarolis

Ismene Daskarolis is a Greek writer, director, and visual artist currently living between Athens, Berlin, and Stockholm. She writes and directs short and dance films and is currently co-writing a feature film THE ASK TREE with Brian Montgomery. 

To find out a bit more about what Ismene is working on, check out her MTSW profile here. 

And read what she has to say about life and film in our short conversation.


• What makes the 5 films on your Top 5 list so special?

It is very difficult to talk about these films and feel that you are doing them any real justice. What they all have in common is that for me they are transcendental in the way they represent filmmaking. 

La Jetee by Chris Marker is a timeless introduction to the possibilities of cinema. Personally, I am fascinated with films that play with the idea of how a narrative film should be. It is a liberating achievement and it is also a perfect example of how the execution of work serves its story and theme. Memory is the primary theme of La Jetee and a common reference for the language of memory is the still image. The relationship between them is perfect. 

Dogville by Lars von Trier is similar in its execution worth. Its set-up is non-filmic but manages to be unlimited and the play with the elements of its stage design, the play between film and theatre, is ingenious. Again, the original execution serves the story, which sets up its antagonists like pieces on a chessboard. They are all good people, people we know, people who would tell themselves they had no other choice and yet commit the worst crimes when confronted with the ability to do so. I find these sorts of dynamics fascinating. 

Children of Men by Alfonso Cuaron manages to achieve a perfect balance of opposites with exceptional technical skill and soulful integrity. Allegory and realism, Hollywood and arthouse, cruelty and poetry. It is an arthouse film under the guise of a Hollywood film. 

Russian Ark by Alexander Sokurov is a meditative experience that takes us through the question of cultural identity and provides another example of bending the limits of filmmaking. Being a technical and aesthetic marvel, what sets it apart for me is its observational spirit and obsession with perfection. It has the structure of poetry.

City Lights by Charlie Chaplin. As with most of his films, Chaplin puts us into a place of laughing at our misery without cheapening it and crying at our goodwill. City Lights is a film where you know what is going to happen and then it manages to catch you off guard when it does. Chaplin is a choreographer, a composer, and a master of simplicity. With his themes and execution, he provides us with cinema that is truly universal.


• Why did you decide to go into film?

I grew up with films.  Since we traveled a lot with my family, films became my primary gateway to understanding societies that were foreign to me. I was an only child and in both my darkest and brightest times, films were a companion that made sense of the world or offered a sort of means of communication with it. I decided to become a director when I was seven and ever since, that means of communication and companionship transferred into the stories I wanted to make. I always enjoyed make-believe games when I was young, so that might have played a role as well. I think by now it’s impossible for me to perceive myself and the world around me without constructing stories. 


• Commercial films or art house? 

The general consensus is that these two are at opposites and there are legitimate reasons for that, but I think many current storytellers have been greatly inspired by both commercial successes and arthouse films alike and I think more and more storytellers are trying to break that consensus in our work. Eisenstein was a fan of Disney, members of the Nouvelle Vague adored Hitchcock. There is great depth and artistry to be found in commercial films and there is the exceptional technical skill to be found in arthouse. The two aren’t at odds but complete each other. While it’s important to have a general sense of direction of what kind of film this or that story will be and who it is for, the story is the story, it has its own language and one must listen to it. So, personally, I will write stories that demand a very traditional structure and stories that need to defy that structure in order to make sense. Where it will fit in the market is something that is somewhat secondary. It’s good to be conscious of how the market works, but cinema has a way of surprising us. I think the search for truth goes beyond these ideas and I am quite hopeful for how cinema will evolve in the future. 


• How and when did you begin writing?

I first began writing when I was in school. Both my parents are writers, so their influence and encouragement were strong, and I received a lot of support from my teachers, for which I am grateful. However, I hadn’t taken writing seriously until after graduating from University, when I decided to write my first script.


• Where do you like to write the most?

Anywhere that is free of distractions. I’ve been writing most of my life on buses, trains, in the middle of the street. I keep notes that oftentimes turn out to be entire scenes and make me late for appointments. But usually, I will be found writing in my room, near a window at around 03:00 a.m. 


• What kind of music do you listen to while writing?

I mainly listen to soundtracks when I am writing. Each project has its own playlist. John Williams, Max Richter, Michael Nyman, Rachmaninov, or Radiohead.  

Music is a great companion to writing, but oftentimes you can get carried away with it, so I generally go by the rule: write to music, edit in silence. There is no music to accompany the script, so it needs to shine for itself. That’s where silence comes in. 


• Where do ideas come from?

I think a lot of people get ideas for their stories through images and feelings that spring up from triggers and intrigue them. These triggers could be anything, but the reason we find things fascinating tells us a lot about where ideas come from. At least that is the case for me. The thing is, I think our source of inspiration springs primarily from our subconscious, which has a bad name, but I think it is wiser than we are. We can live in denial, but the subconscious can’t. We may lie in our real lives and then we can tell the truth in our stories and that is our connection to actual reality, freedom, and sanity.  For me the subconscious sends me all the answers to my questions or fears, it warns me and teaches me, and it does so through images of characters, scenes, storylines, feelings that a character is supposed to feel. These messages come with a language of symbols, unwanted emotions, jerk responses and obsessions, all gathered from our experience and surroundings and then we have to figure out the symbols and solve its puzzle-like detectives. 

Our creations of art often don’t feel like they are our own. I don’t feel like I create the work, I discover the work that has already been created inside my head and that work wants to tell me something. I think the main drive is curiosity, for the self and the world. We ask questions and the subconscious answer them, usually with more questions, but at least it directs us to what truly burns us. Eventually with some luck and hard work it can be a cathartic process. 


• If you could go anywhere in space and time, where would that be?

I have a soft spot for the mid-1800s, 1920s, and the 1960s. Times when humanity was in an intense process of change. Today we are a little more disinfatuated with the idea of a hopeful future, but I am thankful to be living in today, which is certainly an interesting time.