Life as a movie script. Interview with Renata Frydrych, UG graduate, writer, screenwriter

Renata Frydrych

A graduate of Polish Philology at the University of Gdańsk and of the Screenwriting Studium at the National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź. Writer, screenwriter (award in Gdynia for the best screenplay 'Odwiedź mnie we śnie'). She writes scripts and hosts series such as: 'Na dobre i na złe', 'Siostry', 'Tancerze', 'Galeria', 'Druga szans'). She has published two novels: 'Załatw pogodę ja zajmę się resztą' and 'Niespodziewanie jasna noc'. She has also cooperated with advertising agencies for years.

- You've walked the Himalayas, been a housewife at the end of Poland, a columnist, lecturer and journalist. You've lived by the sea and in the mountains, and now you live in Warsaw and are a writer and screenwriter. Family legend has it that the first stories you wrote were bought from you by your dad, who said they were the best investment.

- It is true. I've been writing ever since I noticed that I liked some sentences better than others. I started writing my first stories in primary school. I dreamt of having my own typewriter. It seemed to me that therein lay the secret power of writing. I didn't want a bike or new jeans, I just wanted a typewriter. My dad finally brought it to me from East Germany. It was beautiful, it was called Erica and I still have it today. And once you have a typewriter, you can't not write... So I wrote. I tapped out wholesale quantities of stories with one finger. I do not remember what they were about, but I suspect that they were about very brave little girls who do extraordinary things and everything works out for them. Pipi Langstrumpf was my beloved literary character for a long time. My dad read everything, always praised it and invariably bought it while collecting my works into a paper folder. If you think about it, you can say that I have always lived from writing (laughs).

- Was it then that you believed that this would be your life, your calling?

- Between the childhood confidence that I had talent and that the world was waiting for my works, and the time when I actually started writing treating it as a profession, there were many years without writing. I think that was a very good thing. There is more to writing than being able to neatly construct sentences and poetic comparisons. It's also about making sure you have something interesting to say to the world. Fortunately, I was consumed by life for many years.

- In the 80s you studied Polish philology at the University of Gdańsk. What made you choose this course? Did you want to become a Polish language teacher?

- I don't remember dreaming about being a teacher, but I didn't rule it out either. Studying Polish meant a lot of reading and writing. Above all, I studied in interesting times. Interesting people in the class and fantastic lecturers. Everything shapes us, so it is hard to say years later what had the biggest impact on our development.

- How do you recall your university days? Did the film class become your favourite subject right away? Did you already know then that you would want to make your professional life about the X muse and writing?

- From what I remember I started writing film novellas then, they weren't scripts yet, but something that helped me think with images and was close to film language. I chose to specialise in film studies because it seemed the most interesting to me. We are talking about a time when there was no internet and there were only two programmes on the telly. I remember that I used every opportunity to watch an interesting film. Every meeting and screening of a new film was worthwhile. A lot was happening in Gdańsk at the time, there was a lot of cultural, new ferment. During martial law, many things and activities went underground and thus became even more alive and present. I remember that we borrowed books and newspapers published by underground publishers overnight, but no longer because others were waiting.

- In the poor reality of the 80s, film and cinema were one of the escapes from the grey world. Back then, everyone loved DKFs...

- Yes! DKF, or Film Discussion Clubs, were extremely important. Firstly, it was the only place where you could see films that were not released in large cinemas in Poland. Secondly, after the screenings in these small, atmospheric cinemas, you could stay after the film and talk. Just like the film festivals in Gdańsk and later in Gdynia, which were celebrations of Polish cinema. In cinemas in the Tri-City, there were festival screenings and after the screenings, there was a meeting with the filmmakers. I couldn't imagine not being there...

- Which lecturers from your studies do you remember warmly and fondly. Would you say that they were your masters?

- Studying Polish philology was very important and inspiring for me. I think I absorbed everything like a sponge. I perfectly remember my poetics classes with prof. Stefan Chwin - they were gem meetings. I have wonderful memories of classes with prof. Kwiryna Zięba or prof. Tadeusz Szczepański. However, the most important for me were the lectures of prof. Maria Janion, who used to come to Gdańsk once a month to conduct MA and PhD seminars.

- You finished your studies and moved to the other end of Poland. How did that happen?

- I got married, travelled, climbed mountains, first in the Alps and Pyrenees, and finally in the Himalayas. I spent several months in India and Nepal. Finally, after returning to Poland, my then-husband and I bought a house in Beskid Sądecki, an old Lemko wooden cottage. There, my life slowed down a bit, children were born.

- Living close to nature triggers a tendency to look inside yourself so I suppose that's when you started writing again?

- That's exactly what happened. I started with fairy tales and my first scripts for animated films. The Bajaga Witch was not made into a children's series, although I sold the film rights to it. However, I did write a script for a 25-minute animated film called One Hundred Thousand cock-a-doodle-doos. It was produced by the Animated Film Studio in Kraków. I then enrolled at the Łódź Film School to study screenwriting and began writing scripts.

- Your diploma script at the Screenwriting Studio became a success. Your debut, the first film Odwiedź mnie we śnie (Visit Me in My Dream), directed by Teresa Kotlarczyk in 1996, with a star-studded cast and an award for the script in Gdynia. This probably only happens in movies.

