Screenwriter Niki Lambropoulos: “Think with your heart, feel with your brain; Experience the human in you and expand this truth to the world to smooth the contradictions and create a better place for all of us”
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing screenwriter Niki Lambropoulos. After 12 years living, studying and working in London, Niki went to Greece to help with the crisis. But that world reacted unexpectedly, provoking forces and creating stories waiting to be told. Her previous specialization with Human Computer Interaction and project management, translating theories into structures, symbols and tools for specific users, equipped her uniquely to write sci-fi as well as drama scripts. She is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, IMDB and Sundance Collab.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you, Yitzi! I grew up in Ancient Olympia, the Greek city where the Olympic Games were born. We had to learn all Greek myths and stories at school and every time we were on a school trip we got to visit archeological sites. And, my dad owned the first cinema in Western Greece, cooperating with Spyros Skouras, the famous Greek-American motion picture pioneer and Fox executive. I grew up inside the cinema. Unfortunately he had to shut it down when television reached even the most remote villages in Greece. My grandma used to be and my dad is a natural storyteller. He will only answer a question with a story, and he will take you through a roller-coaster to answer it. I think growing up with storytelling, history and cinema, created the person I am now. The only gold I had then is the same gold I have now.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I used to be an academic writer, writing books and articles, a very technical job. I used to get bonus and awards for my academic writing so I thought I was happy. One day I was looking for an article for a research proposition. I clicked on an unidentified numbered PDF, you know, you Google your question and links appear. It was downloaded in my files. I opened it. It was Batman — The Dark Knight. I was shocked. Even now I get goosebumps. It was a self-realization moment about the kind of writer I was and the kind of writer I should be, the one who grew up inside history and cinema. I realized I had lost contact with that kiddo.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I struggled with everything in my life as I come from a small poor village in Greece. My parents never managed to finish high school. The moment I was dedicated to screenwriting magical events started happening in my life as well as in the lives of my family and friends. Last month I went to the Story seminar in London and I met Robert McKee in person. I couldn’t sleep for the next 3 days. Life is so profound after all. It’s the way the universe helps the one who believes the truth of her story.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the funniest mistake was to make efforts to meet my literary agent’s advice, write 10 additional pages for every written page. I tried hard for months, waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning every day — they say it’s the most inspiring time of the day. It wasn’t happening. It was then I realized there is screenwriter’s blood in my veins. Now I have a good laugh.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, as with most writers, I always get excited with my scripts. After I submitted a social sci-fi script for the Page Awards my sister asked me to be her baby boy’s Godmother. We went up in the mountains of Arcadia to a wonderful monastery. My sister struggled with her pregnancy as with many couples these days. She managed to bring her dream to life. Her story is now so inspiring for all of us in the family so I decided to write about it. It was the fresh air and mountain fairies! When a sci-fi screenwriter attempts to write a true story it feels as if she wears a straitjacket, believe me! But my need to share her story was so urgent I had to do this as my sister is now an inspiring paradigm for everyone who knows her. Sharing her story with the world can help more people overcome similar obstacles. The story is about a couple hitting a dead end trying for a baby for more than a decade. And with a very happy ending!
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Since time immemorial, writers and entertainers transcend humanity’s inner and outer conflict and limitations by showing human potential in all its glory. See for example, Homer’s super heroes. My characters bring different perspectives in the story. As with the Indian myth with the five blind men and the white elephant, each character sees the world differently. Put them together, the audience grasps the white elephant. So my characterization, characters’ design and development create characters who complement each other, bringing qualities from different cultures, mindsets, even troubles. The characters speak with their own independent and unique voice. My stories counteract dominant assumptions; deal with diverse audiences and complex realities. You may call it inclusive storytelling.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Well, I will share my experience in Microsoft with you. I went at a major Microsoft seminar in London; I used to be in Human Computer Interaction back then. The Head of HR talked about Microsoft’s mantra: Diversity. He suggested that all in-house creativity comes from employees of diverse genders, ages, backgrounds, styles, belief systems, not just countries. Also we saw these employees, a colorful crowd of very young and very old people, people in suits and hippies, haircuts. A world where who you are is required. This amazing picture stayed in my head and I really miss it when I have to collaborate in environments not so diverse- and obviously, not so creative.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Writers are so lovable, sensitive and wonderful beings! We sincerely help each other, at least in my writing groups. I think it’s difficult to find such a collaborative attitude in other professions. The opposite of the hype about writers.
2. We don’t need a lot of ideas, just the ideas that linger in our mind. And again it’s a circle, you need ideas to find the one that stays with you. I used to produce pages of ideas. Now I think and observe myself more.
3. The more we write the harder it gets as we deepen into the structures and characters, and investigate the infinite possibilities each time. I thought it would be easier!
4. I try to visualize my characters wearing special glasses to see the world through these distinctive philosophical lenses. This metaphor helped me enormously to develop unique and interesting characters as well as with the dialogue and subtext.
5. Finally, it is helpful to find an excellent tutor to identify the exact writing talent and field one has talent. I thought I was just another good academic writer, remember? A tutor can save years of inner and outer struggle. And sometimes lives.
6. And one extra! I found McKee’s suggestion to tape the characters’ mouths for as long as possible only does bring out the urgent and great, saving time and energy in the multiple drafts to get the dialogue and subtext right. An ingenious tip!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Balance. Incorporate writing in their daily schedule together with taking the kids from school, family time, the gym, social life etc. There is a wonderful book called The Eureka Factor, by Kounios and Beeman. The authors suggest ways to create a supportive environment so to help with our creativity thrive and keep it this way.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Be true to yourself. Experience the human in you and expand this truth to the world to smooth the contradictions and create a better place for all of us. Think with your heart, feel with your brain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My friends in London, John and Sidd. John passed away last year. He was such a good friend and supportive all the way; he is the Scottish guy in my scripts. And Sidd, I always follow his suggestions on books and comments. When I was doing my Ph.D. I changed university to a much better one, losing my scholarship as a result. To be in London broke and struggling to finish a Ph.D. was a very stressful experience, to say the least. All my friends disappeared apart from these two. I also lost my cell phone twice. Nobody called other than these people and my family. If it weren’t for my friends’ support and empathy, I doubt if I could have made it to finish my studies and to make a decent living in a foreign country. I guess having left with nothing can be an effective social sieve.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Most times truth is so apparent- I couldn’t realize I’m a screenwriter. But it was in front of my eyes; I grew up in my dad’s cinema. Sometimes all we have to do is search in our hearts instead of the outer world. Everything we need to know about ourselves is hidden in there. Just be silent and listen carefully.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Christopher Nolan. Mainly, because of my self-realization moment. And I admire his width of expertise and creativity. He is a guy who realizes his dreams every day. I’m also interested in converging multi- plots and time as the mechanism of reality and change.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I would be honored.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!