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Short Film Writing 101 - An interview with Randy Zuniga

How do you prove a suicide was actually murder when the victim was already suicidal?

Fight Club

"Suicide 101", written by Randy Zuniga, is about a sociopathic support group leader who helps to drive a twenty something year old Simon to suicide.

Randy Zuniga's short script won Sunday Shorts Script Competition in October and was also a Finalist at Calcutta International Cult Film Festival earlier this year.

Q - So Randy, how did you get into writing? Do you tend to write short stories more than scripts?

A - I was about 19 or 20 years old and I was taking a Film Studies class at SDSU when decided I wanted to write a screenplay. I just really wanted to write a movie and I've written about a dozen features lengths since then. I've written some short stories and have gotten a few published, but I'm definitely better at and prefer screenwriting.

Q - You wrote Suicide 101 as a short story first. Where did the idea come from?

A - I wanted to write something that was both real and surreal at the same time. I wanted to take the reader through a journey of perception vs reality which is what I think a person who is suicidal may be experiencing. I really wanted to reach deep into my own mind and grab something that would get the attention (not that I'm suicidal).

Q - This is not a typical suicide story and it handles the topic quite seriously whilst being informative. What was your writing process and how much research went into this?

A - I did do some reading on the topic. Mostly just imagining if I were in that state of mind, how do I think I would react. Someone told me after reading my short story that I was dark. I don't think I'm a dark person, but I'm able to tap into it. When you think about it, suicide is so powerful and permanent. Everything changes within a split second. There's something alluring about that which is what I believe makes it so dangerous.

Q - When you came to adapt it into a script, did you have any inspirations or other films that you used as a reference?

A - M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" definitely comes to mind. Again, the idea of playing with perception is what I love.

Q - How do you want the readers to react to your script? What message did you intend to leave?

A - I want to remove them from their world and put them into a completely different world. Then once the journey is over they go; "Wow! That was really cool!"

Q - You plan to get the script produced. What steps are you taking?

A - I'm talking to a Director about co-producing it with me. We met at the Madrid International Film Festival this year where he had a short film and I had a feature length screenplay that were both winners. Right now he's traveling around the world to different film festivals with his movie and hopefully once that slows down, he and I can talk more about getting this off the ground. Hopefully in the future I will be back to Sunday Shorts with the film version!

Q - What advice would you give to new writers?

A - Stay small at first. I made the mistake when I first started by jumping into a feature length screenplay. Years later with a lot more experience behind me, I believe taking the time and staying small with short stories or short scripts. Take the time to develop your writing instincts. I'm not the most beautiful or intellectual writer, but I've learned over the years to tell a good story.

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