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Q&A With New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting Alum Lena Murisier

New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting alum Lena Murisier has been very busy since graduating last fall. The Swiss-born writer has been pitching her television series, Bonnie & Bonnie, as well working on multiple projects including short films, webseries, and features.

Murisier originally attended the 4-Week Filmmaking workshop at NYFA before enrolling in the 1-Year Screenwriting conservatory. New York Film Academy spoke with Lena Murisier about her projects, her writing process, and her advice for people thinking about film school:

Lena Murisier

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Lena Murisier (LM): I’m from Switzerland, and speak and write in four languages. Back in Switzerland, I was an account manager in an advertising agency. Great clients, great projects, great pay. I really liked the work but I always felt like something was missing. I’m a storyteller and you can’t run away from that call. I used my storytelling skills a lot in the advertising agency, but ended up feeling limited as I was a manager more than a creative. NYFA came to my city to present the school. I went. It spoke to me. I applied. Within two months, I quit my job and boarded a plane to LA.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on screenwriting?

LM: I’ve been a storyteller all my life. I would create my own stories to fall asleep at night. I would write novels when I was a young teenager. I would get excited when my older brother got writing assignments at school so I could ghost write for him (Is it too late to charge for that?). It’s always been in my DNA. It has taken me some time to understand that this is a career. Where I’m from, most people don’t know what a script is. No one really realizes that behind a movie or TV show there are hours of writing and hundreds of scripts. Two years ago, I found out what a screenwriter is. I found out what a showrunner is.

NYFA: Can you tell us about any of the projects you are currently pitching or working on?

LM: Sure thing! I graduated in September 2019 and have been really busy since then. I’m currently pitching a TV drama titled Bonnie & Bonnie, a female driven Bonnie & Clyde I wrote. I’m sitting in rooms I’ve dreamed of, talking about cast and ideas for the series. It’s really exciting! I love collaborating and deeply believe it takes a village to make a TV show. Next to pitching the show, I’ve been hired to write and develop an indie feature that will enter production late 2020. It’s a sports drama about second chances, family, and boxing. When the filmmaker who came up with the idea asked me to write the script I couldn’t say no. I’ve been boxing since childhood so it speaks to me, and at the core of the movie is a relationship we aren’t used to seeing on screen.

NYFA: What kind of films do you prefer writing? What kind of themes do you like to explore?

LM: As a writer I love to question things. I always do. I like to explore the human brain–not what someone’s doing, but why. All my characters are deeply imperfect. They’re strong, they’re skilled, they’re inspiring, but deeply imperfect. I don’t really believe in right or wrong. I think there’s just “why.” Why someone is doing what they’re doing. All my writing is character driven. I believe it all comes from the characters. And even in my most dramatic work, it’s through my characters that I explore comedy and irony. Most of my content is LGBTQ and diverse because it is the world I know and my surroundings. 

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

LM: While I was in the room for Bonnie & Bonnie, I’ve been asked to pitch a feature too. I talked about a dramatic comedy I wrote during my time at NYFA. Very character driven, female-driven, an imperfect lead who’s trying to do what she believes is right in a very judgmental society. They requested it immediately. I’m now working on it. In the months to come, I will continue writing several pilots. I love writing in general, but TV is what I love most. I’m also planning on shooting more projects in 2020–short films and probably a webseries. It’s a great way to get people to read what’s attached to the short/webseries because usually people like to watch things more than read them.

Aside from writing, I’m assisting the executive producer on an Emmy-nominated show. I get to sit in the room and learn how a season is built, learn the process and be around people I admire. It’s like going back to film school but being paid doing it.

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work as a writer?

LM: One of the biggest things is outlining. Before NYFA, I used to be the type of writer that would just “jump in” with zero plan and no idea where I was going. This has lead to some amazing first pages but that’s also how I almost every time got stuck in Act Two and never got to Fade Out. Now, I’m outlining my projects but I’m also learning how to let myself get away from the outline, let my characters take me on their journey and tell me their story. Another big thing I learned is to write constantly. Not just write when I feel like it but to treat it like a job, because it is my job. Through NYFA, I got so much practice at writing, respecting deadlines–I’m now a really fast writer and do write constantly.

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

LM: Can I give advice for more than just the ones starting out? If you’re reading this and thinking of applying for a long-term program but aren’t sure, consider starting with a 4-Week or 8-Week workshop. Before I did 1-Year Screenwriting, I did NYFA’s 4-Week Filmmaking. I got to make four short films, gain experience on set, learn about cameras, direct actors. I gained experience and got to try out the school. I then applied to the longer program in screenwriting as writing is what I prefer.

If you’re reading this post and are a current NYFA student: work hard, respect the deadlines, go to as many events as you can, use all the great offers NYFA has and its membership discounts, get consultations with teachers you connect with, network with your classmates and other people in school. Create a team around you that you believe in and that believes in you. That’s what will get you further in this industry and they’re also the only ones that can really understand what you’re going through right now. They’re your support system. If you’ve just started, you now have one, two, three years to be doing only writing/acting/filmmaking/producing. Enjoy it! It’s amazing. You’re in a safe environment, you’re here to learn and grow as an artist.

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on?

LM: In film school you feel safe, and then when you’re out there, it’s the “real world”. Don’t forget that you’ll always be a NYFA alumni. You still have a support system. You’ll always be welcome there. Work hard. We’re in a generation where it’s never been that easy to get yourself work. I’ve opened doors I never thought I possibly could without representation. Use social media, do your research, be cool, don’t be creepy, don’t be an a**hole and have excellent work to show them. No one is your enemy. They look for new voices. If they like being around you, if you work hard and if you have writing samples to back it up, they’re always happy to discover new talents. Trust the process and keep an open heart. Some days you might get the best news and the day after, you’re struggling with rent. It’s a rollercoaster but remember you deserve to be here and tell your story. Hold on, work hard, be kind, trust the process and put yourself out there. And the most important thing… Don’t forget to have fun. Promise?

New York Film Academy thanks Screenwriting alum Lena Murisier for taking the time to share her advice and experiences with us.