- It was a big deal. Visit Me in My Dream is a seemingly intimate story, but with an extraordinary cast. The main roles were played by Danuta Stenka, Zbigniew Zmachowski, Cezary Żak, Andrzej Mastalerz and Ewa Gawryluk. Stanisław Orzechowski and Krystyna Tkacz also appeared. It would be hard to imagine a better cast... The script for the film Visit Me in My Dream tells the story of a woman who wants so much to return to earth, to her children, her husband and her life after death, that she finally succeeds. I wrote the script when I was sick and afraid that I wouldn't be able to do all the things I dreamed of doing in my life. I think that although I was trying to write a light film, I smuggled all my authentic fears in there somewhere and it turned out to be an unrealistic, but emotionally true story. The film was noticed by the festival audience and the jury. I couldn't believe it when I heard that I received an individual award for the script. When I went on stage at the Musical Theatre in Gdynia, I knew that my children were watching me and my mother was crying in front of the telly. I felt extremely appreciated. The award was presented to me by Maja Komorowska, a wonderful person and a great actress. These are unforgettable moments.

- After receiving the award, you were invited to a meeting at the UG Faculty of Humanities. How did you feel when you stood on the other side of the chair as a famous graduate?

- Great. Another important moment in my life. I remember that I was surprised by the whole situation, because I had the impression that I had just been sitting in the auditorium and listening to lectures, and suddenly there was a meeting with me? A lot of young people who had seen the film came and wanted to share their impressions. They also had questions about the work of the scriptwriter, of course.

- Did you know that among the 40 screenplay prizes awarded at the Gdynia Film Festival so far, you are the youngest winner?

- I did not know that. That is interesting.

- The award at Gdynia turned out to be another springboard, as it allowed you to go to the States on a writing scholarship.

- Yes, it was a wonderful time. The 6 weeks in Ledig Hause near New York gave me a new perspective on life and creation. Dinners stretched into the morning, discussions were endless. Nothing could have broadened my horizons more than meeting dozens of writers from all over the world.

- So you're young, talented and successful, so I guess the film world welcomed you with open arms and you got a lot of offers?

- After I came back from the United States, I felt like throwing myself into the stream of work and that's what happened. I got noticed quickly and that was my major win. Then I started working on TV series. Not everything went smoothly. Being a scriptwriter, especially a series scriptwriter, means writing on demand and on time. This, of course, comes with stress and the uncertainty of writing an interesting story or good dialogue. There is also the fear of burning out, because what can you do when you are sitting in front of your computer, the clock is ticking, and nothing comes to mind. To be more precise, you can't think of anything on the given topic, and, to make matters worse, you can think of lots of wonderful and funny stories that you would like to write if it wasn't for the fact that you have to write another episode...

- Well, how do you deal with it? Is there such a thing as creative impotence? Do you have your ways of overcoming it?

- I have a few. The best is exercise, cycling, swimming, walking or meeting friends. I've found that when I let go and forget what I've been thinking about, the solution comes to me.

- You are presented as a literary multi-talent. Did scripts stop being enough for you when you started writing books?

- For several years I worked on TV series and I did everything: I wrote dialogues, scene breakdowns, treatments, episodes, I prepared large formats, I adapted, I was responsible for large teams of screenwriters and all the literary work. A screenwriter is sometimes a craftsman and sometimes an artist. Creating a series is a contribution event. Everyone on the team contributes: writer, director, actors, TV editors, editors, etc. Different variations of one story are created. The book, however, is all about my own vision, which is why I wanted to write it, to have the feeling that something was mine from start to finish. That is why I started writing books. I wanted to immerse myself in that basic feeling of creation again.

- You write about love, which, as banal as it may sound, is nevertheless the most important motor of human action.

- It is true. I believe that there is true love, that is, the primal force connecting people, which has the power to change our fate. I am interested in relations between people, and therefore in the emotions and feelings that govern us. I observe how my characters get lost and how they find themselves. Love stories are never just about love. They are stories about being immersed in life, stories about the whole world, about a difficult past, about a future that can bring fulfilment, about the dreams but also the scars we carry, about the sense of humour that saves us and, above all, about attention. Attention to the other person is the most important thing.

- When one reads your books, it is like watching a well-made, fast-paced film with lots of humour, vivid characters, lively dialogues, but also serious questions and emotions. Because sometimes, despite their light form, they touch on the most important themes of love, fidelity, responsibility and principles. At the same time, they are not an idyllic, predictable and simple pastoral. You describe the stumbles, falls and mistakes we all make in life. And, as in real life, they are intertwined with moments of happiness. This is where I should ask, when will the stories from the novel make it to the screen?

- I certainly hope so. There are several producers interested in bringing both of my novels to the screen, both 'Załatw pogodę ja zajmę się resztą' and 'Niespodziewanie jasna noc'. Unfortunately, a lot of plans are changing now because of the pandemic. Nobody knows what will happen next...

- You are always looking for new artistic challenges and inspiration - you have started to paint and create collages.

- It's true - I'm searching because that's also how I understand the task of an artist - the eternal search for new forms of expression, new ways of telling stories. I nurture my curiosity about people, life and the world. Without it, I would have nothing to write about. Change is rarely painless, but the most interesting thing is where it will lead us. I believe that you have to train your mind not to give up and to look for new solutions. Creativity exercises, however, we understand creativity, should be compulsory for everyone. For the past year, we have been living in the shadow of a virus. The world has changed. It is a difficult time for all of us, for many industries it is downright deadly. People are looking for new ways to stay alive. The artworld is suffering especially. If the pandemic is of any lesson to us, it seems to me that it is a lesson in readiness for change. It is a lesson that nothing is given to us once and for all. You cannot just wait it out.

- What will save us? Creativity and readiness for change?

- What will save us? I think that, above all, important and honest relationships with ourselves and with other people will save us. Intimacy... and art. I cannot imagine life without creation.

- And finally, a question taken from the Pivot questionnaire. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear when you reach its gates?

- You have kept us waiting for a long time (laughs).

- Thank you for the interview.


Reneta Frydrych receives an award from Maja Komorowska in Gdynia.

Renata Frydrych
Ewa Cichocka / Zespół Prasowy UG