screenwriter to watch
Minhal Baig is a writer/director. She is a graduate of Yale University with a BA in Fine Arts. Her first feature film, One Night, which she wrote and directed, had its World Premiere at the 2016 Austin Film Festival. One Night will have its theatrical release in February 2017. One Night stars Anna Camp, Justin Chatwin, Kyle Allen and Isabelle Fuhrman.
Minhal also wrote & directed the short film, Hala, about a Muslim teenager who struggles to reconcile her personal desires with family expectations. The short was featured on Nylon, Short of the Week, Film Shortage and chosen as a Vimeo Staff Pick. In 2016, her feature-length screenplay for Hala landed on The Black List, an annual list of Hollywood’s most-liked scripts.
She is at work on the feature-length version of Hala and a psychological-horror docu-drama short film, After Sophie, which takes place in the aftermath of a teen suicide.
How did you break in?
I don’t know if I ever had a ‘break’ or a ‘start’ in any conventional sense. I’ve been writing plays and scripts since my junior year of college. In 2012, I quit my assistant job at UTA and started working on ‘One Night’, the feature I would eventually direct two years later. Hala ended up on the Black List last year, which did open a lot of doors for me. I don’t know if there was ever a time that things just started “happening” for me, though. I’ve created a lot of my own opportunities.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to write your own stories. Do not ever wait for a job to be handed to you. Be a self-generator. Fight like hell for the stories you love.
What has been your hardest scene to write?
There’s a scene in Hala that’s written in such a way that your sympathies are with someone who is taking an otherwise morally reprehensible action. I really wanted to keep that discomfort no matter what, so I wrote the version that made me feel that way and resisted all notes I received to change it or make it palatable.
Hala made the Black List last year. A lot of executives who I’d met over the years reached out and were excited for me. I’m getting to pitch on projects now, but the most important work is what I’ve always been doing: writing my own scripts.
What are you working on right now?
I’m writing three feature scripts and a pilot. They’re all still in an early stage, but one of them is for me to direct after Hala.
What are your favorite movies?
Jurassic Park, The Fall, Pan’s Labyrinth, Fish Tank, A Separation, Mommy, The Shining, Memento, The Graduate, Upstream Color, In The Mood for Love, Spirited Away, There Will be Blood, Black Swan, Melancholia, Virgin Suicides, Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, No Country for Old Men, Children of Men, The Hunt, Mother, Requiem for a Dream, The Royal Tenenbaums, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Minority Report, Lost in Translation, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Five Obstructions, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Dogtooth, Blue Valentine
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Abi Morgan, Kenneth Lonergan, Tony Gilroy, Charlie Kaufman, Michael Arndt, Steven Knight, Alex Garland, Steve Zaillian, Coen Brothers, John Logan, Martin McDonagh, Nora Ephron, Dustin Lance Black, Diablo Cody
What is your most memorable AFF moment?
I was part of a phenomenal panel about low-budget/DIY filmmaking. The audience had such thoughtful questions about the craft. I was very impressed with both them and the other panelists. I’m a big proponent of demystifying the process of filmmaking, and this panel was a great experience.