For our Passion Issue this August, we’re all about celebrating the beauty of arts and culture. With that, we’re putting the spotlight on different artists from the region, who, as they strive to hone their crafts, inspire us to live a colourful and meaningful life following our passion-filled pursuits.
Most people see writing as something that's uncomplicated and utterly mundane. After all, it is a basic skill taught to us at the foundation of our education, which makes it an accessible means to express one's self. However, not many people appreciate the true craft behind expressing and creating stories through words. Great films or books would be lost without good writing, and it definitely takes more than just knowing how to use a pen and paper to embody what a 'writer' truly is.
Meryl Bunyi is one of those people. As a scriptwriter, she lives and breathes words and pursues her passion to create captivating stories that tug at one's soul and senses. From embracing her creativity and turning conversations into art, Meryl shares her story below.
The origin story
When did you start pursuing writing?
I was already a TV producer in 2015 when I realised that my number one passion is writing, especially, when Director Jun Robles Lana chose me to become one of his fellows in CinePanulat Batch 1. Through his workshop, I honed my talent in writing and developed my passion for it. From there, I tried to sell myself as a writer-producer until I got my first writing gig in Maynila TV.
What was the initial reaction of your family, especially your parents, when you told them you wanted to become a writer?
My family and friends were shocked when they learned that I want to write scripts for TV and film. They thought I will push through with my career as a TV/Film producer but I told them that I want a transition and I want to explore my other talents and skills. So when they learned that, they supported me all the way.
Can you cite some misconceptions about scriptwriting that you'd like to debunk?
I think the biggest misconception about writing for TV and films is that writers just imagine their material. Nope. As much as we want to write what's in our imagination, it’s impossible. There's also research, verifying facts, and checking on people’s psyche and feelings that contribute to our work.
Climax and plot twists
Tell us more about your journey with screenwriting. What were the highs and lows?
Even if I had a different but somehow related career, I still found transitioning to be hard. TV and Film Production has a creative side but it is more on the logical side, planning, structure, and exposure while as a TV writer, it is more of the creative, internal, and emotional. Eventually, I learned how to use and maximise my knowledge as a producer with my works. Real-life experiences and relationships affect my writing, too, and the other way around. Sometimes, my friends ask me if I am talking to them to get ideas and stories or I’m merely talking to them as friends. It is funny but perplex.
I love my job — it keeps me growing and developing, not only as a writer but also as a human. It is a job where I can manage my time more. I also like the idea that I get to watch the world and tell stories about what I see and I seek within myself to throw my stories to the world and make an impact or even just one message. Experience things, research, watch movies and other forms of art, then throw it in a brainstorming session. The writing itself is fun, as if you’re connecting the pieces. But the best part is when people watch what you did and give some insights about the work.
I think the downside is the transition I made because it somehow affects my salary rate. But it’s part of the process and I know I’ll earn more as I keep on doing the job. Even so, I don’t have any regrets. This is not a complete downside but it’s just always nerve-wracking when you hear comments to develop your material or when I'm pitching a concept.
Journeying through words and actions
Can you walk us through your creative process? How do you hone your craft?
I travel to learn more milieu, culture, values, traditions, etc. I hang out with friends and exchange stories. I love talking with strangers; I hate small talk so I try to make a conversation. If I have time, I also go to public places like the MRT, malls, church, coffee shops, etc. and just observe people — how they talk, how they walk, how they respond to situations, their social status, how they look, etc. Those are my top three sources of information aside from my everyday experience. From there, I’ll keep the details in mind or use my phone to record or write what I observed to create a character or a scene or even a germ.
Of course, I also use social media and check on the news to gather data and trends. For verification of facts, I always reach to professionals to maintain the integrity and reliability of my material.
Aside from the actual learning during creative meetings, writing, and post mortem, I still study by watching screenwriting workshops online. I also read books about screenwriting; I'm currently reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. On top of that, I read different screenplays and TV scripts. But aside from the technical aspects and techniques, I believe that as a writer, what I need to develop is more curiosity and sensitivity. I try to relate and connect to as many people, places, events, even animals, as I can.
Ending on a high note
What drives you to continue on this career path? Were times when you thought of quitting and pursuing a more conventional path?
I dream of telling stories and I got the privilege to do it so I keep doing it. Also, it is a job where I know I can contribute something to the world; I can inform, influence, and entertain people. In this path, I can impart a piece of myself to others, like good values, opinions, perspectives, options, and even mere seconds of laughter. Plus, it's also a job that I feel I can manage once I start dating or even have a family.
With all that, I'd say I like where I am today but I still want to create more. I want to compete in film festivals and write for my passion projects. Having these dreams keep me going so I can’t think of any reason to quit. I think I am luckier than most people because I have a job that I can do anywhere, anytime. Not to mention that I also consider it as a part of my heart and soul.
Lastly, what's your advice to those who want to pursue a career in screenwriting?
Explore. Experience. Expound. Watch and feel the world. Connect with people and be in the moment. Don’t be afraid to experiment, test or make a difference with your life because if all else fails, you can write about it. It's okay to be vulnerable sometimes because that allows you to feel more.
On the practical end, always bring a notebook and pen. Write your germ or ideas, including what you feel and what you observe. If you’re techie, record or type them. Learn the basics and from there, go beyond your imagination. Aside from writing, learn how to pitch your ideas because, at the end of the day, you need to sell your story to bring it to life.
Keep up with Meryl's stories and personal adventures through Instagram.
This interview was edited for brevity.
ICYMI, Missy Maramara talks about championing her passions and pursuing a life on stage in the first part of our series.