“Make The Movie, Learn Quickly...” Interview with ‘Reversion’ Writer-Director Jose Nestor Marquez

[This Interview originally published in Creative Screenwriting Magazine.]

Jose Nestor Marquez’s Reversion lives within an edgy, complex future but has the surprising, stylized sizzle of a seventies thriller. Through cinematography and the written word, Marquez has developed an interesting approach of wrapping a film around a single question.

For this film, each scene was crafted to help the viewers question their current and future ideas of technology and its place in our lives.

What led you to screenwriting?

I actually started writing comedy shorts for a website that need traffic — a typical 2000’s, dot-com story. The great thing about that craft is that you have to write things with hooks. I probably wrote over a hundred of these comedy shorts and some of them went over really well. We had to quickly pitch something that viewers would want to share.

If they “get it,” then they’ll share it. If they don’t “get it,” then they just Like it and a Like is basically nothing. This is similar to writing an episode of TV where the main goal is to get people to talk about the previous night’s episode, the ending, or the characters. So, in the online world, if you’ve made something people want to talk about, that was a mark of success. That’s essentially how I got into the type of writing I do now.

Gary Dourdan as Ayden in Reversion

So where did the idea for Reversion come from?

Before writing shorts I spent a few years in San Francisco consulting non-profits within technology and digital media while also spending time as a conceptual artist. I got into conceptual art after studying philosophy in college. In a sense, I’ve been battling over technology and how it changes the way people interact with one another: how we make things, why we make things, the tools we make and what the goals of those tools are.

Those are questions I’ve been asking myself for a long time. In a way, Reversion is just the most recent version of art where I’m asking these questions: why are we making these things, why are we so seduced by them, and what dangers or benefits can arise from the creation of this thing that we’ve made? In a sense, we don’t fully understand because we don’t fully understand ourselves.

What are some of your writing rituals?

Music is a really big part of it. Often times, when writing a scene, I will play a song that I feel knows the scene better than I do and I’ll play that song over and over again. So there were scenes where I was listening to the same song for six or seven hours. From the outside, this is clearly not normal behavior but in the process of writing, it feels perfectly comfortable.

Amanda Plummer as Elizabeth in Reversion

Within those rituals, what do you find to be the most difficult step in the writing process?

I think it’s letting go, right? I think there is a lot of deleting and starting over again. I have been impatient in the past. I’ve learned patience the hard way and I still have a lot of learning to do. But I think you have to slog through and wait for the pieces to fall into place because it doesn’t always happen at the time and pace you think it should.

For good reasons, the opportunity to make this film happened very quickly. The script was written in about three months from scratch. So, you’re waiting for the idea to come to you but you’re also pulling really hard to make that time go faster.

What were some of your influences on this film?

I really like seventies conspiracy movies. I enjoy movies where people have an opportunity to look at the world the way it is — meaning open-ended and ambiguous. For various reasons, the seventies were a time when the culture was getting over being let down by either the President or the war or the Civil Rights Movement that ended in so much blood shed.

There was really just a great deal of violence in the late sixties and a lot of disappointment in the story that America told itself. So, the movies that came out within that time period were more impactful. The Conversation (1974) is an amazing movie that is still relevant today. Yes, it’s about technology and the lead character — Gene Hackman — is using advanced technology to record conversations. But the story is also about morality and being more than just the job.

Gene Hackman as Harry Caul in Conversation

What kind of advice do you have for upcoming writers and filmmakers?

One thing that is different today than fifteen years ago is that you can make something that looks pretty good and you can share it with a lot of people very easily. As a writer, to find a filmmaker that makes decisions that you like, you need to get things out there. There are so many compromises that arise when making a movie.

Some people start out with more money or better connections but even those people have to make sacrifices. So getting into the habit of learning to let go is crucial. The editor of this film — Matthew Bellows — said to me, “You can shoot the scene but I’m going to cut it.” That was very instructive for me. Now I try to have that presence of mind but I think it’s difficult to let go if you’re not in conversations with filmmakers or not making movies or shorts. There’s no quicker way to learn what you don’t need than making a movie.

Anything else you would like to add about Reversion or any other upcoming projects?

I would say that the movie is a rare opportunity to be surprised. Most movies these days are made within existing Intellectual Property so the audience already knows the good guys and the bad guys. Or, they’re made for a mass audience so you know all of the characters in the first five minutes. This movie wasn’t made that way.

It was made with a smaller budget but with tremendous freedom. People should have the option of going to a movie where don’t know how it’s going to end or have the experience of being surprised. So far everyone who has seen the movie has been really surprised by the film so that’s definitely one reason to go see it.

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