In this series, we will talk to up-and-coming Screenwriters, find out their writing process, what projects they are currently working on, and get some tips of the trade.
Jonathan Melikidse is a Maui-based screenwriter originally from Los Angeles. The youngest of five siblings, born in the US to an immigrant family, and raised under strict religious rule has formed a warped sense of humor and fueled a cultural curiosity that shapes his stories and characters. Jonathan’s screenplays walk the line between absurd comedies and poignant dramas such as his acclaimed feature script Driftwood and upcoming comedy series Moku Moku.
I heard that you just filmed one of your scripts, tell us about it?
Yeah, about that... Haha. We were supposed to shoot in October but, you know, things happen. Our investor fell out and we had to scramble, as happens. But with that, our team refocused and created new contacts who are in on Moku Moku and the rest of our production slate for 2023, including a spy rom-com feature called Siren & Valiant that we'll be shooting in the fall.
We were also able to get Sony to help out with cameras, which keeps our budget in line and improves our production level. All in all, the bad news has turned to great news. We have a lot of people believing in what we're doing! I just can't wait to shoot it and share it.
How did it come about that you moved ahead with an independent film?
A little perseverance, fortunate timing, and an amazing team of collaborators who are all about raising each other up. Our production studio is called Manawa Kau and the goal is to create a complete island-based studio system and a sustainable film and television industry here in Maui. Moku Moku is our first project of hopefully many to come.
What do you hope the audience of Moku Moku will walk away feeling or thinking about your film?
If they walk away with a smile and chuckle about it later, that would be great. If they gain some insight into what it means to live in an area that is culturally at odds with itself, too, then I think we did what we set out to do. Then, the next big if, if they tell someone else they need to watch our show because they feel compelled to share our laughs and message, we win.
Where can folks see it?
It will premiere on AKAKU, our local public access station, in January which can be accessed through their app nationwide. After the premiere, we will distribute it in a broader format that is still to be determined.
Tell us about your current WIP and favorite character and why?
Oh man, I have so many… I mean, I think all my scripts are works in progress until their finally made. But, my current favorite is my comedy feature called Bro-Bot. It’s about a college freshman with social anxiety who builds himself a robot for companionship, but as his creation becomes more and more sentient, it drifts away and becomes too popular to have time for the student who created him. My favorite character, other than the lead, is Al the robot. He’s actually more like I was in high school, drifting to the “cool” kids while neglecting the more quality friendships.
If you had the chance to recreate an IP, what would it be and what would your spin on it be?
That’s a tough one. I have a feature already scripted for an EA Poe story and hope to get that going soon. But otherwise? I don’t know. Most of the stories I adore, I wouldn’t want to touch out of respect. I have thought about taking a stab at Fritz Lang’s M. It’s such a masterful movie, but I feel the story is unfortunately still relevant and could use a retelling to reach today’s audience. I don’t know… that’s a toughy.
What story, film, or novel has left an indelible impact on you as a writer?
Well, everything I saw at an early age was limited and very “safe” but when my mom remarried, I got to watch Monty Python films like Life of Brian and The Holy Grail. Then I saw Saturday Night Live at a pretty malleable age. Those two combined warped my sense of humor quite effectively. But my mother, who was also having her own introduction to cinema she’d never had a chance to see, allowed me to watch just about whatever I wanted. Oh, of course, Harold and Maude! That film was the perfect balance of humor and emotion for me. I think I was about ten when I first saw it and it kind of just kicked my ass, but in a good way. I saw that you can have a beautiful story and be funny at the same time.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve thought about this and I think it’s a combination of a few things: First, I wrote a short story in ninth grade that made my teacher cry. Then, in eleventh and twelfth grade I had two different teachers comment on other papers asking if I’d thought about being a screenwriter/playwright. So, I was like “cool” and went to school for Landscape Architecture… because that makes sense, right? Yeah, not so much. I dropped out, started bartending, and suddenly realized I had pages and pages of short stories, film ideas, etc. So, I guess what inspired me was a reluctance to listen to my mentors but the eventual realization, maybe, teachers actually sometimes know what they’re talking about.
What current show or movie do you wish you were in the writer's room?
Our Flag Means Death is hilarious. Barry is a masterpiece. I love what they’re doing on Reservation Dogs… Movies? I’d love to go through the Pixar process, so anything they’re putting together. I guess TV or film, I’d literally (in the modern, incorrectly used form) kill to work with Taika Waititi, Jordan Peele, or Steven Conrad. Both geniuses.
What keeps you motivated as a writer?
All the amazing television and film I see, old and new. When I watch something that draws me in and helps me forget about the daily grind, I walk away hoping that my projects will do the same for others.
What would you consider your "brand" as a writer?
Stories with humor, heart, and sometimes a bit of horror.
What would you like your legacy as a writer to be?
I’d like to be remembered as the "Patron Saint of Finally Doing What You Really Should Have Been Doing This Whole Time but Were Too Scared to Try Until You Didn’t, Dumbass."
What's up next for you?
I’m hoping to find a home for Bro-Bot. Also, there’s a passion project that I’ve been dying to shoot. It’s a shift away from comedy, but I feel it’s a story that needs to be told. I’m hoping to finally get that shot in 2023. At the same time, we’ll see how well Moku Moku is received. My co-creator and I have three seasons mapped out, so fingers crossed, that will keep us busy for awhile