Movie: White Crow
Screenwriter: David Barbeschi
David Barbeschi is an Italian-Armenian screenwriter based in Burbank, CA. A graduate of the New York Film Academy, his credits include the internationally praised short film PAWNS (2017) which was selected in over 30 festivals and earned him multiple awards for both his writing and producing, the feature script White Crow, nominated in 14 screenplay competitions, and The Big Rant (2021), a feature film which he co-produced and wrote, currently on Amazon Prime.
After working at international production and distribution companies in Hollywood, and on multiple film sets as a producer and production manager, David strives to give any project he works on both entertainment and marketing value.
Hello David, welcome to Scénema! It is such a pleasure to have you here!
Thank you for having me! Having spent a big part of my youth in France, the prospect of being interviewed by you guys was very appealing!
Tell us how your journey as a film enthusiast began?
As most film enthusiasts did: I love movies. Specifically, the swashbuckling adventure flicks that I grew up watching.
David, what inspired you to stay and explore the world of cinema?
It was mainly the storytelling aspect, the way film conveys these tales and allows you to sit back and dream for two to three hours. I have friends who have been making films since childhood, with a camera and cassette. What I’ve been doing since childhood is telling stories: back then I did it by playing with action figures, and now I do it by typing on a laptop.
Coming to the script, White Crow has so much potential. Tell us what inspired you to write this?
It started as a thesis project when I was doing my screenwriting MFA at the New York Film Academy. I was hesitating between writing this story, which was dear to my heart, and another which I thought would be more commercially successful and easier to shoot. My teacher then advised me to write what I was passionate about.
So that’s why I turned to White Crow. From there, I took all the motifs I loved in science fiction films, action and adventure films, as well as manga and comics, and injected them all into one script. And you see it when you read it, there’s the underdog protagonist who needs to find a way to stand her ground against superhumans, there’s a blind swordsman, the film has a “road trip” structure, the villains are cybernetically enhanced and there are quite a few katana fights.
I think my passion for this project resonated with people, because it’s the one that received the most praise from script competition readers to this day (and garnered more awards than some scripts of mine that were actually filmed and released).
What qualities of a science fiction narrative attract you?
Firstly, the fact that most sci-fi films explore the theme of “humanity versus progress”, in some shape or form. That progress can be technological, like in Terminator or the Death Star in Star Wars, it can be alien like Calvin in the film Life, or genetic like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park… at the end of the day, there’s an inherent arrogance to the characters who pursue it, in the sci-fi genre. They think they can control the technology, but eventually, it always runs amok and consumes its human creators.
In addition, there’s also the fact that science fiction lends itself to social commentary without necessarily needing to acknowledge the intensity surrounding the subjects it can deal with. By setting the story in a world that’s so obviously fictional, you can get to the core of the issue and communicate with the audience on a more emotional level.
The movie also depicts a beautiful bond between the two siblings. What made you so accurate regarding the presentation?
I’d say the bond between Kiara, the protagonist, and her brother Eli, the blinded vigilante, is the heart of the story. To nail it down, I drew from my own relationship with my two sisters, at the time. There’s a conflict between Kiara and Eli, and the source of it is unmistakably Eli. He’s distant, he hasn’t connected with Kiara for a long time, and he’s been off playing “freedom fighter” with their sister Tabatha.
And I think that when the latter dies, that’s a wake-up call for Eli, but he can’t just go to Kiara and expect their dynamic to still be the same. Eventually, Kiara helps Eli understand that his mission to overthrow the city’s oppressors and build a better world is pointless if he doesn’t have a family to enjoy that world with.
Dystopia has been an integral part of storytelling for a long period of time. While we definitely see some similar tropes being used repetitively, there must be a few that remain either untouched, or less used. According to you, which features of a dystopian narrative are less explored?
Hmm… One thing that comes to mind is how, setting-wise, we’ve seen the desert or the “dystopian city” – be it either reduced to rubble or covered by overgrown foliage – many times, and that’s because it’s the easiest way to convey the ruination of our modern society through visuals. But I think it would be interesting to see a dystopian film set in the snow, or in a jungle.
