NYFA One-Year Screenwriting alum Shreyas Ayaluri hails from India and currently resides in Los Angeles, California were he’s been working as a screenwriter since graduating in 2018.
Shreyas’ recent film Elvis Escobar & Juniper Lea has been gaining traction in the film festival circuit and was Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival. Second Rounders were chosen from a record field of 14,648 scripts entered in Screenplay, Digital Series, Playwriting, and Fiction Podcast Competitions at AFF.
Shreyas spoke with NYFA about his passion for storytelling, his process and his “pandemic baby” Elvis Escobar & Juniper Lea.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
Shreyas Ayaluri (SA): At the age of 22, I decided that I want to tell stories for a living, and quit my perfectly fine advertising job. I moved to the states from India with little-to-no knowledge of screenwriting and film history. I had heard good things about New
York Film Academy’s screenwriting program and I knew I had to start there. So I started my storytelling journey in the spring of 2018, among aspiring artists and working professionals, and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.
NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on screenwriting?
SA: Ever since I was a little kid, I was obsessed with Hollywood and storytelling. I grew up watching Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid and I would conjure up characters, situations, set pieces in my head and put that on a piece of paper. I always had a certain bond with paper and pen that grew and transitioned to a keypad and a screen. It sounds anticlimactic but the point is I would always write. I just had a lot of stories in me that I wanted to share. I would later write short stories, experiment with genres and linearity and post it on my since-deleted blog. My friends and family seemed to really like my work, but then again they are friends and family. I was later able to secure a copywriting job because of that very blog. And one day as I was driving back home from my copywriting job, I stopped at a billboard of an ad I wrote, and that was it, when I saw my words spread across that massive billboard, it hit me – I finally knew what I really wanted to do with my life.
NYFA: What are your day-to-day duties as a screenwriter?
SA: The world of screenwriting hasn’t changed much, maybe the last change was the transition to laptops from typewriters. That reminds me, I’ve always wondered what they did back in the day when they had a typo in the second to last line, but I digress. “Screenwriting” sounds fancy but for me, it’s really a lot of observation, contemplation and introspection. I love it. The day’s writing usually begins with an idea I scribbled down before I went to bed the previous night, and knitting an idea mentally before I put it down on the paper and from there it’s a lot of testing and seeing what sticks. And I spend at least an hour digging through various rabbit holes to find the perfect music for a specific scene. When I’m able to churn out good five to ten pages, it’s like a VIP pass to Coachella with your favorite artists headlining. The feeling is euphoric. No, I’ve never been to Coachella.
Every story idea blossoms from my memories or the ones that I think are memories, stories I hear, someone I met, some experience I had, felt and from there I pull myself out completely and try and write that very thing objectively.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your most recent film? What inspired it?
SA: I wrote a silly idea I had into a full blown screenplay during the pandemic called “Elvis Escobar & Juniper Lea” as an ode to Jeff Goldblum and also to bring some laughter during those testing times, and little did I know the screenplay took off and garnered some great reviews! Today EEJR, my pandemic baby, has been gaining great traction in the festivals, and has been placed as:
Screencraft Comedy 2021— Quarterfinalist
Austin Film Festival 2021— Second Rounder
StoryPros Awards 14th Annual — Semifinalist
Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay Awards Season 6 — Quarterfinalist
Still awaiting results from other top-tier festivals. And through all of that, I was able to get Elvis Escobar & Juniper Lea in front of some really influential people in the industry, and is currently being viewed and vetted by a few managers.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
SA: I’m working on a couple of different projects at the moment: a sci-fi feature, an unscripted TV show pitch, and my passion project, a limited series that I’ve been ideating for years. The show sprouts from childhood memories that couldn’t be more far from reality. I know, what kind of an elevator pitch was that? But that’s how my mind works. I’m also currently shopping for representation.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work?
SA: The school taught me all there is to learn in screenwriting. NYFA gave me the skills I needed to adapt and grow with the industry and its needs.
Also, the courage to break a few rules here and there once I was well-versed on the subject. Instructors at NYFA are simultaneously working in the industry or at least have one foot in the industry so they’re not only teaching you the subject but are also sharing their industry experience as they live it. And you want all those tidbits, their experiences, the tales they remember from the backlot and that’s what makes NYFA so wholesome. Jerry Shandy & Benjamin Sztajnkrycer were two such instructors who went along with my idiosyncrasies and pushed me to further explore and create.
I graduated from NYFA’s one-year screenwriting program in 2018, and the feature screenplay that I developed while in the program “Amuse Me” fetched me an award for Best Screenplay and a bunch of accolades from top tier festivals, and is still going strong. The script went to Austin twice. There were queries from the industry members for the script – and this was my first ever screenplay! And since then I have written over 7 screenplays including features & tv (most of them placed in top-tier film festivals) produced multiple award-winning shorts and went on to write a song for Broadway.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
SA: NYFA’s curriculum is such that, they not only teach you the subject but they also guide you through all aspects of filmmaking, and and at the end of it, you can have your first screenplay, your directorial debut, your first film that you produced and your acting reel for Curb Your Enthusiasm season 15.
Think of NYFA as the coolest and the fastest DMV that has international staff and comes with its own driving school that not only provides you with the license but also teaches you how to drive a car, a truck, a jet-ski, and also a Segway, even if you went there only for a scooter.
You’re surrounded by such talented people from all walks of life, you’re always learning. The exposure, the experience and the knowledge is irreplaceable. NYFA is the best place to create, experiment, fail and to rinse & repeat.
NYFA: What is next for you?
SA: I believe the world has seen and had enough. Especially this past year and honestly everyone needs a break. People are just running crazy, there’s so much stress and anxiety everywhere. I just want to bring laughter into this world. I want to be an enabler in all this. And that’s what I’m trying to do through my stories. I want to bring back the charm and the fun of the 80’s and 90’s with today’s relevance and themes wrapped in a delightful, light package, and leave all the preachings, the teachings and the Oscar tales to the wiser ones.
NYFA congratulates Shreyas on his successes and Elvis Escobar & Juniper Lea!