In this series, we talk to screenwriters about their works in progress and what drew them to screenwriting. This time around, we got a chance to sit down with up-and-coming screenwriter Jo Ferreira.
Jo is a lifelong television and genre junkie originally hailing from Portugal who specializes in writing wildly visual and entertaining, female-driven genre/action hybrids and building worlds. She is a self-starter and taught herself screenwriting while earning her M.A. in English and American Literature and Culture. Jo was a finalist in multiple competitions, including ScreenCraft Fellowship and Page Awards which led her being repped by Zero Gravity.
What is your favorite genre to write?
I do not think I necessarily have a favorite genre, but I do love writing in the noir/gangster and fantasy genres. I love looking at genres and thinking about a way to bring another layer to it and upend the genre itself.
What story, film or novel has left an indelible impact on you as a writer?
Alien. Not only because it is a masterpiece in tension and pacing. The narrow, poorly lit, cramped hallways. The constant claustrophobia. Not knowing what thing might appear at the end of the corridor and yet there is no escape. The feeling of dread and fear of what might happen in the next frame. I love films that scar, that stay with you for a long time, and Alien is certainly one of them. It was also the first time I truly connected and saw myself in a female character.
Women on the screen can often be depicted as feminine versions of men. Ripley is definitely a badass, but also vulnerable. Sweat-covered Ripley, although terrified, kept pushing on to survive. Not only for her, but her child. A mother trying to survive so she could get home to her daughter.
When it comes to novels Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Stephen King’s Carrie.
Frankenstein because it was the first novel I read by a woman, and how its message is still so resonant. A tale that is a mirror of our society and an eternal portrait of the flaws of human nature.
With Carrie, King wrote such a genuine portrait of how it is to be a young girl, all the emotions that one goes through. It almost did not feel like fiction but as if a reading a diary of a teenager girl. So, Carrie taught me how crucial it is to do the work when it comes to research, how details are important to bring a character to life.
If you could give any tips to an upcoming writer, what tips would you provide?
Like Scorsese said, expand your palette. Read and watch as much as you can. Scripts, novels, poems, movies, television shows. And network because it is not all about the writing. There is the side of craft of screenwriting and then the business of Film and TV. Find people and mentors who believe in you. Find other writers, share your writing with them and you will evolve as writers together.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I did not want to say I’m a small-town girl who often gazed through the window, dreaming about going into another world through my imagination, but clichés are based on truth right?
I’ve always been fascinated by the power and magic of cinema. Telling stories for the screen. My favorite memories from my childhood are going to a small independent movie theatre which showed everything from classic to indie films and sneaking into my hometown’s library film section to watch horror films I could not watch at the movie theatre, because I was simply too young. [laughs] Then in high school, I ended up writing a poem which was published in the school’s newspaper. That made me really proud. That was the first time I wondered if I could be a writer.
I always looked up to novelists but when I tried to write a novel the format did not feel right to me. Then later, I tried writing a screenplay, and it was a lightbulb moment for me. Painting images by using words. Eureka!
What current show or movie do you wish you were in the writer's room?
Oh wow, so many. The Alienist, Jessica Jones, The Witcher, and Evil which just happens to be my favorite show of 2021.
What keeps you motivated as a writer?
Watching television shows which excite and inspire me. Also, playing video games. The storytelling of The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 influenced The Runaways so much; as well as Skyrim and 2018’s God of War.
It also helps to remind myself this is who I am. In the past, I tried to quit writing. But I just ended up coming back to it. I realized it is through writing I can completely express myself and as hard as it can be, there is nothing I love more to do.
What would you consider as your "brand" as a writer?
I love to write female-driven genre-hybrids. I’m also fond of looking at a genre and try to look at it in a different light.
With my pilot The Runaways, I wanted to upend the nature of the genre itself. If one goes back to classic and even modern noir, women are often objectified, depicted as either femme fatales or damsels in distress. The villain or the victim. No middle-ground. With focus on only one gender and one color.
I wanted to write a story that upended that side of the noir genre.
When it comes to the tv pilot Voluspa — a Viking story about a mother, an ex-shield maiden, and daughter, but with hints of a Western, and the two of them go on a road-trip in order to survive in a ruthless world. So, with my writing I try to upend the genre, bring a new element to the genre itself from a female perspective.
What would you like your legacy as a writer to be?
There is still a lack of representation of women and POC. I want to contribute with stories that shine a light on underrepresented people - outsiders.
What is next for you?
Right now, I am working on my first ever feature and horror. The Exorcist meets The Name of The Rose but with nuns. For fun, I’m also working on an Evil and What We Do In The Shadows spec.