It would also be interesting to see how old tropes can be reinvented or explored in a different way. For example, The Last of Us is reframing zombies by introducing the parasitic fungus element. Another good example comes from this script I read that had zombie leopard seals… which is genius, to me! I’ve never seen that in a film.
Also, David, which city you had in mind while crafting the broken city in your script?
Personally, I was picturing how San Francisco would look like in a “post-nuclear war” world.
Among all the characters, who was the toughest to write? And who was the easiest?
The easiest to write was Eli, he’s a big brother, he’s a closet introvert, bit of a jerk. All I had to do was look in the mirror. (laughs)
The real challenge was writing Kiara, and having her be proactive instead of reactive. She’s a normal person who is now in a position where she needs to survive genetic aberrations and cybernetically-enhanced assassins; she’s definitely in over her head. Thus, the tough part was ensuring that, as time passes and difficulties are overcome, she becomes increasingly confident, and capable. She’s not a badass action hero, she can’t cut through solid metal… she’s a hacker, she’s out of her depth, when it comes to this action stuff. But what she does have is brains, willpower, and strength of character. So what does she do in a situation where her opponents are so reliant on technology? She gets creative.
David, who is your most favourite character? And why?
Maurice, the old scientist with a Hawaiian t-shirt and a joke for every situation is my spirit animal. I just had so much fun writing him. Firstly, because I was listening to “Crazy Train” while I was doing so, but also because he’s surrounded by cyborg ninjas and what have you, but he’s still cracking wise and putting on a show like an absolute rockstar.
I also enjoyed writing Sora, the villainous overlord of the story. You meet him and think he’s just a guy trying to avenge his daughter and then it turns out he’s a hypocritical power-hungry monster. A lot of villains in films nowadays are complex, victimized by society or misunderstood… and it’s great to give them extra dimensions. But I also kind of miss seeing the villains who are evil just because they can be, because there actually are people like that in the world. So that’s what I was going for.
David, as a filmmaker, what is your objective?
Writing scripts for a living (so that part of the objective is already reached, the challenge is ensuring it stays reached!) Beyond that, sharing stories told from the viewpoint of an international filmmaker, breathing new life into old myths and themes, and most importantly: entertaining an audience.
What kind of films do you want to offer your audience?
Films that make you dream and imagine. And, with a bit of luck, films that can turn into transmedia franchises that’ll interest other artists to tell their own stories in the world I created, thus helping expand it.
David, when are you planning to shoot the film? When will we be able to watch it on screen?
White Crow is in the pipeline. In the meantime, a fantasy short film I wrote is currently in the festival circuit. It’s titled Yatra: The Journey and will premiere at the FirstGlance Film Festival on March 19th 2023. Hopefully, we’ll be able to screen it overseas as well! Another film of mine you can watch on your screens is my short film PAWNS, available on YouTube.
You have also extensively worked as a producer and a production manager. What issues do the new filmmakers face in the film world? Is there any solution to it? How do you look at this issue?
I’ve had some filmmakers ask me whether it’s easier to get work in the industry if they came to Hollywood, and the answer is “no, it’s twice as hard and competitive”. Everybody here has two jobs, hence why I had to work as a producer or production manager on the side, to make ends meet.
Nowadays, I’m lucky enough that I can do that with just the screenwriting, but even that is a multi-layered effort. You can’t just sit in your room and write all day, you need to force yourself to go outside your comfort zone and meet people.
For example, if you’re going to a screening of a film, stay for the after-party. If you go to a festival, mingle with the organizers and the other filmmakers. Take the initiative and do the networking because that’s what’s really going to ensure you can have a career.
David, it was great to have you with us! Lastly, I’d like to know how your experience of working with BCIFF has been?
Excellent! Sign me up for the next edition! Hopefully, when I’m back in France I can stop by and attend the live screenings!