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Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire (Leah Bognanni)

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?

My name’s Leah Bognanni and I was born in South Korea and grew up in Malden, MA. I’m currently in the Boston area. My hobbies include playing basketball, sipping fancy tequila, and eating buffalo chicken pizza with ranch.

Where did you come up with the concept that just won the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

Not Dead Yet is a half-hour, comedy-drama based on my life. Being a Korean adoptee, raised by Italian Americans right outside Boston. Navigating dating and discrimination with the liver disease I was born with. I started the first script outline my last year of graduate school at Northwestern University. It was in 2018 with a wonderful television instructor, Brett Neveu. I am still revising to this day.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

I try to always have a bunch of ideas for a few different scripts and work on them simultaneously. At least one live-action and one animation. This way I can switch from one to the other when I need a break. I do research on specific subjects I’m writing about and map the hell outta my A, B, C, etc. stories. With that I also have post-it notes covering my bedroom walls. I go to bars, talk to strangers, and write all the good shit down. When I’m with friends, I’m constantly taking notes on people’s dialogue and things I find funny from everyday life.

I’m currently a television writing fellow with Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad program and have an amazingly talented mentor, Michael Svoboda. From character development to professional screenplay beat sheets, and feedback, he is helping me everywhere. I also always exchange multiple drafts with my grad school colleagues and other homies. Their feedback is really good.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

I first fell in love with storytelling when I was a toddler. My father used to tell me bedtime stories where he’d let me pick the characters. Ever since then, I’ve been writing. Thankfully, I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to start pursuing it professionally in 2016.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?

Lena Waithe has said she wants her work to “punch you in the gut, then give you a hug right after”. Ali Wong, Issa Rae, Michaela Coel, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ramy Youssef, Donald Glover, Steven Canals, Josh Thomas, Daniel Chong, Zina Camblin, Dave Tolchinsky, Brett Neveu, Melissa Kong, Ellie Goodman, Joe Shetina, Joe Giovannetti, B.J also inspire me. Tindal, Kristen Field, Hannah Ii-Epstein, Gail Gilbert, Priyankar Patra, Josefina Valenzuela Cerda, Lars Steier, Michael Svoboda, Arturo Luís Soria, Charisma Deberry, Josh Fulton, Kiana Fowlkes, Nova Black, Nyala Moon, Roma Murphy, Tea Ho, and Urvashi Pathania. They all use their writing as an art form to tell incredibly honest and vulnerable stories.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

My obsession with Fleabag for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s candidness is too much. The scene where she juxtaposes anal sex with the death of her best friend. Michaela Coel’s, I May Destroy You, and its incredible ability to speak out against sexual violence for people of color, Steven Canals’, Pose, for making historical strides in authentic visibility for the LGBTQ+ communities and contributing to a banishment of disease related stigmas, and Daniel Chong’s We Bare Bears, for being undeniably hilarious and adorable, especially Season 1, Episode 7, “Burrito”.

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

I love it right now. We are living in an amazing time where stories from marginalized communities are more appreciated in a way they have never been before and I am incredibly grateful to be alive and writing during this time. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

Beatrice, the bluebird, in Patrick McHale’s Over the Garden Wall because she’s fantastic.

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

I’d talk to Ramy Youssef and ask him on a date.